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Adamkus Proposes Options to Speed Lithuania's Economic and Environmental Recovery
The president of Lithuania told an audience at AAAS last week that his country is ready to shake the 40-year Soviet legacy of environmental degradation and economic despair -- but he needs help.
"Now that Lithuania has been free again for ten years, it faces new challenges of globalization and the re-establishment of a free market system," Valdas Adamkus said, during the 23 January meeting of the Washington Science Policy Alliance. "The academics call it 'a transition to a post-industrial economy.'"
The president of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, told an audience at AAAS last week that his country is ready to shake the 40-year Soviet legacy of environmental degradation and economic despair.
Adamkus, who spent many years in the United States during the Soviet occupation, spoke of his love of nature and his desire to return his country to a more pristine state. But he cited hurdles such as economic concerns, and the attitudes of a generation of Lithuanians who had not been taught to value a healthy environment.
The president described his nation's efforts to join the EU and NATO and explained why the prerequisites for membership had placed him in a quandary. Although Lithuania recently upgraded two reactors of the same type used at Chernobyl to meet western standards, the Europeans have requested they decommission the reactors at the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. The power plant produces 80 percent of Lithuania's electricity and is a source of jobs and income for the local population of 34,000 people. To decomission the plant and compensate the local community for its loss would cost $4 billion, Adamkus said, adding that his country has an annual budget of under $2 billion.
Lithuania is at a second crossroads in the choices it must make. With the end of collectivized farms, Lithuanian policymakers must decide whether they should encourage farmers to pursue "a modern efficient agrarian model," with its emphasis on technology and chemicals, or the traditional organic farming practiced before the Soviet occupation.
"With the collapse of the Soviet 'kolkhozes,'" Adamkus said, "Lithuanian farmers were forced back into more traditional and thereby more ecologically oriented methods of farm production. However, this approach has a disadvantage of not being as cost-effective, as compared to typical Western standards."
Economic concerns can make people think of environmental protection as a luxury, and many Lithuanians are reluctant to have the government dedicate funds for the care of the environment, Adamkus said. "They say that instead the government should take care of their daily needs."
Despite the obstacles to his efforts, the president said his policies rest firmly on four principles: "environmental principles should prevail; the polluter should pay; polluters should be punished regardless of who they are; and policies should encourage industry to invest in new, environmental-friendly means of production."
Adamkus concluded his talk with an explanation of why EU membership would help Lithuania solve its environmental problems. EU and NATO membership would bring economic stability, Adamkus said, and provide new opportunities for businesses, which would then realize that they can compete in the world markets only if they adopt more efficient, environmentally-sound technologies.
-- Coimbra Sirica