Home    About Us    Contact Us    Show Archives

Common Ground--Radio's Weekly Program on World Affairs


Sponsored by
The Stanley Foundation
209 Iowa Avenue
Muscatine, Iowa 52761 USA
563-264-1500
563-264-0864 fax
info@commongroundradio.org
www.commongroundradio.org


Week of April 20, 2004, Program 0416

Malaysia: Clean Diesel Transcript MP3 Related Link
Mexico: Children and Pollution Transcript MP3 Related Links
Iran: Tehran Pollution Transcript MP3 Related Link
US: Environmental Policy Transcript MP3 Related Links
Shanghai Bikes Transcript MP3 Related Link
Britain: Toxic Ships Transcript MP3 Related Links
Russia: Kyoto's Last Chance? Transcript MP3 Related Link

 


April 20, 2004
Program 0416

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

HOLMES HUMMEL: Forty percent of the natural gas is wasted before it arrives in any sort of finished product.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, building a cleaner world.

KEITH PORTER: From Malaysia to Mexico, clean air is a major concern.

DR. ELAINE BARRON: The importance of all this if we do more to protect our air we will help prevent these deaths and the illness that occurs.

PORTER: And experts say a better informed public is one key to a better environment.

IRANIAN ENVIRONMENTIAL ACTIVIST: If NGOs, for whom education is a main goal, can teach those around them, then those people will go and tell others that the problem of pollution is one that harms not only them , but the whole society.

MCHUGH: Our special report on Earth Day 2004 is coming up next.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page


Malaysia: Clean Diesel

Listen to This Segment
      MP3

Related Link
UN Environment Programme
http://www.unep.org

Tell Us What You Think

 

MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio's weekly program on world affairs. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Earth Day is celebrated every April 22nd. Former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day in 1970 to call attention to the environment. The event is now celebrated in 140 countries. In the past 34 years environmental awareness has certainly increased. But is the Earth any better off? This week we're devoting our entire program to the battle for a cleaner world.

MCHUGH: Cities from Los Angeles to Bangkok want to reduce lung-choking smog. Now Shell and other major oil companies think they have a partial solution. They are producing synthetic diesel from natural gas, a fuel they say is superior to regular diesel. But environmentalists aren't so sure. Reese Erlich visited Shell's gas to liquids factory in Bintulu, Malaysia and files this report.

[The sound of a car starting then driving off]

ERLICH: Lars Carlsson, Shell's plant manager, jumps into his four-wheel drive SUV for a quick spin around the factory grounds.

[The sound of flaring (burning gas) from a refinery]

ERLICH: Flames jump from a pipe jutting into the air. But, it turns out, that's flaring from a neighboring liquefied n gas factory. Carlsson says his plant, which turns natural gas into various synthetic hydrocarbon products, has far less pollution.

LARS CARLSSON: Ours is the one that you can see a bit to the left there.

ERLICH: Yeah. I can see it. So there's a very small flame coming out of it.

CARLSSON: Flaring is a waste and flaring is a cost. And flaring means emissions. So we have worked very hard here to reduce and to minimize and stop our flaring.

ERLICH: In fact, says Carlsson, the process of turning natural gas into diesel produces few pollutants. The technology itself is old. The Nazis used it to produce petroleum from coal during World War II. But Shell says it has modernized the process and made it economically viable. The diesel fuel produced here in Malaysia, says Carlsson, meets the very high anti-pollution requirements recently implemented by the European Union.

[The sound of a running car]

CARLSSON: We produce a diesel here that is free of sulfur. It is free of aromatics. Aromatics cause the fuel to smoke. In terms of performance excellent. You cannot get our diesel to smoke. So in terms of particulate emissions, we have a good proposition to provide to the customer. It is very, very attractive environmentally compared to a typical normal diesel on the market today.

[The car CD plays the John Hyatt song Have a Little Faith in Me]

ERLICH: Shell claims success in selling the synthetic diesel in Bangkok, where it is mixed with regular diesel to produce a cleaner burning fuel. Environmentalists readily acknowledge some benefits to such synthetic fuels but they don't buy all of Shell's claims. Holmes Hummel is an activist and Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University's Environment and Resources program.

HOLMES HUMMEL: It would be a tremendous overstatement to call the diesel fuel clean. You would still expect synthetic diesel fuel to produce for you carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and other pollutants. It's not that the diesel fuel is clean. It's simply that it's cleaner than diesel made from crude oil because it lacks sulfur content.

ERLICH: Hummel is referring not only to the impact of diesel when it's used in cars and trucks, but to the entire production process. Environmentalists argue that any energy resource, particularly an unproven one like synthetic fuels, must be evaluated on its cradle-to-grave environmental impact. Using that standard, gas liquids is a rather inefficient way to use the natural gas. When a company pipes natural gas into a electric power plant, for example, almost 100 percent of the gas is used. But in the case of Shell's Bintulu plant, only 60 percent of the gas gets turned into liquids because the rest is used to generate electricity to run the factory.

HUMMEL: Forty percent of the natural gas is wasted before it arrives in any sort of finished product through only the manufacturing of the synthetic liquid fuel. Once that synthetic liquid fuel reaches the destination of a private vehicle or a diesel-fired truck, the efficiency of its conversion into useful work on the whole is less than five percent. In total, it's a very poor use of the natural gas resource.

