Sunday, December 21, 2008

From Aussie Iron Ore to Toyota Corolla Sold in America

Globalization has been coming since ... forever. The first time one guy from over there traded with a guy from over here, globalization has been coming. Every act of trading has been one more baby step on the way to globalization.

PARADE Contributing Editor Simon Winchester wanted to find out just how intertwines the world economy really is, so he followed iron ore from Earth to final product.

At an iron-ore mine in western Australia, I once stood and watched as a young man worked an excavator to claw bucketfuls of deep-red ore from the ground. For a project, I wanted to follow the ore on its journey from raw material to finished product. So I went on a train that took it to a port, then traveled on the Chinese ship that carried it to Japan. There it was refined into steel ingots, which were sent to a factory outside Tokyo and fashioned into a Toyota Corolla. Next I got on a mighty ship carrying thousands of Toyota imports across the Pacific Ocean to Seattle.

The car made from my ore--small, red, sporty--was unloaded in Washington and put on a truck. I rode with it to a dealer in San Francisco, where I bought the car. Then I drove it to a port and put it, and me as well, onto a Norwegian passenger liner bound for Australia. Ten days later, I unloaded and drove the car to the cliff face and to the young excavator operator.

"Here," I said to him, pointing at the car. "This is what your bucketful of iron ore made." He was astonished. Astonished that I had come back to see him. Astonished that his pile of ore had been made into a car. But most astonished of all to learn that so many people--Chinese, Japanese, American, Norwegian--from so many countries had been involved in the process. "I guess we are all linked," he said. "Even if we never think we are."
That's a happy ending, but there is always a cloud in the silver lining. The Earth isn't really getting smaller, in fact, it's actually getting bigger by nearly 40,000 tons of cosmic dust deposited on the planet every year. But the world certainly is getting smaller by improved real time communications, material exchanges between entities that depend upon trade with far flung locales. I work for a company that makes battery chargers for communications stations requiring self-contained power. Our power supply units are made in Taiwan and Italy without which we do not have a product to sell. Globalization effects me directly.

Along with raw materials and products come ideas both good and bad. Physicists in Chicago can conduct experiments in Switzerland without leaving home. Terrorists can likewise kill hundreds of people halfway across the world without leaving their camel skin tents. Without globaization, science collaboration would not take place and Muslim killers would only kill their own.

Globalization effects all of us in America and everyone one else around the globe. Winchester writes,

Almost all events, no matter how far away, have an effect on us. Upheaval in Bolivia? That could mean a shortage of cellphone batteries down the road. (Bolivia has the world's largest reserves of lithium, vital to small batteries.) War in the Democratic Republic of Congo? We may have to produce fewer jets, since Congo is a leading exporter of cobalt, a metal crucial to jet engines. More dramatically, if the conflict heats up between Pakistan and India, then nuclear annihilation threatens, since they both have atomic weapons. And yet how much do most Americans know about Bolivia, Congo, Pakistan, or India?
And lots of other stuff, too. From Tanzania comes tanzanite which is the metal in every cellphone that makes them work. From Central America we get bananas that give our bodies potassium so we can work properly. From Pakistan we get clerks for our 7/11 stores and gas stations. Globalization is here and it's here to stay. We've come too far to quit now.

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.

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