by Vandana Shiva, a leading environmental scientist in India
Statements and reports from the World Bank indicate that this Northern-dominated international agency does not view the global environmental crisis in terms of a "common future," but in terms of environmental apartheid in which the North grows richer and cleaner and the South grows poorer and more polluted. The World Bank economist mentioned at the beginning of the article, Lawrence Summers, has since moved on to a job as President Clinton's top international economist at the Treasury Department. Lawrence Summers, who was the World Bank's Chief Economist and was responsible for the 1992 World Development Report devoted to the economics of the environment, suggested that it makes economic sense to shift polluting industries to the Third World countries. In a memo to a senior World Bank staff dated 12 December 1991, the Chief Economist wrote, "just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [less developed countries]?" Summers justified his economic logic of increasing pollution in the Third World on the following grounds. Firstly, since wages are low in the Third World, economic costs of pollution arising from increased illness and death are lowest in the poorest countries. Summers thinks "that the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to that." Secondly, since in large parts of the Third World, pollution is still low, it makes economic sense to Summers to introduce pollution. "I've always thought," he says, that "underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted; their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City." Finally, since the poor are poor, they cannot possibly worry about environmental problems. "The concerns over an agent that causes a one-in-a-million change in the odds of prostate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostate cancer than in a country where under-five mortality is 200 per thousand." The World Bank apologized for Summers' memo. But that does not alter the fact that the World Bank has, in fact, been financing the relocation of pollution-intensive industry to the Third World. As steel plants close in the North, the Bank helps the expansion of steel manufacturing in India. It has financed the displacement of millions of tribals to build the Challdil and Icha dams of the Suvernarekha project and to support the expansion of the Tata's Steel Plant at Jamshedpur. It continues to finance superthermal power plants to facilitate the relocation of energy-intensive industry to the Third World. When fertilizer surpluses grew in America, the World Bank gave credit to push chemical fertilizers in India. The World Bank's practice shows that Summers' memo is not an aberration, but is consistent with the vision of an environmental apartheid, separate development for the North and the South. The North benefits in four ways from this arrangement of apartheid. First of all, Northern businesses are able to sell, through so-called "transfer of technology" financed by loans and debts, obsolete production systems and products, which they otherwise have to dump because of stricter regulations at home. Secondly, Northern banks, including the multilateral development banks like the World Bank, are able to make interest on loans and credits given for the transfer of environmentally unsound technology. Thirdly, the resultant financial debts give the North more political and economic control over the Third World through International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionalities and structural adjustment loans, which push the Third World further into debt. Finally, the increased pollution and environmental degradation of the Third World is also used as a new reason for control through green conditionalities. The Third World is pushed inexorably into deeper debt, deeper poverty, deeper environmental degradation and deeper erosion of its sovereignty and democratic structures. The malaise that allows these processes to grow is not limited to one economist like Summers or one agency like the World Bank. Apartheid seems to have become the way of thinking of all the dominant powers of the North. Apartheid is, in the final analysis, a racist world view that moralizes injustice on grounds of the false assumption of the superior status of the white race and the inferiority of the rest of us. We can be polluted and poisoned because we are lesser beings in the eyes and minds of those who want to rule the world. A brown or black child does not deserve the same protection from health and environmental hazards because he or she is not white. This apartheid philosophy is fast emerging as the ruling philosophy of the North. It finds its echo in a paper by Dr. Maurice King in the Lancet, in which he recommends that health care should be removed for children in the Third World and that they should be allowed to die because Third World populations are a burden on the planet. Apartheid is also the underlying philosophy of the report from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) on Trade and the environment. On the face of it, GATT's report opposes environmental imperialism. It refers to the recent GATT ruling against a US decision to ban imports of Mexican Yellowfin tuna because fishing methods led to the deaths of dolphins that swim about the tuna shoals. The GATT ruling says, "A country may not restrict imports of a product solely because it originates in a country whose environmental policies are different." GATT says that "countries are not clones of each other. They have a sovereign right to declare different environmental priorities and policies." However, when it comes to intellectual property rights (IPRs) and