ERLICH: Hummel and other environmentalists also criticize the ecological impact of extracting the oil and gas from the ground.

HUMMEL: The drilling mud that's used to actually bore out the holes for extracting liquids from your reservoir is positively toxic. Even if those things were to be reinjected the habitat destruction is opposed by impacted communities worldwide. Drilling for oil and gas involves disrupting ecosystems whether you're onshore or offshore.

ED CHOW: That would be true compared to what? I mean, compared to zero use of energy, that would certainly be true.

ERLICH: Ed Chow was a Chevron Oil company executive and is now a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. He concedes that drilling for oil and gas disrupts the environment, but argues the damage is far less than from accessing other energy sources.

CHOW: Gas more so than oil, but oil and gas are generally much cleaner, much more environmentally friendly than the alternatives which are in most cases coal, which is a much dirtier fuel, or nuclear, which the environmental community has their own set of problems with nuclear power, as you know.

ERLICH: And when it comes to building gas to liquids plants, argues Chow, the environmental impact is even less. Liquid to gas factories must always be located near gas fields in places like rural Malaysia or the Arctic.

CHOW: These projects will primarily be in remote areas. There will be local environmental disturbances. You're talking about tundra that might not have anything happen to it except for a gas to liquids plant, right? All these economic choices on fuel use, there is a trade off.

ERLICH: But environmentalist Hummel says all this discussion about ecological impact is a bit misleading. She charges that Shell simply promotes the environmental benefits of synthetic fuels as means to legitimize a potentially very profitable niche technology. Shell, she argues, has faced lots of negative publicity from its actions in Nigeria, particularly after the 1996 government execution of writer Ken Saro Wiwa who was protesting Shell's actions in his homeland.

HUMMEL: The way that Shell has promoted gas to liquids from its own plants is very much in line with the kind of propaganda that it's generated through its marketing efforts since the death of Ken Saro Wiwa to remake the firm in some image of social responsibility. It would be hard to argue that producing liquid diesel from natural gas is somehow an environmental benefit to the planet.

ERLICH: Carnegie fellow Chow concedes that Shell and other companies such as Exxon and South Africa's SASOL which also make synthetic fuels, highlight the environmental benefits as part of their public relations efforts. He says "So what?"

CHOW: When you have a project to promote you try to find the best factors about it to promote that project. And the environmentally cleaner fuel that would be produced is certainly a factor they can trumpet, although I don't think that's there primary business driver.

ERLICH: From a business standpoint, the gas to liquids technology provides an opportunity to profit from natural gas in remote fields that would otherwise not be extracted. That's why the US Department of Energy is encouraging research into the feasibility of a gas to liquids facility on Alaska's north slope.

[The sound of flaring (burning gas) from a refinery]

ERLICH: Back in Bintulu, Malaysia, Shell plant manager Carlsson continues his guided tour of the factory. He concedes that turning natural gas into diesel is expensive. Carlsson says oil must cost somewhere between $16 and 20 per barrel in order for his synthetic diesel to be competitive. And factories such as his are very expensive to build. Shell will spend an estimated $5 billion to construct a 140,000 barrel per day facility in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar due to be completed in 2008. Carlsson admits that the process is so expensive and complicated, it won't replace regular diesel anytime soon.

CARLSSON: If you have 10 plants of the size of our Qatar plant, you would provide globally around five percent of the needs of the diesel market.

[The car CD plays the John Hyatt song Have a Little Faith in Me]

ERLICH: Gas to liquids technology may help reduce pollution in some cities. But financially, technologically, and environmentally, the process is yet to be proven. For the moment, Shell—like musician John Hyatt—is asking to the public to "have a little faith in me."

[The car CD plays the John Hyatt song Have a Little Faith in Me]

ERLICH: For Common Ground, I'm Reese Ehrlich, Bintulu, Malaysia

Top of Page


Mexico: Children and Pollution

Listen to This Segment
      MP3

Related Links
Joint Advisory Committee
http://air.utep.edu/bca/jac/jacsplan.html
Commission for Environmental Cooperation
http://www.cec.org
NAFTA: Ten Years Later
http://www.americaspolicy.org/reports/2004/0403nafta_body.html

Tell Us What You Think

 

PORTER: Pollution along the US-Mexican border received great scrutiny 10 years ago when the North American free trade agreement went into effect. But a decade later, many of the problems government officials in both Mexico and the United States once promised to clean up remain. Kent Paterson files this report from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

[The sound of dogs barking and parakeets chirping]

PATERSON: A rainbow of parakeets sing in a courtyard on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez. Isela Vasquez and her eight-year-old niece Maria take a break. The little girl has a cold and complains about occasional bloody noses.

[The sound of Maria Vasquez speaking in Spanish]

PATERSON: The family has experienced more than its share of bad health. Late last year, Vasquez's 28-year old sister suddenly died from a heart attack. Vasquez says many residents in her low-income neighborhood suffer from illnesses and a shortage of doctors. She says complaints grow in the spring when the winds kick in. They blow dust from a nearby tailings pile located behind a Belgian-owned factory that manufactures hydrofluoric acid—a highly toxic substance—for export to the United States.

