Free Trade And Environmental Protection Essay, Research Paper
Can Free Trade and Environmental Protection Coexist? An important issue in the international relations of the twentieth century involves whether or not free trade and environmental protection can coexist. The goal of a free trade economy is to increase the global economy, while environmental protectors try to find ways of reversing some of the negative effects that humans have inflicted upon the earth. Because of the increasing popularity of this green movement, many political leaders are trying to find ways to make the two drastically different ideas incorporated into one. However, there is no real compromise between the two. Effective policies can t advocate to protect only certain species it s all or nothing. The same is true for free trade. Many people have the perception that free trade and environmental protection are so drastically different that it is impossible for the two to coincide. Some people find both of these issues to be the cause of all our most pressing global, environmental, mental, human health, and democratic problems. Critics of the free trade agreement argue that free trade pretends to be value free, yet is fundamentally value driven (Goldsmith, 219). Because of its significant source of national revenue, trade has been synonymous with states political goals since the early inhabitants of the earth first realized how to transport goods over long distances. At first, this early trading system was simply a way of enriching one s personal fortune, yet it soon became an easy way for countries to gain money and power. Intellectual arguments in support of free trade began in the late nineteenth century, but the political drive promoting this global trade approach did not become a reality until the 1940 s after the Second World War and the United States Great Depression. This explosion of international trade occurred at this time because countries were then seeking ways of rebuilding their own (and the global) economy. This concept seemed like a highly logical way to improve the economy for all nations because it called for the release of high tariffs. A slowed economy (due to global inflation and high petroleum prices) is another reason why the popularity of free trade increased after the second World War (Augley, 27). The popularity of this policy has continued until now partly because third world countries acknowledge the way of life that industrialized nations have, and wish to have the same. Also, much of the public favors this plan because they do not want to see many people malnourished and living in poverty. However, many people do not realize that we have now created a way of life which cannot be had by everyone due to the enormous amount of energy which it requires. For example, it would be impossible for all humans to own and operate cars because there are no longer enough natural resources to provide the energy necessary for this commodity. Free trade has an underlying basis of individual liberty, and implies two symbolic freedoms (Audley, 21). The first being a cost-less solution to expanding the human scale, meaning that it s a method to improve the way of human life for the whole world, while costing nothing. This also means that free trade tries to enable many third world countries to become great and more advanced, like the well-off, industrialized nations. Environmentalists disagree with this because they believe that free trade does have a cost involved with it, that being the quality of life on earth. Studies have proven that currently, we are running out of fossil fuels. In fact, if we continue to consume them at the current rate, we will completely run out of all known reserves (for most major fossil fuels) in about than three hundred years. An example of degradation of the environment for the betterment of economy has occurred recently in Taiwan and South Korea. These two countries have achieved stunning rates of economic growth, and the World Bank views them as role models for other less developed nations because of their success. However, the bank neglects to take into account the damage that both Taiwan and South Korea have inflicted upon their land. In the case of Taiwan, forests have been cleared for industrial and residential development. Almost all of the virgin broadleaf forests have been completely destroyed. Roads that have been built to accommodate this growing nation have aided in serious cases of soil erosion some involving whole mountain sides sliding away! (Goldsmith, 79). This allowance of free trade has had many negative effects upon the earth. One of the most critical effects that it has been inflicting upon the environment involves the use of fertilizers. Over the past few years, the amount of fertilizer use has tripled, aiding in water pollution and many other problems. Another example of a negative effect is the decline in soil s fertility. This has resulted in a smaller diversity of plants which can be grown and harvested in that area. The amount of diversity present ultimately leads to an increase in soil erosion, with runoff of excess fertilizers adding to the already present water pollution and contaminating drinking water sources. In addition to this environmental destruction, Taiwan s natural goods are heavily contaminated with pollutants resulting in the avoidance of them by many consumers. Critics argue that the environmental damage can be repaired due to the fact that Taiwan has increased its wealth and is more economically well off than in previous years. Yet whether or not the environment can be repaired is still questionable. Also, in order to keep increasing their economy, Taiwan must continue the destruction of its most valuable assets its natural resources. Free traders say that when growth has made people wealthy enough, they will have the funds to clean up the damage done to the environment in order to get to there however, doing so would reduce their competitiveness. Taiwan has set an example helping to emphasize the fact that there are certain limits which the earth has and can withstand while still holding our rapidly increasing human population. Overall, the biosphere is incapable of sustaining all six billion human inhabitants on the earth at the consumption of the industrialized countries (also known as the North ), and the free trade agreements tend to overlook this important aspect. As Edward Goldsmith wrote in his essay Global Trade and the Environment on page 91 of The Case Against the Global Economy: Clearly, there is no way of protecting our environment within the context of a global free trade economy committed itself to continued economic growth and hence to increasing the harmful impact of our activities on an already fragile environment. The second argument in favor of free trade incorporates the freeing of individual entrepreneurs from an intrusive government (Audley, 21). This involves the freedom from governmental restrictions and other prohibiting laws which may limit ways that people use their resources to make money. Yet, having no restrictions also ruins the ecosystem by allowing wide spread destruction to occur due to favoring money and the improvement of life for lesser developed nations over the well being of the earth. In October of 1998, the World Trade Organization handed down a verdict against a U.S. law banning the importation of shrimp. This law was formed in order to prevent the killing of endangered sea turtles which become entrapped in nets used to catch shrimp. The law required that U.S. shrimpers use a TED ( turtle excluder device). The controversy with this law occurred when the U.S. stated that they would not import shrimp from countries not using this device. The WTO claims that the U.S. was biased in their implementation of this policy. Some argue that this case is proof to many, that free trade threatens the environment. A World Wildlife Fund official said, The ruling reveals the profound bias of the WTO against environmental policies, and in favor of free trade at any cost (Lester).
