On Tuesday night I had dinner with Wang Canfa and Tseming Yang who were in Washington for meetings associated with Vermont Law School’s Partnership for Environmental Law in China. Steve Wolfson from EPA’s Office of International Affairs also joined us. On this trip Professor Wang, my former colleague from the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, brought his wife to the U.S. for the first time, though she did not join us for dinner.
Last week a group of 11 companies who own 31 airports in the European Union signed an agreement pledging to make their airports “carbon neutral.” The agreement was announced at the Airports Council International Europe annual conference in Manchester, England. It covers airports with one-quarter of air traffic in Europe. Beginning in 2012, airlines in the EU will be subject to controls on their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but airports, which account for 5% of the EU’s GHG emissions are not covered by these controls.
On Wednesday I traveled to New York City to visit the new Yankee Stadium where my Washington Nationals were playing the New York Yankees. On Wednesday night my daughter and I watched the Nats beat the Yanks 3-2 in an exciting game decided on the very last pitch. On Thursday we had tickets for an afternoon game, but rainstorms delayed its start for five and one-half hours so we had to be on the train back to D.C. before the game, which the Nats won 3-0, started. Due to their series victory, the Nats continue to be the only team in major league baseball with an all-time winning record against the Yankees. The new Yankee Stadium, which we had considerable time to explore during the Thursday rain delay, is quite impressive. It is much larger than the old stadium across the street and the concourses and seating are much more comfortable. The field is almost an exact replica of the old stadium’s field. One strange rule that made us miss the Nats’ batting practice on Wednesday night is that fans are not allowed to bring large purses into the stadium. My daughter had to check hers at a sportings good store across the street.
This week my thoughts have been focused on the political situation in Iran, a country that I visited in May 2001 to participate in a week-long environmental workshop at the University of Tehran. My visit was made possible by the Search for Common Ground, an NGO that focuses on reducing inteernational conflict. At the time the Iranian foreign ministry was controlled by President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate who had been the surprise victor in the 1997 election. While he was re-elected in 2001, his government’s efforts to increase political and social freedoms were consistently obstructed by the conservative Council of Guardians, a group of mullahs who controlled the police and the judiciary and who dictated what candidates could run for office.
When I visited Iran, I was surprised to discover a robust civil society that included more than 230 environmental NGOs. These groups were chafing under the restrictions imposed by the theocratic government that had virtually ignored the country’s burgeoning environmental problems. I met the founder of the first environmental NGO in Iran, the Women’s Society Against Pollution. The group was founded in the early 1970s by a librarian who became interested in environmental law when she discovered that there was no established way to categorize the first book on environmental law that her library received, which forced her to spend time reading the book.
Another striking feature of Iran when I visited in 2001 was that more than half the country’s population had been born after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. These young and generally well-educated Iranians were chafing at the government’s efforts to severely restrict women’s dress, the ability of men and women to meet in private, access to satellite TV, and a national prohibition on alcohol. Many people argued that the government’s efforts to impose religiously-motivated, strict social mores had only fostered corruption and cynicism toward the rule of law. When spiteful neighbors reported mixed-sex parties or alcohol use, the police often used these reports to shake down neighbors for bribes.
I was tremendously impressed by the environmental scientists and lawyers I met in Iran. Yet the one consistent message I received from all Iranians was that anything the U.S. did to try to influence Iranian politics inevitably would backfire and be used by the Islamic hard-liners as an excuse to demonize the West. Thus, I am impressed so far with President Obama’s nuanced response to Iranian protests of what appears to be a stolen election. My own quiet way of supporting some of the terrific environmental professors I met in Iran is to serve as the only U.S. member of the editorial board of the University of Tehran’s International Journal of Environmental Research, an English-language quarterly publication of articles that focus largely on new developments in environmental science and engineering.