Wilderness, International Loans, and Protests

wafcdc at americanlands.org wafcdc at americanlands.org
Thu Apr 20 08:39:07 EST 2000

From: "wafcdc at americanlands.org" <wafcdc at americanlands.org>
Subject: Wilderness, International Loans, and Protests

To: All
>From : Jim Jontz
Date: April 20, 2000

Wilderness, International Loans, and Protests

Why were forest activists in Washington D.C. for the activities around the
semi-annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank?
At first, the linkage might not be obvious.  Neither the IMF nor the World
Bank make loans in the U.S.; unlike the WTO, they do not threaten to
undermine our domestic environmental laws by declaring them "barriers to trade."

Activists concerned about wild places have long understood that behind every
timber sale, land development, or other threat to wild nature there are
economic factors.  Sometimes, our strategies focus on economics: the
campaign against the timber road subsidies has helped protect National
Forest roadless areas. As we learn more about the economics driving the loss
of wildness we have tuned in to the debates over international financial
institutions like the IMF and World Bank, too.

Fundamentally, these debates are about values.  In a global economy, the
WTO, IMF, and World Bank are major players.  The issue is whether the
policies of these institutions will serve only commerce, or whether other
values including the environment have a place at the table, too.  As E. J.
Dionne points out in an excellent column in Saturday's Washington Post, no
country accepts an unregulated market as the sole judge of what is important
--  that's why we have environmental laws, a minimum wage, and medicare.
But such rules do not exist for the global economy, and the IMF and Bank
rarely respect environmental, human rights, and economic justice concerns.

This is not all an abstraction.  The World Wide Fund for Nature recently
reported that orangutans will be extinct in the wild in 5-10 years if
current levels of  logging and forest conversion in Indonesia continue.
This logging is driven, in part, by the policies of the IMF and World Bank
that have encouraged an export-driven economy in Indonesia (and other
nations) to generate revenue to repay loans.  Ironically, as protesters
chanted in the streets, the Bank and UN released a study by the World
Resources Institute showing that half of the world's forests have disappeared.

It is important that environmental advocates tell this story, explaining to
the public not only how the environment is threatened, but why.  The
protests in Washington D.C. have put the IMF and World Bank on the public's
screen; the door has been opened by the young people who were arrested and
in some cases endured police brutality to get the IMF and the Bank in the
news.  Part of what people should know now is what the U.S. Congress can do
to fix the problem. The U.S. dominates both the IMF and the World Bank
because we pay the largest share of the cost.  The Congress controls the
money, and if Congress wants to make changes in the IMF and Bank it can.

It isn't enough to protect the places we care about close to home and push
logging and mining elsewhere.  If nothing else, the WTO, World Bank, and IMF
have "globalized" the forest activist community and helped us understand how
our struggles are related to those of activists in distant lands.  

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Steve Holmer
Campaign Coordinator

American Lands 
726 7th Street, SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
202/547-9213 fax
wafcdc at americanlands.org

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