DATE February 20, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Michael Specter of The New Yorker discusses carbon
footprints and the difficulties of measuring them
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
I'm afraid I should start this interview by apologizing for having used a
Styrofoam cup today. Like so many Americans, I've become increasingly aware
of how my personal consumer choices affect the environment. Well, if you're
horrified by the Styrofoam cup, don't give up on me. I'm buying a lot less
bottled water at home because of all the carbon emissions from the plastic
bottles and the shipping. Instead, I'm filling a pitcher with filtered tap
So here's the thing. If you want to make smart consumer choices and buy
products that haven't resulted in excessive greenhouse gas emissions, well,
how do you know exactly what the emissions are? The answers are often
difficult to calculate and sometimes counterintuitive. My guest Michael
Specter writes about science for The New Yorker. In the current edition, he
has an article about the difficulties of measuring carbon footprints. It's
called "Big Foot."
Michael Specter, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Let's just start with the real
basics. What is meant by a carbon footprint?
Mr. MICHAEL SPECTER: A carbon footprint is a relatively simple concept, it's
just the amount of global warming that you contributed to the globe through
whatever else you do.
GROSS: Through the carbon emissions caused by whatever product you're using
at the moment or whatever action you're taking?
Mr. SPECTER: Yes. It's carbon emissions. It's also other greenhouse gases,
though carbon seems to have become the shorthand for them all.
GROSS: Now, I learned from your article that there are some foods and
products that are starting to have carbon footprint labels. So why are they
Mr. SPECTER: Well, some organizations are trying to figure out how they can
help consumers to make better choices about being environmentally sound, and
Tesco, about a year ago, which is Britain's biggest grocery chain, decided
that they would attempt to label all their products so people in the stores
could figure out what they wanted to buy. And they're attempting to do that.
Now, it's an extremely complicated process and possibly a bit more complicated
than they had ever imagined.
GROSS: Yeah, let's talk about how complicated it is. What are some of the
dilemmas in figuring out how to measure the carbon footprint?
Mr. SPECTER: When it comes to something like food, for instance, people
would often think that food grown locally would have a smaller carbon
footprint than food that has been sent in from many miles away. And that is
sometimes, maybe even often, the case, but it's not always the case because
you need to look at the fertilizer that's used, the land that's used, whether
there's a lot of sun, whether there's a lot of water used, what kind of gas is
used in transporting something, was it shipped by air or sea? All these
things contribute to the carbon footprint. It isn't simply just how far the
thing was driven in order for you to eat it. And it can be rather
complicated, and it even varies depending upon the season.
GROSS: And it can be very counterintuitive. Give us an example of a real
counterintuitive comparison of locally grown produce and something shipped in
from far away where the far away one has the lower carbon footprint.
Mr. SPECTER: Well, one that surprised me was--Cranfield University in
England is going studies on this. It's called life cycle analysis. And they
recently did a life cycle analysis of roses shipped in from Kenya and compared
them to roses shipped from Holland--each to London. You would think that the
Holland roses would win by a mile, but in fact the Holland roses had a six
times heavier carbon footprint than those sent from Kenya, even though the
Kenyan ones were sent by air. And the reason is, when you grow a rose in
Holland, you do it in a greenhouse. And the greenhouse is heated, and that
takes energy, and the transportation is not as efficient. And when you added
it all up, it is much better to buy your roses and ship them in from Kenya.
GROSS: You know, it gets really confusing, like exactly what do include when
you're measuring a product's carbon footprint. Like, you give the example of
a jar of peanut butter. What are some of the questions you have to ask about
what's included before you can actually come up with a measure of the carbon
Mr. SPECTER: I think this is the problem. You kind of have to include
everything. When you look at a carbon footprint, people often talk about,
`Gee, how far are you driving?' Well, that matters; obviously, it matters a
lot. But if you're looking at a jar of peanut butter trying to figure out its
carbon footprint, you have to think about things like how much energy went
into making the jar, how much energy went into printing the paper label and
putting it on the jar, how much energy went into taking those jars and
delivering them to your local store, what kind of peanuts were used. How were
the peanuts boiled? What was the fertilizer used? All these things actually
matter a lot, and when you add it up, sometimes it comes out to a number
that's different than the one you might intuitively have thought.
GROSS: Are there any common ground rules for how to do this? Because I can
easily see a situation where we're measuring carbon footprints, but each brand
is measuring it differently.
