Some weeks ago, a toxic slurry from a mining refinery turned the ocean waters blood-red, threatening public health. Dead fish still wash up on the beach, but not on Cape Cod or the Vineyard. The incident had no impact on our livelihood and leisure, and so passed without notice by most New Englanders and the developed world. And yet we all unknowingly contributed to the accident. That’s the moral dilemma of modern globalization: our benefits often rest on unseen harm to people who live at the global fringe.

The solution is not to shun globalization but to demand ethical accountability. To do that, we must untangle the hidden strands of our global lives, especially now, as we seek to develop clean energy.

This particular spill of noxious gunk occurred on the other side of the world, at the Ramu Nickel Cobalt Mine in Papua New Guinea, a country many Americans can’t pinpoint on a map (nor probably your kids, since the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s curriculum framework doesn’t even mention the country). But we certainly enjoy its raw materials, such as Starbucks coffee, ExxonMobil natural gas, and all manner of minerals and ores, including the poisonous mixture recently spewed into one of its many bays.

The mine is owned by a Canadian Company, Cobalt 27 Capital, whose asset map includes the United States, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It was acquired from Highlands Pacific, an Australian subsidiary of the Metallurgical Corporation of China, part of a state-owned enterprise in Beijing. Shares of these companies passed through financial institutions in Sydney, Hong Kong, Toronto, Frankfort, and New York City. A few months ago, a Swiss venture capital firm, Pala Investments, involved with companies from the UK and Sierra Leone to Indonesia and Russia, announced its intention to purchase Cobalt 27. In some form or another, these many trails of money lead from a distant mine to all of our pockets, bank accounts, and retirement plans.

Papua New Guinea, a country of 8 million people, has less paved roads than Boston plows in a snowstorm. But our fast-growing interest in renewable energies, especially electric and hybrid vehicles, depends on metals mined in the country, especially cobalt and nickel, necessary components of rechargeable batteries. These new technologies are a boon for the global future. Studies conclusively demonstrate that electric vehicles release far fewer climate-changing emissions than gasoline cars, and I am personally committed to purchasing one for my next vehicle. But there is often a dirty side to clean energy, as there is to any global commodity, at least so long as we refuse to unravel the threads of globalization and then pressure appropriately the relevant firms to act with the same ethical commitments we expect in our own communities.

Papua New Guinea hovers towards the bottom of international indexes of well-being. It has an abysmal record of human rights for women. Not incidentally, only one-quarter of Cobalt 27 Capital’s senior management are women, less than one-third for Pala, and, as far as I could see, no women in the upper ranks of The Metallurgical Corporation of China. Frankly, Tesla is no better in this regard. Is there a connection between our ongoing tolerance for sexism in the corporate world and environmental destruction? You do the math.

On its website, Cobalt 27 Capital extols the corporate values of “protecting human health and safety, the environment and upholding human rights.” Of course, it’s far easier to invest in website development than the development of business practices that live up to those self-same ideals, especially in the far-flung places on which we depend for basic resources, but which largely escape our public awareness.

“Think globally, act locally” has it wrong. There is no longer any local. We have no choice but to think and act globally, whether it’s in regard to environmental destruction or gender equity. And the first step to making our global community clean, honest, and fair is to understand fully the many strands of globalization. We cannot wash our hands of the immoral stains we refuse to see.

Eric Silverman, a resident of Framingham, is a former anthropology professor affiliated with the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University and The Rhodes Project in England.