Often, consumers in the developed world assume that the greatest impact they can have on developing countries is philanthropic: by choosing certain products, certain brands and certain charities, they can improve the lives of citizens far away. It is a widely held belief that the developed world’s major interaction with the developing is that of a benevolent elder sibling: offering advice and help when necessary, while also attending to their own, separate affairs.
A recent report by The Atlantic once again highlights how incorrect this idea is. Indeed, the activities of the first world often have profound consequences for the developing world as they bear the brunt of paying for the sins of those who are more advantaged.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, a famine devastated parts of northern Africa, leaving 100,000 dead and upward of 700,000 relying on foreign food aid for survival. Infamous across the world, photos of starving cattle marching across dusty plains and children with shriveled arms and distended bellies still remain burned in many minds. Initially, this was blamed on poor farming practices leading to desertification. New research by scientists, however, shows that the drought which caused the famine was triggered by the number of factory emissions from Western Europe and the United States of America. The release of sulfate aerosols, which cool the climate around them, disrupted rainfall patterns for decades until clean-air laws were passed in the industrialized countries.
It is an uncomfortable reality that the world is interconnected and that the decisions of one country will undoubtedly have ramifications for another. More than ever in today’s connected and globalized world, countries have to work in sincere cooperation, not just for individual benefit, but for the good of the international community.
The developed world, having such power, also carries an immense amount of responsibility in wielding it. To a large extent, it is failing at that responsibility: smartphones continue to fly off the shelves, despite the myriad controversies surrounding them, including Apple’s suicidal factory workers and the conflict minerals necessary for production. Fairtrade products are still pushing to be the norm, and clean energy bills struggle to be passed.
Too often, citizens rely on governments to take the initiative in social progress. As we continue to dive deeper and deeper into climate change and growing levels of inequality, however, the average citizen has to start harnessing their individual power. The old saying goes that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane; while this may be an exaggeration, one must ask themselves what the potential impact of human life can be, even the most ordinary one, across the globe.