He is a nagging pain in the neck of big name officials in Klaipeda Municipality, in ministries, the Lithuanian government and Seimas, castigating, whipping and slamming them on their shortsightedness or deliberate defiance of what he calls “the genocide of nature.” Erlandas Paplauskis, a 40-year-old prominent Green Movement activist, member of the Lithuanian Green Party Council, ecologist, spearhead of the ecological club Zvejone, nature publicist and photographer and biologist by profession, has devoted all his life for a seemingly invincible task – bringing about a change in the understanding of Mother Nature. He sat down with The Baltic Times for the interview.
Lithuania is probably the only country in the European Union that does not have a Green Party. Does it not make sense to solidify all Green Movement activists into one party in order to try to achieve your green program?
Formally, the party has been created recently. However, most ecologists, Green Movement activists, including me, remain convinced that green education should go separately from political ambitions. Most of our people stand for dealing with both right and left wing parties in order to achieve our goals.
However, as a movement, you do not have political leverage to make the decisions…
No, this is not true. We do have the leverage. It does not necessarily have to be lobbyism in the way most people imagine it: “I am going to vote for you if you support my agenda…” We do have many supporters on both the right and the left. We set up a task to work by influencing public opinion on an array of environmental issues. We do think that it is easier to influence it while being a public movement, rather than a party.
Recently I read that the Baltic Sea is one of the most polluted seas in the world. Is this not an exaggeration?
Why does it surprise you? One should have in mind that there is a population of 85 million inhabitants around it, including developed, more environmentally friendly Western cities, developing countries like Lithuania, and the third world countries, for example, Russia. If we were to compare the Baltic Sea’s pollution to the amount of pollution that reach the sea, maybe, according to the indication, it would not be the most polluted sea worldwide. However, we should take into consideration the fact that the Baltic Sea is closed, not mixing up its waters with, let us say, the Atlantic. From that standpoint, the Baltic Sea is unique. In addition, its uniqueness lies in its being the biggest semi-salty water reservoir in the world. Being neither a salty nor fresh water sea, and considering its minimal mixing with the Atlantic, all of those aspects make the Baltic Sea very special.
It is estimated that yearly up to 20,000 tons of heavy metals, including copper, zinc and plumber, wash into the Baltic Sea. How does this affect the ecosystem?
From my own experience, when you tell a person about the amount, it has little or no sense to him or her. However, in answering, I want to bring up one environmental drama that not so many people are aware of – nearly 50 percent of the Baltic Sea’s female seals were sterile recently. Do you wonder why? The reply is simple – they fed on fish congested with lethal heavy metals and other abundant chemical pollution. Due to that, entire seal populations in the south and the southwest, in the waters off Germany and Poland, have nearly completely disappeared. You could find only a scarce seal population in the north, on the coastlines of Estonia, Finland and, particularly, in the Swedish islands. Nevertheless, the goods news is that with water cleaning facilities built, or being built in the post-communist countries, the seal population is steadily growing again.
Is there any scientific research on the Baltic Sea pollution that flows to Lithuania and our nearest neighbors, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Russia?
I am not sure about the latest research, but some of it has been performed in the past. However, the trend is that the biggest polluters are the countries not in the EU, particularly Kaliningrad and Saint Petersburg’s regions.
Does Lithuania exemplarily follow its environmental obligations?
Well, first, Lithuania has signed and ratified the Helsinki Convention and all its amendments throughout 1992 and 2008. The Convention covers the whole of the Baltic Sea area, including inland waters, as well as the water of the sea itself and the seabed. The governing body of the Convention is the Helsinki Commission - Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission - also known as HELCOM. Formally, Lithuania follows the word of the convention. However, when it comes to implementing the whole of ecological means, the obligations are dodged or being implemented very unwillingly. To tell the truth, such a situation is not only in Lithuania, but also in all post-communist countries – their governments comply with the Convention as much as the EU or the Green Movement makes them. However, even they sometimes are powerless to change the mindset of the governments. One of the biggest losses of the Lithuanian Green Movement in modern history was the fight over building the oil terminal in Butinge. We still maintain that it should have been built in Latvia, Ventspils, which is a close seaport, not in the open sea, like in the case of Butinge. Though we had been assured many times that the facility is not accident-prone, in the reality it has proved to be otherwise – different kinds of accidents do happen there. I dare to say they happen a lot more than our society finds out.
Should we be concerned about World War II mine and chemical weaponry piles on the seabed of the Baltic Sea? What would happen if the builders of the Nord Stream gas pipeline accidentally hit these stacks on the seabed? Does anyone know how much hazardous weaponry lies on the bottom?
Well, indeed, all speak about the issue. Nevertheless, to be honest, green parties and movements raising it, I have to admit, have lost the fight, another one. Frankly, no one knows exactly how much ammunition lies there, as well as what could be done about it. Some suggest lifting it up to the surface, but with no clear sites of the weaponry, which is scattered within vast stretches of the sea, surveillance and uplift costs can be extremely high. Others propose to leave it on the seabed, but no one can be assured that some day a lethal gas-containing reservoir will not corrode and start leaking. It is estimated that leakage of an yperite container would cause immeasurable harm to the entire Baltic Sea ecosystem, wiping out hundreds of species. It does not make sense to draw conclusive estimations on the amount of lethal materials down there – it is enough to say it is there and any amount of it can cause a catastrophe.
