Carl Pope: How the global economic system is destroying people and the planet


Part of the genius behind the Goldman Environmental Prize is that it not only rewards inspiring individuals, but it also shines a light on communities and struggles that would otherwise stay off the radar screen of the global community. This year’s winners, the 25e-were no exception.

Few onlookers – or those exposed to the media about this year’s winners – had never heard of Myanmar’s Myitsone Dam project on the Irawaddy River, blocked by Myint Zaw’s efforts. Even living next door to Canada, I was totally unaware of the victorious struggle waged by the Marilyn’s Baptists XeniGwet’in First Nation of British Columbia to stop a massive gold and copper mine that would have destroyed Fish Lake, the point of anchoring their spiritual identity. I was also unaware of the Agua Zarca dam project in Honduras, a joint project of the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, the largest developer of dams in the world. The indigenous Lenca people who would be displaced by the dam had no say in the decision to build it until Berta Cacera, this year’s winner from South America, organized her people to force Sinohydro to withdraw. .

Passing the Fast Track Authority will make us even more complicit in the destruction of lives and communities that is produced by our current economic system, which emphasizes industrial exploitation at all costs and without any local responsibility.

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Supporting heroes like these in struggles that were previously unrecognized also highlights the underlying – and often vicious – architecture of today’s global economy. None of these three projects was motivated by local needs or designed for local benefit. All of them represented the efforts of remote elites to poach unindustrialized natural commons – as if British Columbia, Honduras and Myanmar were somehow the deserted island of Robinson Crusoe, waiting to be appropriated by the first comer. under “the keepers of the discoverer” doctrines.

The Myitsone dam is said to have produced electricity that would be shipped to distant China. The copper and gold from the Prosperity mine was not for the benefit of XEniGwet’in, but of global mining giant TML. Electricity from the Aqua Zarca dam was intended for local use, but not by local communities. Since the 2009 coup, the new Honduran government has allocated 30 percent of the country’s land in the form of mining concessions to global mining interests; the Aqua Zarca dam was to supply these mines. (Just to get an idea of ​​what these mining claims mean, imagine foreign mining companies being granted essentially unlimited rights to surface mine all of Texas, California, Colorado, New Jersey, Virginia. -Western, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Michigan, Wyoming, Kentucky Tennessee, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Maryland – and that dams like the Grand Coulee were being redirected to these foreign companies).

There is therefore a vital educational outcome for the Goldman Prize as well as recognition and support for these frontline advocates in their communities. But frontline narratives – in isolation – have a weakness. They generate empathy, but not community. The audience at the Goldman ceremony, or those who read the stories or watch the videos, are faced with someone else’s struggle, a weaker motivation for action than learning their own struggles. It intensifies when our consumption is, indirectly, the engine of exploitation, but at the same time, most of us feel powerless to make choices that change that – we have, after all, no idea. where did the iron ore in our stainless steel water flask come from — Honduras?

So I want to close this year’s Goldman Prize with two more data points. The first is an astonishing statistic. Over the past decade, much of the world’s manufacturing capacity has shifted from Europe and North America to China. This fueled huge economic growth, but also generated huge volumes of climate and health pollution. On China’s infamous air pollution problem, 36% of sulfur dioxide, 27% of nitrogen oxides and 17% of black carbon are emitted during the production of goods for export, or about one-fifth. of these exports to the United States.

Manufacturing goods in China for export to the United States not only shifts pollution from the United States to China, but dramatically increases total global pollution. Chinese manufacturing has emission rates ranging from 6 to 17 times that of the US and the EU.

Thus, the American outsourcing of manufacturing to China has had a major negative impact on the health of the Chinese population. But it turns out that China isn’t like Las Vegas – what happens in China doesn’t stay in China. Chinese air pollutants are carried by upper atmospheric winds across the Pacific – and although their concentrations are diluted on this journey, it turns out that they are not rendered harmless. Even in 2007, when China’s pollution volumes were much lower than they are today, new research shows that air pollution issued in china while the production of goods for export was responsible for up to 24 percent of total sulphate pollution over the western United States, as shown in the table below.

Thus, the current trade regime between China and the United States is not just about the export of manufacturing jobs from the United States to China and the importation of cheaper consumer goods. are in China, a significant portion of American pollution is now generated in China by producing goods for American consumers. We import pollution as well as goods. Which brings me to another big news this week: the deal between President Obama, Republican leaders in Congress, and some Senate Democrats (but not Minority Leader Harry Reid) to grant the President “Expressway” the authority for the proposed negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the White House maintains that the TPP will be a new kind of trade deal, one that will protect the environment, which is simply not true. Like NAFTA and like the WTO, the TPP will consider that countries cannot set pollution standards for the way the goods they import are produced. Indeed, while this will prevent the United States from setting pollution standards for factories that export to our consumers, it will in effect allow companies to sue to lower pollution standards that already exist here.

This doctrine was based on the idea that Americans are not affected by pollution control standards in China and therefore should not intervene. This is clearly not the case for climate pollution: CO2 emitted anywhere has the same impact on California drought. But this is also clearly not clear for conventional health pollution, even for countries separated by the Pacific Ocean, let alone for close neighbors those of Central America or Europe.

So we need to recognize that frontline communities in British Columbia, Myanmar or Honduras aren’t just protecting their health and ecosystems, they are standing up for ours. What puts them most at risk, however, is our willingness to tolerate a global economic system in which multinational producers are allowed to bribe and intimidate weak governments by giving them the right to exploit local resources for profits. profits of distant shareholders. Passing the Fast Track Authority will make us even more complicit in the destruction of lives and communities that is produced by our current economic system, which emphasizes industrial exploitation at all costs and without any local responsibility.


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