Aot i_ve rad I o
Miranda France meets broadcaster Steve Greenwood whose concern for the planet took him on a trek across the Soviet Union.
Forget David Bellamy. Steve Greenwood is the man to make ecology exciting. Not only is he astonishingly tall. but he is amazingly — and infectiously — enthusiastic about everything. My guess is that any minute now he‘ll leave Radio Scotland. where he is presently on a fellowship. and make for the steamy jungles and arid deserts of BBC2 natural history programmes. He would certainly wear the regulation khaki shorts with style.
Right now. though. Greenwood is wrapped in the brightly coloured wooly which is the trademark oftrue ecologists. His enthusiasm is turned on the Soviet Union. where he recently spent five weeks making Green Glasnost— a two-part documentary about the green movement in the Soviet Union. Greenwood wants to know if glasnost and people power will translate into the kind ofgroup action we have seen in the West. where environmental problems are arguably not so acute. ‘We've heard tales of ecological disasters. like Chernobyl and the Aral Sea.‘ he says. ‘but the reaction always seems to be “this is a disaster. isn‘t it terrible?“ rather than. “What are people doing about this? Will environmental policies be changed?”‘
Even though he is officially a tropical ecologist, it is easy to imagine Greenwood tramping earnestly across the Siberian plains. a man at one with the elements. In fact he ﬂew most of the time - his interpreter was wary of trains. and they were short of time - his journey taking him from Lake Baikal in the east, through Moscow and Leningrad to the Baltics and Estonia in the west. Armed with some twenty words, which could be juggled into a few essential expressions such as ‘what a nice meal‘, or ‘do you mind if I use the phone‘, he relied on the train-shy interpreter or people he met along the way to translate more complex exchanges. He stayed with
families, ate Russian food and talked late.
Like other perestroika observers —
actors. writers and pop stars who
went to the USSR to find out what glasnost had to offer for them —
Greenwood went to see ifglasnost
was good for environmentalism. He discovered that. rather than being an upshot ofglasnost. environmental protest was actually a foundation stone of reform. In the Baltic states it was concern over ecological damage — such as the pollution caused by oil shale and phosphate mines in Estonia — which initiated independence movements. Greenwood concluded that ‘ecology and nationalism were clearly entwined‘.
Indeed the green roots go deeper. Back in the 60s. plans were afoot to build a factory on the banks of Lake Baikal in Siberia. The world‘s oldest lake — 20 million years — Baikal is estimated to hold 20 per cent of the world‘s fresh water and is home to a myriad of different species. according to Greenwood. ‘The stories that lake has to tell are just fascinating.’ he enthuses. ‘Because of Baikal‘s importance. both ecologically and culturally. people started to write letters to the press and to say “this is wrong". To a certain extent the protest did succeed. by making Soviet planners aware of the situation. It‘s not as though Baikal‘s problems have been solved. but it did show people that by protesting you can change things.‘
During his stay. Greenwood managed to sneak into Shelakov — a
city 50 miles from Baikal and closed to westerners. At the smelting plant where most of the citizens work. the chiefengineer assured him that there was no health problem. but the workers told him a different story: a third of the workers were ill with bronchial problems and at least one had a terrible bone wasting disease caused by aluminium fluoride. Glasnost or no glasnost. people are still misinformed about levels of pollution and dangerous industrial waste. What they do learn often comes from the foreign press.
The hazards ofpollution and industrial waste are. Greenwood is convinced. much more pressing
Steve Greenwood on site.
Shelakov’s smelting plant. one of the Soviet Union‘s less environmentally lr‘iendl
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think about environmental problems.’ he says. ‘we think about nature conservation and holes in the ozone layer. There they are thinking. “the food I eat is killing my children. the air I breathe is polluted. the water is full oftoxins". They have some terrible health problems. to a level unbelievable in the West.‘
Although the picture is bleak. (ireen (ilasnost is certainly not a catalogue ofenvironmental horror stories. ‘This is not a File on Four or Analysis kind of programme saying ‘this is the situation‘. It‘s hard to say what‘s going on in the Soviet Union and this was just a personal exploration‘. Besides. Steve Greenwood would be hard put to confine himselfto pollution when there are so many crustaceans and species of fish to talk about. let alone the Soviet Union‘s ‘pristine wilderness. mountains. desert and tundra‘ . ln these timesof telly-mania. radio would be well advised to hang onto someone who doesn‘t need pictures to get his point across.
(ireen Glasnost, parts one and two, is broadcast on Radio Scotland at 1.30pm. Tue 5 Mar (repeated
7. ()2pm) and 1.30pm. Tue 12 Mar (repeated 7. ()2pm).
78 The List 22 February — 7 March 1991