Mr. SPECTER: Well, that's what Tesco, the British supermarket chain, had in
mind when it wanted to develop a universal label. They're working on it.
Other people are, too. It's early days. It's not an easy thing to do, but
they're trying to develop a universal label. And I think that will happen
fairly soon. The question is, will those labels be of tremendous value? And
sometimes they will. If you're living in Philadelphia or New York and you're
shipping your water in from Fiji or Paris, probably that is environmentally
more destructive than getting your water at home. Those things are intuitive
and they're true. But the problem is that it's not always the case. You
can't always follow your intuition. If you're in New York and you want to
drink wine, you're much better off drinking Bordeaux than California cabernet.
I'm sorry, California. It's not a taste judgment. It's just that California
wines tend to be shipped by truck. Bordeauxs tend to be shipped by boat, and
boats are much more energy efficient.
GROSS: Well, and you're saying if you live in New York, because you could get
it right off the boat, if you live in New York. But if you're in Chicago,
then it still probably will go by truck after it gets to the states by boat,
Mr. SPECTER: Chicago is about the borderline. I think in the study that I
saw, they decided that Columbus, Ohio, was the very place where it started to
make more sense to drink California wine than to drink French wine.
GROSS: OK, so you get into a situation where you're getting these carbon
footprint labels on products, and then you have to ask, `Well, it's going to
be different for New York and Columbus and Chicago and San Francisco.' It's so
Mr. SPECTER: It is, and I personally think that's why carbon labeling is
something we ought to be careful about. I think it's really important that we
think about our carbon footprint, and we think about how we can make it lower
because that's a crisis. Every single thing we eat and every single thing we
do, we don't need to sit with a calculator, in the same way that I doubt it
would benefit from looking at the calories of every single food we eat every
day. But it is good to know what our nutritional needs are and when we're
GROSS: Another example of something that seems really counterintuitive in
terms of the carbon footprint of a food that is shipped long distance is
imported apples from New Zealand. What's the story?
Mr. SPECTER: Well, one would think if you were growing apples, say, in
upstate New York if you lived in New York or not far from London, those apples
would be environmentally much more friendly than apples, say, shipped in from
New Zealand. But again, that's not always the case because in New Zealand,
they use less land, there's more sun, the energy they do use is usually solar
or geothermal energy, which is clean; whereas in America, we use dirty energy,
more water, more heat is required for the orchards, more manure and other
fertilizers that are carbon intensive. And in the end, it's not always the
case that the apples next door are environmentally better for you than the
apples from thousands of miles away.
GROSS: But it is often the case that they are, the apples next door are
better for you.
Mr. SPECTER: Sometimes it's true and sometimes it isn't. Unfortunately,
there's no 100 percent way to make these judgments. By no means am I
suggesting that we ought not to grow food locally or eat food that's grown
near home. It usually tastes better, it often is better, and it often has an
environmental ticket that's lower. It's just not always the case.
GROSS: Are there companies in the meantime that are developing methods of
measuring carbon footprints, hoping that this idea really takes off in
Mr. SPECTER: Yes, there are, but I think not necessarily in the way that you
imply. There are a bunch of companies that are trying to help people become
carbon neutral, to lower their carbon footprint. And some of those companies
are great, and some are fly-by-night organizations taking advantage of the
fact that we're in an environmental crisis where we don't have a lot of
GROSS: My guest is Michael Specter. He writes about science for The New
Yorker. His article about the difficulty of measuring carbon footprints is in
the current edition. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Michael Specter. He writes
about science for The New Yorker, and his new piece in the current edition is
called "Big Foot: In Measuring Carbon Emissions, It's Easy to Confuse
Morality and Science."
Now, some people are taking a marketing approach to controlling emissions.
Like there's a place called the Chicago Climate Exchange, where members buy
and sell, as you put it, the right to pollute. Can you explain how that
Mr. SPECTER: First of all, the Chicago Climate Exchange is an exchange like
any other, like pork belly futures or gold or mortgage-backed securities.
That's a bad example since they're not doing well. But it's the same
principle. And the principle is that there's a certain amount of carbon
emissions, pollution, that has to occur if we're going to function in the
world. Let's figure out a limit, let's figure out lines that we cannot cross,
and assign them. When you cross the line, you have to pay for it. If you go
below the line, you get a credit, and you can sell that credit.
