Greening of American Foreign Policy

Tuesday, November 24, 1998

Should environmental issues be given the same weight in American foreign policy as economic and national security concerns? What are the connections between the global economy and the global environment? Terry Anderson, Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution Executive Director, Political Economy Research Center, Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Montana State University, Peter Gleick, Co-Founder and President, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, and Randy Hayes, Founder and President, Rainforest Action Network look for the best way to solve environmental problems.

Recorded on Tuesday, November 24, 1998

ROBINSON Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today, "The Greening of American Foreign Policy", a term that means putting environmental concerns at the center of our relations with other countries right along side economic and security concerns. To illustrate the issue: swordfish, the Atlantic swordfish, a gourmet's delight. From the early years of the last century until the middle years of this one, techniques for landing swordfish changed very little. Fishermen used small boats and harpoons. Wood and metal, man against fish- it was a difficult dangerous undertaking and quite a lot of times the fish got away which helped to ensure there were always plenty of fish in the sea. Things changed in the 1960s with the advent of long line fishing. Now fishermen use big boats to tow miles of line each line set with thousands of hooks. They navigate by satellite and they find the swordfish using electronic fish finders like this one, not as many swordfish get away. With the result: the swordfish population has collapsed. This brings us back to foreign policy. If an environmental problem transcends national borders and swordfish after all are the citizens of no nation, shouldn't the state department work with other governments to do something about it? That may sound like a simple question, but on today's show you will hear a variety of answers. Randy Hayes, president of the Rainforest Action Network and Peter Glick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development , Environment and Security are broadly speaking, in favor of a green policy. Terry Anderson, a fellow at the Hoover Institution thinks the very idea of a green foreign policy is, forgive me, a little "fishy".


ROBINSON In the spring of 1997 the State Department issued a statement entitled, "Environmental diplomacy". I quote, "environmental issues are part of the mainstream of American foreign policy because environmental problems are often at the heart of the political and economic challenges we face around the world." Randy, should environmental issues be given the same weight in American foreign policy as economic and national security concerns?

HAYES I think our main foreign policy is economic policy but to think that economic policy is not environmental policy is to sort of, miss the point. You know you can't have economic development without impact on the biosphere.

ROBINSON You like the State Department being much more explicit in pursuing environmental aims.

HAYES I wish they would've said ecology as opposed to environmentalism. Environmental is a mushy word ecology is a science of relationship, it helps people really get to what we're trying to get at.

ROBINSON Terry you like it?

ANDERSON I disagree entirely I think that to put environmental policy as the linchpin for foreign policy is to give up sovereignty over issues that we ought to have control over not just because they're important for foreign policy, but because I think we can do a better job of managing our own environmental policy if we keep it within our own borders. Secondly, I think that if foreign policy focused on traditional foreign policy issues, namely encouraging countries that have the rule of law and property rights, that we would do more for those countries to help them with environmental issues too.

ROBINSON You like it, you don't. Peter?

GLEICK I think what's happening is a logical progression. We're seeing environmental issues, ecological issues if you will, playing an increasing role in foreign policy in part because environmental issues aren't within borders anymore. They're no longer local, purely local issues. There are things like global climate change that affects the globe, has global causes, global impacts...

ROBINSON Excellent, you've set up my next question. Terry you write in your work about the "tragedy of the commons". Briefly explain that concept.

ANDERSON The "tragedy of the commons" starts with the notion of there being a grazing commons onto which we each might put our sheep or our cows. Of course if we each keep doing that without concern for the grass out there, and if you don't get it I will, then we overgraze the commons. In the global context is the notion of a global commons- the global atmosphere [ROBINSON Air], the global oceans...That notion then says that if we're truly in this global commons, then we're all impacting one another and that means we have to have some overarching management. And that technique will be a UN, something like that.

ROBINSON You agree with that statement?

GLEICK Absolutely. For certain environmental problems.

ROBINSON And you would agree with that statement?

HAYES Not quite. I mean in this globalized economy you would have to the implication is that you would have to have a UN and these international conventions regulating things. If you had really local tribal kinds of societies that didn't have an affect on the global commons then you wouldn't necessarily need those kinds of international governmental super structures. [ROBINSON OK]


ROBINSON Let's look at a few specific environmental issues that involve the global commons. Case study number one- the rain forest. About 40 million acres of rain forest are cut down every year that's an area about the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. Species are becoming extinct and with fewer trees the planet's ability to absorb greenhouse gases is being undermined leading to a build up of greenhouse gases, ramifications for global warming, so on and so forth...It's a problem, how would you address the rain forest problem?

