When Donald Trump recently announced tariffs on steel and aluminium imports he was condemned by proponents of free trade across the world. His critics said the US president had not understood how protectionist policies would spell disaster for the world economy. Fair enough. But this is the same Trump whose decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement also met with massive disapproval.
Trump is simultaneously chided for refusing to cut emissions, and for promoting a trade policy that reduces the causes of such emissions. Both sets of critics may be right on their own terms, but the contradiction between the two reproaches exposes big problems in the mainstream modern worldview. Is it really reasonable to advocate for both more trade and greater concern for the environment?
For centuries world trade has increased not only environmental degradation, but also global inequality. The expanding ecological footprints of affluent people are unjust as well as unsustainable. The concepts developed in wealthier nations to celebrate “growth” and “progress” obscure the net transfers of labour time and natural resources between richer and poorer parts of the world.