The TPP: A Shady Trade Agreement
I'm shining the light today on Jenny Bock, the Economic Justice Campaigner for Friends of the Earth in Washington, DC. A bright light in the fight to create sustainable solutions for our environment and for the good people of this earth, Jenny has been on a mission to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a shady behind-the-scenes NAFTA-like trade agreement, from being passed in Congress. Here's a little bit more about Jenny and the work she's doing to make our world a better place:
Jenny Bock, Economic Justice Campaigner with Friends of the Earth
Jenny is the economic justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth. Prior to joining Friends of the Earth, Jenny was the Field Director for the 23rd Congressional district of Texas which spans from San Antonio to El Paso and includes Texas’s magnificent national park, Big Bend National Park. Also while in Texas Jenny worked on an Affordable Care Act Latino Outreach campaign with Planned Parenthood in San Antonio, Texas. Jenny has also interned for Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign in Washington D.C. and as a volunteer helped launch Sierra Club’s New York City Beyond Coal campaign. Jenny cares deeply about the underlying economic and political root causes of environmental issues and believes we can only solve environmental issues by simultaneously achieving economic, social and racial justice. Jenny is from Brooklyn, NY and has been organizing her community and building people power to create solutions to environmental and social issues since she first learned about the dangers of climate change in high school. Jenny is fluent in Spanish after 12 dedicated years of study and completing an independent research study in Peru that focused on the development of anti-extraction protest movements in the Peruvian Amazon and Andean highlands. Jenny has a B.A in Sociology with a concentration in Environmental Studies from Kenyon College. Visit the Friends of the Earth website for more information on Jenny and the work she's doing to help create sustainable change for Mother Earth.
How did you become inspired to become an activist for the environment, Jenny?
I grew up in New York City and was always aware of the role humans play in changing our environment. New York City is such an urban environment, I was always aware of how building our physical environment negatively impacts the natural environment that exists, too. Growing up, I always had an appreciation for the water that surrounded me in New York, and I loved escaping from the city and heading into the mountains to enjoy nature. When I'd go on hikes with my family in the country, I always loved being in nature.
I have aunts who are naturalists, and my mom studied environmental education.
I had a strong appreciation for being a steward of the earth and taking care of my entire community.
"I was taught at a young age that I am one of many.
My actions affect the lives of many other people
and the world in general."
When I was in high school, I learned all about climate change, and that's what really inspired me to do this environmental work for my career. Humans are at fault for creating climate change. It's really not a scientific problem; it's a political issue. We really need to take a look at the way we consume energy and use fossil fuels. We need to change the power dynamics. Our government and energy infrastructure are controlled by special interest corporations, and fossil fuel corporations are the 1%.
One of the first things I worked on in high school was our recycling program. When I first began working on this issue, I became very aware of my own actions. Certainly, it's up to individuals to do things like turn off the lights and recycle. I realized over time, though, that individuals cannot create systemic change; it has to come from collective action by implementing government policy or some sort of huge social movement.
When we gather thousands of people in one central location like Washington, DC, we're using so many fossil fuels and creating an enormous footprint to accomplish the goal of getting these like-minded people together. Think of all the people that are flying in for these envionmental-awareness events, staying in hotels, eating on the go...how can this possibly be helping the environment, when so much waste is created during these rallies?
People should think about their own individual carbon footprint, and be conscious of whether or not traveling is worth it for the cause,but that's really just creating change at the individual level. To create systemic change, we really need to overhaul the whole system of how we consume energy. We have to go after the fossil fuel companies that are standing in the way of creating sustainable changes in the way we create and produce energy. You need mass people power to overcome the fossil fuel industry and implement the wide sweeping changes that need to happen to stop climate change.
There are some changes being made by President Obama, who has begun to implement the Clean Power Plan, which will regulate the amount of carbon power plants are allowed to emit.Eventually this policy will force all coal power plants to retire. The Clean Power Plan creates a huge history-making accomplishment that will greatly reduce the U.S.'s carbon emmissions and help to create positive changes for the climate.
Jenny, If we're closing down coal plants, how will this affect the mine workers, many of whom are already marginalized. Will this hurt working-class people even more?
There isn't any perfect solution, but people in the environmental community are working to make sure jobs are not left out of the equation. States are considering ways to offer early retirement packages that would help compensate the employees in the coal plants, as well as job training programs to help transition coal plant employees to another industry. There isn't necessarily an "automatic switch" from the coal industry to a job in the solar or wind-powered energy plants, but work is being done to address the economic issues that arise as a result of shutting down these coal plants.
What is the The Trans Pacific Partnership and why is it a bad deal for the environment?
The same players in the fossil fuel industry are the ones who have had a say in writing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP really helps protect the interest of the fossil fuel industry players. "The Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement would be a platform for economic integration and government deregulation for nations surrounding the Pacific. The negotiating parties include the U.S., Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Mexico and Canada. Others may join soon. In adition to being harmful for people, the TPP is a potential danger to the planet, subverting environmental priorities, such as climate change measures and regulation of mining, land use, and bio-technology." Read more about the TPP from Friends of the Earth here.
What are some of the negative effects the TPP would have on our environment, Jenny?