HAYES The rainforest is being cut down for a number of different reasons. You gotta look regionally. The dynamics of the deforestation in Africa are much different than say Central America where say cattle ranching is a big part of the problem. To haul cattle ranching's connection to deforestation in Central America you gotta look at the diet in North America because we import a lot of that cheap beef back into the United States. We can't afford to feed the people, the population of the world doubling yet again, with the kind of meat diet that too many people...

ROBINSON You would change the diet of North Americans.

HAYES Exactly.

ROBINSON Americans and Canadians...Terry?

ANDERSON The cattle are there because they allow land owners to essentially maintain their ownership of land. Cattle graze it, that keeps squatters out. In the absence of clear property rights, people treat the forest as a commons, which is what we've been talking about [ROBINSON Precisely what we've been talking about, tragedy of the commons...] and the result is over harvesting...

HAYES I wouldn't say people treat it as a commons. In the case of logging which is the main cause of destruction in Southeast Asian rain forests, that's run by companies, corporations, [ANDERSON but corporations are....] national corporations in Indonesia or...

ROBINSON Peter you buy it? Property rights are...

GLEICK You know rain forests is an issue that is very strongly regional and property rights is an important part of it, but you can't address the rain forest issue without also thinking about the international economic situation and the role of international corporations and the pressures that such organizations put on regional resources.

ROBINSON Terry's answer to the rainforest problem is- establish property rights and your organization's answer is protest outside Home Depot. I mean you want to cause a ruckus.

HAYES Well, absolutely. [ROBINSON Go ahead] I mean if common sense and reason were good tools for orchestrating social change we wouldn't be in the kind of you know...morass that we're in right now. You protest outside of a Home Depot because Home Depot is the largest retailer of old growth wood in the world. Our position is simply the world has taken too much of these ancient forests. China was a great forest- gone, Europe was a great forest- gone, too much of North American forests particularly in the 48 states, in sense of old growth forests, are gone. The highest use of an old growth ancient forest is as a forest with its ecosystem service- moderating the exchange of carbon and oxygen, contributing to the hydrologic cycle of the biosphere and all of that....

ROBINSON And your solution to the problem is to....[HAYES the solution...] is political activism.

HAYES The number one cause of deforestation is logging for the commercial timber trade. The exchange of wood products around the planet. Get the timber industry out of the natural forest and help them develop sustainable tree farms and ecologized plantations on already degraded land, that's our solution.

ANDERSON The only way you can do it is with some kind of command and control regulation. This comes to the topic of this debate: how do you elevate command and control to international organization? [ROBINSON Explain what you mean by that term "command and control"] I mean going into Indonesia and telling people in Indonesia, "you will not cut those trees", tell people how to behave. Wildlife management in Africa. Go in and tell those people, "do not shoot elephants"- it didn't work, it won't work...

GLEICK Yes there are some of these issues and what do you do about them? Is it a command and control solution or is it reducing demand for certain kinds of products in the industrialized world where most of the demand is or is it providing economic incentives or... there are whole range of options for dealing with these issues..But I think that there is very little dispute that there are truly global environmental issues that require attention at the foreign policy level.


ROBINSON So far international command and control versus local property rights. Now let's move the debate from the rain forest to the high seas.

A few choice facts about fish: from 1987 to 1991 the total North Atlantic swordfish catch went from 45 million pounds to 33 million pounds, the average size of the swordfish landed dropped from 165 pounds to 110. Haddock landings plummeted to 1/50th of what they were in 1960. Cod landings dropped by a factor of 4. Terry, your impulse is to establish property rights- how do you do it in the middle of the deep blue sea?

ANDERSON Most of the species you are talking about are not in the middle of the deep blue sea they're within the 200 mile limit of most countries. The way you do it, I just returned from a conference in New Zealand discussing ITQs "Individual Transferrable Quotas". The idea is, we take this fishery [ROBINSON I'm skeptical, I'm warning you...] we assign quota to each of us we now have a share, a property right in this fishery, we can fish our quota when we've taken it out... [ROBINSON You're saying that every person at this table is allowed to take 50 swordfish, that's the idea?] and that is agreed to either by the community of fishers or by governmental agency because there is a role for a governmental agency in this case to bring us together as a desperate group of fishers and deciding on the quota. Once that's decided I can fish my quota or let my quota grow til next year....

