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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Reporter's Notebook

Air Date: Week of July 27, 2001

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Host Steve Curwood takes a look behind the scenes at the climate change convention in Bonn, Germany.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Over the past four years, I've been covering the Kyoto process. And one of the things that makes these kinds of negotiations so interesting and difficult is culture and its differences. Consider, for example, the culture of Japan, which seeks to avoid confrontation and losing face. Now, in a large way, we saw this in Japan's reluctance to tell the world that it would go ahead and negotiate and ratify the Kyoto Protocol with or without the United States. And in a small way, we saw this as the Living On Earth crew was setting up our operations.

With security concerns about the G8 Summit in Genoa in the air, the authorities were taking no chances in Bonn. In contrast to other sessions, the press center was set up about a quarter mile away from the actual meeting site of the delegates at Bonn's Maritim Hotel. But our crew managed to get a room inside the Maritim itself, so we could bring you our reports from on-site, as well as get some rest during down time.

Well, it turned out our room was right down the hall from the Japanese delegation, inside the restricted area imposed by security guards. No other reporters were allowed on the floor, since they didn't have rooms there. Past experience leads me to speculate that had the cloistered U.S. delegation found us inside their perimeter, we would have gotten an apologetic phone call from the hotel management saying we'd have to move.

But the Japanese decided not to confront us, and we decided not to confront them -- in the secure area, at least. So when the pack of reporters was pursuing the Japanese Environment Minister at the press conferences and in conference hallways, we joined the fray, but politely ignored her when she was in the private area we shared. My guess is they would have rather we had changed our living quarters. You could imagine how such cultural divides complicate negotiations. Politeness gets mistaken for indecision.

Now consider the value that we Americans tend to place on going it alone. The lone ranger of the frontier days may be gone, but most of us in North America ride alone in our cars and praise self-sufficiency. So while some Americans may be comfortable going it alone in the world, whether it's pulling out of the Kyoto Accord or the Germ Warfare Treaty or the ABM Treaty or the Anti-Land Mine Treaty or the Small Arms Treaty --much of the world doesn't get it, and sees our culture as arrogant.

By the way, the American delegation in Bonn never granted Living On Earth an official interview and never held a press conference. They simply never bothered to call us back, despite repeated inquiries. The Japanese delegation did brief the press, but they never granted us an interview with a senior official either, and they never quite said no. Indeed, they called to apologize that they were busy at the very times we sought.

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