patents, GATT insists on a uniform law globally. IPRs are in effect instruments of control over biological resources and biodiversity that are concentrated in the Third World. When applied to living resources and life forms, they are ultimately laws about the environment. GATT's report is, in reality, the recipe for an environmental apartheid. The report on Trade and the Environment appears to be against protectionism in the North, but environmental laws are treated uniformly and as being "global" when they relate to controlling the resources of the Third World. All countries are treated a clones of each other in the case of patents of life forms. On the other hand, when environmental laws relate to pollution and hazards, the Third World is treated differently. "National Sovereignty" is used to justify the localization of pollution, but "National Sovereignty" is sacrificed to justify the globalization of access to the biological wealth of the Third World. The environmental "bads" inherited from the North are thus made the South's exclusive legacy. Environmental "goods" like biodiversity, which have been the South's heritage in the past, are transformed into a "global heritage of mankind." Some Third World elites and governments will be happy with this arrangement of apartheid because it allows them to participate in the robbery of people's resources, and it frees them of social responsibility to protect their fellow citizens from pollution and other environmental hazards. They have taken the resources from local communities. The pollution they invite will not be theirs to suffer. A part of the South will thus be jubilant as this face-saving device of "National Sovereignty" is used for "free" export of resources from South to North and "free" import of pollution from North to South. The words "freedom" and "protection" have been robbed of their humane meaning and are being absorbed into the double-speak of corporate jargon. With double-speak comes a double standard, one for citizens and one for corporations, one for corporate responsibility and one for corporate profits, one for the North and one for the South. The US is most sophisticated in the practice of double standards and the destruction of people's rights to health and safety in the Third World. On one hand, it aims at regulating safeguards within its own geographical boundaries, while on the other hand, through Super 301 [the US law that allows for penalties against foreign goods sold in the US below cost of production], it aims at destroying the Indian Patents Act of 1970 and replacing it with a strong US-style system of patent protection, which is heavily biased in favor of the industrially developed countries. The World Bank and GATT consider the transnationals' lack of patent protection as unfair trading practice. They do not consider the destruction of regulations for public safety and environmental protection as unethical and unfair for the citizens of the Third World. The Northern agencies want to limit and localize laws for the protection of people and universalize laws for the protection of profits. The people of India want the reverse - a universalization of the safety regulations protecting people's livelihoods and right to live and a localization of laws relating to intellectual property and private profits. All life is precious. It is equally precious to the rich and the poor, whites and blacks, men and women. Universalization of the protection of life is an ethical imperative. On the other hand, private property and private profits are culturally and socio-economically legitimized constructs holding only for some groups. They do not hold for all societies and all cultures. Laws for the protection of private property rights, especially as related to life forms, cannot and should not be imposed globally. They need to be restrained. Double standards also exist in the shift from private gain to social responsibility for environmental costs. When the patenting of life is at issue, arguments stemming from the concept of "novelty" are used. Novelty requires that the subject matter of a patent be new, that it be the results of an inventive step, and not something existing in nature. On the other hand, when it comes to legislative safeguards, the focus of the argument shifts to the concept of "similarity," to establishing that biotechnology products and genetically engineered organisms differ little from parent organisms. To have one law for environmental responsibility and another for proprietary rights and profits is an expression of double standards. Double standards are ethically unjustified and illegitimate, especially when they deal with life itself. However, double standards are consistent with and necessary for the defense of private property rights. It is these double standards that allow the lives and livelihoods of the people and the planet to be sacrificed for the protection of profits. And it is these double standards that support the emergence of an environmental apartheid in which the last resources of the poor are taken over by the rich, and the poor are pushed into "pollution reservations" to live with waste. They themselves are treated as waste, to be dispensed with either through poisoning and pollution, as Lawrence Summers has suggested, or through population control and denial of health care to children, as Maurice King has suggested. An environmental order that is full of contempt for the poor of the Third World and tries to rob them even of their right to life cannot be the basis of our common future. This article is reprinted with permission from 50 Years is Enough: the Case Against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, South End Press, Boston, 1994.