ROBINSON I have no intention of fishing so I can sell the right [ANDERSON Or you can sell it!] to get my swordfish to one of you, is that the idea?

ANDERSON Exactly. That is a property right solution...

ROBINSON Any evidence that it works?

ANDERSON New Zealand's fisheries are just exploding in terms of productivity and the value of the quota are going in the same direction.

ROBINSON In terms of productivity but what about in terms of the actual schools of fish?

ANDERSON No, that's the productivity [ROBINSON Oh it's rebounding?] They're rebounding by leaps and bounds

GLEICK What about the fisheries that are over fished on the high seas of which there are many?

ANDERSON The best thing to do is to further expand the territorial limits.

GLEICK Dividing all of the oceans and assign them to different nations

ANDERSON That would be a lot better.


HAYES You know I'm a pragmatist at heart. The unraveling of the web of life or the biosphere is so cataclysmic and tragic that I just want to get the job done of halting that and how we do it, I'm open minded...but my antennas go off with the kind of strategy that you just mentioned, just in that we are commodifying another aspect of nature. Another aspect of cosmos and the universe and the commodification of this... [ROBINSON Commodifying, you mean putting a price...] if it gets the job done and we stop the slaughter of the oceans, I'm opened minded to it.

ROBINSON Is that as a matter of principle so to speak that you think that that leads us to danger or is it more aesthetic. You like being able to look at a mountainside and simply take in the beauty of it without knowing that a logger looks at it and puts a value on it. Because if it's a matter of aesthetic that actually has less claim doesn't it? On the politics of the nation and on how we ought to conduct our foreign policy?

HAYES The aesthetic is there but that's not the real motivation on my part. If you're one of the Yanomami? Indians deep in the Amazon, you're able to live for thousands of years in a way in which you don't unravel the web of life of your region. And they didn't do it through a commodification of the market and these mechanisms. I'm just saying it's not the only unnecessary approach, it could be one that works in certain situations.

ROBINSON Peter go ahead.

GLEICK Economics doesn't always apply to all aspects of environmental goods. There are plenty or areas in which economics fails, where there is no such thing as a free market, where there are imperfections and applying purely economic concepts and ideas isn't appropriate and won't work.

ROBINSON We've talked about the land and the sea. Now the air.


ROBINSON Global warming- unless greenhouse emissions are curbed, average temperatures are projected to rise 2-6 degrees F over the next century disrupting weather patterns, melting the ice caps, flooding Manhattan, and causing general mayhem, what do you do about it?

GLEICK If there is going to be real climate change, the impacts are going to be on our economic systems and some of those can be measured and we can value them. But some of them are going to be on things we cannot value, we cannot measure. [ROBINSON Such as?] Such as extinction of species, what's the value of that? Ecosystems in particular are very resistant to monetization, economic...

ROBINSON OK now let's give Anderson a chance to respond here.

ANDERSON I think global warming is a classic case, if it exists..and we could debate all day... [ROBINSON Let's stipulate now that there's questions about the science..] If we stipulate that then I don't see much way to solve global warming other than through some kind of command and control approach. If you look at the command and control approach that came out of Kyoto, what you observe is exactly what Peter's talking about it. What you observe is economics at work. You can, and it's been documented in the paper by Bruce Shandel?, a senior associate at Political Economy Research Center, you look at those stipulations out of Kyoto and they are very much not addressing the issue of global warming but are designed to enhance the economies of those nations that have already gotten ahead with say nuclear power, or to enhance companies that are in alternative energy.

ROBINSON So far as I know the Kyoto accords call for the United States to reduce its greenhouse emissions to 7% below the 1990 levels by some date certain in the future.

ANDERSON If you want to explain which countries have to reduce by the most and which by the least, you can explain it best by thinking about restrictions on competition.

GLEICK To look at reducing greenhouse gas emissions purely as something that's going to cost the United States or Europe which also has very strict reductions, and in fact have made much more progress at reducing emissions than the United States, is a mistake. There is enormous potential economic opportunity for the United States as well to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to produce technologies that the rest of the world is going to use .