[The sound of Isela Vasquez speaking in Spanish]

ISELA VASQUEZ: [via a translator] When there is a lot of wind, the plant hurts us. It hurts our throats and it stinks. We can't go outside. Our throats get clogged up.

[The sound of dogs barking and parakeets chirping]

PATERSON: Along the Mexico-US border, residents and researchers link many health problems to the contamination of the soil, water, and air. Despite binational promises 10 years ago to clean up the region, these problems persist. Some say they are contributing to an environmental healthcare crisis.

DR. ELAINE BARRON: I think that healthcare access is an important issue that we have to deal with in our border areas.

PATERSON: Doctor Elaine Barron is a physician who sees patients from both Ciudad Juarez and neighboring El Paso, Texas. Barron sits on the Joint Advisory Committee, or JAC, a US-Mexico cooperative body that recommends air pollution-curbing strategies to policymakers in Mexico City and Washington.

DR. BARRON: The importance of all this if we do more to protect our air, so we don't have these environmental stressors that will cause disease, we will help prevent these deaths and the illness that occurs and then the high costs of emergency treatment, the sadness that comes to families that aren't able to take their children in a rapid manner to any health care facility. We will prevent a lot of this misery that occurs sometimes in our border areas.

[Sounds of heavy vehicle traffic]

PATERSON: The Montreal-based Commission for Environmental Cooperation, or CEC, released a study in 2003 that suggested air pollution from vehicles and other sources was linked to an increase in deaths and respiratory ailments among low-income children in Ciudad Juarez. Sparking controversy, the study came at a time when official indices of air pollution in what's known as the Paso del Norte air shed were showing a decline in comparison to previous years. The CEC findings raise the question of whether current air quality standards are adequate to protect public health. Doctor Carlos Rincon is a JAC member who directs US-Mexico border projects for the environmental defense fund. Rincon says the study is a wake-up call.

DR. CARLOS RINCON: The purpose of that study is that it gives you a preliminary basis through a scientific protocol to start defining better the next steps that will help us to protect better those that have been impacted. So in general the population has been protected, but the report tell us that there are still certain sectors of the population that are being impacted through its health.

[The sound of Felix Perez speaking in Spanish]

PATERSON: Mexican activist Felix Perez represents the Rio Bravo International Environmentalist Alliance. Perez says studies like the one sponsored by the CEC reveal only a small piece of the borderland's environmental reality. He contends that chemical discharges together with contaminated air and water are served up in toxic stews to border residents—and with uncertain consequences.

FELIX PEREZ: [via a translator] But the reality is the statistics are low. Statistical data is one thing and the reality on the ground, where we can view the problems, is quite another. Sometimes there are problems that aren't registered in the statistics. The maquiladora industry for instance, has few atmospheric emissions, because it is not a smokestack industry. But there have been many discharges into the soil, into the sewer system, and all this adds to the environmental problem.

PATERSON: Perez stands on a hilltop overlooking Ciudad Juarez. A gray haze envelops the industrial city below. Hulking nearby, petroleum storage tanks clutch the bleak desert floor and high voltage electrical lines droop over shacks made from wood and cardboard, whose residents lack running water and sewer connections. In the dry gulleys, dead animals and discarded tires—among the 20 million or so used treads blighting the northern Mexican border—clutter the landscape. Perez calls this place no-man's land.

PEREZ: [via a translator] The people live with the hope that tomorrow will be different but it never comes. People look for help in others but this support is difficult to achieve. People come and try to help out but it's in the hands of others, the authorities, who have forgotten about this part of the city.

PATERSON: Officials from Mexico and the United States are currently working on a joint plan dubbed Border 2012. The ambitious project seeks to address festering environmental troubles. But it comes at a time when tight government budgets are emphasizing border security over ecology. For Common Ground, I'm Kent Paterson reporting.

MCHUGH: Iran's air pollution problems, next on Common Ground's special Earth Day report.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page


Iran: Tehran Pollution

Listen to This Segment
      MP3

Related Link
Lonely Planet: Iran Environment
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/middle_east/iran/environment.htm

Tell Us What You Think

 

MCHUGH: Iran's capital is believed to be one of the most polluted cities in the world. The smog hanging over Tehran serves as proof, as do reports that a few thousand people die every year in the city alone because of the effects of air pollution. Government agencies say they've been working to tackle this problem by phasing out old cars and by planting more trees. But critics say authorities are doing too little, too slowly. Roxana Saberi reports from Tehran.

[The sound of vehicle traffic on a busy Tehran street]

ROXANA SABERI: On a weekday evening in Tehran, Hassan is putting up with what he's had to for the past 35 years to support his family.

HASSAN: [via a translator] Traffic is horrible here. It wasn't like this before. The traffic has been like this for about the past four or five years.

SABERI: Traffic is nothing extraordinary in a city that's seen a rapid growth in population over the past 20 years. With more people has come an increasing number of cars. Government officials here say the more than 8 million people living in Tehran drive over 3 million vehicles. The cars inch along on streets that have a capacity for around 800,000. The result is much more than grumpy, stressed-out travelers—it's notorious, harmful air pollution.

[The sound of Hassan coughing]

SABERI: This pollution, Hassan complains, has given him heart troubles. Indeed, many others here also blame the smog for their asthma and heart and skin conditions. Some experts say the air pollution can shorten people's lives from a few months to several years.

