The Global Village Has Become A Nightmare

Coined a half-century ago by Marshall McLuhan, the 'global village' had come to express hope in a connected world. Now, such plagues as ISIS and Ebola, show how that can turn against us.

Al-Hasakah, Syria - Women mourn during a funeral of Kurdish fighters killed by ISIS.
Al-Hasakah, Syria - Women mourn during a funeral of Kurdish fighters killed by ISIS.
Peter Praschl

BERLIN — In 1962 there was still hope. That was the year the visionary communication theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote that mankind had reached an age of interconnection he called the "global village." Like many of the terms McLuhan coined, the expression global village soon came to mean something other than what he had originally intended.

It was usually used as a kitsch metaphor to remind us that we humans are part of a big family. There are even children’s books that show the world as, for example, a village with 100 residents: 60 of them are Asians, 14 are Hindus, 17 are illiterate, 21 are overweight. The village concept felt good. It felt like home. It also allowed us to identify problems, such as hunger or shortages of potable water, without being overwhelmed by them.

And just in case we forgot to what extent we were all one, pop music, with its world hug songs, was there to remind us. We, the residents of the privileged North, the people who could afford to be reflective and empathetic, seeing the silver lining in every cloud as we made our tax-deductible charity contributions, swayed to and fro to the tunes.

But now the fun is over. That’s because we’re seeing how much the world really has become a global village, one in which every imaginable misery comes much closer to us than we urban folk are used to. There are videos showing people being beheaded — people with faces, names and professions. These are people one can imagine being friends with. As U.S. President Barack Obama said during his recent address before the United Nations General Assembly, there is "a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers."

A quarter century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 65 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and however many years after all the other events that supposedly mark our collective progress, here’s the state of affairs: a mountain guide is beheaded because he made the mistake of being French; in Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State (ISIS) caliphate, armed patrols make sure that the clothing of the heavily veiled women in the street is entirely opaque.

In Rome, at a Kurdish-led demonstration against ISIS (Photo: )

The knives used to hack off the heads of unbelievers may be locally produced, but the video cameras, the pickup trucks, the weapons, even new jihadist recruits, come from our half of the village. The murderers are often young men from the West, so enraged at life that others end up losing their lives to them. ISIS is something like a reactionary globalization vanguard whose goal it is to subjugate the planet and welcome all miscreants into their fold.

Ebola too — the other danger that could pose a direct threat to us—is masterfully ignoring all containment efforts. For a few weeks, even months, we could talk down the danger. But now the warnings are proliferating that one of these days somebody on the African side of the village is going to get on a plane and get off on our side. No Frontex can prevent that, nor any amendment to asylum law.

Suddenly, we are shocked to learn, it’s about world dominion. It’s about whether evil and barbarism will win, or whether civilization, enlightenment and progress might still deign to prevail. But maybe it’s too late. Maybe we’re too tired, resigned, clueless. Perhaps we’re still just too interested in our own wellbeing and thus blind to the fact that the wellbeing of humanity should sometimes take precedence.

People try and deal with their fear of globalization in almost touchingly idyllic ways. Everybody wants to lay their own claims: the eastern Ukrainians to New Russia, the Scots to an independent Scotland. Here in Germany the Bavarians are calling for stricter border controls. As if those things are going to make anything better. A virus like Ebola doesn’t care what part of a city it’s in, and the jihadist doesn’t have to invade — he’s already there. He’s a former boxer, a rapper, a good student, whatever, and then he becomes indoctrinated by some stuff he sees on the Internet.

A world rescue mission would be too expensive. Nobody could correctly gauge the consequences, and too much blood would be shed. What would the moral justification be? And who is really out there to help fight the enemy on the ground? Do we move against ISIS with Saudi Arabia and Qatar?

The Ebola outbreak is equally confounding. How can one fight Ebola without letting the pharmaceutical industry know that they’re welcome to invest in a little more research on the epidemics of the poor, you know, just kind of like a charity project for humanity?

What to do? One possibility is to finally acknowledge that something really is going on here. It may also be time to accept that a little cultural imperialism isn’t so bad. Call it humanitarian intervention if that makes you feel more comfortable. It could be that some people’s pride, dignity, and identity get hurt. So be it. Time is of the essence. The village needs to be rescued now — and not just our half of town. Something must be done to save the dying Africans and protect the people unlucky enough to live where ISIS has started to implement its own plan for the global village.

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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