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  Sierra Magazine
  January/February 2007
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Sierra Magazine
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Ways & Means: Globalism, RIP
Rejecting "free trade" but embracing the world
By Carl Pope
January/February 2007

Carl Pope Globalism is dead. The end came last July in Geneva, where the Doha, Qatar, round of trade talks--intended to further expand "free trade" around the world--was declared dead on arrival. According to the New York Times, even Pascal Lamy, head of the World Trade Organization, "no longer had hope of overcoming resistance in wealthy countries to sharply reducing domestic protection for their politically powerful farm industries."

Doha failed because the world realized that what is being negotiated is not free trade (let alone fair trade), but rigged trade. There's nothing free about protecting U.S. drug companies from competition from more efficient manufacturers in Brazil and India, forcing Mexico to open its borders to subsidized U.S. grain and meat, or refusing imports of sugar and textiles that might compete with our own protected industries. U.S. corporations are happy to profit from new markets abroad, but loath to give up their own safeguards and subsidies.

Globalism was an ideology that promised freedom and prosperity as long as we made sure that capital was freed from governmental and societal constraints. This was done largely through multilateral trade deals and International Monetary Fund structural reforms that rode roughshod over social and environmental standards and safety nets. Yet globalism was unable to deliver on its promise. Its benefits flowed almost exclusively upward, while the poor in Mexico now live on tortillas made of corn from Archer Daniels Midland instead of from their own milpas.

With this realization, the era of sweeping multilateral trade deals--and the belief system that sustained them--is over. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) drove millions of Mexican subsistence farmers off the land and nearly brought populist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador to power. From Bolivia to Ukraine, political forces aligned with globalism have been thrown from office. What is taking their place is often amorphous and chaotic. Many countries and movements are retreating into isolation and xenophobia, with fundamentalist ideologies of all stripes enjoying a resurgence. These doctrines--whether Afghanistan's Taliban trying to outlaw music or Jerry Falwell's view of September 11 as punishment for America's sins--have one thing in common. They champion a narrow set of human ideas at the expense of anyone who sees life differently, promising that their unique truth will provide an exemption from diversity and interconnectedness of all sorts, whether ecological, cultural, or political.

But while globalism, the ideology, is dead, isolationism cannot replace it. The Internet will continue to spread; satellites will still beam Al Jazeera past the censors in places like the Sudan; and millions of political, economic, and environmental refugees are on the move, blurring national boundaries, while Boeing and Airbus roll out new generations of jumbo jets to further shrink the world.

This is globalization--the increasingly rapid transmission of information, goods, services, and people around the world. This interconnectedness is a reality, and all the "isms" that seek to deny it are delusions. No one knows this better than Sierra Club members, because interconnectedness is a founding principle of our organization, contained in John Muir's famous observation that "when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."

Rather than retreat in the face of the world's complexities, the Club embraces them. If trade makes money, why not tax it a bit to pay for the social and environmental infrastructure that enables everyone to benefit from its growth? The United States has been squandering the world's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide as if we owned the atmosphere; what's wrong with paying our way when we burn fossil fuels? We need to meet global challenges--none more sweeping than the threat of catastrophic climate change--as citizens of the planet, sharing technology, solutions, and hope for the future. The free flow of capital around the world turned out to be a false promise, but the tough times ahead demand a free flow of ideas.

Carl Pope is the Sierra Club's executive director. E-mail carl.pope@sierraclub.org.


photo by Lori Eanes, used with permission.

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