And this started with acid rain in the '80s. In the United States in the
'80s, we had a terrible problem with acid rain. The climate exchange started
to sell sulfur dioxide permits. The United States government set limits. If
you went above the limits, you had to pay. It soon became very, very clear
that the way to go was to make your factories far more efficient and cut your
pollution. It costs less to do that, and acid rain is not a problem in our
country as a result--or not a terrible problem.
GROSS: So, taking a cue from that, what's happening now?
Mr. SPECTER: Well, people are looking at it in the same way and they're
saying, `Should there be a line and a legal limit? And when you cross the
legal limit, should you have to buy shares? And if you are able to keep
yourself below that limit, should you be able to sell them?' And it seem to
work quite well.
GROSS: So would you describe a little bit more about how this idea of a
climate exchange works?
Mr. SPECTER: Say you're a factory in the Midwest and you're emitting a
certain 30 tons of some sort of pollutant. We set up a system that says,
`Gee, you can only pollute 20 tons worth. If you pollute 21 tons, you have to
pay a penalty.' So that factory then has to decide, is it going to continue to
pollute and pay the money, or is it going to possibly pay a bunch of money for
new technology or figure out new technologies and go below the level? And
when that penalty is high enough, when things cost enough, people go below the
limits and they cut out the carbon pollution. One of the problems we have is
that carbon is not really valued, and therefore there's no incentive not to
GROSS: So how much is this trend catching on?
Mr. SPECTER: Well, it would catch on a lot more if there was an
administration in the United States that supported it. The United States is
the world's biggest polluter, though some people say China has either caught
up or surpassed us. But we're pretty bad, and the Bush administration has not
been helpful on this issue.
The next presidential administration almost certainly will pass legislation.
John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are all co-sponsors of a cap in
trade bill now before Congress.
GROSS: So what does the cap in trade bill have to say?
Mr. SPECTER: You can't really have one of these exchanges that works unless
there's some sort of penalty that matters, and the only way you can have a
penalty is to have a law. So this would establish a law saying, `You go above
this limit, and you got to buy the right to go above that limit.' And if such
a law exists and is enforced--and it is enforced and enforceable,
usually--then it just becomes too expensive. A company can't afford it.
Their goods would end up costing too much. We wouldn't buy them. I mean,
it's not even a--it is a moral issue, but we're not even looking at it in that
respect right now. It's just an economic issue.
GROSS: One of the approaches being taken now to keep the carbon footprint of
products low is public pressure. You give us an example, the Greenpeace
campaign called Green My Apple. What was this campaign?
Mr. SPECTER: They were upset because Apple Computer was not as
environmentally friendly as you would want it to be. In fact, when they did
surveys, Apple routinely came in last. Now, Apple likes to think of itself as
one of the most innovative brands in the United States, and it wants to have a
clean image. So this was pretty embarrassing, and Greenpeace and other
organizations really beat them to death over this. And when the iPhone came
out, there was a lot of packaging that was just a waste. It was terribly
wasteful. And Steve Jobs, in the end, put a notice up on the main Web site of
Apple saying, `We're going to do better. We're going to be a greener Apple,
and this is how we're going to do it.' And one of the ways he said they would
do it is to use recycled goods when they used packaging. And another
important thing they're doing is they're kind of moving away from some of the
environmentally unfriendly monitors towards LCD screens, which are less
GROSS: Because the other screens have things like arsenic and mercury in
Mr. SPECTER: They do. And the point here is that...
GROSS: I said screens. I should say monitors. I don't know if it's the
screen or something else that actually has the arsenic and mercury.
Mr. SPECTER: It's a little of both.
Mr. SPECTER: But the point here is that if people put pressure on, it
matters. I mean, if you're going to go buy a computer from another company
because this company won't make a clean computer, it's going to stop. And if
you embarrass a lot of companies, they're going to stop.
GROSS: Now, there's ways each individual can cut down on their carbon
footprint, but you point out that one of the really biggest problems, perhaps
the biggest problem when it comes to carbon emissions, is the fact that the
large rain forest like in Brazil and in Indonesia are just being lost at this
incredible rate. Just give us an example of how rapidly rain forests are
Mr. SPECTER: Deforestation accounts for about 20 percent of all carbon
emissions, which is an amazing statistic. One person figured that the number
of trees that are cut down every day in Indonesia are the carbon emissions'
equivalent of basically every person in London going to Heathrow Airport and
getting on planes that very day and flying all together to New York. And it's
just something--if you look at satellite photos, you'll see plumes of smoke
rising into the sky from places like Indonesia, Brazil, the Congo, where
forests are being cleared, cut and burned. And it's terrible for many
reasons, but for the environment it's particularly devastating.
