The Myths of Globalization, Business and Money – Part I

Permaculture teaches us to look at the physical and invisible forces at work in nature, communities, and society, and to neutrally observe how these energies impact the elements within a system, so that we may reorganize the resources we have available to use in a way that harnesses the useful aspects of these forces, while simultaneously minimizing their harmful aspects.

Everything works both ways. — Bill Mollison

Let’s take a closer look, and explore how we might apply this fundamental attitudinal principle of permaculture to some of the words permaculturists are quite emotional about, and may use frequently in our journey to live happier, healthier, sustainable lives in alignment with our guiding ethics of Earth Care, People Care, and Resource Share.

Globalization. This word seems to be inextricably linked to the fossil-fuel-subsidized explosion of growth and global development that has occurred over the last 100-odd years, and indeed, globalization is a direct result of the excessive party our society has been reveling in as far back as any living human’s memory can reach.

As defined by Wikipedia:

Globalization (or globalisation) describes the process by which regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated through a global network of political ideas through communication, transportation, and trade.

The term is most closely associated with the term economic globalization: the integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, the spread of technology, and military presence.[1]

However, globalization is usually recognized as being driven by a combination of economic, technological, sociocultural, political, and biological factors.[2] The term can also refer to the transnational circulation of ideas, languages, or popular culture through acculturation.

Globalization is a result of the fossil fuel party, not the cause of it. The word ‘globalization’ simply describes the condition by which time and space has been compressed by advances in technology, allowing sharing of knowledge and resources across distances, and in time frames thought impossible even one generation ago.

Three generations ago, it was inconceivable that a factory’s belching chimney in one part of the world could ever affect the climate in another part. Our planet was perceived as simply being to vast to ever be impacted by the activities of us mere humans. We can go back an even shorter time span, to only twenty years ago, when being able to use a wireless mobile handset to chat with someone on the other side of the world, and even see a real-time video image of your friend was the stuff of science fiction.

Today, we are nearing a point in human history when a villager in the developing world will have access to global communication and information resources from a mobile handset. Now it is not only possible to conceive of the entire planet as an infinitely interconnected global village, it is possible to experience this personally any time we log on to the internet and browse GoogleEarth, WPN, or any number of similar portals which compress space and time in ways our ancestors only dreamt about.

Globalization can be good

And while it is true that the forces at work to create our modern global culture have had destructive impacts, and have ignored many ethical dilemmas, it is equally true that many of these same forces have expanded our collective consciousness, and created valuable systems that allow sharing and collaboration on a scale never before seen in known human history. This very website is an example of a positive aspect of globalization, facilitating the exchange of ideas, information, resources, cultures, and lessons learned with a few strokes of the keyboard.

There are positive aspects to globalization, and like the well-intentioned aid worker who surveys the desert landscape and says, “Bugger, all this sand — if it weren’t here we wouldn’t have all these problems growing crops,” if we indiscriminately demonize this force sector [to put it into permaculture terms] of globalization, we shut down any possibility of designing solutions to harness a significant energy which is at work in our communities.

The simple truth is that we don’t know for sure what the future holds for us. We can look at all the data available, read the latest reports about whether or not Peak Oil has arrived, hypothesize about potential future scenarios, and try to share our concerns with the unaware until we are blue in the face; and the fact remains, we will never actually know what the future holds — until it becomes the present.

Indeed, the only thing any of us have any sort of control over is our own personal decisions. It is up to each of us to keep informed, and make the best decisions we can in response to the plethora of information available.

Permaculture offers an ethical framework to guide our responses, and filter the over-abundance of information available in this day and age, and permaculture therefore best serves us when used as a tool to focus energy on making decisions which support creating the positive change we wish to see in the world.

‘Globalization’ is not good, bad, right or wrong. Globalization is simply a fact. There are positive aspects to globalization, and there are negative aspects to globalization. There are also undeniably insidious aspects to globalization. How we choose to creatively use and respond to the pressures of change these energies exert upon us will determine our quality of life now and in the future.

