Can Environmental Protection and Free Trade Coexist




An important issue in the international relations of the twentieth century involves whether or not free trade and environmental protection can coexist. The goal of a free trade economy is to increase the global economy, while environmental protectors try to find ways of reversing some of the negative effects that humans have inflicted upon the earth. Because of the increasing popularity of this “green movement,” many political leaders are trying to find ways to make the two drastically different ideas incorporated into one. However, there is no real compromise between the two. Effective policies can not advocate to protect only certain species—its all or nothing. The same is true for free trade. Many people have the perception that free trade and environmental protection are so drastically different that it is not possible for the two to coincide. Some people find both of these issues to be the cause of all our “most pressing” global, environmental, mental, human health, and democratic problems.
Critics of the free trade agreement argue that free trade “pretends to be value free, yet is fundamentally value driven (Goldsmith, 219).” Because of its significant source of national revenue, trade has been synonymous with states’ political goals since the early inhabitants of the earth first realized how to transport goods over long distances. At first, this early trading system was simply a way of enriching one’s personal fortune, yet it soon became an easy way for countries to gain money and power.
Intellectual arguments in support of free trade began in the late nineteenth century, but the political drive promoting this global trade approach did not become a reality until the 1940’s—after the Second World War and the United States’ Great Depression. This explosion of international trade occurred at this time because countries were then seeking ways of rebuilding their own (and the global) economy. This concept seemed like a highly logical way to improve the economy for all nations because it called for the release of high tariffs. A slowed economy (due to global inflation and high petroleum prices) is another reason why the popularity of free trade increased after the second World War (Augley, 27).
The popularity of this policy has continued until now partly because third world countries acknowledge the way of life that industrialized nations have, and wish to have the same. Also, much of the public favors this plan because they do not want to see many people malnourished and living in poverty. However, many people do not realize that we have now created the way of life which cannot be had by everyone due to the enormous amount of energy which it requires. For example, it would be impossible for all humans to own and operate cars because there are no longer enough natural resources to provide the energy necessary for this commodity.
Free trade has an underlying basis of individual liberty, and implies two symbolic freedoms (Audley, 21). The first being a “cost-less solution to expanding the human scale,” meaning that it is a method to improve the way of human life for the whole world, while costing nothing. This also means that free trade tries to enable many third world countries to become “great” and more advanced, like the well-off, industrialized nations. Environmentalists disagree with this because they believe that free trade does have a cost involved with it, that being the quality of life on earth. Studies have proven that currently, we are running out of fossil fuels. In fact, if we continue to consume them at the current rate, we will completely run out of all known reserves (for most major fossil fuels) in about than three hundred years.
An example of degradation of the environment for the betterment of economy has occurred recently in Taiwan and South Korea. These two countries have achieved stunning rates of economic growth, and the World Bank views them as role models for other lesser developed nations because of their “success.” However, the bank neglects to take into account the damage that both Taiwan and South Korea have inflicted upon their land. In the case of Taiwan, forests have been cleared for industrial and residential development. Almost all of the “virgin broadleaf” forests have been completely destroyed. Roads