[The sound of vehicle traffic on a busy Tehran street]

SABERI: Walk along Tehran's busy streets and you'll spot people wearing face masks, or women covering their noses and mouths with their head scarves, as trucks and large busses rumble by. There are even days when Iranian authorities shut down schools and urge residents to stay home. What makes the pollution even worse is that Tehran is surrounded by mountains on 3 sides, so that pollution tends to hover over the city until the wind blows it away. The US Department of Energy estimates about 1.5 million tons of pollutants are produced in Tehran every year.

PROFESSOR NEMAT KHORASANI: [via a translator] Not only are there a lot of cars in Tehran, but the condition of these cars is not desirable. They are very old and old cars use a lot of gas.

SABERI: Nemat Khorasani, a Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Tehran, says most of Tehran's air pollution comes from carbon monoxide from car exhaust. Many cars here, like the locally produced Paykan, are outdated gas-guzzlers.

PROFESSOR KHORASANI: For example, cars in Europe use 4 to 5 liters of gas per 100 kilometers. But the cars in Tehran, they use up to 20 liters of gas every 100 kilometers.

SABERI: Iran's government says it's working to reduce the smog. The Department of Environment has launched a plan to gradually replace outdated cars with newer, more fuel-efficient cars. And many lawmakers have been pushing for an increase in imports of new cars in the face of strong opposition from domestic automakers.

DIRECTOR OF IRAN'S DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT, MA'SUMEH EBTEKAR: We have many projects and they're all underway but it's a long-term issue, it's not something that can be solved overnight.

SABERI: Ma'sumeh Ebtekar, the Director of Iran's Department of Environment, points to progress the government has been making, such as removing lead from the gas in Iran and introducing the underground metro in Tehran, with plans to expand it to other large cities.

EBTEKAR: We also have a comprehensive plan underway for regulating and licensing cars in use in our major cities and every car owner has to take his or her car to be inspected once a year and they have to have a license to be able to move about in the cities.

[The sound of vehicle traffic on a busy Tehran street]

SABERI: But critics say more needs to be done, faster, to tackle Tehran's air pollution. They say the replacement of old cars with new ones is taking place too slowly. Some locals complain people have little incentive not to drive when the government sustains inexpensive gas prices with subsidies despite Iran being an oil-rich country. And they say more streets need to be built and traffic controls improved so cars can move more quickly. Public transportation needs to develop, and the city's trees and parks have largely been replaced with high-rises and other buildings.

[Birds singing at a Tehran city park]

SABERI: Some Iranians have decided to fight air pollution on their own. At a recent meeting of Iranian NGOs, a member of the Protectors of the Earth said his group has helped plant thousands of trees in Tehran.

IRANIAN ENVIRONMENTIAL ACTIVIST: [via a translator] If NGOs, for whom education is a main goal, can teach those around them, like their families, their mothers and fathers, then those people will go and tell others that the problem of pollution is one that harms not only them but the whole society in the future.

SABERI: Ms. Ebtekar, who runs the Department of Environment, predicts it will take 10 to 15 years to completely resolve the issue of air pollution in Tehran. But some environmentalists say this goal cannot be reached until Iranians feel the costs of pollution are so great they're willing make bigger sacrifices for cleaner air. For Common Ground, I'm Roxana Saberi in Tehran.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page


US: Environmental Policy

Listen to This Segment
      MP3

Related Links
EPA: Global Warming
http://yosemite.epa.gov/oar/globalwarming.nsf/content/index.html
National Environment Policy Act of 1969
http://ceq.eh.doe.gov/nepa/regs/nepa/nepaeqia.htm

Tell Us What You Think

 

PORTER: Environmental groups have been highly critical of the Bush administration but business leaders say the White House is just balancing economic concerns with the environment. Laura Iiyama reports.

LAURA IIYAMA: Many environmentalists charge the Bush administration has one of the worst environmental records in modern times, pointing to the increasing number of polluted waterways, the pushing for energy development on what had been pristine lands, including Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Wesley Warren of the Natural Resources Defense Council says that's no surprise in light of who the Bush administration appoints to carry out policies.

WESLEY WARREN: They are basically a Rolodex of some of the biggest polluters in the country that they are supposed to be regulating. There's numerous examples of this administration where former lobbyists from some of the biggest polluters in the country, the oil and gas industry, the mining industry, or the timber industry, are now in charge of supposedly protecting the public from the activities of their former taskmasters.

IIYAMA: However, many business groups say the Bush administration is offering a more balanced approach to the environment. Bill Kovacs of the US Chamber of Commerce gives the Bush administration the top grade.

BILL KOVACS: What we want is common sense regulation that balances both the environment and the economy and that's what the Bush administration has done.

IIYAMA: The Chamber Vice President of Environment, Technology, and Regulatory Affairs says the business community is spending $250 billion a year in environmental protection. Bill Kovacs says the U.S. environment is cleaner now than 40 years ago, when rivers caught fire, when smog blanketed cities.

KOVACS: The regulations every year get more stringent, everyone says "Oh, well the Bush administration is going to gut this regulation or that regulation." That's foolhardy. Every single president since Jimmy Carter has passed stronger environmental laws, has implemented stronger environmental laws. What the argument is and what the business community wants is since we're spending the $250 billion, we just want to make sure that it's spent on issues to have the highest benefit to health and the environment.

IIYAMA: Many environmentalists see the Bush administration's refusal to back the Kyoto Treaty on Global Climate Change as the greatest threat to life on earth. Democratic US Senator Joseph Lieberman says the US should be leading the way:

US SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN: Global warming is real. This is a global problem. And America has a special responsibility as the number one emitter of green house gases.

IIYAMA: Many environmentalists say the US can significantly curb its carbon dioxide emissions by investing in energy saving technologies. At a Capitol Hill hearing, Democratic Senator Tom Carper noted the Clinton administration's requirement that air conditioners be more energy efficient benefits consumers and the environment:

US SENATOR TOM CARPER: I'm told if the more rigorous standard stands that come 2020, we will have to build 48 fewer new electric power plants. In addition, I'm told by 2020 that the CO2 emissions will be reduced biannually by 2020 by two and a half million tons.

IIYAMA: The Bush administration has decided to not appeal a court decision requiring the Clinton standards for more energy efficient air conditioners. President Bush's Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Leavitt said he learned the benefits of energy conservation when he was governor of Utah and the state weathered several energy crises.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR MICHAEL LEAVITT: We began to run campaigns publicly asking people not just to use more energy efficient devices but to reduce their energy and we accomplished it in one particular summer by as much as 20 percent. Huge impact economically, a huge impact in terms of environmentally.

IIYAMA: But Bill Kovacs of the US Chamber of Commerce says the only way to curb green house gas emissions is to develop new technologies, so the President's stand against the Kyoto treaty is reasonable.

KOVACS: One hundred and thirty-six nations are exempt from it, and even if we shut down the entire US economy, CO2 emissions would increase over the next 30 years, because most of the increases are coming not from the United States, but they are coming from China, they are coming from Mexico, from India.

IIYAMA: Republican US Senator John McCain, who says he champions lost causes, maintains tackling global warming will lead to technical innovations that will boost, not hurt the US economy, and he wants to see steps taken today.

US SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I may not be around when the Arctic ice cap melts to the point where countries like Bangladesh and other island nations are underwater. But I know this, that every day that we don't act on this issue is a day lost.

IIYAMA: For Common Ground, I'm Laura Iiyama in Washington.

MCHUGH: If you have questions or comments about today's program, visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org or e-mail us at commonground@commongroundradio.org.

ANNOUNCER: Common Ground is a Stanley Foundation production. On the Web at stanleyfoundation.org.

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio's weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I'm Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on our special Earth Day report, China's car versus bicycle controversy.

LESTER BROWN: If someday China has a car in every garage and maybe two cars in some garages, American style, China would need more oil than the world currently produces.

PORTER: Plus, Great Britain's toxic ships. And, the future of the Kyoto Protocol may depend on Russia.

Top of Page


Shanghai Bikes

Listen to This Segment
      MP3

Related Link
Earth Policy Institute
http://www.earth-policy.org

Tell Us What You Think

 

MCHUGH: Thirty years ago, a bicycle was one of the main items that would be given to a newlywed couple in China, along with a sewing machine and a watch. Today, a shiny new car is the status symbol of choice and bike riders across China are being edged out by growing numbers of cars on urban roads. As Celia Hatton reports from Shanghai, the issue of bikes versus cars is beginning to get a bit of attention on the congested streets of China's biggest city.

HATTON: Shanghai is a city of 20 million people and almost 10 million bicycles.

[The sound of traffic on a busy Shanghai street]

HATTON: It's also a city of traffic jams. China's love-affair with the car is forcing bike riders to contend with a tangled, smoky mess of private cars, taxis, trucks, and buses. With the 2010 World Expo on the horizon, the Shanghai government is under pressure to impose some sort of order on the streets and so far, it seems that the lowly bicycle is one of the government's targets.

[The sound of a bicycle bell against the background of traffic on a busy Shanghai street]

HATTON: Last December, Shanghai officials unveiled a plan that would prevent cyclists from riding on many of the city's major routes in the new year. A ten-fold increase in fines for anyone caught breaking traffic rules, by say, running a red light, was to follow in May. Angry letters to newspapers followed, and come January, many cyclists simply ignored the bike ban. In February, the government was forced to pay attention to the city's bike lovers by announcing the construction of a new network of bike paths to be built throughout the city.

[The sound of traffic on a busy Shanghai street, followed by the sound of a Chinese bicyclist complaining about the difficulties of biking in Shanghai]

HATTON: Despite the concessions, it's still tough for cyclists in Shanghai, as they battle every day against millions of aggressive car drivers who have only just earned their licenses. On the smoggy streets, it's not difficult to find people willing to sound off about the city's traffic problems.

[The sound of a Shanghai delivery man speaking in Chinese]

SHANGHAI DELIVERY MAN: [summarized by Ms. Hatton] This delivery man says that the bicycle restrictions will make it harder for him to earn a living. "If they let me ride," he says, "then it is easy to make a living in Shanghai . If they don't, I will have no other way. What can I do?"

