Free trade agreements and conservation don’t mix

Recently, a great friend of mine recommended nakedcapitalism.com, which explores the ways in which corporate interests and the finance industry manipulate political systems. Although the blog focuses mainly on economics, the content has inspired me to entirely re-think the way I approach conservation and other environmental issues. By now, the dictum that conservation must take place in a market-oriented context is perhaps (overly) familiar to many of us. Aside from the inherent issues associated with the valuation of ecosystem goods and services, this approach is troublesome because it often pits local stakeholders against transnational corporations. The obvious power imbalance in such situations is illustrated very well by the recent West Virginia water crisis: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/14/3158011/west-virginia-political/

There are many good reasons to question market-driven approaches to conservation, but perhaps the most fundamental objection is the incompatibility between neoliberal economics and environmentalism. For illustration, look no further than the giant Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement that contains ‘a binding international government system’ that would allow transnational corporations to flout local labor and environmental regulations in their pursuit of profit. The negotiations are being conducted in secret, but Wikileaks has obtained some documents that shed light on just how awful this deal would be for job security, internet freedom, etc. etc. The most recently leaked documents indicate that the TPP would gut environmental regulations (read more here and here). Despite the secrecy of the arbitrations, the Obama administration is trying to ‘fast track’ the TPP so that Congress can approve the agreement quickly, without the ability to make any amendments.

Conservation efforts by NGOs are pretty much worthless in the face of this deal, which would permit corporations to sue governments for prospective profits (not even actual profits!) lost due to ‘burdensome’ environmental regulations. It is unbelievable that such a hugely influential agreement could be rammed through Congress with a simple up-or-down vote. If you care at all about environmental issues, I’d urge you to learn more about the TPP (and contact your representatives!) at www.exposethetpp.org

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