One kazillion Google searches and counting

Break out the kazoos! How the World Works is one year old today

By Andrew Leonard
Published December 7, 2006 8:27PM (EST)

One year ago today, How the World Works launched with a mundane item on Detroit's self-inflicted woes, a slightly ahead-of-the-curve piece on how the boom in solar energy was causing a shortage of polysilicon, and an introduction to the whole project (that now strikes me as more than a tad self-indulgent.)

Well, allow me to crank up the self-indulgence quotient a couple notches higher. 365 days, 621 posts (yes, I counted), heaven (or hell) only knows how many jargon-laden .pdf files, and about one kazillion Google searches later, How the World Works arrives at its first birthday. (And please, let us not dwell on how the 64th anniversary of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was probably an inauspicious date to commence anything.)

I still feel (as I wrote in my intro) "that I don't understand more than a fraction of the issues at stake" in many of the domains that I am committed to exploring. But I learn a few new things every day.

Add them all up, and I know more than I did a year ago. Enough to wince, looking back at some of my earliest efforts, like What's So Evil About the WTO? or China Online: Will the Censors Ever Crack? But enough also to look forward to the next year with high anticipation. How the World Works has its sea legs now, and we're ready to sail.

When I started this project, I didn't know where it would lead. I had no idea how much time I would spend learning about climate change and energy policy and environmental economics, though in retrospect, it now seems obvious that any effort to trace the interconnections that bind the peoples and nations of the world together into one global economy cannot but be constantly drawn, like an iron filing to a magnet or a piece of flotsam sucked into a maelstrom, to industrial civilization's (possibly doomed) love affair with cheap energy. I knew that I would be focusing on China, but I did not appreciate how fascinated I would become with India. I'm not sure I had ever spoken the word "biofuels" one year ago. Now it's practically tattooed on my shoulder. And if you had told me that I would average one post a week on the housing industry I would have looked sidelong at you and started to shuffle away slowly.

I was 100 percent accurate in this observation, however: "Unfurling the complexities of such questions as how to balance free trade and domestic protectionism is hard." No issue has provoked more pushback from readers, and on no other issue am I as fundamentally unsure of what I think myself. I believe global trade is fundamentally a good thing, but that the details of what the U.S. currently practices as "free trade" are not. And yet I also believe withdrawing from the global economy will do more harm than good. Making sense out of these contradictions is an exercise in messy convolution.

But How the World Works has never been afraid to embrace contradictions! And since I don't believe there is one ultimate Answer that tidies up all the questions I or anybody else has about how to solve the manifold problems and challenges afflicting humanity into a neat little package with a pretty little bow, I'm happy to pick away at the edges, seeking iotas of understanding here and there, hoping that in the end they add up to a good story.

For fun, and for better or worse, here are a few of my favorite posts. They are neither representative or particularly enlightening. Most don't even have much to do with "globalization." I just like them.

But enough of navel-gazing! There is much yet to learn about transgenic switchgrass!

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works