By Cherylyn Smith
Demonstrators broke ground on Monday, July 11th in downtown Fresno, in the fight to defeat the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The educational, yet spirited, rally drew a crowd of up to 50 participants and featured expert speakers: from labor unions, the medical/health community, a human rights organization, the progressive community, and various environmental organizations. For a summary of each speaker and some of the participants’ comments, please refer to the July 12, 2016 article in the Fresno Bee, Page 5A: “Protesters Rally in Downtown Fresno Against Pacific Trade Deal”.
In addition, a coalition of the same interest groups met with Congressman Jim Costa in his office on August 22, 2016. (A report on this meeting will be submitted to a future Community Alliance edition.) A demonstration led by Communications Workers of America took place outside the office, while the meeting took place. Fresnans Against Fracking, with the support of the National Sierra Club, sponsored both demonstrations.
National and International Implications:
On July 11th, the choice of location, the Federal Courthouse at Tulare and O, in downtown Fresno, was consistent with protesters’ effort to call attention to the assault on our judicial system by provisions in the TPP: These provisions would allow corporate tribunals to bypass any participating country’s judicial system in deciding the outcome of lawsuits – a system known as the Inter-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). These tribunals are comprised mainly of corporate lawyers and are immune from any appeals process. This has been accurately described as the biggest corporate, international “power grab” in history. Clearly, the overthrow of justice, as we know it, is one of the high-stakes consequences of the TPP.
While both parties’ leading presidential candidates have professed their opposition to the TPP, the issue has many flickering lights that need to be extinguished. It remains a top priority – among the top three issues – of the presidential campaign. The voters need to keep the pressure on legislators and candidates alike, and, at the very least, object to the TPP vote being scheduled during the lame-duck session of congress, when no one, including the next president, will be held accountable if it passes. President Obama is driving the effort to see a lame-duck vote take place, and there is a growing likelihood that it will happen, according to press reports.
Naomi Klein, in her book, This Changes Everything, gives us insight into the devastating effect ISDS lawsuits have had over the years. There have been over 700 such lawsuits under NAFTA alone, and that number is expected to grow exponentially, on a yearly basis, if the TPP were to go into effect. The most common target of these lawsuits have been national efforts to replace fossil fuel extraction with renewable energy produced in local communities and efforts to reduce and/or regulate fossil fuel extraction. Included in this rapid succession of lawsuits are legal challenges against China’s green energy subsidy programs, WTO attacks on India’s independent efforts at solar energy expansions, corporate efforts to challenge U.S. fracking restrictions, and big oil and gas companies’ lawsuits that would undermine offshore drilling limitations. (Klein; p. 65)
However, the most notorious of all was the lawsuit that has been levelled against the US government: The Trans-Canada Corporation’s 15-billion-dollar lawsuit against the U.S. government for cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline. This lawsuit extends Trans-Canada’s expectation of compensation to include “future profit” projections, not only the company’s current losses.
According to an informational fact sheet, from the Sierra Club, the TPP would extend ISDS rights to over 9,000 additional firms – roughly doubling the number of corporations involved in current trade agreements. Naomi Klein’s warning about the judicial consequences of these corporations being empowered by the ISDS system is something not to be taken lightly:
To allow arcane trade law, which has been negotiated with scant public scrutiny, to have this kind of power over an issue so critical to humanity’s future is a special kind of madness. (Klein; p. 72)
Furthermore, as Klein points out, the transport of goods is not counted in GHG emissions records, due to provisions in existing trade agreements. Thus, GHG emissions resulting from the shipping of goods are 400 times greater than they were since the early 1990’s, when NAFTA came into being, yet those emissions are not counted in the tallying of GHG emissions annually. This amounts to a “free pass” for oil and gas transport in the proposed TPP, which is likely to raise the rate of emissions dramatically, due to the fact that the transporting of freight, back and forth across the Pacific Ocean, is so much greater than the distances we have seen to date. (Klein; p. 79)
The TPP is already affecting us in California in insidious and often imperceptible ways. At the moment, we are facing the prospect of oil train networks riddling our state with hazardous, explosive materials. Apparently, after congress lifted the 40-year ban on oil exports in December, 2015, our state is positioning itself to be among the major west-coast exporters of oil. Tar Sands oil, in what can only be seen as “Plan B” for the oil companies who have invested in the doomed Canadian oil fields, is now due to be shipped by trains to California to be sent from various terminals throughout the state to refineries in the Bay Area. Once refined, this Tar Sands oil is poised to be shipped across the Pacific Ocean from California ports, if the TPP passes. Increased export of oil would incentivize oil and gas companies to continue drilling and fracking, in our state, as we have witnessed in Kern County (where four new train terminal were recently approved), Los Angeles counties, Coalinga, and oil operations up and down the coast, etc. TPP would place these existing operations on steroids and add many new enterprises to the mix.
