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Why "Free Trade" is Not Green

To the Economist in Response to their Article "Why Greens Should Love Trade"

2/16/99


Sir—

The "Why Greens Should Love Trade" cover story asserts that trade produces economic growth = richer people who will pay for a cleaner environment. This reveals ignorance of basic ecology, blindness to the larger picture, and a grasp of economics severely loosened by ideology.

First, the economy is funded at its root by extracting resources from nature. With conventional economic tunnel vision natural capital is not counted, so when it is transferred from nature's account to human's it's counted as income. Typically some value is lost to inefficiency in the transfer, so it is actually a net loss.

Smash your piggy bank, gather the recoverable contents, and evaluate the enterprise by comparing the cost of the hammer and your time to the spoils—the folly is obvious. But this is how oil extraction, logging, mining, fishing, real estate development etc. are accounted for.

Second, the way richer people achieve a "cleaner environment" is by paying to have resource extraction, manufacturing, and waste disposal (along with their attendant impacts) occur elsewhere. This remove severs a vital feedback link, so consumption is higher than if people were limited to local resources and exposed to the adverse impacts. Also, the longer supply line is less efficient and adds it's own impact.

The forests are growing back, the water is cleaner, the air is fresher around the rich, but continents away entire ecosystems and cultures are being liquidated to fuel their lifestyle. You may feel green if you arrange to live in a clean environment. But without realizing it, by means of trade you are essentially waging war on the environment and people such as the U' wa of the Colombian Cloud forest, whose homeland is being cleared by Occidental Petroleum to get gas for your SUV, and subsistence fisherman of Africa who watch helplessly as factory trawlers scour the ocean clean of fish destined for your cat bowl.

Trade under these conditions is an agent of destruction. Proper accounting would internalize the true costs of transportation and resource extraction, reducing the adverse impact of trade.

Art Ludwig
Ecological Designer

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