Issue

Global Goods, Local Costs

Behind almost every product we buy and the GDP numbers we worry over, there is a story whose trail crosses the globe. Every physical product starts as raw material somewhere, from the gold in our jewelry to the shrimp at our favorite restaurant and the minerals within our mobile phones and laptops.

The rapid industrialization of countries like India, China and Brazil and a voracious consumer culture in Europe, the United States and Japan mean ever greater demand for these raw materials—and ever greater pressures on the individuals, communities and environments that bear the cost of providing them.

These local costs too often remain hidden. They are obscured by companies and governments that put a premium on production and exports. They are little understood by consumers, whose concept of "price" and "value" does not include damage done to people and places far away.

Global Goods, Local Costs is an effort to make those connections plain, to show the true costs of producing the commodities that have become essential to our lifestyles but that we mostly take for granted. These reports touch on goods and challenges across the globe that share a common theme: the implications of a vision of endless prosperity set against the reality of a finite planet.

Global Goods, Local Costs

March 01, 2017

Ecuador: Health Consequences of Ceramic Glazing

Caitlin J. Cotter

An Andean village has battled severe lead toxicity from ceramics production, and now residents face the challenges of alternative glazing compounds or abandoning their cottage industry altogether.

October 13, 2016

South Africa's Toxic Legacy

Mark Olalde

More than 6,000 abandoned mines pierce South African soil, and the nation is now left to deal with the environmental and social rehabilitation from what was once its most important industry.

October 11, 2016

The World Without Wildlife

Rachel Nuwer

Demand for animals vastly outstrips availability. What are the forces driving the current poaching crisis, what we stand to lose if species fall, and what is being done to stop the killing?

July 29, 2016

The Deadly Global War for Sand

Vince Beiser

Concrete. Glass. Silicon. Our civilization is built on the most important yet most overlooked commodity in the world: sand. And we are starting to run out.

July 28, 2016

Coffee in Colombia: The Fight Against Climate Change

Camila DeChalus

Camila DeChalus directed and produced a video for her project about how, with help from the Catholic Church, coffee farmers in rural Colombia are fighting against the impacts of climate change.

March 21, 2017|

Our Cotton Colonies

Following a T-shirt's supply chain from Burkina Faso to Bangladesh to your local mall—and back again.

March 13, 2017|

A Global Sand Mining Crisis

Sand is a crucial material for making concrete, asphalt, and glass — the building blocks of our cities. The worldwide construction boom is causing widespread environmental damage.

March 06, 2017|

Glazing and Health as Family Affairs

In La Victoria, Ecuador, alternatives to lead glazing of tiles and painting bowls with gasoline in La Victoria are not perfect, but their intentions—healthy children—are great.

March 07, 2017|

Who Makes Your Clothes?

This week: the dark history behind modern day cotton production, Saudi Arabia's religious exports, and the violent pursuit of sand.

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