• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

World Trade Summit: Consumer Power

Air Date: Week of November 19, 1999

Author and environmental policy analyst John Ryan of Northwest Environment Watch makes some observations about the power of consumers to shape the global economy with prudent buying decisions.

Transcript

CURWOOD: With all the debate surrounding the World Trade Organization, commentator John Ryan says there's been very little talk about some of the most powerful players in the global economy.

RYAN: Sometimes I wonder if the hubbub over the WTO isn't a bit off-base, with protesters storming the stage at a recent forum, changing, "Stop corporate greed!" Jeez, you might as well protest continental drift. (Claps and chants) Earthquakes are really chronic. We've got to stop plate tectonics. I mean, hello. Corporations exist to make money, and I doubt that is going to change in the new millennium.

But we can define where and how greed can operate. To be sure, in this global era, governments are losing their sway over corporate behavior. Multinationals can outrun the law in one place by seeking browner pastures elsewhere. And the frighteningly powerful WTO is definitely helping them.

But no company can run from its customers. You see, the secretly powerful player here is you and me. Consumer demand fuels the global economy, and consumers' tremendous powers can be used to reshape it. For example, by buying organic coffee instead of the regular stuff, you've just stopped pesticides from being sprayed thousands of miles away. And you've told farmers in agribusiness that it pays to protect the land. By buying an energy-efficient appliance or vehicle, you voted for high environmental standards instead of a race to the bottom. By shopping for local or low-impact or, best of all, second-hand goods, you're helping build an economy that respects the earth.

Now, I'm no angel in all this. I did a little self-exam this morning. My pants were made in Malaysia, my shirt in Hong Kong, and my shoes in Mexico. I feel like Free-Trade Barbie. Or maybe Global Sweatshop Ken. Sometimes it's hard even for a do-gooder like me to find products made with human rights or the planet in mind.

And the WTO wants to make it even harder for us to choose wisely. It's declared things like eco-labels to be unfair restrictions on trade. But even if the WTO succeeds in restricting our right to know, consumers still have tremendous influence. You don't need an eco-label to know that the best kind of gasoline or beef or electricity to buy is less of it. We all know that riding a bike on a short trip instead of driving an oil-guzzler designed for elephant hunting is a coup for local self-reliance, and for our planet's climate.

Yeah, it's critical that activists rein in the WTO's arbitrary powers. But don't let the Battle of Seattle mislead you. When it comes to globalization, some of the most important choices are made as close as the check-out line of your local store.

CURWOOD: John Ryan is with Northwest Environment Watch in Seattle. His new book is called Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet.

 

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.