Thinking Green in Georgia

Eddie Murphy was doing his “Bend over Norton” routine from a Russian dubbed version of “Raw” on the Batumi-Tbilisi train monitors when a stewardess asked me for my collected rubbish. “Thank you very much!” I said. I watched her walk up the aisle and fill her plastic bag of our garbage and thought about how much service has improved in this country. Then she walked over to a window, slid it open and flung the bag of trash out of the train.

This is not an isolated case of “out of sight, out of mind.” In fact, Georgians can be incredibly selective of where they choose not to look. At one picnic next to an ancient chapel in Kakheti, we drained our cups of wine to the greatness of Georgia and I watched our host toss all of our rubbish onto an accumulating garbage pile in the bushes next to the picnic table.
“Why did you do that,” I asked.

“Do what?”

People just don’t see the garbage around them. They can’t be bothered to.

In the 21st century, keeping your country beautiful should not be an esoteric concept. While to its credit, the government has stepped up and installed litter bins in many public areas throughout the country, it has taken ten steps backwards by passing a string of amendments intended to attract investors by allowing them to willfully pollute the environment. It is pretty much the craziest thing the government has done since the Rose Revolution, but what’s more insane is that nobody is even talking about it.  The concept of ecological responsibility is only understood by a few people. The rest of the country pretends that they don’t think of the environment in Soviet terms.

If you want to establish a pollution factory, all you have to do is approach the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and make a deal that will allow you to do things like: dump industrial waste and sewage wherever you want, destroy demarcation lines of protected territory, violate mineral rights laws, contaminate the sea, emit as much hazardous substances in the atmosphere you want, and break many other laws that were designed to protect the environment for future generations. In Georgia there is a Ministry of Environmental Protection in name only.

My MT piece here and below

Georgia’s Green Policy Means More Pollution

16 April 2012

Georgia’s legislature has just passed groundbreaking legal amendments to attract foreign investors to come pollute the Georgian environment. Thanks to the astute foresight of the country’s lawmakers, a company can open up shop and legally dump its hazardous waste wherever it wants to, providing it pays the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry in advance.

It has long been established that polluting your air, ground and water is simply immoral, except when private interests are concerned. The question is whether a green light to break existing environmental laws will really attract foreign investors. Or will it make it easier for handpicked developers to rape the country’s natural resources?

Unlike Georgians, foreign investors think about the long term. The law exempts a license holder of virtually any responsibility and prevents the state from even challenging a license holder’s intentional emissions of toxic pollutants. But that’s not the kind of business pheromone stable enterprises sniff around for. Their first question will be: What should happen if a new government comes along and repeals the law and sues me to clean up the mess and compensate everybody?

For local developers, however, particularly those with companies registered off shore, the law is a godsend. These companies are scattered all over Georgia. A guy purchases property from the state for millions of dollars, sells it to an offshore company for $1,000 and becomes the firm’s director. It’s hard to sue a license owner when you don’t know who he is.

The law also effectively neuters those pesky environmentalists who always demand environmental-impact studies required by law. Now the government can go ahead with its environmentally disastrous plans to build more hydroelectric projects. President Mikheil Saakashvili won’t have to worry that the location of his quixotic city, Lazika, is in a national park and protected wetlands.

Oddly, nobody within the government has considered what this law could mean to Georgia’s tourism industry. Instead of cleaning up its mess along the Black Sea coast, it is encouraging people to pollute the sea more.

In developed countries, the trend is toward improving the wretched ecological conditions of our planet for our children’s sake — particularly as our planet is warming. Georgia claims it is modeling itself on Western concepts, yet inviting factories to wantonly pollute the environment reflects a Soviet mentality where thinking green has an entirely different meaning.

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