• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Environmental WikiLeaks

Air Date: Week of
The Sea Shepherd uses boats like this to attack Japanese whaling ships. (Sea Shepherd, Alexis Bachofen / © Eye in the Sky)

The classified documents made public by WikiLeaks are revealing closed door discussions on hot-button environmental issues, including whaling, climate change and genetically engineered crops. LOE’s Jeff Young looks at WikiLeaks through a green lens.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. The mass disclosure of US diplomatic communications by WikiLeaks is making waves in defense, diplomacy, business and now environmental circles as well. As more of the quarter million confidential memos, called cables, come to light, we see many of them focus on hot-button environmental issues. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has been following the drip-drip of WikiLeaks and joins us now. Hi there, Jeff.


CURWOOD: So what have we been learning so far?

YOUNG: You know, reading these documents is like you’re a fly on the wall in some very frank conversations on things like climate change and energy, agriculture and genetically modified crops—and some leaked cables recently made public from the US embassy in Japan had to do with whaling.

CURWOOD: Hmm. Now Japan, of course, defends its practice of killing whales by saying it’s what it calls, quote, “scientific research.” What did they have to say in these cables about that?

YOUNG: Well, these talks in the cables here happened last year as a meeting of the International Whaling Commission was coming up, and what you see is the US whaling commissioner Monica Medina, kind of nudging her Japanese counterparts toward some sort of compromise that would lead them to cut the number of whales that they kill.

Now here’s where it gets interesting - the Japanese fisheries agency official complained that actions by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was preventing them from meeting their quota, from killing as many whales as they wanted to.

CURWOOD: Now, Sea Shepherd has been very aggressive, in fact controversial on this issue, I mean, they put their boats in the way of whaling ships and even one of their boats was rammed and sent to the bottom.

YOUNG: That’s true, and the Japanese say this is an embarrassment back home and is making it harder for them to negotiate in an international setting.

CURWOOD: Okay, so what was the U.S. supposed to do about this?

YOUNG: The Japanese asked the U.S. to revoke the Sea Shepherd Society’s tax-exempt status as a charitable group. And the U.S. official, Ms. Medina, responded, this is a quote from the cable: “the US government can demonstrate the group does not deserve tax exempt status based on their aggressive and harmful actions.”

CURWOOD: Hmm. And, what does the Sea Shepherd Society have to say about all this?

The Sea Shepherd uses boats like this to attack Japanese whaling ships. (Sea Shepherd, Alexis Bachofen / © Eye in the Sky)

YOUNG: Paul Watson is Sea Shepherd’s founder I reached him on board one of the group’s vessels via satellite phone.

WATSON: It was certainly very nice to find out that we are indeed having an impact on Japanese whaling quotas but I thought that Monica Medina was completely out of order by saying she could remove Sea Shepherd’s tax status. We haven’t broken any rules or laws or regulations so she was completely out of order to say that.

YOUNG: Watson says he’s seen no evidence the U.S. acted on that. I tried to contact Monica Medina but a spokesperson said there will be no comment on any leaked classified documents.

CURWOOD: Now, Jeff, when we began you mentioned genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s, had come up, so what have we learned there?

YOUNG: Well, of course, many European Union countries resist genetically modified foods and that’s become a big trade disagreement, because those kinds of exports are so important for the U.S. So this comes up in a number of communications over past years from U.S. embassies in Europe, chiefly France, Spain and the Vatican.

CURWOOD: The Vatican? What kind of farming goes on at the Vatican?

YOUNG: Well, it’s the church’s opposition to genetic engineering that is very influential throughout Europe, and in these conversations what we see is U.S. officials pushing Bishops to reconsider their position - to think about the potential that they might be able to feed more hungry people if GMO crops were to boost harvests. And it’s pretty much a full court press that you see all across the EU.

By far the most aggressive suggestion we come across here comes from the Bush administration’s ambassador to France at the time. Craig Stapleton, who was also a business partner and close friend of the Bush family, he’s cited in a cable from 2007 advising the U.S. to prepare for a trade war over GMO crops. He recommends, quote, “we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the E.U.”

CURWOOD: And, do we know if anyone followed the ambassador’s advice?

YOUNG: No. I called the former Ambassador, but he did not want to comment. Another striking thing about these communications around agriculture is the degree to which the U.S. was advised by and acting on behalf of just one company—and that company is Monsanto. Monsanto’s the biggest distributor of genetically modified seeds. They declined an interview, instead issued a terse statement that reads in part: “Monsanto maintains an open dialogue with many stakeholders in agriculture including government authorities. We believe this exchange is critical.”

CURWOOD: Now, Jeff, some documents that caught my eye deal with climate change, including one where U.S. was pretty upset about criticism from the Cuban and Bolivian governments.

YOUNG: Yeah, that one is interesting. This is from an early 2010 cable, basically a review of what had just happened at climate talks in Copenhagen. The U.S. official did seem pretty peeved, writing: “climate change provides a perfect platform for the government of Cuba to decry capitalism and blame the West for all of the world’s ills.”

And, another cable in the months leading up to the Cancun talks has a provocative statement from the French environment minister, saying, essentially that pursuing an international treaty on climate is hopeless. And keep in mind, there are still thousands of these cables that we’ve yet to see. And on top of that, WikiLeaks has inspired others to solicit for more leakers. And at least one of those new projects is devoted to environmental issues.

CURWOOD A green Wikileaks?

YOUNG: Sort of, yes, it’s called EnviroLeaks. It’s just getting started. But I think it’s evidence there is a reinvigorated transparency movement on the web. And despite what might happen to WikiLeaks or its leader Julian Assange, I think this movement for transparency through electronic leaks is only going to grow.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth’s Jeff Young. Thanks Jeff.

YOUNG: You’re welcome!



EnviroLeaks- Inspired by Wikileaks, a new project is soliciting cyber-leakers who have the dirt on environmental issues. LOE’s Jeff Young talks with EnviroLeaks spokesperson Keith Farnish, an author and blogger who lives in Scotland.

Cuba and Climate Change

France on Climate

Genetically Engineered Crops

Japanese Whaling


Sea Shepherd


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth