Soviet environmentalists face big odds


By Sally Low

MOSCOW — So she will not lose heart, environmentalist Ann Rubin concentrates on the small and not the large picture in the former USSR. The extent of damage, the breakdown of any recognised central political force, people's daily struggle to survive and the greed of foreign companies looking for profitable investment give little reason to be optimistic about the short-term ecological situation.

"Here, activists say that communism destroyed 80% of the environment and the transition to capitalism is going to wipe out the last 20%", explains Rubin, who coordinates an International Clearinghouse on the Environment run by the Institute for Soviet-American Relations.

"Because privatisation is occurring in an atmosphere where there are no laws to regulate its environmental impacts, everything happens in an extremely chaotic way."

Companies such as Chevron and British Petroleum are trying to arrange joint ventures. Agreements are being made at all different levels because there is no one recognised authority. In this situation, says Rubin, it has become much harder for environmental groups to monitor agreements.

As the memory of Chernobyl begins to fade, the powerful nuclear lobby is also out to expand.

Rubin is currently involved in a program to enable environmental organisations all over the former Union to exchange and access information among themselves and with international organisations, through computer networks.

For the present, she thinks, the most effective things for the movement to do are to gather and disseminate information and build support and awareness, including through public demonstrations. From a "political, educational and social point of view", she thinks contacts with and input from western organisations are very important.

"What I find most inspiring is that people here who are living in really terrible conditions feel compelled to do something about the environment regardless of what immediate success they have. If you ask a lot of them if they think they will be successful, most of them will say no, they do it because they feel they need to act."