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Why are Western environmental activists, organizations silent on Fukushima nuclear wastewater plan?
Published: Apr 22, 2021 09:13 PM
File photo taken on Oct. 12, 2017 shows huge tanks that store contaminated radioactive wastewater in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.(Photo: Xinhua)

File photo taken on Oct. 12, 2017 shows huge tanks that store contaminated radioactive wastewater in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.(Photo: Xinhua)

It confuses many why environmental activities like Greta Thunberg have not spoken up about Japan's decision to dump Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater. Not only is her silence "abnormal," but many other Western environmental protection organizations are also keeping their voice low.

However, these organizations have been barking loudly about developing countries' environmental issues.

Observers said that compared with the 1970s, nowadays many environmental organizations lack real passion for the environment, but have more political and ideological considerations.

"They are more like lobbying organizations, helping some interest groups fight for the right to speak."

'Greta, that's it?'

On the Fukushima wastewater scandal, Thunberg's reaction had been expected, but she only retweeted a post from Greenpeace and an Aljazeera report without any comments of her own. "Greta, that's it?" netizens charged.

Meanwhile, she is still active in many other issues. She has been continuing to advocate for young people around the world to "strike for climate."

She is often involved in "irrelevant" areas, such as Hong Kong issues, and has been interacting with Hong Kong secessionist Joshua Wong.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg arrives to participate in the event

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg Photo: AFP

Western politicians and media have remained silent on the issue of Japan's nuclear-contaminated water. For Thunberg, who has been admired by Western public opinion, if she criticizes Japan, it means that she has taken a stance that does not conform to mainstream Western politics. It is not in her personal interest.

Despite these activists, environmental organizations in Europe and the US have also kept a "low profile." Though some particular ones, such as Greenpeace, have been condemning Japan, other voices from Western environmental organizations can hardly be found. 

Even Germany, which has more than 8,000 environmental protection organizations and 2,000 related foundations, has only seen several organizations criticize Japan.

Western countries have different excuses. Geraldine Thomas, chair of molecular pathology at the Imperial College and an expert on radiation, said that tritium "does not pose a health risk at all - and particularly so when you factor in the dilution factor of the Pacific Ocean." In Germany, many environmental organizations do not care about what happens in Asia but focus on local ecological topics.

 
Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University, told the Global Times that behind the silence of most environmental groups in the West is that their understanding of environmental issues is different from ours. 

"There is only one environmental problem in the eyes of US and European environmental organizations, which is carbon dioxide emissions. What we are now concerned about is the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater problem, which is environmental pollution." 

According to Shen, the reason for this shift is that developed countries in the West have moved their polluting industries to other regions of the world, so the problem of environmental pollution has little to do with them.

"In essence, these countries recognize and understand environmental issues in a selfish way. Even when it comes to carbon reduction, their basic attitude is 'I'm sick, you take the medicine.' So in this situation, some European and American environmental organizations have lost their ability to empathize with global environmental issues," he said.

Hong Kong residents gather with signs outside the Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong on Saturday, protesting the Japanese government's decision to dump the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. They urged the Japanese government to immediately suspend the plan. Photo: cnsphoto

Hong Kong residents gather with signs outside the Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong, protesting the Japanese government's decision to dump the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. They urged the Japanese government to immediately suspend the plan. Photo: cnsphoto

Politicized organizations

A German environment policy expert told the Global Times that most environmental groups remain silent this time not because they don't understand the negative impact of what Japan is doing, but because they have to be silent. Many environmental groups today are political and ideological.

Many environmental organizations in the US are non-profit organizations. Although they declare they represent "public interest," they, in fact, are influenced by the "donors" behind them. Many influential NGOs directly or indirectly get important resources from the US government, political parties, big groups, and big capitals, analysts said.

In Europe, if environmental organizations criticize Japan's decision, they would need to think about the consequences they may suffer, such as pressure from the US, so they get more cautious, analysts said.

Shen told the Global Times that the silence of European countries and the US and many environmental groups on the issue of Japan's nuclear wastewater can be understood as they are taking political sides. Moreover, in European and North American countries, the knowledge and ability of environmental protection are monopolized by a few people, and the public's fear and cognition of the environment are dominated by the elites.

There are also economic considerations behind these Western environmental organizations' attention on environmental protection in developing countries. One of the missions of those environmental organizations is to help companies get more orders. A former executive of an environmental organization in Europe once said his organization conducted a targeted research and the result was to accuse some developing countries of not paying attention to environmental protection, and then European companies would come to the door to promote their products.

The reaction of Europe and the US to Fukushima wastewater reflects the shift of their environmental movement away from their original motivations. "Its elites have lost touch with the original purpose of environmental protection. They have taken the means of environmental protection to gain more economic benefits or political prestige."


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