Earth Day, Tar Sands, Free Trade & Degrowth – Connecting the Dots by Janet M Eaton

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. 



About janetmeaton10

* Janet M Eaton is an independent researcher, activist, public educator who has taught part-time in several Nova Scotia’s universities most recently at Acadia University in Political Science and Environment and Sustainability. She has served as a consultant to national NGOs , conducted workshops on Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts for provincial and municipal level governments ; has been a leader in the Environment and Peace Movements co-founding a white arm band campaign that went national to try to stop the war on Iraq, was head of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace where she served as a UN rep to the Women’s commission at the UN. She was Sierra Club Canada’s international rep on Water privatization and Corporate Accountability attending the World Social Forum in Brazil. In 2006- 7 she served as Trade Critic in he shadow cabinet of the Green Party of Canada. She is presently the Trade & Environment critic for Sierra Club Canada as well as their rep on the national Trade Justice Network opposing Free Trade Agreements, and Common Frontiers that works in solidarity with South American social democratic countries. She was also a founding board member of the Nova Scotia Food Policy Council. She considers herself a systemic change agent and has recently completed a 12 week intensive online course for "Agents of Conscious Evolution" to become a leader in the field of evolutionary systems theory and is working on a book : Beyond Collapse: Reframing our World. Janet has a PhD in Marine Biology from Dalhousie University but for more than a decade has been involved with the anti-corporate globalization movement and researching and teaching about political and economic failures and alternatives. Before that she worked in the field of Community Education and Community Economic Development at Dalhousie University and before that a number of other things including marine biology. She has two daughters, one an endangered species biologist with Environment Canada and the other an artist and teacher and four grandchildren.
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