What’s more, there is a lengthy provision for the deregulation of the processing and transport of liquefied natural gas. (LNG). This is obviously a way to expedite the export of natural gas under the TPP, which is dangerous in and of itself, but it will also encourage companies to escalate fracking, along with its air, water, and food contaminating effects. Many contaminants are currently going under the radar, due to lax or non-existent regulations and lack of research on the effects of the chemicals involved in the fracking process. Meanwhile, Governor Brown continues to endorse fracking.
Conspicuously, the TPP includes stipulations that would further weaken oversight over the processing and transport of LNG. Note that natural gas is methane, a GHG that has 86 time more heat-trapping capacity than does CO2, and methane is leaked in greater amounts in the fracking process – 30 times more than in conventional drilling, to be exact. (Klein, p. 143)
As if contamination of air, soil, water, and crops weren’t enough, recent studies coming from Oklahoma and others conducted in Kern County have proven that fracking is causing a sharp increase in earthquakes, in both regions.
A Double-Edged Sword:
It is telling that the TPP contains only six chapters devoted to actual trade issues. The rest (24, in all) are dedicated to defining the rights of corporations and directly and indirectly creating corporate loopholes within the ISDS process. That is why many see this as a major move toward an international “Corporatocracy”, devoted to undermining national sovereignty and justice, as we know it. Not enough, however, has been said about the way in which the TPP and TTIP (TPP’s European counterpart) will undermine the Paris Climate Agreement.
Together, these two agreements would become the “Gatekeeper” for whether we are able to meet the 2.0 Celsius target referenced in, but not enforceable by the Paris Agreement. (1.5 degrees is really the imperative, if GHG reduction is to make any real difference, according to scientists.)
If the TPP were to go into effect, we do not stand a chance of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement within the time allotted. Thus, the passage of this trade agreement, would pass-on a death sentence to the planet and the sustainability of life for generations to come. The scenarios, of which are already playing themselves out in unmanageable and costly weather events, relocations,
migrations due to increasingly intense climate disasters, and in the accompanying political instability and conflicts that emerge out of such catastrophes.
What does this do to the stability of international relations, in our times? It has been confirmed that Syria’s refugee problem was the direct result of a drought in the region. This clearly illustrates the kind of political turmoil we are likely to see as climate change destabilizes countries’ resources and creates havoc, both within countries and internationally. Consider the Middle East: The Western World’s oil-driven addiction, has impelled the U.S. to become meddlers (intruders, if you will) in the Middle-East for decades, bringing about the destabilization of the region, and numerous unanticipated political backlashes, followed by the need, according to the U.S. government, to intervene repeatedly. This has resulted in the provocation of ongoing conflict and terrorism. The cumulative effects of climate change will incur the same kind of international chaos, as disasters beget more disasters over time.
Moreover, it is reasonable for any astute political observer to conclude that the TPP and TTIP represent the new frontier of an ongoing Western economic imperialism, that is designed to be used as a threat and leverage over the economic and political power of such nations as China and Russia, in an effort to weaken their positions in the world. No doubt, this would backfire too – more than likely, with a force, the likes of which the world has never seen.
Failing to protect the planet and to keep fossil fuels in the ground would unleash unprecedented corporate control over the international economy and undermine all efforts to reverse Climate Change. With the passage of the TPP, both the prospect of a major world conflict and the destruction of the planet due to our failure to reverse climate change will merge into one – a double-edged sword. The former could easily escalate into a world war, while the latter would lead to the gradual collapse of civilization, as we know it, and the demise of the planet from natural occurrences, caused by human activity.
We must do everything within our power to stop the TPP! Join the Sierra Club and Fresnans Against Fracking, locally and statewide in protesting and voicing opposition to the TPP. Actions have begun in Fresno and plans are underway to carry out statewide actions. Please look for further announcements in this and future issues of The Community Alliance Calendar.
Please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about what you can do and/or request to be alerted to future anti-TPP actions, in the coming months.
Cherylyn Smith is a retired educator and adjunct instructor at Fresno City College. She is an environmental activist, and an avid follower of music, theatre, and books. Contact her at email@example.com