Weekly Column: Do not ignore America’s role in the world’s destruction

In this Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, a villager stands amidst destruction caused by an earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana, File)

In America, we are a bit sheltered from the ills of the rest of the world. Even within America, the Northeast has a reputation for being somewhat isolationist and elite. As a country, though, we have a hard time looking outward towards the rest of the world. The problem with a view like this is not clear at first; of course the U.S. should primarily be invested in our own issues. However, this myopic thinking will prove to be a detriment to the country and the world at large if it is allowed to continue.

Take, for example, a recent report by Greenpeace that has found what it believes to be the top 10 contributors to the plastic pollution crisis. While the corporations listed are from and serve countries all over the world, it is telling that the top two—Coca Cola and PepsiCo—were both founded in the United States. Yes, it is difficult to hold these huge, international businesses responsible, but is there nothing we can do?

If plastic seems too unavoidable a resource to place blame upon, look no further than the cigarette industry. Americans would like to believe that since its dive in public opinion, tobacco sales and use have been on the decline. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. The cigarette industry, unlike its users, is as healthy as ever, mainly because it preys on communities in developing countries. And, according to a recent study sponsored by the World Health Organization, this has far-reaching effects, damaging the environment in its production, distribution and waste. This is also an American-born problem, as once again the top two largest tobacco companies were founded and are headquartered in the United States.

Issues like these can feel so far away from Americans, in large part because we do not and cannot easily see the consequences of our actions. This does not negate their existence, though. Many have seen at one point videos of disgusting trash rivers or photos of plastic-ring-necklaced wildlife floating around the internet, and everyone is starting to feel the long-term consequences of climate change.

Detractors will try to claim that these issues are not preventable, or at least that there is little for which to blame the United States. After all, these are global companies, and so surely it must be the responsibility of these corporations or the countries in which they are selling their products to fix the problems. This line of thinking ignores how much Americans benefit from this exploitation of globalism, though. Thousands of people call the aforementioned corporations their employers, and the revenue made from their sales goes back to bolster the United States economy. Indeed, we all take advantage of such systems, and so we all must hold each other accountable.

This is not to say these global problems are the fault of the United States alone. Companies from developed countries the world over perform similarly: the aforementioned WHO study calls out the United Kingdom industry specifically, and the third largest plastic waste producer is Swiss-based Nestlé. From an American perspective, though, one does not need to look beyond their own borders to see the atrocities being committed currently.

While both examples here focus on environmental issues, the repercussions of these corporations’ actions stretch far beyond that. In all parts of the world (but especially in developing countries), there are numerous issues related to the perpetuation of classism and discrimination, the exploitation of workers and more that can be linked back to the actions of American-based companies. In all of these scenarios, it is the responsibility of Americans to show that harmful actions and practices are not acceptable, even if they do benefit the country in the short term.

In an age of increasing global awareness, it is disappointing that many still fail to make the logical leap that with a world economy and community come world crises. If the United States wishes to take part in globalism to reap its benefits, it must also be prepared to work hard and regulate those bad actors who do not wish to work for the benefit of all. And if we, as Americans, wish to consider ourselves enlightened global citizens, we must become aware of global issues and demand solutions to the problems that exist around the world. If not, all of our current actions and those of our businesses will eventually come back to destroy us.


Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.