Host Steve Curwood talks to Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard about environmental stories in Nigeria, India and Denmark.
CURWOOD: There have been developments lately in several high profile environmental situations around the world. And to bring us up to speed on this international news I'm joined now by Mark Hertsgaard, Living on Earth's political observer. Hi there, Mark.
HERTSGAARD: Hi Steve.
CURWOOD: Let's start with the case of Nigerian activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. What's the latest development with that?
HERTSGAARD: Well, you remember seven years ago, Mr. Saro-Wiwa became quite an environmental martyr really around the world. In November of 1995 he was hanged by the military dictatorship in Nigeria after a trial that was roundly condemned throughout the world as a farce. Mr. Saro-Wiwa had led the movement in Nigeria protesting against the oil operations of Royal/Dutch Shell. Saro-Wiwa's group was claiming that Royal Dutch/Shell's oil operations had devastated the land of the Ogoni people in the south, ruining the water, the air, and so forth. Now this case is coming to trial, and interestingly, it's coming to trial in New York.
Judge Kimball Wood of the District Court ruled that this would go forward in the United States courts. The attorneys for Saro-Wiwa's family say that they have evidence that the Shell officials in Nigeria met with Saro-Wiwa's brother and said, Look. We will not intervene on his behalf unless you call off the protests. Shell, for its part, has said that these allegations are false; we had nothing to do with this; we wanted Saro-Wiwa to live. Shell has admitted that they bought military hardware for the Nigerian police, but they say that none of that was used in human rights violations.
CURWOOD: This is a major precedent then, to bring a case against a company operating in Africa here in the United States.
HERTSGAARD: Yeah, that's what makes this so interesting, Steve. You know, we've seen this before in human rights cases, but never before environmentally. And the argument goes back to a very old law in the United States, 1784, the Alien Torts Claims Act, which was originally put in place to stop pirates. And it says that international law, we in the United States have an incentive to have those laws upheld. And Shell operates in the United States, gets the benefits of operating here, and hence has to take the responsibilities as well.
CURWOOD: Let's shift our focus now to India, Mark, where the Supreme Court there recently made an interesting decision in the case involving author/activist Arundhati Roy.
Can you bring us up to speed on that?
HERSGAARD: Sure. Roy, of course, is very prominent, wrote the book "The God of Small Things," and has been very visible recently in protests around globalization, against the war in Afghanistan. But where she really got involved with politics was protesting the 30 dams on the Narmada River in India. She's been involved with that for quite some time, and that's what got her in trouble here. She had criticized the Supreme Court of India for basically not being even-handed, for not listening to the critics of the Narmada dam project. And the Court slapped her down for that and said 'You are in contempt.'
It's interesting, because the Supreme Court in India is arguably the most powerful court in the world, has virtually no oversight from the other branches of government. And the Supreme Court has done some interesting, progressive things on environmental issues in India. It's ruled, for example, that all of the polluting industries in the capital city of Delhi had to be shut down, which would virtually shut down the entire economy of Delhi. It's ruled that there be no commerce in the forests. On the other hand, the Supreme Court of India has also defended big dams. So they convicted the author of criticizing the ruling, but the sentencing was one day in jail and a fine of equivalent forty-two dollars U.S. So you got the sense that the Court realized that it may have overplayed its hand here, and gave more of a symbolic kind of a punishment to the author.
CURWOOD: Let's move now to Scandinavia, Mark, where the government's changed in Denmark to a more conservative government. And I gather that's had a major impact on their environmental approach.
HERSGAARD: It's had a very noticeable effect, Steve. The government there, as you say, is center right. But crucially, it's dependent on a far right, anti-immigrant party for its ruling majority in the Parliament. And you're seeing some really remarkable retrenchments on environmental policy. In particular, Denmark, which has been one of the world's leaders in wind power, has now announced that it will stop subsidies to wind power by the year 2004. Quite striking. I was recently traveling in Denmark. And when you go along the coastline there, pretty much everywhere you look you will see huge wind turbines, both in the ocean and right on land. Eighteen percent of Denmark's electricity comes from wind power. So for them to step back on that now is quite striking.
CURWOOD: What does this mean about Denmark's attitude toward the Kyoto Protocol, do you think?
HERSGAARD: That's a big question, Steve. We'll see. As you know, the European Union has said that they're going to go forward and ratify Kyoto. Denmark is part of that. Each government can still make its own decisions. Denmark has expressed some concern about Kyoto, especially under this new government. And it's interesting to note that Denmark is about to take over the presidency of the EU very soon. So if they do back out, it won't mean a whole lot globally, because Denmark's emissions are so small. But it could be symbolically very important, because it gives political cover to governments like Canada and, as we spoke about a few weeks ago, Japan, who are being pressured by their industries not to ratify Kyoto. So if Denmark does that, it could have a reverberation elsewhere.
CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. Thanks, Mark.
HERSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.
[MUSIC: Tania Maria "Euzinha" VERY BEST OF LATIN JAZZ 2 (Global Television - 1999)]
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth