Students Describe Experience of Globalization Conference
WHITSETT AND MORGAN WILLIAMS
As two environmental studies majors who have spent time abroad studying environmental design, issues of globalization and corporate power are important to us. On the weekend of Feb. 24, the International Forum on Globalization held a conference in New York City entitled “Technology and Globalization,” which we attended. Central themes of this teach-in were free trade, biotechnology, media and culture, military and space technology and new directions. John Cavanagh of the Institute of Policy Studies described the conference’s purpose as, “the design and promotion of alternatives to the present destructive, corporate technological model.”
The IFG is an alliance of 60 leading activists, scholars, economists, researchers and writers. They came together in 1994 in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement’s passage and the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Speakers in the conference represented a number of organizations and institutions from around the world, travelling from Canada, India, England, the Philippines and regions of the United States. Although a number of agendas were represented, the discussions centered on a theme of action — both personal and social — in response to what attendees view as the recent rise of corporate power.
The first day was split into six different panels of speakers who addressed specific topics to a general audience of about 300. Held in the main assembly hall of Hunter College, the atmosphere was casual, but charged.
The first day came to a climax when Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce, gave a talk that linked economic problems with social inequities calling for leaders who listen. Hawken said that industry is stuck in a cycle of increasing productivity while using more natural capital and less human capital. The results, he said, are environmental destruction coupled with the marginalization of human beings.
“Before us is a choice: ruin or renaissance,” Hawken said. “We have to check our productivity, because at this point its only limiting factor is the destruction of living systems.” Hawken received a standing ovation with his conclusion: “This is the most critical time of human civilization.”
Satish Kumar, a leading spiritual and environmental leader in India and Britain, spoke after Hawken. Kumar walked across India at age 18 and encouraged landlords to donate over five million acres of property to the landless. It was difficult to see how this small man was going to handle the newly excited audience.
Kumar began with a story about his mother who made an incredibly beautiful shawl for his sister. When his sister went to hang the shawl on the wall, his mother refused. “The day you start to put beautiful things on the wall is the day you start to put ugly things on yourself,” she said.
Kumar turned the audience’s attention not only to what globalization is doing to the air, water and soil, but also what it is doing to people’s souls.
Throughout the teach-in, the topic of the newly designed Free Trade Area of the Americas drew interest from the attendees. The FTAA is an agreement that began at the 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami, Fla. and could be completed as soon as 2003. The FTAA would expand the policies of NAFTA to include the Caribbean and all of the Americas (except Cuba) — 34 countries in all.
Program director of the IFG, Antonia Juhasz, provided warnings on these policies. “This is the most threatening trade agreement yet,” Juhasz said. “It encompasses the largest free-trade area and it gives corporations the most power.”
Massive protests, projected to be on par with the protests in Seattle, are planned for the ministerial-level summit, which takes place in Quebec City on April 21 and 22. Several student organizations from Oberlin are planning to attend and there will also be a march in Cleveland for those unable to make it to Canada.
In a discussion on the second day entitled “Are Corporations Reformable? Is Technology Neutral?” panelist Andrew Kimbel, attorney with the International Center for Technology Assessment, said in a joking manner, “No. And, no.” Kimbel outlined a connection most forum attendees see between technology and massive bureaucracies, the elite and capital accumulation. “We have built an entire technology environment around these totalitarian technologies,” he said.
Not all in the audience agreed with this position. During the question and answer portion of the discussion, Morton Winston, former director of Amnesty International, described what he saw as a split between those who believe that corporations are not reformable and those who see potential in a strategy of engagement. He said that “Jerry Mander and other members of the panel are dehumanizing and stigmatizing people in the corporate world.”
“I am disturbed by NGO and corporate convergence,” said Hawken in response. “Conversation is important, but it is also important to have clear definitions of who we are.” To elucidate his point, he addressed the BP Corporation. The corporation has changed its name to ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and has installed solar-voltaic cells on the roofs of some of its fueling stations. Meanwhile, BP is lobbying to open up the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge and was one of the largest contributors to the campaign of George W. Bush.
“There are 10,000 NGOs in the world today,” Hawken said. “And each has mental models that do not conflict. Instead of being ready to say ‘I told you so’ when the ship goes down, we must be prepared to win.” The success of the Seattle protests is seen as merely the first step in a battle that is afoot. In this spirit, James Early of the Smithsonian Institute quoted from Sweet Honey in the Rock, “We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.”
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Describe Experience of Globalization Conference