2013-03-05

Co.Exist

Will A Climate Disaster Destroy Our Global Economy?

The ability to trade isn’t often thought of as a human right, but it’s vitally important. But by refusing to fix the planet, are we ending the possibility for trade in the future?

The right to trade, though perhaps not at the top of the list when considering the innate rights of humanity, is nevertheless comprehensively represented and defended by countries and businesses around the world. The World Trade Organization influences and shapes the economic and enterprise policies of its signatory countries which represent the vast majority of the Earth’s population and laws governing the conduct of policy and practice in enterprise and competition could be said to be the most comprehensively and consistently enforced regulations on the planet. They have lead to the dissolution of monopolies such as Standard Oil and "Ma" Bell and the levying of huge fines for breaches of competition law.

This implies that the rights of enterprise, private trade, and market activity are important and worth protecting. But given the environmental and social challenges of the next few decades, how likely is it that such rights can be protected in the future?

The right to trade on a declining planet?

Trade as we have known it is endangered. Clear trends in demographics, urbanization, water quality and availability, climate stability, resource scarcity and ecosystem health represent risks to the continuation of trade as usual.
There is no point preserving the rights of private enterprise when the very viability of the market itself is threatened by risks that are being largely ignored by trade law, economic rules and governmental policy.

A growing number of companies have made commitments to ambitious sustainability goals which derive from a clear eyed and rational interpretation of observable environmental and social trends. Unilever, Nike, and GE, recognizing that their longevity relies upon the health and vitality of natural capital and the continuing stable functioning of natural systems, have developed plans to transform their production activities to become sustainable.

A restraint of future trade

Transition pathways to a sustainable future have also been developed by groupings of progressive business, yet the success of such plans are existentially imperiled by an economic and political consensus which seems to be more concerned with protecting and valuing the enterprise of the past than building the enterprise of the future.
Economic and political frameworks have so far failed to present a cogent and consistent pathway for sustaining global enterprise in the face of predicted disruption. This failure represents a restraint of future trade.

In the eighteenth century, Thomas Paine and Thomas Spence coined the phrase "The Rights of Man"—establishing the idea that humans are born with what should be inalienable rights. Such rights were integrated into the foundations of the French Declaration of Human and Civic Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Perhaps it is time for a parallel declaration to enshrine and protect the birthright of all humans to partake in activity which brings them reward, security, and the use of their physical and cognitive abilities in perpetuity (or until the end of their world).

  • Just as commercial entities have a right to trade now, they should also have a right to trade over the long term.
  • Just as people all across the world wish to earn money for themselves and their families, so they should have the right and ability to do this over time.
  • Just as the graduates of today seek to apply commercial and technical skills to careers in enterprise, so they should have the rights to do so without massive structural instability and market failure.
  • Just as those living today have had the opportunity to use the rules of trade and enterprise for personal and common gain, so those as yet unborn deserve the rights to do the same, without being born into a bankrupted, broken system on a declining planet.

It is time for trade law, policy, and regulation to protect the rights of future trade, identify and remove barriers which represent a restraint on future trade, and to allow all current and future members of our species to thrive and share in the enterprise which sustains us all.

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4 Comments

  • guntingbekas

     Mesin Jahit The World Trade Organization influences and shapes the economic and enterprise policies of its signatory countries which represent the vast majority of the Earth’s population and laws governing the conduct of policy and practice in enterprise and competition could be said to be the most comprehensively and consistently enforced regulations on the planet.

  • Harold Forbes

    If we accept the premise that trade makes both  parties happier, then the right to trade is an extension of the right to pursue happiness.
    The bit that messes it all up is scale: human population has now reached a level where our cumulative impact is so much greater than in the time of Plato, or Smith or whoever your favourite pre-21st century philosopher is. Consider a world with population of 500 million looking at a resource being used at a rate that would appear to have it last 500 years. You could be forgiven for thinking 10 generations was sufficiently far away for potential supply problems to be ignored. However that same quantity of resource would be consumed by a 7 billion population in just over 35 years. Scale matters.
    My take would be that any protection of the rights of future trade could only be formulated with an environment where the survival of the environment itself is assured. This would need an economic incentive system that recognises that ultimately the Earth is finite and an Ecocide Law to limit the more egregious trades.

  • Scott H Marlow

    Beyond the alarmist title, the best think piece I've read in a long time. Really enjoyed this.

    Recommendations at the end leave the burden on legislation (slow road) - what could also change within enterprise itself to support long-term sustainability, equality and resilience of trade rights?

  • Terrafiniti

    Dear Scott,

    Thank you
    for the kind words. The title? Not the authors' own....though I suppose it will
    grab attention!

    The focus of
    the piece is intended to introduce and explore the idea of longevity of trade
    as a core aspect of our understanding of trade, and perhaps to also start to
    discuss the dissonance between the growing understanding of forward looking
    businesses and business groups and the underlying systems and motivations of
    trade rules, regulations and law.

    I agree that
    there is lots that can change within organisations to develop resilience and
    the capacity for longevity - and have written extensively on this elsewhere. I
    just thought it would be fun to explore whether we might use trade law for
    sustainability rather than view it as preserving business as usual.

    Best
    regards,

    Joss