East slams west on eco-probes

January 26, 1996

Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are complaining of a glut of reports on them by western environmental experts. They argue that these reports could have been produced just as well, and more cheaply, by countries themselves.

MP Andrew Bennett, chair of the House of Commons environment select committee, told a meeting at the University of Hertfordshire that the countries had plenty of knowledge of their environmental problems. The barrier was political rather than scientific.

Addressing the Association of University Departments of Environmental Sciences in Europe, he spoke of his committee's recent investigation into pollution in the region: "We didn't have much evidence that there were many problems with the scientific community. People know what the problems are. It was the political will to solve them that was missing."

Keith Bardon, dean of natural sciences at Hertfordshire, drew a distinction between the work of academics and the work of consultants. "A lot of the big consultancies really have particular axes to grind whereas academics can produce quite independent advice," he said. The best work was funded by a third party, such as the European Union or the British Council, rather than the country itself.

Chris Stanley, a mineralogist at the Natural History Museum who has worked in Kazakhstan and Romania, said: "There are some spivs and cowboys that have got into eastern Europe." But he rejected the claim that the science in the region was up to scratch.

"They have got some very good scientists but they are ten to 20 years out of date in terms of how they interact with other disciplines, which results in real obscenities." In Kazakhstan, for example, there is no ecological institute, and botanists, zoologists, geologists and mineralogists work separately.

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