New Internationalist

The Facts

Issue 157

new internationalist
issue 157 | March 1986

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Does your country love you?
Humanity is shaped by decisions that shape the environment.
Here the NI provides an International roundup to establish whether your
government, through caring for your natural world, has cared for you.

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CANADA'S ENVIRONMENT

OFFICIAL CONCERN
Federal spending on environmental matters in year 1985/6 was down Can$8.5 million to $174 million or .37% of all budget spending. Of all the Provinces, Ontario gives the highest priority to pollution control - probably because the bulk of industry is located there. Legislation is weak, both poorly drafted (so it is easy to dodge) and poorly policed (so it is likely the polluter won t be caught). One of the better laws from the Province of Ontario, the Environmental Assessment Act of 1975, permits public hearings and funds groups who wish to intervene in, for example, waste dump siting. The recent Spills Bill' (1985) makes companies who transport or dump hazardous waste liable for clean-up costs.

RECENT FAILURES
· Serious leak of toxic chemicals from Dow Chemical into the St Claire River, Ontario, cost Can$2 million to clean up. Dow faces fines of $20,000 under the Water Resources Act

· In 1983 Canada Metal Company was spreading metal dust and lead contaminants up to 80 times more than the normal city levels. Ontario Province spent Can$80 million stripping soil around the factory. Canada Metal pleaded guilty and received a $5,000 fine,

· Reopening of the Nova Scotia Syco coke ovens despite public admissions that smoke emission has caused cancer rates to rise in surrounding region. The jobs blackmail threat is used in this traditionally high unemployment area.

MAJOR SUCCESSES
· Large fine (Can$1 90,000) under the Fisheries Act imposed on Jack Cewe Ltd for polluting water. The judge said 'accused should not be persuaded that it is cheaper to face prosecution than to put into place adequate systems of control'.

· Berger inquiry into McKenzie Valley Pipeline recommended deferral of proiect until proper environmental assessment done. Inquiry funded so that interveners had adequate resources to put their case.

· TRICIL and Cambrian disposal companies in 1976 applied to have a dump sited near Dunville, Ontario. Local grassroots action - meetings, petitions and intervention in elections - brought defeat of mayor and council members who had supported the companies' proposal.

OUR ASSESSMENT
Canada's vast hinterland has not escaped industrial ravages. Most remote Ontario lakes are dead from acid rain. Huge tracts of timber despoiled, Chemical spraying of crops and forest is afffecting eco-systems. Official concem for environment, loudly proclaimed, in practice usually gives way to maintaining a good 'business climate' to attract investment.

Report in consultation with Environmental Law Association


NEW ZEALAND'S ENVIRONMENT

OFFICIAL CONCERN
Significant reorganisation and consolidation of ministerial responsibilities since the arrival of the new government in 1984. This has been matched by an increase in environmental protection budget to about NZ$80 million ($42 ½ million).

RECENT FAILURES
· Manufacturing and using chemicals on US banned list. Only country in world producing 2,4.5-T.

· Passing the National Development Act 1979, with its 'think big' energy intensive projects; meaning large hydro-electric dam building programme.

· Permitting continued forest clearance and resultant soil erosion.

MAJOR SUCCESSES
· Saving Fiordland National Park from flooding by the proposed damming of Lake Manapouri to generate electricity.

· Refusing to allow the building of nuclear power stations,

· Not permitting an electricity-hungry aluminium smelter at Aramoana.

· Affirming through the Waitangi tribunal traditional Maori values about the natural world.

OUR ASSESSMENT
The country's stand against nuclear power has brought international attention. Refusal to permit US nuclear-powered or armed ships particularly courageous given possible American economic sanctions. Also spearheading fight against French nuclear testing in Pacific and potential Japanese nuclear waste dumping. Due to small population (3.2 million) and lack of heavy industries, the country remains less polluted than nearly any other in the world.

Report in consultation with Environment & Conservation Organisations of New Zealand Inc.


POLAND'S ENVIRONMENT

OFFICIAL CONCERN
The Polish constitution says it will 'ensure the protection and national development of the natural environment,' and since 1945 there have been laws passed to back this. In practice, however, there has been little concern.

MAJOR FAILURES
· Water pollution. By 1979 33% of rivers completely dead, 78% of lakes have unacceptably high levels of pollution. For 82% of its length, the country's largest river - the Vistula - is so polluted as to be unsuitable even for factory use. Baltic Sea also dangerous. Twenty sea-resorts unsafe for bathing.

· Air pollution. Two million cubic metres of dust and five million cubic metres of gases released into atmosphere a year. Sulphur dioxide from coal (bringing acid rain) most serious. National average fallout 14 tonnes of S02 per sq. km. Air pollution estimated to endanger 20% of people's health. In industrial city of Katowice 35% of children and youths have lead poisoning.