We’ll explore the myths of the evils of business, money and profits in parts II and III of this series. Until then, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Because no revolution has ever occurred without discourse, discussion & debate first – and what the world desperately needs now, are revolutionary ideas about how globalization, business and money can serve people and planet.


  1. ‘X’ is not good, bad, right or wrong. X is simply a fact. I believe that this kind of thinking is too simplistic. I can think of a ton of words/concepts (war/famine/environmental destruction/inequality/extinction) that I could fill in X that are truly bad or wrong and maybe globalization is one of them. We need to be able to make ethical/moral judgments. Permaculture has ethics or at least in the books I have read Mollison mentions some. The fact that human communication starts to fall apart past 250 or so people in a group should suggest that maybe globalization is wrong. How does globalization fit into our ethics? Or just because X is a fact we should accept it and not judge it based on our ethics? And when you talk about business, how many globalized businesses follow any kind of true ethical considerations besides profit maximization and selling more product? An ethical business might say there is profit to be made, but everyone who needs my product has it, like a bar to someone who has had too much to drink or my product does not need to ever be made. There is no need for all our wants to be fulfilled.

  2. Globalization has been around for many centuries and is the result of a natural human impulse – exchange between groups in search of something better. It’s just that with fossil fuels and the technologies that take advantage of them, the process is now greatly accelerated. Even since the days of clipper ships things have changed drastically.

    Here is something to chew on. Can the current volume of global exchange be sustained in the absence – or reduced availability – of fossil fuels?

  3. Thanks for posting Matthew, and though you raise important points, I have to mostly agree with Brian’s comments above. Facts need discernment (if you don’t like the term judgment) to determine whether they represent beneficial (or not) effects. You use the Wikipeida definition of globalisation (I’m going for the “s” and not the “z”), but YOU do not define it – and I think you should, and not rely on Wikipedia. The definition issue is very important and necessary before you treat is as simply a (value-free?) “fact”, as if it is an unambiguous and uncontested term. Many people view an important aspect of globalisation the dominance and hegemony of corporate culture and multi-national corporations, allied with the obsequious political power structures. This capture of the political agenda by MNCs, the socialisation of corporate culture throughout society is, for me, a defining aspect of globalisation and a “bad”, without question. Corporations have skewed the political process to suit their own ends, and their ends result in the destruction of our life support – natural systems. Should and could this energy be harnessed for good? I don’t know, (who does), but I really doubt it.

    One of your other points is that we can only control we have is over our personal decisions. Again, this is right to a point, but really we need to think about community power also. This thinking inhibits “revolutionary” thinking, and adopts the hyper-separated individual as the locus for modern society (as does corporate culture – “go your own way”).

    You say that “Globaliz(s)ation is a result of the fossil fuel party, not the cause of it. I am not sure about this. The rapid use of fossil fuel has been dependent on the corporate charters used to establish corporations in the first place. Without the corporate rights assigned by governments to corporates I doubt whether the fossil fuel party would have ever got into its twilight hours.

    My view is that permaculture is a counter point to globalisation. It represents a way of living that is at odds with the current global world, focusing as it does on self-reliance, community self-sufficiency, localisation, independence. The fact that we are using existing global infrastructure to communicate is a transitional means to more quickly hasten the end of “big” culture, be it big corporations, big governments, big industrialisation, big farms, big Macs. It is a preference for small, local, alive solutions. At some point in our future, be it 10 years, 50 years, or 200 years, the globalised, industrialised world will crumble.

    We need to be building and imagining a future when globalisation is but a distance memory, an archaic and failed ideology, that caused billions of people to suffer, die lonely and miserable lives, and almost destroyed the land base upon which we all depend.

    I look forward to your next installment.


  4. The problem with globalization is that its protagonists have captured the social decision making process in a number of countries with their primary tool, the corporation, which holds the rights of humans with little of the responsibilities for obeying written law.

    Corporate campaign contributions mean much more to elected officials than individual contributions. One only has to learn how Monsanto got GMOs into the landscape before due diligence (the science) was seriously attempted to see how this works. Hint: research Michael Taylor, supposedly today’s Paul of Tarsus.