ROBINSON Did you just say, did I hear you say correctly that if global warming exists you don't see any other way to solve it than by command and control? Their model?

GLEICK Ironically, I think the same mechanism can be helpful in solving the issue of global warming [ROBINSON How? Quotas?] by putting trade permits on emissions of greenhouse gases. If it's cheaper for the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving the technology in China, let that be an option.

ROBINSON So an international body gets together and decides you the United States have to achieve such and such level of greenhouse emissions, you Europe, you Mexico, so and so forth, and you essentially assign property rights in greenhouse emissions. And let people trade them. That's what you're arguing?

GLEICK In part, yes.

ROBINSON OK saying the solution is the swordfish population, good idea right?

ANDERSON Given the stipulation it's a good idea, given that we have established the right sort of allocation of these rights, it's a good idea...

HAYES Let's not lose sight of the fact that global warming is most likely caused apparently by the burning of fossil fuels. Ok you know an ecologically sustainable society is not going to be powered by the burning of fossil fuels, it violates the principles of ecology. At the heart of all of this has to do with eco-literacy, ecological literacy, and societies around the world are not ecologically literate. We're certainly not ecologically literate here in the United States. You go to the mouth of the dragon and you say- Japan, Europe, and the United States, "stop burning fossil fuels". That's the primary thing you've got to do, in the...

ROBINSON Randy calls developed nations the "dragon". What is the relationship between a nation's economic strength and its environmental impact?


ROBINSON You just said you go to the mouth of the dragon and tell various nations to stop burning fossil fuels. In the short run, the only way to do it is to shrink those national economies. In other words for the United States, to take that as the example, to make itself poorer. Now Terry has argued [HAYES Not true...] that in the short run, that's not true? Terry argues that richer economies are environmentally more sound. Argue that point, explain yourself.

ANDERSON Richer economies are more environmentally literate because we can afford to be. Those of us who sit in warm houses with full bellies and good health care and so on, can afford to say, "cut back on emissions" and we can do it and it's not going to affect our lifestyle to the point that it will for developing countries. So that's one, we're environmentally literate because we're wealthy.

ROBINSON You argue that economic growth is a spurt to environmentalism. Would you accept that statement? (

ANDERSON Absolutely) And you wouldn't accept that.

GLEICK It can be. We are, we the United States are the largest single emitter of greenhouse gases. Being ecologically literate and being...and our contribution to the global environmental problems are different things. We're relatively ecologically literate.

ANDERSON We're the biggest producers of wealth and we produce that wealth per unit with less greenhouse gases than countries that produce wealth with more green house gases. We are more efficient....

ROBINSON So more economic growth and technological development to spread through the world? Isn't that going to be one of the most efficient ways for you to pursue your aim of ecological soundness.

HAYES When I'm at a cocktail party in Manhattan versus deep in the rainforest with the Yanomami Indians I know who is more ecologically literate. I know who understands the relationships of nature more. It's the spread of the global economic system, the industrial economic model that's unraveling the web of life and tearing apart the biosphere and causing global warming. And so [ROBINSON You buy that?] the question was won't more of that solve the problem? And you know that's like trying to sober up by drinking martinis...I'm sorry it just doesn't work that way.


ANDERSON It may well be in the rain forest that these people are ecologically literate and doing a fantastic job. But it is because they have the right set of institutions. It is not because they have gone to the UN and gotten enlightenment. It is not because the UN is telling them what to do, they have property rights. In the absence of that ecological literacy will not work.

ROBINSON Peter you're shaking your head with a "that's neither here nor there"..

GLEICK Well you know, I think that we've established that under certain circumstances assigning property rights to resources can be a good thing. It's important to emphasize that that's not the only solution that the solution [ROBINSON and it's not by itself an adequate solution to global warming] and it's not by itself adequate. I mean for example there are so many things that we can measure about the costs of global warming, but how do you assign a value to reducing a unit of greenhouse gas emissions? If you looked purely at the economic value you would undervalue the cost of that reduction.

ROBINSON Peter insists that international command and control agreements are necessary. But have they actually worked?


ROBINSON You're quite open to the notion of property rights so far as they can address a problem but you insist that there is some large residual that has to be dealt with by command and control.