If the TPP gets passed by Congress in February, there would be an increase in fracking in the United States, and there would be an increase in natural gas exports. We have a huge supply of natural gas in the United States, which other countries are eager to export. This would lead to more fracking.
Tell me more about the dangers of fracking? What's going on with this issue and how it is effecting ordinary, everyday people?
Fracking has been occurring in Pennsylvania for a long time, as well in many pther places in the southwest like Wyoming and Texas. There are numerous stories of people not being able to use their local drinking water supply anymore because othe toxic chemicals that seep into the groundwater during the fracking process. Fracking involves drilling down a few thousand feet into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. In addition to toxic chemicals leeching into groundwater that people rely on for drinking, natural gas is often leaked during the process which is very harnful to the climate. Narural gas or methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
There are many legal reasons that make it hard to prove that fracking is causing these health issues from drinking water. New York state has been very successful at banning fracking in their state. If the TPP were passed, the demand for natural gas would greatly increase, which would lead to an increase in fracking. If this policy gets passed, states like New York could be forced into tapping into their natural gas supply, and this cuold threaten the drinking water supply in New York City, for example.
Here's a comprehensive documentary about the damage fracking is causing to our environiment and to the health of the American public, Gasland.
What is the connection between TPP and human rights? I know Malaysia was upgraded from a Tier 3 to a Tier 2 on the Trafficking in Persons Report, so that they can join the other 11 countries that would be part of the TPP.
Reuters wote an article about this issue. Basically, a lot of people in the State Department recommended that Malaysia should still be considered a Tier 3, but the "higher-ups" in the state department chose to look the other way and overrode the decision to make Malaysia a Tier 2 country. Malaysia was basically given a free pass on its human rights rating so that it could join this trade agreement, even though they are notorious for being one of the worst offenders of human trafficking. Here's an article which delves deeper into what's going on in Malaysia.
President Obama says that human rights issues will be addressed under the TPP and that countries will be forced to strengthen their labor policies. TPP's labor policies sounds nice on paper, but it's really very difficult to enforce. History has shown that labor policies get worse after a free trade agreeement. All free trade agreements, so far, don't require countries to comply with their labor or environment policies, so what has happened historically is that labor unions, human rights groups, and environmentalists end up having to take responsibility for enforcing the labor or environment policy in the trade agreement through law suits or investigative reporting, and governments rarely respond to these complaints filed by civil society groups.
Besides Friends of the Earth, what are other organizations saying about the TPP?
Women's groups are also working to stop the TPP from being passed. Eleanor Smeal, the leader of Feminist Majority says in her article, “Don’t be fooled. The Trans Pacific Partnership is no deal for women. It hurts women workers and undermines women’s rights and human rights, while also threatening environmental regulations, availability of affordable medicines, food safety, and more. Besides the Feminist Majority, there are over 2,000 organizations like the NAACP, labor unions like the AFL-CIO, Machinists, Carpenters, National Organization for Women, People for the American Way, Pride at Work, Doctors Without Borders, Democracy For America, Public Citizen, and the Sierra Club that oppose the TPP and are working to prevent it from being passed. These organizations have released a joint letter representing labor, environmental, farming, civil rights, digital rights, human rights, public health, faith, student, consumer, and other concerns. More from the article here.
So, Jenny, what can the average person do to learn about the TPP and help stop it from being passed?
The TPP is a congressional issue. President Obama needs Congress's approval to pass the TPP. Congress could vote on whether or not to pass the TPP as early as February of 2016. We need to hold our members of Congress accountable and show them that there is large-scale opposition to passing the TPP. You can call your local member of Congress or, better yet, host a meeting with them in a local library, church or school in your district. In partnership with a national coalition of groups working to stop the TPP, Friends of the Earth is calling upon City Councils across the country to pass a resolution to stop the TPP from being passed. The city of Miami, for example, just passed a resolution to stop the TPP. Resolutions will be written within the next few weeks, with more information coming out in January.
Please lend your voice to this issue and let the lawmakers in your state know that you do not support passing the Trans Pacific Partnership. Sign this Move On petition and share it with your friends.
Thank you, Jenny, for teaching us all a little bit more about why the TPP is a shady trade agreement. We'll be sure to keep everyone posted about how they can help even more in the weeks and months to come.
Dorina Leslie is the founder of Shine the Light Project, a grassroots movement to raise awareness about human trafficking, labor exploitation, and modern day slavery through the arts. She welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with artists, musicians, authors, and activists who are passionate about creating a better world in which all people are living free of exploitation. Please feel free to contact her and join in the movement.
1. Reuters, November 15, 2015 "As Obama Heads to Malaysia, Human Trafficking Stance Questioned" Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-malaysia-trafficking-insight-idUSKCN0T82IA20151119#ukSOVgvYOrOfOX2w.97
2. Smeal, Eleanor Feminist Majority Foundation Blog June 10, 2015 "Eleanor Smeal Calls the TPP a "Bad Deal" For Women" Link: https://feminist.org/blog/index.php/2015/06/10/19167/
3. Move On Pettition to Stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Please sign and share with your friends and supporters. Link: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/stop-the-trans-pacific
4. Gasland documentary, wirtten and directed by Josh Fox Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mp4ELXKv-w
5. The Text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Link: https://ustr.gov/tpp/
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