|Litter in Huaraz (not quite an external cost, but still carelessness)|
|"Yes to agriculture/ No to mining" Foto from CNR|
In the case of Tía María, extensive external costs were prevented thanks to a successful social movement. However, that is not the norm. In Martínez Alier and Roca Jusmet's article "Economía ecológica y política ambiental" they introduce the concept of ecological debt (dueda ecologica)- or the idea that the unpaid external costs of production have built up and, like all debt, must be paid back. In the context of Latin America, this ecological debt is largely a consequence of multinational corporations and policies by the IMF and the World Bank. They tell how Latin American incurred massive amounts of external debt in the '70s and '80s which summed up to $700 billion by 1999, and then explain how the IMF and World Bank intervened with economic programs to "help" Latin America pay back the debt. These programs depended on increasing the number of exports from Latin America to the West- a rapid acceleration of manufacturing that simultaneously created vast environmental external costs. The authors argue that while Latin America paid off it's external debt, it build up ecological debt. Or rather, the demand by the West for cheap resources from Latin America built off a ecological debt that they now owe Latin America.
Some of these costs materialized last February in a court case in Ecuador. Ecuadorian court recently ordered oil company Chevron to pay $9 billion in damages and to issue a public apology for the environmental costs of its projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Of course, Chevron is rapidly protesting the decisions (and did some ethically questionably things during the trial), but this is a huge step in realizing ecological debt. Yet as I am typing this I commercial came on TV touting all the "good" that Chevron is doing for the economy (which is much more important than the environment, right?).
However, the Chevron case is only one of the few instances where the external costs have materialized into a debt that must be paid off. Imagine if all companies were taken to court to be held accountable for the external costs of their business. Better, imagine if the external costs were already included in the price of an item (something fair trade is on the way to addressing). One thing that has struck me most about Peru is it's ecological beauty. I have never seen a place so I beautiful and inspiring in the world. I hope that the demand for cheap technology and pretty things doesn't destroy it.