Living on the Earth, March 7, 1997: Global Chills
Evidence of the rapid change from reliance on local sources for life's
necessities, to global sources, is everywhere. This change in where our food,
clothing, entertainment and other needs come from has profound implications.
Recent news gives some hints of these.
Last year, the United States racked up its highest trade deficit in eight years.
We imported over $100 billion worth of goods more than we exported.
According to a recent story titled "US Economy Fades in Own Market," our country
exported lots of expensive energy and telecommunications equipment, airplanes,
legal drugs, chemicals, weapons and corn. We imported primarily clothes, toys,
electronics, tools, and fruit.
The Secretary of Agriculture bragged about the role of the farm sector in
pushing exports to a record $661.7 billion, even though farm goods provided less
than ten percent of that total. Those farm exports required enormous government
subsidies to produce cheaply and to export profitably.
The Secretary failed to mention that creating many of these exported crops left
behind toxic residues as well as depleted, eroded soils and communities in many
farming areas here in the US. The growing practices in the countries from where
our agricultural imports such as tea, coffee, sugar, cocoa and fruit, come, have
decimated ecosystems and communities there, as well.
Two protests last week in California drew attention to the wages of workers who
make the clothes and shoes America's consumers are brainwashed into craving. At
the opening of a Nike store, protesters alleged that working conditions were
inhumane, with low pay and long hours at the giant factories in Indonesia and
Vietnam where the hottest items are made. Nike, which contracts with South
Korean and Taiwanese companies to operate the factories, hired a former UN
Ambassador to investigate the charges.
Pickets outside the Walt Disney Company's Annual Meeting carried signs which
compared the wages of Disney's chairman to those of the workers in Haiti who
manufacture Disney's licensed merchandise. A Haitian worker would have to work
almost 17 years to earn what Disney's chairman earns in a single hour! By a
seven to one margin, Disney's shareholders, in effect, approved of this
Recently we were informed that most soccer balls are made by Pakistani children
working in deplorable conditions, and that "GI Joe" and "Barbie" are made in
China. There are many unanswered questions about whether Chinese prisoners,
military, and/or children are involved in manufacturing toys for export.
But the most worrisome trade news is happening at the World Trade Organization
level, that's the WTO, the successor to GATT. The demands of free trade can
undermine our democratic, moral decisions. Two recent examples are especially
chilling. The people of Massachusetts decided through their legislature that
they wanted to discourage the state from buying from companies that do business
with Myanmar (formerly Burma). Connecticut and New York are considering similar
legislation. Myanmar's military government is apparently so evil, that even a
global giant like PepsiCo decided not to do business there, helped in its
decision by student protests and boycotts here.
So now, the European Union wants the United States to "do something" about
Massachusetts because its legislation bases purchasing on political rather than
strictly economic considerations. That is a violation of the WTO rules which
put economic considerations above all others.
And there is an ongoing controversy about shrimp, also. Congress banned imports
of shrimp that are caught using methods which also kill endangered sea turtles.
Thailand and Malaysia, joined by Australia, Japan, the EU, Mexico, Columbia,
Pakistan and India, requested a panel be set up to determine if the US ban
violates WTO trading rules by trying to apply US laws outside its borders. Our
government managed to block this round, but the Southeast Asian shrimp exporters
say they'll be back soon.
We need to question the myth that increased global trade is our salvation. It
may be, that in order to maintain our knowledge of how to sustain ourselves, to
have power to act on our moral beliefs, and to connect peaceably with the
environment, we have to increase local self-reliance, everywhere.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since
November 1995 are available there.