GROSS: And it's devastating not only because of the burning, but also the
fact that the trees are gone.
Mr. SPECTER: There are two major sponges for carbon dioxide in our
atmosphere, the oceans and the trees. The trees soak it up. If you get rid
of the trees, not only do they not soak it up anymore, but they give off the
emissions when they're burned and cut down that they had absorbed. So it's a
terrible loss, and it's often a needless loss because a lot of the clear
cutting and the chopping and the clearing that's going on in places like
Indonesia, it's really not necessary. It's really something that we ought to
GROSS: So what are some of the ways that have been proposed to stop this
deforestation, stop the rate of it?
Mr. SPECTER: Well, one of the ways, again, and it's been proposed by some
rather environmentally interesting groups, mostly on the left, they just say,
`Hey, it's going to cost us $5 billion a year to pay these countries more
money not to cut down their forests than they earn by cutting them down.
Let's pay $5 billion a year. It's the best money the world could ever pay.'
And $5 billion a year, by the way, is a drop in the bucket of the cost of
climate change. And so a variety of organizations, including countries, are
now trying to figure out ways to just pay Indonesia more money not to cut down
its forest than they're getting to do it.
GROSS: Is anybody optimistic that this approach is going to happen, where a
coalition of countries or whatever pays the countries with the forests to
leave the forests alone?
Mr. SPECTER: Yeah. Many people are optimistic. I am one of those people.
There's a bunch of coalitions working now both on the country level and on the
organizational level--The Carbon Canopy Group, The Rainforest Coalition--and
they're getting corporations, governments and intergovernmental groups to
agree that this is something they ought to do, and they're figuring out
financial ways that make sense to do it.
GROSS: Give us a sense of some of the deadlines that we're up against with
Mr. SPECTER: Most scientists agree that what we need to do right now is hold
our emissions steady for about a decade. I don't think it's reasonable to
assume that we'll cut them out right now. But at the end of the decade, if we
don't start dropping by about 60 to 80 percent by the middle of this century,
the consequences will be extremely, extremely drastic. And if we even put it
off for a decade, just a decade, we will have to cut our emissions by twice as
much as we do now. And that's going to be brutal. And right now I think we
can make some sacrifices, we can use technology, we can start paying attention
to the world, and we can solve the problem. But if we don't move now, we're
not going to be able to solve the problem.
GROSS: Now, how does the United States compare to Europe and other countries
in terms of getting a grip on greenhouse emissions?
Mr. SPECTER: Well, we're the worldwide bad boy because we didn't sign onto
Kyoto. And the truth is, we were pretty bad and we could be a lot better, but
we're doing better now. There's lots of individual initiatives on the state
level, on the corporate level, on the individual level. There's tons of towns
that care about this stuff. It's just that we need federal leadership and
federal guidance, and we don't have it.
GROSS: What are some of the things you've seen being done in, say, European
countries that you think the United States can take a cue from?
Mr. SPECTER: Well, if you spend more money on things like wind power, solar
energy, those things become effective if they have a critical mass. If you
don't have a critical mass, they remain so expensive that nobody wants to do
it. In Europe, people are spending a little bit more money, focusing a little
bit more, making sure that something like wind power in Germany makes sense.
We can do that all across the Midwest and large parts of this country. We can
think about alternatives to gas and alternatives to driving. And at this
point, to drive as much as we do by ourselves in a car isn't just wasteful.
It's been wasteful for a long time. It's criminal.
GROSS: Michael, you've been writing about science in The New Yorker, but you
had been a foreign correspondent for a long time. How have you liked covering
the science beat?
Mr. SPECTER: I love it. It's the only--you know, I love being overseas, but
the only thing that I ever have written about that I never get bored of is
Mr. SPECTER: It's just so fascinating and complicated and interesting. And
when I started being a journalist, you know, science writers were the geeky
guys who couldn't cover the White House. As far as I'm concerned, that has
completely changed, and what you ought to be, want to be is a science writer.
It's the most interesting, important and critical story of the time. The
White House will take care of itself--not the White House, but the coverage.
