Interdependence – Our Shared Ecology

Big Question: How is global citizenship related to ecological interdependence?

Time Commitment: 80 minutes

Reflection Question: How does your understanding of interdependence and, perhaps, obligation, include or exclude the broader natural environment?

Deep Dive, Part 1: Overview

To reflect on the relationships among interdependence, cosmopolitanism, and ecological understanding, watch this brief, 4 and a half minute poem and film with Amanda Gorman:

As you’ve noticed throughout the pages of this toolkit, we are concerned with interdependence and contributing to just, inclusive, sustainable communities. Civil society is equally relevant for advancing commitments to human interdependence as it is to deepening appreciation for environmental interdependence. In many ways, we feel that the concepts of cosmopolitanism and global citizenship – in and of themselves resistant to excessive emphasis on state-based identities – push back on division to recognize interdependence. The earth is one system. We are all part of that system.

Several innovations in civil society, research, global governance, and governments have occurred in the last decade – all aiming to strengthen our capacities to understand our interdependencies in manners that are inclusive of ecological thinking.

Deep Dive, Part 2: SDGs and Global Governance

Nations gathered from around the world in Brazil in 2012 and launched a commitment to The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a set of targets that aim to promote prosperity while protecting the environment. Watch this two-minute overview of the goals coupled with an invitation to take part in a set of courses on SDGs developed through the SDG Academy:

We provide a more extensive overview of SDGs here.

SDGs are tracked and encouraged through the United Nations, which as an intergovernmental organization, plays a role in global governance. Global governance is another key concept for folks advancing a deeper commitment to interdependence. It refers to international cooperation among diverse actors to advance shared goals.

By setting shared targets, independent states move together toward shared goals – at least in theory. But there’s a problem – the United Nations does not have an enforcement mechanism. Despite lacking an enforcement mechanism to guarantee implementation, global governance does occur through some shared rules. Remember all those global flights in a single hour?

All of those flights are possible because of a global network of agreements around air traffic and safety. There are also global networks of agreements around sending packages, shipping goods, and enforcing contracts. Without global governance, most people reading this page would not have the clothes they’re wearing right now – or the device they’re reading on, or the chair they’re sitting on. Global governance is continuous and constant, all around us.

Deep Dive, Part 3: Advancing Global Governance from Brazilian Cotton Farms

Activists, organizations, businesses, and governments utilize the structures of intergovernmental organizations to advance their desires as part of the ongoing dance of global civil society and global governance. Listen to this 29-minute audio clip from Planet Money for one example. As you’ll hear, in a years-long story of resistance to US Farm subsidies, one Brazilian cotton farmer became a government official, then leveraged World Trade Organization rules to broker an international deal that improved the terms of trade for Brazilian Farmers. (The Cotton Dispute is ongoing (2014, 2016, 2018). We share it here as an example of the dance of civil society, actions and activism, business, governments, and governance).

Deep Dive, Part 4: Leveraging Civil Society to Advance Ecological Interdependence and SDGs

SDGs provide a particular way of thinking and set of targets, while citizens, organizations, and activists can leverage civil society and governance to hold governments and businesses accountable to making progress on the SDGs. That work often takes the form of people resisting ecological destruction and advocating for limits on resource extraction and pollution. Take a look at Greenpeace’s celebration of a successful campaign to prevent oil drilling in The Arctic:

While our ecological interdependence with the Arctic is profound, campaigning for causes that are far away can sometimes feel disconnected. In the Sunrise Movement, young people are articulating the profound connections between environmental destruction and their own lives:

As we prepare to visit our final reflection questions, we want to emphasize that there are civil society efforts to advance justice, inclusion, and sustainability everywhere. And where efforts are small or not yet formally developed, there are opportunities. Our Philadelphia section includes place-based examples of sustainability efforts and civil society work there. Every campus also has opportunities to leverage its resources and infrastructure toward SDGs. While the video below is somewhat promotional, it also highlights how institutions may make choices to target resources toward hiring, research, community relationships, international recruitment and scholarships, and academic program development that advance SDGs. Watch (3 minutes):

The University of Manchester’s video is an important reminder that civil society organizations come in all shapes and sizes, and that their values may be radical or conservative. In Manchester’s case, such a deep embrace of the SDGs as a way to organize their institutional strategy would strike some as radical, but to us it looks very sensible! One thing we encourage everyone to keep an eye on as you consider your embrace of interdependence, your values, and your opportunities, is the question of what organizations and networks you have a stake in.

If you’re a regular customer, you have a stake in a business. If you’re a student, you have a stake in a school or university. As a community member, you have a stake in your community. Where you identify and leverage your memberships is where you’re most able to support creative change to advance more just, inclusive, and sustainable communities.

Next: How do we know whether we make progress on justice, inclusion, and sustainability?

Citation for this page: Hartman, E. (2020). How is global citizenship related to ecological interdependence? In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from

Further Reading

This image is of a book cover, "The Age of Sustainable Development," by Jeffrey D. Sachs.
This image is of a book cover, "Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2018," by World Bank.
This image is of a book cover, "Introduction to One Health: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Planetary Health," by Elizabeth A. Rayhel, Kelly E. Lane-deGraaf, and Sharon L. Deem.


United Nations Division for Sustainable Development Goals Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (n.d.). Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Retrieved May 7, 2020, from

Podcasts and pieces cited within the podcasts:

NPR (Producer). (2013, May 13). Episode 224: The Cotton Wars [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from

Videos and pieces cited within the videos:

57 Squared. (2009, May 21). World Air Traffic 24 Hour Period [Video file]. Retrieved from

Climate Reality. (2018, December 4). 24 Hours of Reality: “Earthrise” by Amanda Gorman [Video file]. Retrieved from

Greenpeace USA. (2015, December 1). This is how #PeoplePower saved the Arctic from Shell [Video file]. Retrieved from

QuakerSpeak. (2018, July 26). How a Small Group of Quaker Activists Took on PNC Bank and Won [Video file]. Retrieved from

The SDG Academy. (2016, September 19). The SDG Academy Trailer [Video file]. Retrieved from

Sunrise Movement. (2019, July 16). RAY [Video file]. Retrieved from

The University of Manchester. (2019, June 19). How The University of Manchester is supporting the Sustainable Development Goals [Video file]. Retrieved from