The past couple of decades of globalization have been a disaster for planetary ecosystems, indigenous peoples, and most middle-class citizens, but a gravy train for big investors, investment bankers, and managers of transnational corporations. This unprecedented expansion of international trade was driven by the convergence of key resources, developments, and inventions: cheap oil, satellite communications, container ships, computerized monitoring of inventories, the flourishing of multinational corporations, the proliferation of liberal trade treaties (including NAFTA), and the emergence of transnational bodies such as the World Trade Organization.
Economists said everyone would eventually benefit, but casualties quickly mounted. Inflation-adjusted wages for American workers stagnated. Manufacturing towns throughout the Northeast and Midwest withered. Meanwhile, China began burning immense amounts of coal to make mountains of toys, furniture, clothing, tools, appliances, and consumer electronics, cloaking its cities in a pall of toxic fumes and driving its greenhouse gas emissions to world record-setting levels. In effect, the United States has been importing cheap consumer goods while exporting jobs and polluting industries. In both China and the US, levels of economic inequality have soared.
Now comes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new trade deal negotiated in secret (only corporations get to contribute to, and look at, the draft language). The point of the Treaty: to double down on globalization at precisely the moment in time when the entire enterprise is beginning to fail as a result of stubbornly high oil prices, worsening climate change impacts (floods, droughts, wildfires), debt deflation, and middle-class fears of losing even more ground.
The entire text of (the leaked) TPP is vast—thousands of pages—and it contains little-known provisions that would give companies sweeping powers to sue local governments or entire countries over any law a company deems an impediment to reaping maximum profits. For example, if a city, county, or state were to ban fracking within its jurisdiction, oil companies could overturn the ban and sue for millions of dollars in lost profits. Want to label GM foods? Sorry, that’s a barrier to trade. Want local schools to buy healthy food from local farmers? Nope, that might violate the rights of Big Ag. Want to protect a forest? Stand aside, you’re in the way of profits.
Congress is about to vote on whether to fast-track TPP. If approved, fast tracking would mean an up-or-down vote with no possibility for Representatives or Senators to reject or amend any provision within the Treaty. If fast track fails, the Treaty will immediately bog down in legislative limbo, so this vote effectively seals TPP’s fate. Who’s for fast track? Pro-big-business Republicans and pro-big-business Democrats. Who’s against it? Rabid-right Republicans who want to deny President Obama any legislative achievement whatever, and pro-labor, pro-environment Democrats. The latter groups, contradictory as their interests may otherwise be, just might control enough votes to kill TPP.
For the community resilience movement, a great deal rides on this vote. TPP would grease the tracks leading to ecosystem ruin while frustrating efforts to build sustainable local economies. Educate yourself on the issue (see this fact sheet) and let your congressional representatives know what you think by contacting them here.
Richard Heinberg is a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of eleven books, most recently Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future. Previous books includeThe Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies,Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, and The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality.