Editorials process, conflict of interest or openness guarantees of the US system. It is hard to imagine that the narrow margin of US Congress people who passed NAFTA in 1993 would have done so had they understood the powers it conferred upon investors and how these powers would be used by corporations to attack basic public interest laws .. . and to tear down the everyday workings of the courts."
So, wil l Loewen win? The answer may very well be 'yes'. The Chapter 11 provisions of NAFTA have been used twice before. In August 1998, the Canadian government was forced to revoke a national ban on the toxic gasoline additive MMT after its producer, the US Ethyl Corporation, sued them under NAFTA for $250 million. Another suit using these same provisions has been taken out against the Mexican government by the US Metalclad Corporation, demanding compensation because Mexican law halted its plans for a toxic waste plant on an environmentally sensitive site.
The Loewen case is yet one more, depressing, example of the largely secret tranche of international laws which have already been established to give corporations precedence over governments in the 21st century. NAFTA in North America is the regional equivalent of the World Trade Organization, which operates very similar
"It is hard to imagine that the narrow margin of US Congress people who passed NAFTA in 1993 would have done so had they understood the powers it conferred upon corporations to attack basic public interest laws and to tear down the everyday workings of the courts. " - Lori Wallach rules globally, and which has already led to a significant grinding-down of national laws designed to protect workers, the community and the environment (see The WTO's Record So Far', The Ecologist, July/August 1997). And last year, the world's multinationals almost succeeded in launching the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) on to an unsuspecting world, which would have extended global corporate dominance even further.
Fortunately, after strong opposition from NGOs around the world, and growing discontent from national and regional politicians (many of whom, due to the deliberate secrecy of the negotiations, only found out about the MA I from NGOs), the
Our Urban Future? by David W. Orr It ain't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't right. - Will Rogers
At the top of my list of the things that we know that "ain't right" I would place the belief that we are now an urban species and that by and large this is a good thing or at least one that cannot be changed. For 99 per cent of our evolutionary career, however, homo sapiens lived in small bands and tribes in places that would now be considered wilderness. For most of the remaining 1 per cent we were either rural or lived in small hamlets and towns surrounded by countryside. From an evolutionary perspective, the vast megapolitan areas of the 20th century are a sudden aberration.
Believers in the urban ideology presume that our rural origins are unimportant and often go on to assume that: (a) a prosperous and democratic culture does not require a stable and prosperous rural foundation; (b) we are smart enough to provision megapolitan areas with food, water, energy, materials, public safety, transport, employ
ment, and entertainment, and to dispose of their wastes, and do all of these things in perpetuity; (c) cities in contrast to everything else on Earth, have no maximum size beyond which they decay or collapse; (d) urban and suburban life can satisfy our deepest human needs; and (e) we wil l never change our minds. Urban boosterism masks a wager of sorts that our evolution-
From an evolutionary perspective, the vast megapolitan areas of the 20th century are a sudden aberration. ary past is of no consequence, our bets do not need to be hedged, and that "nature does not set booby traps for unwary species," as biologist Robert Sinsheimer once put it.
I offer a demurral and explore some of its implications for conserving biological diversity and for education. First, however, I must bow to the numbers that show unequivocally that humans continue to herd themselves into metropolitan regions. The United States, for example, is over
MA I has been shelved - certainly for the near future, and, with any luck, permanently. The rapid growth of global opposition to the very idea of such a treaty is at least a heartening sign that opponents of globalization can make themselves heard i f they shout loud enough.
But nobody should be fooled by this minor setback. The would-be rulers of the economic roost do not give up that easily. The global corporate vultures wil l soon be back, with the MAI , the WTO, NAFTA or something even worse under their wings, to pick over the bones of democracy, local economies and environmental regulation. Riding roughshod over the interests of ordinary people, small and medium-sized businesses and - now, with the Loewen case - even democratically established legal systems, is the only way that the multinationals can establish the unassailable global dominance that so many of them seek.
There is nothing 'free' about their version of global capitalism, and there is nothing 'fair' about their terms of trade. Winner, as they well know, really does take all. There can never be a fair deal for the environment, for people or for small-scale, sustainable economics while treaties like NAFTA, and unelected organizations like the WTO are allowed to hold sway over the 'New World Order'.•
whelmingly urban and suburban and becoming even more so. In 1950 almost half of Americans still lived in rural areas. By 1990, however, the number was less than one in four (22.9 per cent), and only 1.9 per cent of Americans lived on farms.1
Within a few years 50 per cent of the Earth's people wil l be urban and that number, we are told, wil l continue to rise until the vast majority wil l be city folk. What is i t about these numbers that "ain't right"? What long-term forces could possibly stop or even reverse the trend toward urbanisation?
You can make your own list, but mine includes such things as the end of the era in which we can burn cheap fossil fuels and ignore ecological costs - it is cheap fossil energy that allows us to provision large urban populations; the vulnerability of concentrated populations to new diseases like AIDS and ebola and the return of old ones such as tuberculosis in more virulent form;2
the decline of ecological resilience worldwide because of species loss, desertification, deforestation, soil erosion, climatic change, and other factors such as increased ultraviolet radiation that wil l reduce the surpluses that provision cities: the unmanage-
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 1, January/February 1999 ability of all cities beyond a certain size; and not the least, the preferences of a persistent majority of people who say they would rather live in small towns or rural areas were i t economically feasible to do so.
In the face of epic changes looming in
The question, I think, is not whether the urban tide will ebb, but when, how, how rapidly, and whether those returning to rural areas in the century ahead do so willingly or as ecological refugees driven by necessity, perhaps desperation. the century ahead it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that "Long before 2030 the trend toward ever larger cities and an increasing ration of urban-to-rural dwellers is likely to have reversed".3 The question I think is not whether the urban tide wil l ebb, but when, how, how rapidly, and whether by foresight or happenstance. In other words, the choice is whether those return-
ing to rural areas in the century ahead do so, in the main, willingly and expectantly with the appropriate knowledge, attitudes, and skills or arrive as ecological refugees driven by necessity, perhaps desperation.
What does the possibility of an urban diaspora have to do with the conservation of biological diversity? Simply this: i f large numbers of people reinhabit rural area ignorantly and carelessly, the effects on biological diversity and ecosystems wil l be devastating. I f so, present rates of species extinction wil l pale by comparison, bring-
A mind that knows how to do many things well has a complexity, agility and resilience unknown to the specialist (what Nietzsche called an "inverted cripple", i.e., one with a single overdeveloped faculty instead of an impaired one).
ing to ruin the efforts to halt the rapid decline of biological diversity. The contemporary experience of ecological refugees in parts of the Third World or of suburban sprawl and uncontrolled rural development elsewhere point to the same conclusion. Yet no country has a policy worthy of the name
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 1, January/February 1999