Make a donation with PayPal, VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Discover cards - it's fast, free and secure!

Home Page

Nonprofit founded in 1988

Culture Change

Industrial society has polluted enough
Shutting Down the WTO Economy?

by Jan Lundberg

Activists are proud of themselves for shutting down the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization on November 30, 1999.  A local songwriter there, Jim Page, rouses audience up and down the coast to "Didn't We (Shut It Down)."  In June 2003 a mini-repeat was attempted at the Sacramento, Calif. meeting of the WTO's agricultural ministers.

Police in the U.S. have been militarized, with many new weapons
 that even include sights on riot guns.  Sacramento, June 23, 2003

However, for all the foes of globalization—represented by up to 4,000 protesters at Sacramento and maybe 50,000 at Seattle—few people are trying to actually shut down or totally restructure the fundamental problem or culprit: the economy of worldwide polluting industry.  In this column we explore a sure but benign and legal way.

People know well that our global climate should not be tampered with, but they still want "the System" to keep rolling along.  Many who wish this are not necessarily fond of the system or of their own lot in life, but they just want to get money they need for the short term and foreseeable future.  (That may not be the only way to live; modern humans are finding out the hard way.)

Breadwinners are forced to buy frankenfoods, or GMO- (genetically mutilated organisms) laced corporate products that have not been properly tested.  Tests that have been done have alarmed scientists on the harm that GMOs do to consumers of the food.  That information has been suppressed in the U.S. media, so the spirited protests in Sacramento June 22-26 appeared odd to some who rely on TV news.  

Seeds of Deception, by Jeffrey Smith, hits the bookstores in September as the WTO meets in Cancun.  Published by Yes! Books, distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing, the book explains why George Bush has just gone to the WTO to force the European Union to accept U.S. GMO "food."

Besides frankenfoods and the obliteration of seed diversity by biotech/petroleum corporations, people feel insecure from related policies such as war for oil and other global-warming fossil foolery.  Yet, even among hardened activists who realize (1) the overpopulated world cannot continue the consumption we see, and (2) there is no technofix to sufficiently replace fossil fuels or maintain the present petroleum-oriented infrastructure, few advocate an end to what the WTO represents: polluting industry on a massive, ecocidal scale.

Naked protesters in Sacramento don mud  to appeal to the
 gentler side of the police and those the police served at WTO.

"It is not necessary to base a way of life on desecrating the environment.  The fact that this is not obvious to masses of modern people attests to the power of institutional education and other forms of propaganda." - Depaver

In Sacramento June 22-25, the WTO ministerial meeting drew hundreds fewer delegates than hoped for by the organizers and cheerleaders, because protesters were anticipated.  The expected heavy-handed police presence and instances of brutality were no doubt a factor as well.  This WTO meeting, protests were fruitful and spirited, partly because people feel so passionately about protecting their food from GMOs that the WTO meeting was promoting..  Some delegates and members of the press learned how people value their local, natural foods and that people will fight for their rights.  

One observer, Jack Nounnan of the Humboldt County contingent of protesters, was deeply satisfied over the message and demeanor of the protests.  An experienced elder, and defender of the Earth, he is right that progress is being made when protests are counted on and brought off successfully. 

When collapse comes, people may remember the issues involved at the WTO events so that mistakes are not repeated.  Building anew will likely involve little if any petroleum industry assistance, let alone a monster motor vehicle fleet. Monsanto is known for its GMO seeds, but it's basically a petrochemical maker that wants to sell poison.  The whole system depends on trucking along with oceanic shipping and some rail freight--all petroleum fueled.  No major road system will endure long, as the luxury of pavement staying in repair depends on a growing economy that can afford to fix what the heavy trucks chew up at taxpayer expense.

Those who say the system that the WTO represents should be stopped dead appear to be limited to the notorious black bloc (anarchist protesters in the U.S.), Euro street demonstrators of a hard core bent, and the Earth Liberation Front which since the Clinton Administration has been labeled the nation's top terrorist group.  Some independent activists and commentators adhere to the shut-it-down prescription for the unsustainable industrial economy, as philosophers likely to be found growing organic kale.  

But most critics of the WTO simply want corporate power reigned in, so that an imagined democratic pollution society can return and seem less threatening.  This approach is like looking for lost keys at night under the streetlight because it is easier, not because the keys were really dropped there.  And there's certainly little funding from foundations over in the darkness!

As committed as some activists and protesters are to shutting down WTO meetings, as well as even advocating an end to the present dominant socioeconomic system, a bona fide movement to do this is but a flea on an elephant today.  But there may be a way, in the form of boycotting the buying of new cars..  Even if you love war for oil, why waste $5,000 by just driving a machine off a new-car lot?

Some young environmentalists are too impatient to let people make the choice to boycott new global-warming speed coffins, so the choice is made for us:  taking steps to forcibly shut down pollution—involving any property destruction—does occur and it brings down the wrath of society as ruled by the kings of private property.  An Earth First!er named Free got a 23-year prison sentence for setting a couple of unoccupied SUVs on fire in a dealership in the middle of the night.  