It seems that the Green Movement activists so far are losing their battle against tycoons like Gazprom. Even the influential German Green Party, which gained a second ever best result in the Bundestag election in 2009, gave in arguments for the supposed benefit of the project. When will Greens become more vocal?
I want to say, very responsibly, those who follow environmental processes already foresee not only a louder Greens’voice, but their inevitable dictatorship as well. It is just a matter of a brief time. Honestly, it may sound weird, but being a Green Movement activist and a member of the Council of the Lithuanian Green Party, I am not happy about it. No dictatorship is good - whether it is of Bolsheviks or of Greens. Remember what signs and developments led to the Great October Revolution in 1917 that brought Lenin and his Bolsheviks to power. I do clearly see signals of the pending green revolution. Just look what is going around – capitalists who always strive for larger profits meet more and more resistance from ordinary people. Greens need very little to drive those people to streets – just a global ecological catastrophe that may be around the corner.
I assume it may be possible only with an imminent threat to humankind. Are you having this in mind?
Yes, indeed. Many million of years ago, carbon dioxide was the most widespread chemical element here, covering the Earth. Due to increasing greenery, it had sunk into the soil, forming coal and oil, but it has not disappeared - it is still there. The bottom line is that oxygen is not coming just from anywhere. However, what took million of years to turn our Earth into a habitable planet, in the 21st century we are about to destroy it within a mere century. I mean that carbon dioxide emissions nowadays is of such scope that soon we will start choking due to a lack of oxygen – we are rushing back to the lifeless planet that we had million of years ago. Unfortunately, most people do not grasp this. Believe me – high immigration, the unemployment rate and even incurable illnesses will be nothing compared to the pending dictatorship of the Greens.
Do your ideas reach out to any policy-makers in the Lithuanian government or Seimas?
Before answering your question, I want to say that somewhere I have read clever words, saying, “The most terrible thing is not communism, but what follows after it…” What followed [communism] is the hegemony of capitalists - putting industrialization above logic, human needs and environmental solutions. No, we have very few green-minded policy makers, but, as I told you, with the worsening situation in the ecosystem and, therefore, society, things are about to change. Regrettably, in Lithuania, we have neither real leftist, nor rightist parties, nor liberals – only deplorable monkeys imitating the ideas.
Let us skip the political debates. Did you ever think how many animal species vanish in the Baltic Sea ecosystem in just one human lifespan?
Well, first, if to compare our semi-salty Baltic Sea with a real salt-water sea, [the Baltic Sea] will look like a sea only in imitation, hosting ten times less species than any salt-water sea. It has nothing to do with ecology – only with saltiness. To answer your question, recently, we have almost exterminated the Baltic Sea’s most important fish, that would net millions in cash, as one fish of this kind was able to provide a living for a family of four for a fortnight – I have in mind sturgeon. It is currently a critically endangered species. Other kinds of fish, including cod, are also on the brink of extinction. Here we are speaking about extinct or endangered species within one human lifespan. We can just imagine how many species we will annihilate in the future if we go on with the approach to our ecosystem.
Do we really need a green dictatorship to turn it around?
As I said, politicians are governed by money. That is why they never represent Greens, since they never pay politicians. In other words, species extermination, but not their protection, generates money for politicians. Unfortunately, nature’s exterminators, as a rule, tend to have more money that any Green Movement, so they easily recruit politicians for their agenda. Thus, today’s rightists are determined to dam up all Lithuanian rivers and build hydroelectric power stations on them. Do they care that most of the rivers are important spawning grounds for salmon and sea-trout? No, they do not. Seimas is about to allow damming up most of such spawning grounds. At this hour, as you are conducting this interview, there is an ongoing Green Movement protest against this amendment. I am not exaggerating by saying that we have only scraps of nature left in Lithuania. However, we are ready to put forth our efforts to salvage what is left.
Klaipeda is about to start building a waste incineration plant, though these projects have been called off in other municipalities. Will the plant pose any threat to environment? It seems that you have lost another fight for the ecosystem.
Alas, all suggestions Greens had regarding its building have been ignored. Klaipeda’s liberals have proven that they care only about money, not about Mother Nature. Nowhere in the world will you find a modern country without a waste incineration plant. According to Eurostat, the more developed a country is, the more this kind of facility it has. However, here we have to note that 60 percent of all waste is being separated in those countries. Regrettably, this is not the case in Lithuania, where waste separating is practically non-existent. If we build the plant now, we will never have waste separating in Lithuania, as with it demand for waste quantities will only be rising. More importantly, with unsorted waste, burning waste containing polychlorinated plastic can be extremely hazardous to the environment and people, regardless of the facility’s safety. Building the incineration plant today would be a colossal mistake with unpredictable consequences for everyone.