In the beginning, free trade was favored by those disappointed with the current mercantile trading system due to its high tariffs. Those who favored liberal trading believed that it would promote the growth of the global economy because of the specialization of products. This specialization would ultimately lead to an increase in the amount of goods and services for consumers along with a higher quality product. Many believed this plan was too good to be true and did not realize what consequences would follow along with it. The current free trade agreements were created and promoted by businesses for whom environmental regulations are nothing more than costs that interfere with profits. Therefore these businesses feel as though environmental restrictions should be minimized. Currently, when dealing with trade agreements, the environmental issue is avoided whenever possible. In fact, the word environment is never mentioned in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)! (Goldsmith, 90) Countries which have cheap cash crops import things that will increase their gross national product. Yet they usually end up depleting their environment and costing more in the long run. An example of this involves Brazil, their rainforests, and their attempts to raise cattle. Brazil currently has the highest rate of deforestation in the world. Their forests are being cut down so that resources yielding more money can be grown. The woodlands are destroyed so grazing land can be made available for the raising of cattle. Brazilians wish to raise cattle instead of the natural resources already present in the rainforests because the cows will bring in more money meeting the goal of making their economy bigger and better. This is devastating to the environment because rainforests are the most diverse areas in the world. They cover less than ten percent of the earth s land, yet contain two thirds of all plant biomass and half of all the species on earth. Even worse, because of free trade, there are no laws prohibiting this deadly procedure. There are thousands, if not millions, of species present in the rainforests that have yet to be documented. However, if their habitats continue to be destroyed, we will never be aware of their existence and learn of what secrets they may hold. A good illustration of this problem involves loggers and the threatened yew tree. Until recent awareness of the problem, loggers would go into forests and perform the clear cut process. To clear cut means to free the area of all trees, regardless to whether or not they d be used or left to die. One of the trees that was cut and then left to decay was the yew tree. The yew contains a chemical called taxon which has recently been used as a successful cancer treatment medicine. If recent progress in cancer research had not been performed and the yews had become extinct, we may have missed out on a possible cure, or at least treatment, for a devastating disease. Humans have always felt a special connection with the earth and the now large movement called environmentalism (or the Green Movement ) has been slowly growing. At the present time, eight out of ten U.S. citizens consider themselves environmentalists. Because of its growing popularity, politicians are currently trying to find ways to incorporate the protection of the environment into plans for economic growth. One of the early environmentalists in America was Henry David Thoreau. He and other early environmental philosophers embraced the theory of transcendentalism one which regrets a materialistic society. Also, national environmentally concerned organizations (present in the United States) such as the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, and the National Wildlife Federation were formed in the nineteenth century. These groups lobbied Congress for wildlife preserves and helped form many national parks in the United States that are still present today. The first political era which showed a shift in American attitudes toward environmental management was the 1960 s. In the next few decades, new environmental organizations were formed such as Friends of the Earth (FoE), Greenpeace, and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The new organizations helped to form and promote the first Earth Day in 1970. Since 1950, world trade has increased twelve fold, while global wealth only five times (Goldsmith, 91). Although there has been an increase in global wealth, there has also been an enlargement in the amount of poverty, unemployment, social disintegration, and environmental destruction. This is proof that free trade is not successfully accomplishing the goals it was intended for and causing more harm than before. Liberal trading was designed to improve our standard of living, yet, as noted on page 219 of Free Trade: the Great Destroyer, they have been decreasing in the United States since 1980. The environment is our greatest wealth and we can t afford to lose it. Environmental policies and free trade are very different in aspects such as institutional structure, rules, and norms. These differences suggest a good deal of conflict, yet their similarities indicate a pattern for their intersection because they are both based on cooperation. On the negative side, cooperation at the international level slows policy making. However, emphasis on cooperation creates tension over national supremacy. Free trade is based on the belief that economic growth presents the greatest opportunity for expanding social welfare. However, natural limits can place bounds on the amount of human activity. As mentioned previously, free trade is not the answer for our global concerns. There will always be a society where some have more than others, nothing will ever be equal. Yet at the same time, it is highly unlikely that such a drastic change could and would be made in the lives of humans. Technology and human growth and improvement cannot simply be stopped where it is and be suppressed. Therefore, it is hard to find the right answer for many of today s problems, and compromises must be made. The solution for the problem regarding environmental damage and the growth of economic nations requires the United States and other industrialized nations to not have some of the wealth that they do today. By nature, humans are greedy and unable to give up technology which has aided them on a daily basis. Therefore, the chances of society going back-to-nature are miniscule after all, who wants to give up what they have and change their way of life to a much simpler one? In order to try and save the natural resources left on this earth, human technology needs to be slowed including the amount of global trade. At the present time, local production for local consumption is necessary. This localized production and consumption process would result in the reduction of global trades and insurance of strong environmental standards at all times. When we abandon our ability to produce for ourselves, we not only deplete our natural resources, but we also separate authority from responsibility. This jeopardizes our security and future. Although it would mean less specialization and higher prices, it would be much more beneficial in the long run; after all, there will be no trade and economic development on a dead planet (Goldsmith, 91).