    Government is presently about further enriching the rich at everyone else’s expense. The people most affected by these decisions have no voice with which to mitigate suffering or restore destroyed ecosystems. Few in power listen to anything but money or the political power of organized groups. The globalization protagonists have more of both than any other sector of society, and it’s a zero-sum game.

    When globalization wins today, someone loses – generally their human society is ruined by ruining the resource base that supported them. Therefore, globalization doesn’t even consider, let alone include People Care, unless there is money to be made from it, and then the People Care is counterfeit, like corporate preschool programs which turn out a product; docile keepers of the corporate status quo.

    Neoliberalism bots drive globalization. No one but corporate decision makers have a vote in what gets done, so it’s autocratic – fascist, in fact: corporate governance. Mussolini in his grave is proud today of the WTO and trade agreements that destroy human society, like in Mexico now.

    Neoliberalism has dictators propped up all over the world for one purpose – to enforce the order required by the process of exploiting someone else’s resource. When people object, someone has to “take care” of them. Captive governments are excellent tools for this. Neoliberal free market fundamentalism (globalization) requires governments willing to repress their citizens.

    However, a democratized globalization, where decisions are made by those affected by them, may produce a different game. Win/lose is not People Care – not on either side. Win/win is People Care.

    But the end of cheap oil eliminates the profitability of long supply lines, so globalization almost surely ends when oil prices spike to a level that collapses the globalized industrial economy again – at about current prices. $100/barrel means collapse. Prices beyond that exacerbate an already bad problem.

    The global Transition movement is a Permaculture design that stresses re-localizing our economies so we have a voice in our own fate – so we can avoid the consequences of decisions we didn’t make and wouldn’t have made, given the chance. Local economies that can “just say no” to corporate rapaciousness are what will finally put an end to the fascism gripping Earth now.

    This fascism smiles, has good manners, and speaks well. It’s been called friendly fascism but the friendly part gets over when it’s time to make big money by exploiting a resource belonging to someone else – as in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

    So I’ll read, and consider, what you bring, but, so far, it sounds pretty dubious, to me. It will have to be good.

    Tommy Tolson

  5. You are right, we should not let the corporations steal the right to define the terms of globalization! Lets re-define the term within the frameworks of the permaculture ethics!

    Also, “free will” is the crossing points of the x-axis of time and the y-axis of knowledge. The more time to observe before a decision is made, and the more knowledge to judge this decision on, the larger the degree of “free will”.

  6. Some very good points brought up by all commenting; too many in fact to respond to each point-by-point, so I will do my best to keep this response short & sweet…

    If by ‘globalization’, we mean ‘neoliberal free market fundamentalism’, ‘corporate rapaciousness’, and ‘dominance and hegemony of corporate culture’… than yes, by those definitions ‘globalization’ is a horribly destructive force.

    However, if by ‘globalization’ we mean ‘free sharing of ideas & information’, ‘collaborating across cultures’, and ‘a global awakening to corporate & political structures that clearly do not work’… than by these definitions ‘globalization’ can be a powerfully restorative force.

    [for a more detailed exploration of this concept, see also:
    ‘RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilization’ ]

    Defined this way, surely the ‘globalization’ – the global uptake – of permaculture-based thinking is an outcome we are striving for.

    To borrow a quote on ‘education’ from ‘The Simple Life’, albeit with a slight modification (substitute ‘education’ with ‘the G-word):

    “Globalization, like the mass of our age’s inventions, is after all, only a tool; everything depends upon the workman who uses it.”

    Let permaculturists be the workmen and women who lead the global village into the Quiet Revolution of Earth Care, People Care, and Resource Share – by creating educated, empowered communities, each individual student at a time.

    …because, as we have been shown time and time again (think Bolivia’s response to water privatization, or Egypt’s response to a corrupt government) – it is not possible to forever control an informed, aware, and empowered community.

    This is why the work we do is so important. There is no simpler, more empowering act that we can do, than growing our own food using what nature gives us freely.

    This is the simple act of the quiet revolutionary.


