Posted on May 1, 2012
May 1st, 2012
In a short article entitled “Earth Day and Tar Sands”, published by Common Dreams April 19th
] Dale Wiehoff, VP of Communications and IP for the IATP [Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy], makes the link between Earth Day, the tar sands, and free trade.
First he relates how Earth Day emerged in the wake of a growing number of environmental concerns back in the 60s, not the least of which was a major oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel, all of which led, not only to Earth Day, but also to the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, significant new regulatory policies and a new generation that was defining environmentalism. In Canada we saw the parallel emergence of Environment Canada and significant new legislative acts and policies.
Wiehoff goes on to remind us that on this Earth Day 2012, as we look back over 40 years of corporate pillage and abuse, none of those earlier offshore disasters like Santa Barbara or the Exxon Valdez disaster come close to the environmental threats and costs of the tar sands. Finally he reminds us of a rarely examined driver behind tar sands oil production – i.e trade policy, starting with NAFTA and now the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
This is indeed an important insight which has been pointed out over the years by activists and academics alike but which, during recent years, has been lost in the simplistic ‘black and white’ rhetoric used by the Harper government to confine the debate to a neoliberal box where inevitability is assumed and multi-sectoral, citizen and even Opposition input is out rightly thwarted reducing debate to a unilateral government challenge - “you’re either for us or against the national interest”
Wiehoff reminds us as we already know that the investor state clause in Free Trade Agreements( FTAs) like NAFTA and CETA, now in final stages of negotiation, place corporate profits over all other considerations while overriding our own laws put in place to protect citizens and the environment . And we will recall that NAFTA also inflicted Ch 6 or the Proportionality clause, another driver behind tar sands oil production”, which requires that Canada make two-thirds of its domestic oil production available for export to the United States in perpetuity.
We have also seen free trade and the tar sands implicated again during the CETA negotiations, with Harper government officials crossing the Atlantic many times to lobby the EU to reject placing the tar sands oil in a separate ‘dirty’ fuel category in regard to its ‘Fuel Quality Directive’ which is part of the EU’s effort to target climate change and reduce the emissions intensity of fuel in cars and other machinery.
And now with free trade on the agenda and a foreign investment protection-promotion agreement concluded with China, there is yet another environmentally threatening free trade- related imperative to ensure the transport of tar sands bitumen to the Pacific coast by the Northern Gateway project and other pipelines to make it available for export, regardless of environment impacts.
Enter the Harper Budget or the “Economic Action Plan 2012” tabled March 27th with Bill C-38, the 2012 Budget Bill, fast on its heels, tabled April 26th, both of which further remind us that trade trumps the environment at every turn in what can only be described as an unprecedented, outrageous and anti-democratic assault on the environment for big oil profits as described at:
Wiehoff also concludes that trade trumps people, communities and the environment. :”When Native American tribes say tar sands oil extraction violates their sovereignty, when communities fear tar sands oil will contaminate their drinking water, or when climate experts say tar sands oil will increase global warming, all of them are reminded that trade policy take precedent.”
But the time has come to move beyond reminders and to once again find ways to confront a global environmental devastation far worse than that faced when Earth Day, EPA and the environment movement were begun.
With the life threatening and planetary threat of the ‘tar sands’ travesty, with many of the earth’s ecosystems teetering on collapse, and with the global economy recognized by all, but the global leaders and their cheer leaders, as a failed project, it is imperative to refocus our thinking on a paradigmatic shift. Perhaps it is time to consider the ‘deglobalization’ of trade and a planned ‘degrowth’ of the economy. . In fact as one delves into the diverse literature of the global democracy movement, localization, ecological economics, systemic change and the newly emerging academic field of ‘Degrowth’ one discovers well developed frameworks, strategies, and credible suggestions for shrinking trade within a new paradigm of scaled down growth that would bring trade closer to home be it national or bio- regional with a focus on sustainable, democratic local and national economies.
Colin Hines, in a book called “Localization: A Global Manifesto”, and more recently Michael Schuman , author of “Going Local”, have both made the observation that for localization to take hold global trade rules and structures will have to be altered or in some cases eliminated. David Korten in his recently published ‘New Economic Agenda’ report notes that we will, among other things, have to:” Rewrite International Trade and Investment Rules to Secure National Ownership, Self-Reliance, and Self-Determination” because the current rules of the global economy give priority to the interests, rights, and power of global corporations over the interests, rights, and power of people and the governments responsible for their well-being. And Herman Daly, renowned ecological economist, informs us that: “For ecological reasons we must reduce rather than increase international trade. We must move toward a more nationalist orientation that seeks to develop domestic production for internal markets as the first option, having recourse to international trade only when clearly much more efficient.”
Janet Eaton’s blogs, writings and power points can be found at:
and some at
Janet is presently researching the relationship between “Degrowth and the Deglobalization of Trade” for a paper she will present at the Montreal International Degrowth Conference of the Americas, May 18th 2012.