HATTON: Shanghai's roaring economy is characterized by the rapid construction of tall glass buildings and glistening highways. But many people in Shanghai still squeak by on an average salary of $200 US a month, little enough to cause worries about the price of public transport.

SHANGHAI WOMAN ON THE STREET: [summarized by Ms. Hatton] "If you use the bus, you have to pay 3-4 Yuan every day to go to work," this woman says. "Bicycles are more convenient and more flexible. If this road or that road is jammed, you can find new routes. Shanghai needs bicycles since not everyone can afford a car."

HATTON: So, was the attempt to ban bicycles a bump in the road for cyclists in Shanghai or a sign of what is in store as more and more people buy their own cars? Many say the recent plans are indicative of the attitude that Shanghai's government and officials in other cities in China, hold towards transportation. While many metropolitan cities around the world are trying to encourage bike riding, Shanghai is trying to limit the number of bikes on the road. If this trend continues, many reason, the city's air quality will be one of the main victims. Lester Brown is President and Senior Researcher with the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank. He says that China's environment won't be able to sustain a car-based transport system for too long.

LESTER BROWN: What if China succeeds in developing and using the Western industrial development model—that is a fossil fuel based, throwaway economy? And if someday China has a car in every garage and maybe two cars in some garages, American style, China would need more oil than the world currently produces—and may ever produce. So that's obviously not a viable option.

HATTON: Chinese officials proudly report that they are advocating the use of natural gas buses and electric cars. This Shanghainese man says the pollution is much better than it was years before, when leaded petrol was used to fuel most motor vehicles in the city.

SHANGHAI MAN ON THE STREET: [summarized by Ms. Hatton] "In the past," he says, "cars used leaded petrol and there were many vent pipes in the back. How terrible! There was a lot of exhaust. But now, things are better and no one will be allowed to use leaded petrol next year."

HATTON: But no one can argue that Shanghai's air will benefit from more vehicles and fewer bicycles on the road. According to a recent study by Shanghai's city planners, 90 percent of the city's air pollution is caused by cars and trucks. China's new car emissions standards will require cars to become 15 to 20 percent more fuel efficient, but that gain is quickly swallowed up by the growing numbers of vehicles in urban centers. Officials estimate the number of private cars in Shanghai has risen 80 percent in the past two years and there's no sign of a slowdown in sales.

[The sound of traffic on a busy Shanghai street]

HATTON: Many critics contend that Shanghai, like other Chinese cities, is missing out on a great opportunity to encourage the daily use of public transport before most citizens shell out for private cars. MIT Professor of Urban Transport, Fred Moavenzadeh says that developing cities go into a downward spiral when they begin to cater to the needs of car drivers.

PROFESSOR FRED MOAVENZADEH: China is basically trying to do the mistakes that everybody else has done—build more highways which attracts more automobiles, build more automobiles that then allows people to travel and spend less obviously on mass transit. Therefore they are creating automobile dependency, which then later on they don't know how to cope.

[The sound of a subway train pulling into a Shanghai station]

HATTON: As this busy subway station demonstrates, many people are also leaving their bicycles behind when traveling between home and workplace. As the city grows, so does the average distance between destinations. Now, it's just not viable for many people to ride their bikes across bustling Shanghai. In fact, government officials are encouraging people to take public transport for any journey that is 10 kilometers or longer.

[The sound of a bicycle bell on a busy Shanghai street]

HATTON: In the face of the booming economy, it seems that Shanghai will remain a city of stubborn bike lovers. Many here say that they have been cycling for so long that they can't imagine permanently storing away their bikes.

SHANGHAI MALE CYCLIST: [summarized by Ms. Hatton] "I have an electric bike but I don't like to use it," this man says. "I prefer to ride my regular bike because it keeps me energetic during the cold weather and it's good exercise."

HATTON: Good exercise, and for many, cycling is a way of life that isn't quite ready to disappear. For Common Ground, I'm Celia Hatton in Shanghai.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page


Britain: Toxic Ships

Listen to This Segment
      MP3

Related Links
Friends of the Earth
http://www.foe.co.uk
UN International Labor Organization
http://www.ilo.org
International Marine Organization
http://www.imo.org/home.asp

Tell Us What You Think

 

PORTER: The European Union has decided to speed up the planned withdrawal of single-hulled tankers from its waters. The move comes in the wake of the Prestige oil spill off Spain's Galician coast. Seventy-seven thousand tons of fuel oil were onboard the 26-year-old tanker which sank in November of 2002. When it's single skin leaked it caused $6.1 billion worth of damage to natural habits, fishing grounds, and the local tourism industry, polluting a total of 1,800 miles of coastline. But while environmental groups have warmly greeted the removal of these dangerous tankers from the oceans, the break-up of these ships could still pose a hazard to the environment. Suzanne Chislett reports.

[Sounds of waves breaking on a beach]

CHISLETT: Here on the windy northeast coastline of England lies Able UK. It's a company that specializes in reclamation and recycling on a massive scale. Able UK breaks down power stations, oil rigs, and tankers which have reached the end of their working lives. It hit the news in Britain and the US last year when it won a $16million US Navy contract to break up 13 military vessels. Peter Stephenson is Managing Director of Able UK.

PETER STEPHENSON: We were very pleased. You know, we opened a bottle of champagne. We'd spent six months getting this contract and we were all thrilled to bits for getting it. We thought we'd really got a coup.

