E D I T O R I A L S
Heavily-polluting factories on Russia's Lake Baikal
as far as Russia's environment is concerned, has been a disaster. Yet still, the idea that the economic collapse is a longterm blessing for Russia's environment is one that most ecologists reject, opting instead for the theory that greater economic growth provides the resources necessary to clean up the mess that same economic growth has triggered.
According to Mark Borozin, the editor of Green World, Russia's largest environmental newspaper, the contraction has been a two-edged sword. "For fifteen years, no-one has invested," he says, in maintenance and pollution control equipment: factories that are producing are doing so more dirtily, and are more prone to cut corners in following environmental
laws. "So there has not been a sharp improvement in the environmental situation from the fact that factories are standing idle," he says. "There is some improvement; but by 10 per cent, by 12 per cent."
Christopher Thies, International Coordinator of Greenpeace's forest campaign, also says that the crisis is dangerous. It has led to a substantial drop in timber exploitation in Russia; but in the economical cut-throat conditions which prevail, long-term considerations of sustainability often lose out to extractive exploitation. "Over-consumption causes major global environmental problems, but an economic crisis is equally risky: everything is being produced at the
cheapest possible level."
What's more, the crisis has had a wider effect on the government and its capacity to control. The State has not simply withdrawn from supporting producers: it has often, in effect, withdrawn from regulating them as well. In areas where there are few sources of employment and revenue, and where police and politics are often corrupted, there are serious problems in enforcing the environmental laws that do exist. Instead of the State sponsoring the destruction of the environment, it is allowing uncontrolled exploitation.
In the dwindling ancient forests of Karelia, the Federal Forest Service, responsible for the protection, rehabilitation and use of Russian forests, has engaged in large-scale logging activities under the cover of "sanitary cuttings". According to Greenpeace, the Service is "directly dependent on timber exploitation for maintaining its funding, and appears to be the major logging company in the country."
So the crisis may be something of a mixed blessing for Russia's environment. But the fact remains: the reversal of economic growth has provided much needed relief - even i f the citizens of Russia are too busy surviving to appreciate it. And when economic growth begins again, it is likely to be doubly harmful, particularly in a country that harbours 22 per cent of the world's remaining forest cover.• Stephen Carter graduated from Cambridge University in 1997, and has been working in Moscow as a journalist and news radio producer.
A Big Bang for Accountable Science By John Pap worth
The much-hyped Cassini spacecraft, designed to travel to Saturn, where it will orbit the planet for four years collecting scientific data, was set to re-enter the Earth's orbit in August of this year. The project attracted enormous controversy, and became a symbol of what many perceived to be the latest manifestation of the arrogance of science. Had there been an accident - and there have already been at least nine involving similar craft - Cassini would have released 400,000 curies of radioactive plutonium into the atmosphere. [See The Ecologist Vol.27 No.6]
Cassini was scheduled to come within 312 miles of the Earth in the course of its re-routing to Saturn at a speed of 42,000mph. It was put on course with
accuracy, which is just as well. A failure to do so would have caused it to enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up, prompting the release of 15 to 20 pounds of lethal plutonium dust. This in turn would have caused lingering, painful, lung cancer deaths to many thousands of people over the next half century.
and we are assured that prior warnings were little more than Luddite rumblings. Perhaps we should organise special festive days of rejoicing when these mishaps don't happen, before bringing their perpetrators before an international court for even presuming to put so many human lives at such risk.
"The bottom line", according to US Space Command, in its 1998 document Vision for 2020 "is that every credible vision (sic!) for economic prosperity and military effectiveness by 2020 depends on space-based capabilities."
The US space programme is constantly being expanded even though the technology involved is so complex and dependent on such a vast range of factors as to make mishaps a statistical inevitability. And yet, still when disaster is avoided business continues as usual,
In the words of John Gofman, himself a nuclear physicist, "The use of plutonium in space is a manifestation of organised insanity." And it would seem madness is but a breeding ground for greater madness, for its latest manifestation is an awesomely preposterous proposal - wait for it - to activate a nuclear accelerator designed to replicate the Big Bang.
The project, known as 'Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider' (RHIC) is the baby of one of the US Government's foremost
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 8, December 1999