Bad trade kills the planet.

One problem with the financial crisis of 2008/9 is that it focused attention on the banking system as if it could be separated from global economics.  It fostered the notion that all that was needed was to reform the banks and all would be well.  The underlying assumption was and is that global economics didn't and doesn't need fixing.  Everything works well but for the financial system.  Let's all keep calm and carry on.

Yet, the focus on a bad banking system hides an underlying economic malaise,  The economy depended on banks lending, and growth was predicated on debt, debt and more debt.  This was not simply a problem of the banking system.  It was, and remains a problem arising from the mythology of economic growth.

Politicians have long fostered the mythology of growth.  Growth became a  mantra.  Growth is good.  Good is growth.  Let's grow! Growth as and is presented as a miraculous cure.

Let's call this the first neoliberal myth.  The second neoliberal myth is that 'free', or unfettered global markets are inherently good.

It all sounds plausible. After all, without growth there would not be more jobs, and without more jobs there would be unemployment and increased poverty.  With growth we can increase the tax revenue that feeds our public services.  Growth lies at the heart of all success.

Growth.  So much so that we didn't bother to ask what kind of growth it was, and whether some kinds of growth are bad, and how we could achieve good growth.  Instead we went after any kind of growth.

If industries collapse, what does it matter as long as there is growth?  Growth is good.  Good is growth! Let's keep growing.

So all political parties go for growth.  Growth becomes a mantra, or a 'fix all'.  Growth becomes not the means to objectives, but the target, the objective itself.  Some get very rich on growth.  Yet, growth involves the exploitation of the world's resources and of its people, and how we grow matters.

We need to ask whether economic growth is sustainable, and on what it is predicated.  We need to ask who are the beneficiaries and who are the losers.  We need to consider its consequences on the environment, on habitats, on life on earth.  We need to ask what it does to our planet.

The greatest drive for man-made climate change has been growth.  Increasing output of manufactured goods and an increased food supply to feed our rapidly increasing population.   Cheap food comes with a cost.   The system doesn't work if it kills the planet.  Losing species matters.

GDP growth is directly correlated with greenhouse gas emissions.

We need to decouple growth from emissions.  This is easier said than done.  It requires political courage, and a fairer approach to trade and growth.

Our dependency on global trade is also a major factor in the impact of pollution on the planet and on people's lives. People die as a direct result of global trade.  Global trade causes an estimated 20% of premature air pollution deaths.   Growth kills. Millions of people die every year from diseases related to exposure to outdoor air pollution.   That is not good growth.   This is bad growth.

As the recent paper in Nature says:

"International trade allows production and consumption activities to be physically separated, with emissions occurring within the region where the goods are produced and related health impacts concentrated within that producing region and nearby downwind regions, all of which might be far from the regions where those goods are ultimately consumed."

So we can go on burying our heads in the sand.  Our politicians seek to maintain the status quo.  They fight to save dodgy trade deals.  The very trade arrangements that have brought about this sorry state of affairs.

This is why we need a new global deal on trade.  One that puts environmental protection at the top of the list of objectives.

Author: Ray Noble

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