Economic globalization demands two important adjustments in how we understand and undertake efforts to protect the global environment. One critical but overlooked effect of globalization is its impact on the “sustaining middle”—the large but fragile stratum of the Earth's population that lives, works, and consumes in ways most closely approximating genuine sustainability. Although we tend to view the world in dichotomous North/South terms, perhaps the greatest challenge of global environmental protection is to stem the corrosive effects of globalization on both ends of this middle stratum. Second, we must understand and respond to the ways that globalization undermines traditional regulatory approaches to environmental protection. Power in global production systems has shifted both upstream and downstream from the factory floor, where environmental efforts traditionally have focused. Viewing the problem from the consumption angle calls attention to the importance of following economic power “downstream” in global commodity chains, to the ideologies, symbols, relationships and practices that drive consumption.

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