CHISLETT: But protesters were angry that these out-of-date vessels were being brought all the way across the Atlantic. Some of the ships are up to 60 years old and are said to be at risk of breaking up in stormy weather. They contain a range of toxic materials including lead, mercury, and asbestos, which alarmed the local community and environmental campaigners. Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth went to Britain's High Court to try to prevent the first four vessels from being allowed to dock in British waters. The group's Director of Campaigns is Mike Childs.

MIKE CHILDS: Rich countries should deal with their own waste rather than exporting them abroad. Able UK say they have the ability and the skills to break up these ships. Well, they don't have a dry dock yet but they may have the skills or they may be able to get the skills within the region, from workers within the region. But America also has the skills to break up these ships and it has the capacity and it has a moral obligation in our viewpoint. So clearly that's why we think America should deal with these ships.

CHISLETT: But Able UK insisted it was up to the job and had to prove it to the US authorities. Peter Stephenson again.

STEPHENSON: Before we got this contract from the US government they sent a team over here, including people from the Environmental Protection Agency, and they did a full audit. They audited the company, they audited the facility, and our state managed land fill facility. Then they asked us to provide them with a technical compliance plan and they were quite pleasantly surprised to find out that the document we gave them met all the criteria they required.

CHISLETT: The reason, perhaps for the reaction of the US government and its decision to award the contract to Able UK was because there are very few locations in Europe able to properly and safely break up ships. That, says Peter Stephenson, is because carrying out the recycling process as his company does is not cheap.

STEPHENSON: We do it all to the highest of standards, but it costs money to do that standard and that's the problem, is that ship owners you can understand the economics of it, if they can sell a ship to India then who wants to pay to have it done in Europe. And that's a problem.

[The sound of ship's large engine]

CHISLETT: Each year, according to UN figures, some 650 ships are scrapped globally. At least half are sent to beach wrecking yards in India, Bangladesh, and China, among other nations.

[The sound of heavy hammering]

HATTON: There, tens of thousands of workers toil often in temperatures of 100 degrees plus, with little concern about health and safety or the environment. I spoke to Paul Bailey from the UN's International Labor Organization in Geneva.

PAUL BAILEY: If you do go to these yards, as we have done, you will see that not all the workers are you know, wearing protective equipment nor have the hazards been reduced to the levels they should be.

HATTON: And the problems faced by workers in these Asian wrecking yards are likely to get worse because the yards themselves could be set for a boom-time. There are currently around 88,000 vessels working the world's oceans and they have an average age of 19 years. And following a series of high profile and environmentally damaging oil spills, single hulled ships—which have a tendency to leak their cargo or be easily pierced because the hulls aren't thick enough—are being banned from international waters around the globe. So there will be a lot more ships reaching the end of their useful lives. Experts predict wrecking levels could reach 1,900 a year very shortly. Paul Bailey again.

BAILEY: They'll be even more ships which need to be scrapped sooner than would have been expected because of this ban on single-hulled tankers and that will put increased pressure on the scrapping yards in Asia which then probably respond to the situation by expanding. Since they do their beaching—their breaking on beaches they would just have to open up another couple of plots on the beach. And this then, will you know, increase the environmental problem and they will bring in workers perhaps who have not been properly trained. So the problem will be compounded by the ban on single-hull tankers.

HATTON: In March, the UN through the International Labor Organization and the International Marine Organization succeeded in passing new regulations on working practices which should improve health and safety at wrecking sites. But it's down to national governments to adopt the recommendations into law. There is no real guarantee that conditions will improve. And it's down to individual companies and governments to decide where and how their ships are reclaimed. Despite concerns about safety and environmental damage, the UN and other world agencies recognize the wrecking yards in Asia are key to local economies. The work may not be well-paid by Western standards but the yards provide vital jobs in otherwise impoverished regions. So, the United Nations Development Program has pledged a grant worth $1.2 million to Bangladesh in return for promises of "safe and environmentally friendly ship recycling." The workers and owners at the 32 ship-breaking yards along the coastal belt of the Bay of Bengal have accepted the benefits of a safe work environment and it's hoped the trade off will bring positive progress all round. The scheme to improve facilities there is due to be implemented by June 2006. It may provide better trends for the rest of the world to follow. For Common Ground, I'm Suzanne Chislett in London.

MCHUGH: Coming up next on our Earth Day special, controlling the emission of the world's greenhouse gases. You're listening to Common Ground, radio's weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page


Russia: Kyoto's Last Chance?

Listen to This Segment
      MP3

Related Link
Kyoto Protocol 1997
http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.html

Tell Us What You Think

 

MCHUGH: Many environmentalists around the world say global warming is the biggest long-term threat to life on earth. They say that in the years to come, rising temperatures may drive thousands of species to extinction, trigger more floods or droughts and sink low-lying islands as icecaps melt. In an effort to avoid such a drastic scenario, the world's most developed countries signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The document curbs emissions of the so-called greenhouse gases, which scientists say are dangerously affecting Earth's fragile climate system. Today, seven years later the United States still rejects the treaty leaving Russia as perhaps the last hope for the Kyoto accord. But as Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow, it looks very unlikely that the Kremlin will ratify it any time soon.