  7. Globalisation has a long history, well it started before history, with movement of people around the globe. We can se now many negative aspects of it because globalisation is in the hands of a small group of people, or maybe not… If you think about it, this website itself is the fruit of globalisation. Even permaculture is the fruit of globalisation. Maybe the term is simply neutral, is the movement of people around the globe which is not neutral.
    I don’t criminalise globalisation, business, money, as many negative aspects come from us, not from the above terms.
    I think that first we really need to agree on the basics of permaculture:
    take your own responsibilities
    act in a COOPERATIVE way
    Earth care, People Care, Share of Surplus*

    *The third Ethic is the most “difficult to agree upon” one, it is not “simple” or immediately shared as the first two, and HERE LIES OUR DIFFICULTY.
    If we can’t agree on ALL the three ethics, I think we need to still remain on this subject and really work on this.

    For the rest: globalisation, business, money …
    all are tools in our toolbox, and if one tool is becoming or is already a problem, we really should think that the “problem is the solution” and find the way to use it in a positive way.


  8. I was going on the definition of globalization implicit in the article, where one person or business can talk to another at any time or go any where anytime. That is the type of globalization that specifically has given us so much in the way of technology and communication, but is clearly now one of our central problems. I am even willing to admit that I am addicted to it, just like any addict. Even older types of globalization are problematic, I remember a transcript of a class Bill Mollison gave (I am seriously not a cultist of his), he tells of how Ireland used to be the land of trees and it was cut down to make ships and to make charcoal for steel. If you are using the meaning of globalization of human migration, then sure it might be a neutral term, but maybe not. From Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual pg 3: “From a great many case histories we can list some rules of use, for example the RULE OF NECESSITOUS USE-that we may leave any natural system alone until we are, of strict necessity, forced to use it. We may then follow up with RULES OF CONSERVATIVE USE…” When we migrated out of Africa, did we do so out of necessity or conservatively? How many civilizations have collapsed and why is there a pre-history? Clearly something didn’t go well. I don’t know if migrating out of Africa was necessitous, but the point is that we either use the rules we know can lead to lasting sustainability or we don’t and must change based on that understanding or not. We can create a space for ourselves on earth or hope we reach a technological escape velocity into space from the disaster we create for ourselves in this space. I honestly can’t wait to hear you shatter my myths of business. I would beg Matthew first to define the ethics by which you are judging. If we have no ethics, then I believe sadly there is no point to this exercise.

  9. Matthew – you still haven’t defined globalisation, as you are quoting other definitions again. And you can define it to mean localisation if you like, or sharing and collaboration of ideas across cultures. But it’s not any of these things (as these things were going on way before corporate control of the world).

    Globalisation is what globalisation does. And the process by which it does that (violently, and forcefully). We don’t need to take on a word that is “owned” by big corporates and big governments. We have our own words to use – permaculture, transition, sharing, collaboration, localisation, diversity, polycultures, food forests – and many others. None of these words can be called globalisation.

  10. I agree that “globalization” is not (or should not be) a dirty word.

    If one wants to criticize the evil aspects of it, then I would suggest words like imperialism, mercantilism, war, theft, government, force, central banking, fiat money, foreign “aid”, corporatism, etc.

  11. I thought this quote was interesting in view of this debate: “Globalism …. consists of the global hegemony of Western, or more latterly, American interests. It is the global imposition of a monoculture. But to this unilateral sense of globalism a multilateral sense can be contrasted. That is to say, globalism may be understood either as the universal spread of a dominant influence OR as the multilateral interaction and interpermeation of local influences and hence as the mutual constitution of local cultures. In the former unilateral sense, globalism is clearly destructive of local economies and cultures. But in the latter, multilateral sense globalism arguably furnishes an indispensable condition for positive forms of localism” quoted from Freya Mathews, Reinhabiting Reality

  12. reading Muhammad Yunus’ ‘Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism’ at the moment, and was reminded of this conversation by a passage from the book:

    “Globalization, as a general business principal, can bring more benefits to the poor than any alternative. But without proper oversight and guidelines, globalization has the potential to be highly destructive.”

    …Everything works both ways…

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