Volume 3, No. 11 March- April 1998
Institutions Prevent Environmental Panic Editorial, by Najib Saab
Green Tips for an environmentally friendly consumer
Story: Biodiversity · The Extinction of Species · Health,
Food and Industry: Their Roots Run Deep in Nature
and the Environment Does the international market take into account
the environmental costs of production and transportation?
in the Womb Toxic chemicals are transmitted from mother to child
Life in the Freezer In Antartica with Christo Baars
Green City Public spaces in the Solidere Project for the
reconstruction of Beirut's Central District
Sites: Exposure Pathways to Contamination Cleaning contamination is
a prospering industry. Yet, not all polluted sites need to be
National Environment Day in UAE Celebrations on the 4th of February
Natural Reserves in Oman Desert, mountainous and coastal habitats
shelter unique species
Pollution Excess minerals may devastate plants, animals and humans
in Arabia Training, breeding and releasing falcons in their natural
the Climate Changed? Global temperature is increasing and seasons
are not as they used to be
Silent Killer Death by carbon monoxide
11 - Arab Environment News, 24 - World Environment News, 26 -
Environment Market, 30 - Consumer Tips, 49 - NGO News, 56 - Environment
& Development Forum, 60 - Green Library, 63 - Calendar, 64 -
Subscription Form, 65
Supplement: The Young Environmentalist A Fox Tale ( short story) .....1
The World of Elephants .....2 Pollution at Home ......4 School
Competition: The State of the Environment in Lebanon 1998 ....6 Green
Bandar ( comic strip) .....8
FROM THE EDITOR
Conversation versus conservation
by Najib Saab
One of the special characteristics of the Third World, to which we
belong, is that politics and macro-economic policies constitute the
major portion of the daily public talk. Politics are an inherent part of
the conversation of people at all levels, who would analyse problems and
suggest ultimate solutions. Everyone is certain to have the best answer
to any problem.
Heated economic and political discussions are heard in restaurants,
television talk shows, taxis and streets. A participant in those
polemics would talk as if he is an expert almost in all domains, from
foreign policy to industry and commerce.
result, an exaggerated emergency situation was created. Traders turned
environmental saviours grasped the opportunity to make big profits by
providing emergency solutions. Emergency plans, after all, are costly.
Who was responsible for giving opportunists the chance to market
expensive remedies which proved to be no solution at all? Later, a pilot
programme for waste separation at source was announced in the media.
Containers were distributed at random in some streets. No public
awareness campaign preceded, and no follow-up was planned. Flyers with
ambiguous information and random sentences were distributed, which added
to the chaos. The "sorting containers" carried stickers in
English only, with dubious words that even specialists would find hard
to understand: "organics", "recycle", "join the
cycle". As if all the residents of the streets selected for the
pilot project are recycling experts and as proficient in English as
conversations in the developed world revolve around weather, sports,
art, love and nature. The reason why they are different lies in the
fact that efficient and democratically elected institutions in the
developed world are entrusted to study economic and development
policies, and find proper solutions. As true representatives of the
public, they take responsibility for policy making and
implementation, while citizens perform productive work, achieve
results and enjoy life.
It is the lack of similar specialised public institutions that
induces the need among people of the Third World to be experts in
politics and economics. This has also triggered different
organisations or groupings to assume the roles of public
institutions which are either inefficient or non-existent.
This phenomenon is now aggravating the environmental situation.
Environmental deterioration should have triggered the establishment
of specialised agencies, entrusted to discuss issues in a serious
manner, and implement solutions. Instead, specific environmental
issues which are purely technical in nature have become the subject
of public polemics among unspecialised individuals and groups. This
has resulted in panic.
A few months ago, a futile debate broke out in Lebanon about
options for solid waste management.
Incineration, landfills and composting were considered. The
argument was carried out by groups of concerned people who had good
intentions but lacked technical experience in the subject.
These containers, intended for sorting, were being filled with all
sorts of waste every day. Nobody understood why they were there, or what
they were supposed to put inside them.
Collection trucks, again with English banners, still pass every evening
in a ceremonial procession to collect the "sorted" wastes. Is
the intention to convince people that the project is a success? The
contractor's claims that the project had been setback by the repeated
theft of the bins were not accurate. I can give the contractor addresses
of buildings where residents have hired workers to take the sorting bins
away, after they became weary of the chaos, confusion and dirt they
caused in the lobbies of their buildings.
Who pays for this poor planning and sloppy execution? And who will take
responsibility for the effects on the public of the failed concept of
toxic waste, coastal areas and cement factories were all topics of
When the issue of using asbestos pipes for the water network came
up, environmental amateurs, professional syndicates and trade unions
circulated contradictory statements, trying to solve problems
through press conferences and fortune telling.
While public debate is essential to democracy, it cannot replace
the role of specialised institutions.
Disengaging the decision-making process on serious environmental
issues from superficial polemics is a prerequisite to finding viable
solutions based on accurate data. This can only be achieved by
establishing a national environmental research agency an
independent body entrusted with monitoring the environmental
situation, and producing trustworthy reports in cooperation with
universities and other research institutes.
This will ensure that decisions pertaining to the environment will
no more be based on random assumptions, and the environment will
cease to be a lottery ticket. Environmental management cannot be
reduced to gambling with trial-and-error schemes, and conservation
cannot be reduced to casual conversations.
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