“The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place, in the family of things.” Mary Oliver
We are the Earth – Where I live in southwestern Ontario, the daffodils have popped their heads above ground and the rains are starting. It’s a relief to be in the fold of spring, and the perfect setting to experience immediate connection with the planet. Corporate culture distracts us from our fundamental reality – that we are made of the earth. With all the bobbles and trinkets, it’s super easy to get distracted from the natural systems we rely on daily. We ourselves are talking and walking thanks to the hydrologic cycle. Commercial globalization creates pretty shiny packages, leaving little trace of earth. The disconnect is obvious in the kneejerk debates pitting the environment against the economy, our community health against jobs. Its most extreme incarnation is international law to protect corporate profits – free trade pacts. These, and the WTO, provide the only international legal plan we have for our collective futures. Scary how far we have ventured from reality.
The Eco-nomy – A constant hum of goods and services zipping around the planet. That’s the dream of corporate globalization, and every new trade deal makes this more of a reality. But can we afford it? Can the Maldives? Haiti? New Orleans? Trade, the way it’s written now, is a competition to extract and sell as much as possible to increase GDP, and it’s pushing our earth systems to the limit. This global orchestration requires continual increases in production which means deeper extraction of the earth. Trade-ables are shipped at dizzying pace, primarily by burning fossil fuels. The more a country does this, the higher their GDP, and the more trading power they are deemed to have. This is the present trajectory under which we live, regardless of how many lights we turn off in our homes or how many lawns we clean of debris.
Earth as Externality — Earth Day isn’t just for turning off lights, though it’s important to model respectful habits. It’s about redressing the greatest myth of this era – that earth is external to the economy. Our whole lives, from the clothes we wear to cover our bare bottoms (plant derived) to the cell-phones we communicate with (mineral base) to food and drink, everything is constructed, albeit sometimes highly processed, from the body of the earth. Earth is not outside the economy, earth is the mother of economy. Even powering a device to read these words requires earth sources. Because trade is based on an externalized model of how life works, the global economy is exponentially expensive when fully calculated. A whole lot of values are rapidly being spent that are never accounted for. Consider the worth of water now in places like California. And, how many millions of years of decomposition does it take to make a fossil fuel patch?
Trade Law Halts Renewable Energy Programs – Trade embraces the concept of “externality” to deal with any concern, environmental or social, that is outside dollar profit. It does so to our great disadvantage because externalities have no power in trade rulings, and trade law supersedes our laws. Energy programs are no exception. Many cases have been made against countries’ fledgling renewable energy programs from China to India, Italy to Greece, and Canada. In 2012, the WTO ruled against Ontario’s Green Energy Act. The act was set to launch Canada’s most populated province off coal and onto clean energy in five years while creating a lot of new jobs. The plan provided feed-in tariffs so companies could earn money back from the grid at secure rates. Twenty-seven billion dollars was invested by a variety of suitors in exchange for supporting local workers and industry. It earned buy-in from labour, business, and the government of Ontario because it provided local jobs in manufacturing. By 2014, it created 31 000 jobs and employed skilled manufacturers like those who lost their jobs under NAFTA. The WTO ruled against Ontario’s sustainable plans because the Green Energy Act required between 40 and 60% of materials and jobs to be local. The WTO said the problem was with the buy-local requirements, not renewable energy. Ontario was charged with discriminating against the international corporations, and pressured to drop the local economy focus.
Sustainable Means Local — The problem with the WTO’s solution for Ontario is that creating new industry does not work without creating local opportunity. New industries are made possible through business buy-in. The energy plan was intended to be fully sustainable – including using local materials and workers. Due to the ruling,the province dropped the local focus, and some of the solar companies collapsed. Economy and ecology are deeply linked because they happen in tandem. Outside of its political troubles, the Green Energy Act is a remnant of its potential. Ontario has certainly not gone fully green yet. Trade policy is driving sad energy outcomes in Ontario, and across the globe in towns and cities, regions and nations.
Treaties for the Earth – There is a legal platform to heal the derelict notion that the earth is an externality. Granting legal rights to the earth, through public trust doctrine and the sanctioning of earth rights (The Rights of Mother Earth), would save our lives and those of the new generations coming to this beautiful planet. The Rights of Mother Earth does not deny global trade but would tame the pathology of its present form. Trade as it exists in the free market has abstracted itself out of our living reality. If its trajectory is not redirected by the people, it will externalize us right off the planet. Our communities will only be well when we know the environment feeds the economy and the economy cares for the earth.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver, American Poet