GROSS: Michael Specter, thank you so much.
Mr. SPECTER: Thanks for having me.
GROSS: Michael Specter writes about science for The New Yorker. His article
about the difficulties of measuring carbon footprints is in the current
edition. He's about to take a leave from the magazine to write a book. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Edward Lucas talks about the new Cold War with Russia
being fought with cash, natural resources, diplomacy and
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. There's a new Cold War between Russia
and the West according to my guest, Edward Lucas. It's not about arms or
ideology. This new Cold War is fought with cash, natural resources, diplomacy
and propaganda. Lucas says that the new Cold War is, in part, a struggle for
market share. Russia is building up its clout as an energy supplier. It
wields its energy weapon to bully its enemies and bribe its allies, and uses
its financial clout to buy friends and influence. The big strategic worry
used to be the Soviet navy's capacity to blockade Europe's sea lanes. Now, he
says, it's the Russian gas company Gazprom's ability to block access to its
Lucas has covered Eastern Europe for The Economist for over 20 years, and was
a long-time witness to the Cold War. He campaigned in the early '80s for
Poland's solidarity trade union. He studied German in a divided Berlin and
studied Polish in communist Poland. He covered Czechoslovakia's velvet
revolution. Edward Lucas's new book is called "The New Cold War: Putin's
Russia and the Threat to the West."
How do you think the Kremlin is now using oil to leverage global power?
Mr. EDWARD LUCAS: Well, the main thing that oil and gas bring is money. The
Kremlin, when Mr. Putin took it over, was almost bankrupt. They just had a
horrible economic crisis. There'd been a devaluation. They'd defaulted on a
lot of their debts. And Russia really looked like an international
laughingstock. It was--all through the '90s we'd kept Russia going with loans
from the IMF, loans from the world bank, loans from Western governments. And
then suddenly the oil price went shooting up. It was under $20 when he came
into the Kremlin, it's nearly $100 now. And that brings in a huge stream of
cash which enables them both to cover up the underlying economic problems in
Russia and also to pursue a much more confident and assertive foreign policy.
There was a second I mentioned to this, which is the gas pipelines, on which
the Kremlin has a monopoly of, East/West gas pipelines allowed them to assert
pressure very specifically on countries in Europe so they can say to the
Georgians or to the Ukrainians or to the Poles or to the Estonians or Latvians
or Lithuanians, `if you do things that we don't like we can just cut your gas
off.' And even the threat of that is, quite apart from what they tend to try
and get, is the local gas industry. So they've already taken over. They have
got Russian a gas industry. They're trying to take over the Ukrainian gas
industry. They want to take over a chunk in Germany as well. They have very
close links with the German gas industry, and they've bought into the Italian
one. So they're using the gas exports as a way of levering their way deep
into Western markets, to consolidate their hold there.
GROSS: And so one of your points is that by buying--if the West buys gas from
Gazprom, it's kind of buying into this controlling system.
Mr. LUCAS: Exactly. I mean, we're letting ourselves be sucked into this
monopolistic and highly politicized gas business. Now, I'm not against trade
with Russia. I think it's completely normal that we should buy gas from
Russia. But we should also make sure that Russia needs us as a customer more
than we need Russia as a supplier. And there's something quite absurd about
the fact that the European Union, which is so rich and so big and so much more
attractive that Russia--so much stronger than Russia, really--is pathetically
trying to do individual gas deals on a country-by-country basis with the
Kremlin. The Kremlin should be coming to Europe and saying, `please, can we
be one of your gas suppliers because you're rich and we need you're money?'
But instead it's the other way around. We're going to the Russians, queuing
up and saying, `Please, can we the Germans, we the Austrians, we the Dutch, we
the Italians, we who have--please, please, please, can we have a chunk of the
gas pie?' And that's a very odd asymmetry, which the Russians are exploiting
GROSS: Well, you're concerned about the Russians exploiting the West as gas
and oil customers as opposed to, say, Saudi Arabia? You know...
Mr. LUCAS: Well, the difference...
GROSS: ...the places we're getting oil from are not exactly like paragons of
Mr. LUCAS: Absolutely. But there's a huge difference between gas and oil,
because oil comes in tankers. And if country X decides that they--if
Venezuela says `we're not going to sell oil to the Americans anymore,' OK, it
may send the price up 10, 20, even $30 a barrel. But in the end there are
other places that sell you oil.