· Pollution blackspot Cracow. Aluminium smelter built in 1952 with a capacity of 1 5,000 tonnes p.a. was by 1980 producing 53,000 tonnes pa. Also emitting 2,500 tonnes of impurities and 962 tonnes of gaseous fumes pa. The acid rain fallout has killed more than 20,000 hectares of forests, Out of the 54,000 in the region. The city has the highest infant mortality rate in Poland at 26 per 1,000 (US/UK rate 11). A gloomy state report in 1 980 estimated the costs to the Polish economy from pollution as 280 - 480 thousand million zlotys p.a.(total government spending, 1979, 985 thousand million zlotys).

MAJOR SUCCESSES
The Polish Ecology Club formed in Cracow in 1980 by shop stewards, journalists, doctors and academics managed to close its aluminium smelter in 1981.

OUR ASSESSMENT
Govemment's past interest in nature restricted to how to control and exploit it, keeping appalling side-effects to minimum. Solidarity helped expose problem. Poland probably rivals Brazil as the most environmentally ravaged in world.


AUSTRALIA'S ENVIRONMENT

OFFICIAL CONCERN
Resources allocated to environmental agencies falls short of needs. At the state level, Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia predictably provide bigger budgets than the rest. Federal funding for the environment, begun by Labour administration in 1973, was severely mauled by the Liberal/Country Party government and has still not returned to 1975 levels in real terms.

RECENT FAILURES
· Building the Lake Pedder dam and flooding the wilderness areas of South West Tasmania, 1973.

· Mining of uranium in Northern Territory has brought contamination of water by radioactive waste.

· Cutting down tropical rainforests like Daintree, by commercial chainsaw operations.

· Poor farming leading to widespread soil degradation and increased water salinity in Murray-Darling Basin.

MAJOR SUCCESSES
· Tackling air pollution in major cities, helped by introduction of unleaded petrol.

· Scrapping of proposed Franklin hydroelectric dam in Tasmania which would have flooded precious wilderness area in 1983.

· Refusing to permit the export of mineral sands from Fraser Island, Queensland by the federal government.

· Supporting the World Heritage Convention and declaring five World Heritage areas.

OUR ASSESSMENT
Recent increased community awareness led to some successes. But Australia's record worse than comparable countries on soil conservation and wildemess preservation, better on marine resources. Large size, enormous outback and small population means pollution often not taken seriously. Greatest difficulty is the federal nature of government Conflicts between State administrations of different political outlooks inhibit country-wide environmental co-operation.

Report in consultation with Australian Conservation Foundation


USA'S ENVIRONMENT

OFFICIAL CONCERN
The establishment of an Environment Protection Agency in 1971 was a world first. Its 1985 budget $1.3 billion plus Superfund for toxic waste cleanup (see article). Far-reaching laws on environment and health protection were enacted in the 1 970s, probably the most comprehensive in world. They included the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1976 which started the cradle to grave system for tracking hazardous materials from manufacture to final waste disposal, and the Superfund in 1980 which established a $1.6 billion fund to clean up waste emergencies like accidental spills or leaking toxic waste dumps.

RECENT FAILURES
· Castration of EPA through underfunding and understaffing (see article).

· Breaking down of voluntary compliance by companies due to hostility of present government to environmental concerns. 80% non-compliance is the norm.

· Over 10,000 toxic waste dumps pose a serious threat to local health

MAJOR SUCCESSES
·
The expected re-authorising of the Superfund legislation in 1986, providing more money and tighter deadlines for the toxic wastes cleanup, would be the first legislative victory for environment groups since Reagan took office.

· Cancelling of nuclear power plant building, with no new construction since the Three Mile Island accident in 1978.

OUR ASSESSMENT
In theory, there is an excellent system of environmental protection. But most programmes have been neglected. Air and water pollution have abated. But the explosion of new toxic chemicals coming onto the market each year is storing up serious risks for the future.

The report was in consultation with the Environmental Safety group.


UNITED KINGDOM'S ENVIRONMENT

OFFICIAL CONCERN
Pioneering environmental laws have passed after 1945, including the establishment of 'green belts' around cities with planning permission needed for land use and clean air acts which ended city smog. Recent pollution laws have lacked teeth, and in the case of safety-at-work laws have had too few inspectors to be effective.

RECENT FAILURES
·
Approving the building and enlargement of nuclear-powered electricity plants.

· Dumping nuclear waste and discharging radioactive materials into the sea. Irish Sea particularly badly polluted by radiation. UK world's worst offender, discharging 98% of all ocean-disposed irradiated waste.

· Ignoring acid rain issue. Refusal to join 30% club of 20-odd European countries prepared to reduce their sulphur emissions by 30% by 1995.

· Destroying sensitive natural habitats by intensive commercial farming. Since 1945 140,000 miles of hedgerows torn up, 95% of herb-rich hay meadows lost, 50% of lowland fens lost.

MAJOR SUCCESSES
·
Phasing out of lead in petrol by 1990. Forced through by activists' pressures

· Initiating action in EEC to ban sale of whale products from 1982.

OUR ASSESSMENT
Long tradition of environmental awareness plus progressive laws recently reversed; gross irresponsibility about disposal of irradiated waste, acid rain problems and the destruction of natural habitats.

Reports in consultation with Friends of the Earth, UK


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