LEAD Action News Vol 3 no 2 Autumn 1995 ISSN 1324-6011
Lead In Literature
Yes, Environment Minister
by Anne Roberts and Elizabeth O'Brien With credit to the Writers of the TV series "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister "from the BBC.
Setting: New York, United Nations Snazzy Hotel, 5 am on the first day of high-level decision making at the Forum for a Liveable Earth (FALE) meeting.
Sir Comfrey Austen-Martin: Now, Minister, we are agreed, are we not that the purpose of today's meeting is to continue the international exchanges begun at the Planet Summit in I992?
Minister, Jeff Perigreen: Well, yes, Comfrey - but don't you think we ought to contribute to the debate on the global phase-out of leaded petrol?
Sir Comfrey: Contribute? Yes, of course, Minister, but only insofar as it is made plain that, in the fullness of time, and all things considered, putting the case as bluntly as possible, and with due consideration, that it is in the national interest to neither agree nor disagree, rather than agree or not agree, at least not at this juncture, nor in the foreseeable future, given the precarious nature of the trade cycle, the balance of payments deficit and the threatened devaluation of the Swiss franc - to -in short withhold decision, on a country, that is to say, national basis, to any such phase-out.
Minister: ... ah ... well, as to that - I'm not entirely sure, you know, Comfrey - what I mean is, isn't that a bit risky? What with all the fuss back home about the effects of leaded petrol on the IQ of young children, not to mention high blood pressure in adults I've been reading some of that stuff, you know - it's really quite worrisome. Especially with an election coming up soon. We don't want to appear uncaring, you know. Death at the polls! (Laughs uneasily)
Sir Comfrey: Minister, Minister. It's a well-known fact that environmentalists (curling his lip at the word) overstate their case by a factor of - well, a considerable factor. A little bit of "onus probandi" (burden of proof) thrown at an environmentalist will slow them up no end. Bog them down, in fact. (Laughs, then looks stern) One has to go beyond the emotionalism: demand rigorous proof, studies of Chinese children, Tibetans, Indo- Chinese, Laplanders - cohort studies, epidemiological studies, chamber studies, toxicological studies. Even then you can always say that a causal connection is in no way proven. At the same time, you have to insist on your genuine (if I may be so bold) caring attitude towards the health of your fellow nationals. No, Minister - your duty lies beyond mere sectional interests - it falls to you to consider the national interest - and very well you are doing it too, if I may say so.
Minister: Thank you, Comfrey. It's not always easy to keep the Big Picture in view. I was beginning to think that some of the people who voted for my Government - I mean, of course, the working people of our great nation (sighs, looks noble), were starting to believe those arguments as to health effects. It makes it very difficult for me, you know. I have to think of jobs, employment that sort of thing. It's so unfair, really. What I mean is who gets the blame if a mine closes down? People might talk as if they blame the environment movement but it's us they'll vote against!
Sir Comfrey: Quite so, Minister. (Silence for a minute or two while the Minister and Sir Comfrey drink coffee which George, Personal Private Secretary to the Minister, has just poured. The Minister eyes a bagel dubiously.)
Minister: Incidentally, Comfrey, why are we up at this absurd hour it's positively inhuman!
Sir Comfrey: It's the Americans, Minister. They have a theory that the earlier it is in the morning, the fresher the brain. And that a meeting that lasts from early morning to late afternoon is bound to achieve more results. Quite barbaric, really!
Minister: Yes, I suppose so - but look here, Comfrey, I am worried, you know - ifs even beginning to look as though someone here in New York has been feeding the press back home every detail of our objections - leaving out the reasoning, I might say, and concentrating on the objections themselves. It's made us look rather, well, rather uncaring, about people's health and wellbeing.
Sir Comfrey: Never, Minister!
Minister: I'm afraid so. The truly worrying thing is that some of the newspapers back home are beginning to claim that it was the environmentalists' vote that made the difference in the last election - the one no-one expected us to win.
Sir Comfrey: Surely not Minister! Your party has long enjoyed the support of business and industry!
Minister: Exactly! And yet that's what's so hard to get across to voters - that we stand for the national interest not narrow sectional interests. But tell me, Comfrey, what are we going to do about the criticism about the Governments pushing for the Organisation for Economic Development at Any Cost (OEDC) as being a more appropriate forum for discussing these development issues than the UN Forum for a Liveable Earth (UNFALE)? I must admit that I'm not entirely convinced, myself.
Sir Comfrey: I've been thinking about that Minister, and I now believe that it would be a gracious and generous gesture if we were to drop the OEDC proposal, and agree that UNFALE is, in fact the best forum for discussions of this sort. It can be argued by us that the decision comes as a result of careful weighing up of humanitarian considerations - the press back home will react positively to that, which will he timely, in view of the coming election. It will also take by surprise, and therefore spike the guns, of that tiresome woman - community mother, what have you - proving her to have been, all along, totally mistaken in her despicable allegations.
Furthermore, the decision itself will, despite my initial objections, not substantively nor irrevocably alter the underlying situation vis-a-vis trade obligations.
Minister: What are you trying to say Comfrey?
Sir Comfrey: George...?
George: Minister, what I think Sir Comfrey means is that it will be possible, without damaging the national industry or trade, to agree, within the UNFALE framework, to a decision on calling for a decision to call for a ban, at some time in the future, on leaded petrol, since, inevitably, by making the decision within UNFALE it will mean that it will lack the force of a similar decision within the ambit of OEDC, and thus be effectively non-effective.
Minister: Could you just elaborate on that Comfrey?
Sir Comfrey: Well, Minister, a decision within UNFALE will remain just that: a pious wish for a global phase-out of lead in petrol and a few other consumer products. No one will take the decision seriously, except those - including environmentalists - who believe in the value and significance of symbolic gestures. The World Wide Toxic Trade Old-Boys Organisation (WWTTOO) will see to it that nothing actually happens.
Minister: So that the interests of lead exporters will continue to be served?
George and Sir Comfrey: YES, MINISTER!
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