|Centre on North American
Politics and Society
Session 3: Environment
Guest Speaker: Christine Elwell (Canada)
Elwell, Trade Campaigner for the Sierra Club of Canada,
launched the discussion. Speaking
Indicating that gthere is no right to develop at any environmental and social costs,h Ms. Elwell illustrated the problem of giving priority to economic agendas and rationales, and the harm wrought on localities and their social and environmental conservation strategies. In fact, localities emerged as both the victims of economic integration, and the greatest hope for sustainable development. Highlighting how social and environmental costs are borne disproportionately within specific localities, Ms. Elwell stressed that only through integrating local concerns and needs into political and economic decision-making, can sustainable development take place. Any etradef agreement, such as NAFTA, that fails to satisfactorily take the environmental, economic and communal aspects of integration into account is believed to be gincompetent.h
the possibilities for orchestrated and committed social
action, Ms. Elwell encouraged the participants to think
seriously about sustainable development, to bolster their
efforts by rigorous research, and in the lead up to the
April, 2001 FTAA meeting in Quebec City, to create an
American Environmental Network to ensure citizen
involvement and the integration of sustainable social and
environmental priorities in any agreement.
Participant Presentations and Discussion
Participants, led by Federico Cantero (Mexico), Michael Dorsey (United States), and Gerald Villegas (Canada) agreed that sustainable development involves far more than strictly economic considerations of industrial efficiency and eexternalities,f and that it involves the complex interrelation of economies, communities, cultures, and their environments. The presentations centred on the themes of eco-tourism, economic democracy and environmental industrialism. The contemporary importance and huge potential of the future social and environmentally sustainable tourism industry, highlighted that sustainable development involves more than industrial plants, technologies, and consumption patterns covered in emainstreamf discussions. Representing around 15% of Mexican GDP, eco-tourism offers economic, environmental and socially sustainable alternatives, particularly for the traditionally marginalised peoples of the south and north, namely the indigenous, ethnic, and linguist minorities. Importantly, eco-tourism was also identified as empowering local decision-making structures, by furthering local knowledge, experience, customs and priorities. In this way, the path of sustainable development was recognised as cutting across and illuminating issues of governance and culture.
Addressing the unsustainability of the gI Generationh which attempts to separate personal consumption from larger political, economic and environmental issues, and continues to develop alongside economic globalisation and North American integration, the discussion turned to issues of economic democracy and how it can be fostered. It was asserted that questions of sustainable development could not be separated from issues of resource distribution and mechanisms of political control and community empowerment. How a society decides to utilise resources, for what goals and in what manner, were seen to involve questions of democracy. In other words, who has power, and who is excluded? It was asserted that sustainable communities and environments will remain unrealised so long as those who bear the unequal brunt of developmental costs are excluded from decision-making, while the business and political elite who enjoy unjust benefits continue to wield power. Again, the environment was able to bring together the diverse issues of the conference in a concrete fashion.
In his discussion of gSustainable Development, A Canadian Perspective,h Gerald Villegas turned the debate back to issues of environmental industrialism, or how to balance demands for continued economic development and integration with environmental and community concerns. Concretely linking NAFTA and accelerated economic edevelopmentf with a transportation boom and subsequent environmental challenges, the participants considered the details of a Green Transportation Corridor extending through North America, and connected by eclean cities,f offering knowledge and suggestions regarding alternative fuels. Throughout the three presentations and the discussions that followed it was stressed that economic indicators must be expanded to include quality of life concerns, and the protection of the environment. Sustainable development must be understood as encompassing economic, environmental, social, cultural and political issues. Furthermore, it was most vehemently demanded that questions of sustainable development, in its fullest expression, be discussed, decided and implemented with greater local involvement and concern.
Session & Session 1: Culture
3: Sustainable Development