Jerry Mander and his son Yari at the 2003 Bioneers Conference
In October 2003, I was signing Living on the Earth books at the Bioneers Conference, an annual weekend event in Marin County, California, that brings together thousands of activists working toward a sustainable world, to witness a panoply of educational presentations. At the table next to mine, Jerry Mander and John Cavanaugh, co-chairs of the International Forum on Globalization, were signing their book, Alternatives to Economic Globalization. We made friends and traded books.
I began reading their book the following December. Don’t be fooled by the dry title; this one’s a page-turner. It links together all of today’s issues—from global warming to in the invasion of Iraq to the AIDS epidemic in Africa to the attempted private sector takeover of Social Security—and places them in the context of a single looming menace: giant multi-national corporations that consider themselves above the law of any land. Indeed, if they find a country’s laws an impediment to their profit making, they will impose trade sanctions until those democratically created laws are repealed. We’re talking laws about environmental protections, food safety, labor, and monopoly.
The global conglomerates seek to control public water supplies around the world. Those who cannot afford the market price go thirsty, as do their crops. This assists in the corporations in herding cheap labor off the land and into their factories, while global corporations acquire the land for mono-crop agriculture exclusively for export—where self-sufficient agricultural communities had existed for thousands of years. Result: famine.
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical companies are patenting seeds and folk remedies developed over millennia by indigenous communities, and suing these same communities for using the corporation’s “intellectual property.” In addition, the chemical companies develop genetically modified seeds created to withstand the toxicity of chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides, so that the farmers become dependent upon these megaliths for their seeds and farming supplies. Should a neighboring farmer refuse to use the GMO seeds, the wind carries the pollen from the GMO plants into the neighbor’s fields, and he can be bankrupted by a lawsuit from the chemical company for “stealing intellectual property.”
Some things were not meant ever to be owned by a single individual or organization. These are what Mander and Cavanaugh call “the Commons”—that which belongs to all and shared for the common good, including clean air and water, wilderness, biodiversity, the air waves (radio and TV), the basic human rights to medical care, education, and food safety.
What can we citizens do to protect the Commons, and to avert the social and environmental tragedies being promulgated by international administrative bodies that favor multi-national corporations over the needs of the people and the environment?
We can start by getting informed. Everyone from high school on up should read Alternatives to Economic Globalization. You can easily order one for $15.95 from Berrett-Koehler Publishers in Vermont at (800) 929-2929. Bulk discounts are available.
We can speak out, calling and writing our representatives in Washington DC, writing letters to print publications, posting on web logs, talking with friends, and joining in public demonstrations.
We can create self-sufficient communities based on diversified agriculture, small businesses, seed saving, bartering, and community schools and clinics.
Absolutely, we need to support the few, brave politicians who are working to regulate corporate globalization and reverse its damage to our beautiful planet.