Carl Pope: We Need a New Approach to Trade Diplomacy With Climate Protection at Its Core
When Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rose to speak against Fast Track Trade Authority for President Obama, she sealed the fate of last Friday’s round of voting—and signaled the beginning of something crucially important—a fresh debate on the nature and purpose of trade diplomacy.
Good jobs and a healthy planet are not mutually exclusive. Photo credit: People Demanding Action
Following Pelosi’s call to “slow down fast track,” an assistance package for workers displaced by imports—which Pelosi had insisted be an essential but separate part of the full trade deal—went down in flames, 126-302. Republicans have never liked the idea, and Pelosi’s stand, plus intense labor and environmental campaigning, produced a tidal wave of Democratic votes against it. And the vote on Fast Track itself—now a nullity without worker assistance—barely earned a majority, with 219 votes.
Pelosi’s decision to break with Obama should not have been a shock—this round of trade negotiations has alienated more core Democratic stakeholders than all the previous deals put together, partly because of secrecy and lack of transparency, but largely because the results of the last round of trade deals, particularly with Korea, have been so negative for U.S. employment.
But what was surprising was the emphasis Pelosi laid in her speech on Republican efforts to prohibit (imaginary) Obama efforts to use trade agreements to limit climate pollution.
There is not a shred of evidence that it had ever occurred to Obama to jeopardize a trade deal with Asia in order to enact restrictions of fossil fuels. Indeed, the deal would actually have reduced presidential power to regulate trade in fossil fuels. It thus had strong support from the oil and gas industry who think it will encourage more domestic production and higher prices. But Republicans decided that they might get more of their caucus to vote for the bill by inserting language blocking the President from inserting climate language in trade deals anyway.
The climate crisis presents a challenge to the survival of our planet, but it also presents an opportunity to create a clean energy economy ... we must recognize that workers' rights, consumer and intellectual protections, and environmental safeguards must be just as enforceable as the protection of the economic interests of investors.
Pelosi was making a point, not averting a threat. But her point was an extraordinarily important one. Rapidly evolving attitudes towards climate are beginning to call into question one of the most insidious and vicious features of the global trade system. As nations begin to deal with the first recognized global environmental crisis, even establishment economists are beginning to realize that importing nations have a legitimate stake not only in what goods and services they import, but in how those goods and services are produced.
Before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), nations could, effectively, set environmental standards on goods they imported. They could levy additional tariffs if goods were made within factories that poisoned workers, ban imports of tropical woods logged in environmentally devastating fashion or require that imported shrimp be netted using technologies that prevented the “by-catch” of endangered sea turtles.
Most people think of “free trade” agreements as impacting which goods are imported and where they are produced. But in fact, multi-national corporations and trade advocates have insisted on prohibiting quality standards—on wages, worker conditions or environmental impacts—calling them “discriminatory.” Importing nations no longer have the right to question the environmental or social impact of the goods they consumed. Since there is no evidence that the general public anywhere would embrace this perverse concept, it has also been an unstated part of trade doctrine that restrictions on the ability of nations to insist on environmental (or social or labor) standards on imports needed to be kept as invisible and opaque as possible. Secret courts have been the preferred mechanism.
Thus, consumers of blue jeans in the U.S. have no information about, and no control over whether in dyeing the denim, effluents were properly treated before being released into waterways; no choice about whether workers assigned to spray the jeans with acid were provided with proper protective gear or whether the factories where the jeans were sewn were firetraps.
This never made sense. Pollution crosses not only local but national boundaries; weak standards upstream on a river destroy agriculture and drinking water in a nation downstream. That downstream nation might want to refuse to import products whose production poisons its own water supplies. But, according to current "free trade” doctrine, it can’t.
The result of these rules is to make the full trade equation look like this: goods + pollution imported = jobs + dollars exported. Not very attractive when you think about it.
And climate—because every molecule of CO2 has the same global impact regardless of which country, continent or hemisphere emits it—has made this reality brutally clear. If nations are going to levy taxes or fees on carbon pollution to protect the climate, they are going to want to be able to insist that their trading partners join them.
And this need is being embraced by mainstream, pro-free trade economists. William Nordhaus, at Yale, for example, has called for the creation of a “Climate Club” of nations committed to reducing carbon pollution with a tax—and then imposing a four percent tariff on imports from nations that didn’t follow suit. Such “border adjustment fees” have long been advocated by labor leaders like the Steelworkers President Leo Gerard. But with support broadening, and with the evidence collapse of the political consensus that gave us NAFTA and the WTO, it’s time for this kind of fresh thinking—with climate at its core.
In her USA Today piece, Pelosi effectively drew a line in the sand:
It is clear that the debate on the trade authority is probably the last of its kind. The intense debate of the past few weeks has further convinced me that we need a new paradigm.
That is one of the most important political events of the past several years. Investor-oriented globalization faces by far its most serious challenge—now its up to those of us who have been left out of trade diplomacy to come forward with better ideas.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.
- Planting Projects, Backyard Habitats Can Re-Create Livable Natural ... ›
- Humans Are Destroying Wildlife at an Unprecedented Rate, New ... ›
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- Scientists Warn Worse Pandemics Are on the Way if We Don't ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
- The Vicious Climate-Wildfire Cycle - EcoWatch ›
- How Climate Change Ignites Wildfires From California to South Africa ›
- 31 Dead, 250,000 Evacuated in California Fires as Governor ... ›
World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, check your prescription.