Global Ethics and Environment

By Nicholas Low | Go to book overview
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Ecological balance in an era of globalization

Vandana Shiva

Introduction: globalization as a political phenomenon

In 1992, the Earth Summit in Rio marked the maturing of ecological awareness on a global scale. The world was poised to make a shift to ecological sustainability. However, the Rio process and the sustainability agenda were subverted by the free trade agenda. In 1993 the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was completed; in 1995 the World Trade Organization (WTO) was established and world affairs started to be dictated by trade and commerce. The normative political commitment to sustainability and justice was replaced by the rule of trade and the elevation of exploitation, greed and profit maximization as the organizing principles of the market, the state and society. Instead of the state regulating the market for the good of society, global economic powers and commercial forces are now regulating the state and society for the benefit of corporations. Instead of commerce being accountable to state and society, economic globalization is making citizens and their governments accountable to corporations and global economic bodies.

Economic globalization is not merely an economic phenomenon related to the reduction of tariff barriers and the removal of ‘protectionist’ policies. It is a normative process which replaces all value by commercial value. Free trade is in reality the rule of commerce. GATT and the WTO basically undo the Rio agenda. Five years after Rio we do not have Rio plus five but Rio minus five. The search for ecological balance in an era of globalization requires on the one hand an assessment of the social and ecological impact of globalization. On the other hand it requires the imagination and realization of an alternative order which puts ecological balance and social and economic justice rather than trade at the centre of economic policy.

Globalization is not a natural, evolutionary or inevitable phenomenon, as is often argued. It is a political process which has been forced on the weak by the powerful. Globalization is not the cross-cultural interaction of diverse societies. It is the imposition of a particular culture on all others. Nor is globalization the search for ecological balance on a planetary scale. It is the predation of one class, one race and often one gender of a single species on all others. The ‘global’ in the dominant discourse is the political space in which the dominant


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Global Ethics and Environment


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