GLEICK Absolutely..yes..A quick example, the ozone treaty which we have not discussed here which is whole different issue than climate change. [ROBINSON What is the ozone layer do?] The ozone layer protects the earth from ultraviolate radiation from the sun. It's a natural barrier. We're destroying it because of the emissions of certain industrial chemicals. The costs to society of the destruction of the ozone layer are unimaginable. We can't begin to quantify them. And so the international community got together a decade ago and said we don't know what the costs are but we know we have to stop this. And there was an international treaty signed very quickly, a command and control treaty, that didn't bother trying to put an economic cost on it. It said, "thou shalt not emit these gases in the future". And we've been cutting back on them and industries have been developing new ones to deal with the uses that we've had. [ROBINSON My air conditioning in my car has a different kind of gas now] And it's been extremely successful. [ROBINSON and it's worked!] And it's been outside of the economic structure.

ANDERSON You said I had to change the air conditioning in my car. [ROBINSON right] That- we could afford it. This is my point earlier, we in this country can afford alternative mechanisms for dealing with coolants for example, one of the main culprits. What we didn't calculate in that is the fact that now refrigeration and again economic studies have been done on this, refrigeration is more costly and less available to developing countries...available because there's a good black market...

ROBINSON So poor people take it in the neck...

ANDERSON They take it in the stomach because they don't have the wherewithal to be able to keep their food preserved.

ROBINSON So how would you have addressed the ozone problem?

ANDERSON Again I do not deny that there are global issues that can't be solved with property rights. But I don't think we should jump into it with some panacea that , boy we've really helped the world. The kinds of results we get may have significant costs on certain people while giving benefits to others.

HAYES The Kyoto Protocol is imperfect but I'm very proud of a certain aspect of what it has done. I think it symbolizes the great ecological U-turn. And I'll tell you just why- if your carbon emissions are sky rocketing and you make an agreement conceptually to turn to go 7% below 1990, that symbolizes a U-turn. That's the kind of about face that I think society's going to have to go through if it we're going to solve these problems...

ROBINSON You grant that it's imperfect but you are pleased that the world got together and signed up at Kyoto.

HAYES Absolutely, and like the Montreal Protocol which had to do with ozone it's likely to be intensified and improved in the future and fine.

ROBINSON Gentlemen, it's television- I have no choice but to wrap it up. Let me do so by asking for a prediction. The Kyoto Accord: calls for the United States to make quite sharp cuts in its emissions of greenhouse gases. The Clinton Administration has passed the initial Kyoto Accord it won't take effect until it's ratified by the United States Senate. Will the Senate approve the Kyoto Accord. Kyoto Accord- up or down in the United States Senate? Peter?

GLEICK I don't think even if the Kyoto Accord is passed by the Senate, and I think it's going to be a very difficult battle, it's going to solve our problem. I think we're in for some very significant climate changes, no matter what. In part because the climate problem is almost intractable. And I think we're going to see climate change anyway. But this whole issue is perfect support for the concept that international environmental problems are increasingly apart of our foreign policy, and they have to be.

ROBINSON Kyoto Accord- up or down in the United States Senate?

ANDERSON Down. Way too costly for what we get. If Peter's right we're going to get global warming anyway. The best estimates I've seen is if we did everything with Kyoto, we might reduce the increase by 1/10 of a degree. See, it's not worth it...

ROBINSON Randy, Kyoto Accord- up or down?

HAYES Down, but we will be closing in on an up in the subsequent administration whoever those are? For one main reason and that's the concept of eco-spasm. What's going on is the biosphere is becoming spastic- economically, Mexican peso meltdown, Southeast Asian meltdown, and ecologically, you know, tornados and parts of Florida that never used to have them. Eco-spasms will scare people and they will demand stronger solutions and in the subsequent administration it will be ratified.

ROBINSON And on that note of doom, Randy, Terry, Peter- thank you very much.

ROBINSON The difficulty, as we noted at the beginning, environmental problems that transcend national boundaries. Global warming after all would affect all countries, not just one or two, and fish, as I said are citizens of no nation. You could hardly sign up a tuna. Two of our guests, Randy Hayes and Peter Gleick insisted that nations must work together to impose command and control solutions. Our third guest, Terry Anderson said, in some cases that may be necessary but never forget the importance of property rights or the power for good of the marketplace. I'm Peter Robinson, thanks for joining us.

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