Chapter 7: Globalization and the Environment: Convergence or Divergence?
James K. Boyce* Introduction In the early 1990s, the environmental movement in the USA underwent an acrimonious split over whether to support the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some groups backed the treaty, agreeing that ‘the best way to ensure that Mexico’s environment is cleaned up is to help Mexico become a prosperous country, and that means NAFTA’.1 Others opposed it, arguing that ‘the competition to attract investment will result in a lowest common denominator for environmental statutes’ and that ‘the country with the least restrictive statutes will become the ﬂoor, and others will harmonize downward to that ﬂoor’.2 Despite their diﬀerences, both sides made a common assumption: Mexico’s environmental practices were inferior to those of the USA and Canada. The only point of contention was whether free trade would pull the USA and Canada down to Mexico’s level, or lift Mexico to the plane of its northern neighbors. Partly as a result, both sides were oblivious to what may turn out to be NAFTA’s most serious environmental impact: the erosion of Mexico’s rich biological diversity in maize (‘corn’ in US parlance), as Mexican campesino farmers abandon traditional agriculture in the face of competition from cheap corn imported from the USA.3 In this chapter, I question the assumption that the global North is relatively ‘green’ and the global South relatively ‘brown’. I also argue that neither theoretical reasoning nor empirical evidence supports the axiomatic claims that ‘globalization’ will promote a convergence toward better environmental practices, or toward...
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