ANYA ARDAYEVA: So far, 121 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, which appear as a result of burning fuels like oil, coal, and gas by 8 percent between the years 2008 and 2012. But the world's worst polluters—including Russia, Australia, and the United States—have yet to do so. With the United States and Australia refusing to ratify the document, Russia is now the only hope for the future of Kyoto.

[The sound of Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking at the Kremlin]

ARDAYEVA: Russian president Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that Russia will eventually ratify the protocol, but he also said his government must double the country's gross domestic product in the next decade. And his economic advisors insist the two goals cannot be achieved at the same time. Russian Presidential Economic Advisor Andrei Illarionov sparked international controversy in December when he said that the accord "Of course could not be ratified in its current form."

[The sound of Andrei Illarionov speaking]

ARDAYEVA: Later, he said he believes that the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol will not be for the benefit of Russia by 2050. According to Mr. Illarionov, the Protocol stipulates a 50 to 60 percent decrease in gas emissions by Russia by 2050 compared to the year 1990 and this will hinder Russia's economic growth. But some analysts say that Russia is not only concerned about its economic figures. They believe Moscow is waiting to see whether key ratifying nations—Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan—offer additional incentives for Russian ratification by using Kyoto ratification as a bargaining chip in other negotiations with Europe, including WTO admission, energy investments, and debt relief. Natalya Olefirenko monitors climate change at the Moscow's office of Greenpeace.

NATALYA OLEFIRENKO: [via a translator] There are no serious reason why Russia should not ratify the treaty, because the documents prepared last year by the Ministry of Economic Development show that it's profitable for Russia both from the economic and political point of view. And of course, there's an ecological factor as well. The fact that Russia does not ratify the Kyoto protocol now is only because of political reasons and the existing differences between Russia and the European Union. At the moment, the Kyoto treaty is viewed in Russia as a tool of economic struggle for its economic profits.

ARDAYEVA: The United States quit the Kyoto treaty in 2001, under a controversial decision by President George Bush. He, just like Moscow does now, questioned the scientific evidence for global warming and said Kyoto was too costly for the US economy. The US pullout has deprived Kyoto of support from the world's biggest carbon polluter and left it short of enough support to take effect. Russia currently produces 17 percent of world carbon dioxide emissions—the world's third largest output. Natalya Olieferenko, Greenpeace Russia:

OLEFIRENKO: [via a translator] Relations between Putin and Bush are a second aspect of that problem. The history of ratifying the Kyoto treaty last year was very transparent. At first, everything was on the rise. Putin had the papers on his desk and the decision was almost made last June. But after meeting Bush at Camp David last September, the Kremlin started saying that this treaty is not profitable, that it will harm our economic interests, and that's when they began pulling out. We think that one of the main reasons why Russia does not ratify the treaty is because of the pressure that Bush and American oil companies have put on President Putin.

ARDAYEVA: Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide rose 11 percent over the last decade, and will grow another 50 percent worldwide by 2020. Studies by the Washington-based World Resources Institute show that the warming trend has been rising steadily. According to WRI, the five warmest years in recorded weather history have taken place over the last six years and Europe, the main champion of the Kyoto Protocol, suffered its hottest year on record last year. Some 15,000 people in France alone died due to heat stress in combination with pollution, while European agriculture suffered an estimated $12.5 billion in losses.

[Sounds from a Russian coal mine]

ARDAYEVA: Meanwhile, the Russian economy is growing mostly because world's prices on oil and gas remain high. Russia is the second-largest exporter of oil and it also makes billions of dollars on selling its natural gas. And many environmentalists say that while the country makes huge money from selling natural resources, its government pays very little attention to the environment. Again, Natalya Olefirenko.

OLEFIRENKOL [via a translator] By signing the Kyoto treaty, Russia could help to solve the problem which awaits us in the future—the problem of limited resources. It would help to modernize our production to make it more energy-saving and also, create alternative sources of energy so our future generations don't end up having limited resources. Also, if we modernize the production so that it uses gas instead of coal, it will help to make the air cleaner in many regions and lower the number of sufferers of cancer, asthma, and other diseases. We could help to save tens of thousands of lives if we ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

ARDAYEVA: Although the European Union has said that it will implement Kyoto even if it doesn't come into force, it might face intense pressure not to impose the costs of programs to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions when the when the rest of the world isn't doing so. Kyoto may not be a perfect agreement, but proponents say its collapse would be a huge setback for climate negotiations, as well as to those companies that have taken voluntary steps to measure and reduce their emissions. And whether Moscow decides to abandon the treaty or ratify it, its decision will have lasting repercussions for generations to come. For Common Ground, I am Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.

PORTER: That's our show for this week. If you have questions or comments about today's program, visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org or e-mail us at commonground@commongroundradio.org.

MCHUGH: Transcripts and information on how to order copies of this and other Common Ground programs are also available on our Web site: commongroundradio.org. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Additional compositions by Wink Music.

ANNOUNCER: Common Ground is a Stanley Foundation production. The Stanley Foundation: promoting public understanding, constructive dialogue, and cooperative action on critical international issues. On the Web at stanleyfoundation.org.

Top of Page


© 2004 by The Stanley Foundation
RealAudio® is a registered trademark of RealNetworks, Inc.