Distinguished Rhodes alums disagree on TPP trade deal — but miss massive climate impact of carbon-intensive Asian trade patterns.

Rhodes scholars distinguish themselves over their whole careers, in many cases ending up in charge of major institutions. The trouble is that in this process they often lose sight of the larger issues at stake for humanity and end up fighting fiercely for parochial causes.

A case in point couldn’t be more dramatic than it has been in the recent difference between Ash Carter (Connecticut, St. John’s, 1976) — currently, Secretary of Defense, on the one hand, and Robert Reich (New Hampshire, University, 1968) — former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Their differences are clear enough.

Ash Carter says the TPP deal is crucial for U.S. “strategic” (ie. military) interests in the South China Sea. Bob Reich points out the the TPP will be a disaster, potentially riding rough-shod over labor, food safety and environmental regulations. It will reportedly allow any corporation to sue any state or government entity that tries to implement regulations that might “limit” its profitability.

Sadly, neither of these two distinguished Rhodes alums confront the most pervasive and enduring global impact of any deal which might be reached. Whatever is concluded and whenever it is implemented, any deal will inexorably expand and accelerate the rate of global fossil fuel consumption. Long-distance trade in carbon-intensive manufactured goods and factory-farmed agricultural goods cannot help but send the whole world in the wrong direction based on increased — not diminished — fossil carbon consumption.

As Forbes has pointed out, perhaps we can start to exchange ideas in this “Climate Change and Sustainability” group as a means of starting to think about a global ecological perspective that might help us to make the necessary transition beyond the world of fossil-fuel dependence and toward sustainability.


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