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Bad trade kills the planet.

Whether we leave the European Union or whether we stay, the United Kingdom must put environmental protection and climate change at the top of our agenda.  We must break the link between economic growth and habitat destruction.

This is a major political challenge because it requires us all to change our expectations about how we live in the future, and it requires the government to make bold decisions, where currently lip-service is paid.   It means breaking the neoliberal mythology of free markets and growth.  We need a new economic and social narrative.

Brexit is not a solution; nor is it a start.  It takes us in the wrong direction - the direction of seeking trade deals at any cost, an not least with the United States.

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 corrupt 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 merely 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 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 improve 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 types of growth are wrong, and how we could achieve good growth.  Instead, we went after any sort 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 goal 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 most significant driver for man-made climate change has been growth.  Increasing the output of manufactured goods and increased food supply to feed our rapidly growing 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 significant 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 or make 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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