Clearly, fighting fire with fire raises issues of hypocrisy and becoming one's own enemy as a polluter.  It would be possible to shut down pollution with direct nonviolent action, but it appears to be a most doubtful and unpopular prospect--no matter how urgent a mile-high stack of Worldwatch Institute reports may appear on the ailing life-support system of our planet.  When it comes to the idea of using force, ask the Luddites: their smashing of exploitative capitalists' factory machines, to defend the Luddites' village crafts, resulted in capital punishment two centuries ago.  The difference is, Free had very little public support.  Don'tcha want a nice new SUV?

A strong show of force to keep the public away from its employees?
Sacramento  protesters kept at bay: keeping the public away from its employees inside. Courtesy

When consumers keep buying the products of major polluters, there is no hope for ending the level of pollution that threatens life as we know it.  By the same token, there is no hope for dismantling the nuclear threat when people keep paying for nuclear weapons and waste through paying the taxes.  However, the end of abundant, cheap oil will change all that.

Polluting and destroying the beautiful, biologically diverse Earth are tied to the availability of money in the form of consumer buying power (two-thirds of the U.S. economy).  The other main contributor to maintaining the pollution economy is plentiful, low-cost petroleum.  However, not only is a distorted climate among the costs we really pay for the petroleum; oil and natural gas are rapidly depleting resources.  

Boycott buying new cars
It may or may not be in our power as individuals or as a society to shut down polluting consumption and production on a deliberate or planned basis.  In case it is possible for mere mortals to have as much of an effect as two gigantic forces—mad Mother Nature and a collapsing economy—we can explore the method of maximizing the power of our spending-dollars.

A boycott of new cars would have a strong restructuring effect on the economy in a matter of weeks, because at least 25% of all U.S. jobs are motor-vehicle-industry related (aside from depending on transport).  Advocating this would be irresponsible if destruction and hardship were the object.  However, this economy has to go anyway—it will of its own weight.  So, the sooner the better?  And if its demise is anticipated or planned, people will be more prepared to institute sustainable practices for survival.  Such as: exclusively buying locally made products that one needs.  Even a used car when purchased puts money into the community instead of distant corporations.  Here in Humboldt County, people are proud to have old cars and use them little.

Loving and trusting nature and ourselves is key to survival and enjoying life.  The root word of "economics," ecos, is Greek for household, and this root word is also what "ecosystem" is based on.  To separate the economy from the ecosystem is impossible, and to attempt it is damaging even though profitable in the short-term.

Long-term, collapse of the present dominant economy is advisable and leads to sustainability if collapse comes soon enough in the right way.  Short-term, collapse is painful, but more painful the longer it is put off.  It was painful in the 1930s, but not nearly so much as will the next, final, giant depression.  In 1930, people in the U.S. were not yet virtually eating petroleum.  Now that they are, population growth has been accommodated to reach a size more than double what is was in 1930 at the dawn of the petroleum-agriculture age (or, in perspective, an age-lette).

When the economy collapses, whether from a concerted campaign to buy only used cars (the weakened economy will also force people to do so) or from inevitable petroleum supply shortage around the corner, people will eat local food to the extent that they can and must.  To the extent they cannot, they will starve.  Cannibalism will reign; the question is how much.  It will be worse in New York City than in Havana where they grow their own organic food and get around on bikes.  The average piece of food consumed in the U.S. nowadays travels 1,400 miles before it is eaten, thanks to the wonders of transportation relying on oil.

Peak global oil extraction is occurring perhaps as we speak, and there is no alternative energy future for this overbuilt Petroleum Civilization.  The solar, windmill and hydrogen buffs wish for a magical transformation of an entire infrastructure, and it won't happen without a lot of rebuilding—by a much reduced population eking out subsistence in the trashed ecosystem.  So, do we extend this unwinnable, lethal game of propping up the Waste Economy, or cut our losses now?  

A WTO trade-show participant reports:
A coalition of organic farmers and farming organizations set up a small organic food stand inside their booth space at the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) (WTO) Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology. Attended by over 100 ministers, the Conference took place from June 23rd through June 25th in Sacramento, Calif.
    The organic booth proved to be the most popular exhibit at the conference. Agricultural ministers, USDA employees, and biotech industry reps all enjoyed the organic produce and wine. Many of the ministers were hungry not only for organic food, but also for knowledge on organic agriculture. 
    Organic farmer Christie Knoll provided local fresh cherries, peaches and other summer delights to conference attendees. Mark Mulcahey (Organic Options) designed a beautiful produce display. John Williams of Frog's Leap winery served his wine. Zea Sonnabend, Brian Leahy, Brian Sharpe (CCOF), "Amigo" Bob Contisano (Organic Ag Advisors), and Jessica Miller (Eco Farm Association) were in attendance to help answer the ministers' questions and provide them with organic food.
    Serving the only fresh, local food available inside the conference, the organic booth reminded the ministers that agriculture is about the production of nutritious food. Even USDA Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman stopped by to enjoy a fresh strawberry (see picture).     - Brian Leahy


Check out Pedal Power Produce and Library Bikes
New Project: Food Not Lawns
See Fall of Petroleum Civilization
See our Donate page 

Back to Home Page

Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing:

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.