Sunday, 9 November 2014

Something to Worry About?

I read The New Scientist for my news, I listen to the Diane Rehm Show for my opinions, and I practise mindfulness meditation to keep me sane.

So when I find something to worry about, I don't take it lightly.

If you have read this far, you are interested enough, perhaps, to read on, but I warn you, the subject is pretty boring. You may not even know that something of extraordinary importance is up. This deafening silence is quite deliberate. If everyone knew what was afoot, maybe we would all be worried.

Trade talks. Yes, I know, boring. the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is designed to remove trade barriers between the US and the EU and looks to be a good thing. Yes? Well, maybe.

I have two concerns. Number One: Democracy. The degree of Corporate influence in American democracy concerns me - thank you Diane Rehm - and here is a quote from The New Scientist that brings this to the fore:

"... The talks are being held behind firmly closed doors. If a deal is struck, it is most likely to be approved summarily, with little opportunity for public feedback.

So critics of TTIP's economics, as well as those worried about its deference to corporate interests are free to fear the worst. But whoever is right, the approach is wrong. * In democracies, pro and con should be aired not stifled. Talks as important as these should be in the open." **

I am not a fan of restrictive practices that stifle free enterprise and inhibit the growth of markets that are essential to the economic well-being of us all. What concerns me is my health, and the health and the maintanance of an eco-system that can sustain me in it. And you, of course. Here's the problem.

Number Two (God Help Us) Health and Safety.

(As an aside just think about the reaction, the 'God Help Us' bit. Why are we conditioned to roll our eyes at the very thought of Health and Safety legislation? Whose interests does our scepticism serve? )

The European Union has some vital regulation in place to protect the health of it's citizens and the integrity of the environment, that corporate interests wish to see gone.

Yes, there are some niggly bits of bureaucratic inteference in the right to poison me, or destroy my habitat, that business interests wish to do away with, but I do not.

I know that 'the corporate good' in America has allowed powerful interests (oil and gas spring immediately to mind) to gain exemption from regulations with regard to, for example, water safety. Aquifers in California (which is undergoing a severe drought) have been, and are still being, legally polluted by oil companies, because Dick Cheney, when Vice President, got them exemption from environmental legislation. Think about it! The biggest polluters have a 'get out of jail free card'! Nice one, Dick.

I know that in some states there is no data collected on the health implications of oil and gas operations, because it is illegal to do so. In others, the Environmental Health Protection Agency is so starved of funds it cannot do the science necessary to its operation.

Is this, the US model of protecting public health and well-being, really what we want? Will a 'trade barrier' up for grabs, and liable for dismemberment, be essential regulation to safeguard our health? That such delicate matters as the right to a healthy life are under discussion at the TTIP table probably explains why we're not hearing about it - in case we might object.

Well, I object.


PS: For the record, I am very pro-American. (Hi Darlene!) I know that many of my American friends are as concerned as I am about environmental issues. I am not denigrating the US way of doing things, just pausing to wonder if we want to do them here.

* Likely benefits of free trade are addressed earlier in the article

** The New Scientist Leader Article: November 1st 2014 page 5

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