Our Small World
Earth is the same size as always. Yet it feels smaller than ever before. People, products, and ideas now crisscross the globe at a dizzying pace. Problem is, so do pollutants and disease-causing microbes.
Back in 1620, the Mayflower took two months to cross the Atlantic. Today's jet passengers take the same trip in just hours. E-mail can do it in seconds. Those are just two examples of how technology is transforming our sense of space and time. You can think of many others.
This set of dramatic changes is called globalization. It is one of the most powerful forces of our time. It means that an ordinary American can, with no extra effort, eat grapes grown in Costa Rica, wear jeans sewn in China, and drive a car built in Japan. It means we face choices that our ancestors could scarcely imagine.
Yet globalization poses challenges too. Take outsourcing. That's when a company replaces workers in its own country with cheaper labor in another country. On the one hand, outsourcing can mean less expensive products because of the lower labor costs. On the other, it can mean unemployment in the country doing the outsourcing. So deciding whether it’s good or bad is not easy.
Globalization can also affect our health. As people and goods move from continent to continent, germs can travel with them. They can spread HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis (TB), SARS, West Nile Virus, avian flu, mad cow disease, and other ailments. Then there are pollutants in air and water. Like diseases, they have never respected boundaries.
Globalization isn't going away. We must, therefore, learn to cope with it, to reap its benefits and solve its problems. Understanding is a crucial first step. That's why this chapter gives you the lowdown on globalization and its impact on human health.