Mobility has allowed human civilizations throughout history to reap the benefits of unrestricted, intercontinental trade, but there are environmental costs as a result which are not immediately apparent. There is no doubt that trade between nations has depleted natural resources, but the question as to whether current trade policies augment or temper environmental degradation is currently under contention. One view is that environmental regulations will create "pollution havens" in countries where there are less stringent regulations, simply relocating environmental damage to a country where the environment is worth less. The opposing view comes in the form of the "Porter hypothesis" named for Michael Porter and his suggestion that stringent regulations will encourage technological innovation among polluting firms thereby decreasing the rate at which the environment is damaged. The opposing views deal with current trade policies, but it is also important also to look at the effects that trade has had on the environment when trade policies were just taking shape.
The act of trade itself has had very little impact on the environment. It is the resulting increased economic activity that destroys local ecosystems and exhausts natural resources. However, increased economic activity also is the main driving force behind growth and production, which is vital to a poor community. As such, I am hardly attacking free-trade policies, only analyzing their environmental implications, of which there are many. For example, sugar cultivation and trade had an enormous impact on the American tropics beginning in the late 17th century and lasting over a century. In the early 1640's, the Dutch began transporting slaves and agricultural technolo...
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...lations diminished production, those without the basic human needs of food, shelter, and clothing will be forced into still greater poverty. So the very debate about whether to curb production to save the environment is also a question of whose livelihoods we value more: present day poor or future populations.
Bredahl, M. E. et al. Agriculture, Trade, & the Environment. Westview Press: Boulder, Colorado, 2006. pp. 288.
Porter, M. E. & Claas van der Linde. Toward a New Conception of the Environment-Competitiveness Relationship. Journal of Economic Perspectives. (Fall 1995) pp. 97-118.
Solbrig, O. T. et al. Globalization and the Rural Environment. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2012.
Tietenberg, Thomas. Environmental and Natural Resource Economics. Addison Wesley: New York, 2003. pp. 561. ISBN 0-201-77027-X, pp. 7-11.
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