Air Date: Week of December 31, 1993
Host Steve Curwood talks with Eugene Linden of Time magazine and reviews the major environmental trends and events of the past 12 months.
CURWOOD: Well, it's that time of year again, time to look back over the last 12 months and pick out some of the big stories on our beat. To help us this year we've enlisted Eugene Linden. He's a senior writer who covers the environment for Time magazine, and he joins us now from the NPR studios in New York. Welcome to the program, Gene, now let's start with politics. What do you think was the most important environmental story in that area in the US this year?
LINDEN: Well, in political terms I think the election of Clinton clearly is important environmentally. He brought with him of course Al Gore and appointed Babbitt to be head of Interior, and salted the Administration with a lot of very good people.
CURWOOD: Who else in the Administration?
LINDEN: I think putting Tim Wirth in the State Department. He's dealing with international environmental issues, among other things, and I think he's been deeply involved in reversing the US stance on donations to organizations involved with population issues. And that's very important. I think population is, probably drives most of the global environmental issues in one way or another, and the US has been out of the game for over ten years. Now we're getting back in it.
CURWOOD: All right, what do you think is another important story this past year?
LINDEN: Well, I think what's happening with endangered species is interesting. I mean, Babbitt and the Interior Department put through this plan in Southern California to try and work at an ecosystem level, to save the California gnatcatcher before it reaches the point of being declared endangered. Their environment is coastal sage, and it allows - coastal scrub, rather, and it allows that to be bulldozed in certain cases. So some, it's the type of deal that may well take some of the pressure off the Endangered Species Act.
CURWOOD: All right, let's move away from Washington. Where are some of the other important stories of last year?
LINDEN: Well, one thing that caught my attention was that both in the spring in the Northern Hemisphere and in the fall in Antarctica, readings for ozone depletion were sort of off the charts in terms of being far worse than the models had predicted. It's kind of alarming. Now there may have been volcanoes may have exacerbated the depletion in the Northern Hemisphere, but they were seeing record low readings in some northern European countries and Canada, and recently a Canadian study documented that in fact UV-B radiation, which is very dangerous radiation, is increasing on the ground. And that's very disturbing, because we're going to be stuck with the consequences of ozone depletion 'till well into the next century, before we even get back to the present-day levels, it'll continue to get worse to the year 2002. And it think it's what happens when you delay in taking action on issues that have a long lifetime. Global warming's another one.
CURWOOD: So how big a story was climate change in 1992?
LINDEN: Well, it is a big story whether or not we treat it as a big story. We're beginning to see people who feel the costs of climate change. One of these is the insurance industry, a few trillion-dollar industry about the same size as the energy industry. They look at what's happened in the last twenty or so years, and they say climate has changed for whatever reason, sea level has gone up a foot. We have ten storms in the last seven years producing losses over a billion dollars. And these are all the types of events that are predicted should global warming arrive, and they're here now, not off in the middle of the next century. So the insurance industry is sort of awakening to this issue, and if they step to the plate on this, it may have more to do with affecting policy on global warming than a dozen Rio conferences, which really haven't produced all that much.
CURWOOD: Gene Linden, some people say that the environment is falling off the radar screen of public consciousness, that the urgency that was around the story, let's say, during Rio, has backed off. Is that fair to say?
LINDEN: Yeah, I think it is fair to say, I think the major news outlets have given less attention to the issue this year. I think there has been a little bit of - revisionism, may be the appropriate term - in fact the very day that some bad ozone readings were released, there was a story in one of the major newspapers about how the ozone threat has been dealt with and it was overstated to begin with. I think the missing element in the debate about the environment has been fear, and that is that until recently, even with people who speak otherwise they treat it as an amenity issue - you deal with environment after you deal with the economy, or you deal with the environment after you deal with other issues. And there isn't that fear of consequences. Now, what you see around the world is when environment gets translated into a health issue, people act. In Japan, which has behaved very badly in the past on whaling, on endangered species, on overfishing and that sort of thing, cleaned up its act in a hurry when air pollution surfaced as a health issue. And that's why I say this insurance industry issue is important because here's a group that is beginning to get scared about climate change, and beginning to take action.
CURWOOD: Well, thank you very much. Eugene Linden is a senior writer for Time magazine. He concentrates on the environment. Thanks for joining us.
LINDEN: My pleasure. Thank you.
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