Natural gas comes mostly by pipeline. And if the pipeline is turned off it's
very difficult in the short term to get gas from anywhere else. And Europe is
in the position it doesn't have good alternative gas suppliers. We've been
trying with the help of the American government to build a new gas pipeline
which goes through the Balkans, through Turkey and into Central Asia that's
called a Nabucco, after the opera. But this is an opera with a pretty tragic
ending, in fact, because we haven't managed to get the pipeline built, and
Russia has managed to destroy the coalition to the countries that was trying
to build that. So the European Union's attempt to diversify gas supplies,
which was done with American help and consumed a lot of political energy has
been pretty much hopeless so far. And that's a good example of how what seems
like a rather boring business of gas pipelines actually has profound political
GROSS: Now, how have profits from gas and oil changed the lives of people
living in Russia?
Mr. LUCAS: Well, it's important to remember that the 1990s were a really
dismal, chaotic, alarming, even humiliating time for Russians. And so even
the rather bad government--I think Mr. Putin has quite incompetent
government--is seen as a great welcome contrast because Russians' living
standards have gone up consistently since 2000. In crude terms they're five
or six times higher, nominal cash terms. The Russian economy is growing very
strongly. Foreign investment's flooded in, foreign reserves are bulging,
access to imported goods has gone up hugely. And so for most Russians who've
never had it so good really at any time in Russian history, and there's a
tremendous feeling of relief about that. You know, for the Russians, the
1990s were like the great depression and the aftermath of the American Civil
War combined, feeling of just complete dislocation and humiliation. Nobody
knew what was going to happen tomorrow. And Putin has brought this, I think,
rather phony stability and this rather phony prosperity, but it's still
something that Russians appreciate very deeply.
GROSS: What freedoms don't Russians have right now?
Mr. LUCAS: Russians don't have the freedom to make effective political
choices, and they don't have the freedom to turn to political institutions for
constraint and redress of the people in power. Basically Russia has turned
into a kind of Hobbesian society where the rich get everything they want and
the poor put up with what's left. Now, I'm not saying things were perfect
under the Yeltsin years--the court system was pretty rudimentary, the media
was corrupt and often very sensationalist, and politics was extremely rough
and ready--but at least there was a feeling of unpredictability and openness,
that there was a chance that if something went wrong you could do something
And those freedoms have really been closed down now. You can't make your
voice heard through an election because it's so difficult to register a
political party. And if you've managed to do that, you won't get anywhere at
the polls because the elections are rigged. You can't sue the government
because the court's basically a part of the executive branch. You can't
complain to the media because the effective media, the important media, which
is television, is under government control and so that wouldn't work. You
can't try to do anything through civil society because civil society groups
are being harassed and closed down by the Kremlin.
And it's pretty difficult to do it even just as individual. One of the tragic
aspects of this is we're going back to the practice of incarcerating political
dissidents in psychiatric hospitals. That was one of the most shameful and
disgusting elements of the Soviet era. It's happening again now. I've
highlighted a few cases in my book that--since that was been printed there's
been an absolutely outrageous case of a man in Tver, at the time Putin's
hometown, in a way, from out where his family comes from outside Moscow who
was running a democracy, a citizen's group, and being hauled off to
psychiatric hospital nearly a month ago. And by the time--as this program
goes out, his family still doesn't even know what's happened to him or even
what psychiatric hospital he's in.
GROSS: My guest is Edward Lucas, author of "The New Cold War." We'll talk
more after a break. This FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Edward Lucas, author of the new
book "The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West." And he's
a correspondent for The Economist. He covers Eastern Europe.
Now, in the old Cold War, Russia was a major military power. In what you
describe as the new Cold War, do you see Russia as still a major military
Mr. LUCAS: It's only really a military power as far as nuclear weapons are
concerned. It has a big nuclear arsenal. And that still matters. The
surface may be as a pathetic shadow of its former self, with only 20 seaworthy
big ships. The reform of the army has gone extremely slowly. They can barely
win the war in Chechnya, let alone project power anywhere else. And the air
force is still putting planes into the air which in the United States would be
a military museum--be in aviation museums. So from that point of view it's
not a threat.
What is a threat is selling advanced technology to other countries. So
there's a terrifying underwater rocket called the Shkval, which travels at
hundreds of miles an hour in a cone of water vapor created by its special nose
cone, and that could sink an American aircraft carrier. It's deeply worrying
that they've sold this to the Chinese and may have shared the technology with
the Iranians. So that sort of thing is worrying. But in the end it's not
really about that sort of hard power. I think the new Cold War is much more
about using cash, about bullying, about clever use of diplomacy and
GROSS: You know, you write that Russia has started to flex its military
muscle again, that it's suspended arms control agreements and has started
sending its warplanes to probe the airspace of NATO countries.
Mr. LUCAS: Yes, and I think that what Russia is very good at is doing
convincing bluffs. You know, its shaking the fist in the face to intimidate
often makes people back down even if there's not much muscle power behind that
fist. We in the West naturally flinch away from confrontation. We always try
and split the difference and try and find a compromised solution. So if
there's, you know, for example, an attack on Georgia, we saw this in Georgia,
a country which is very close to the United States, which the United States
wants to bring into NATO and try to help. So we had a mysterious helicopter
gunship attack on a village in Georgia. We had a plane of a kind that Georgia
doesn't possess firing a rocket of a kind that Georgia doesn't possess near a
new radar installation which the Georgians have put in, requesting backing,
clearly designed to intimidate Georgia. And in the end the West couldn't work
out what its united response was going to be. So it was a very weak statement
from the organization, a security corporation in Europe saying `we needed to
investigate this.' But few Western countries came out and said `this is
outrageous, what are you doing? This is clear provocation.'
Now, however, Russia's forces may be run down, they're not so run down they
can't launch a few helicopters and go shoot up a few buildings in a village
somewhere. And then that can have a very political effect because they can
see that the West is not really prepared to defend Georgia. And that means
that they think `next time we do something we can do rather more, and we now
know that the West won't really get upset about it.'
GROSS: Elections are coming up in Russia in May. Constitutionally, Vladimir
Putin is unable now to run for re-election. Some people have speculated he'll
change the constitution to run for re-election. Other people have speculated
he'll just be the power behind the scenes. What do you think are some of the
Mr. LUCAS: I think the first point to make about the elections is that
there's a real paradox that they're completely predictable and completely
mystified. And it's absolutely clear that Mr. Medvedev is going to win, and
nobody has the faintest idea what it means, perhaps not even Mr. Putin or Mr.
Medvedev themselves. Is Medvedev going to be staying off his supposed soft
cop to Mr. Putin's hard cop? Is he just going to keep the presidential chair
warm for a few years, or maybe only a few months for Putin to return? Does he
represent a real turning point? Is this the beginning of a liberal time he's
beginning to play? He's certainly saying some very liberal tide beginning to
flow? He's certainly saying some very liberal things on the rule of law and
political freedom and so on. We just don't know.
And that really, to me, symbolizes what's wrong with the Russian political
system, that we try to analyze it with the same sort of tools that we once
used to use to try and work out what was happening inside the Kremlin. It's
absolutely not open. The senior people there are not open to any sort of
scrutiny, challenge, accountability. And there's these huge set piece press
conferences every year where people get a chance to ask Mr. Putin a question.
Nobody's had a chance to ask Mr. Medvedev a question. It contrasts very
sharply with the American election campaign, which is so transparent and so
And I really hope the Russians may be noticing the difference between their
upcoming event--which I hesitate to call an election; perhaps it should be
called voting or something less than an election--and this fascinating
political drama playing out in America.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Edward Lucas. He covers
Eastern Europe for The Economist. His new book is called "The New Cold War:
Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West."
Now, you write in your book that you grew up in an Oxford academic household
deeply committed to fostering freedom of thought behind the iron curtain.
Your father smuggled Plato's Republic and the Greek New Testament into
communist Czechoslovakia. And I'm wondering, of all the books he could have
smuggled, why did he chose those two?
Mr. LUCAS: Well, my father was an Oxford philosophy don and they'd been
contacted by the underground philosophy movement in communist Czechoslovakia,
these were people had been philosophy professors or classics professors who'd
lost their jobs after 1968, after the Soviet-led invasion which had crushed
the Prague spring. And they were working as stokers and window cleaners and
doing very menial jobs. But they were trying to maintain a tradition of
independent philosophical studies. They would meet for seminars, often in the
boiler rooms of hospitals or in the workplace canteens after hours and so on,
and try and have seminars and discuss these great questions that have been
preoccupying great minds for thousands of years.
And my father and other Oxford philosophers would go there as tourists,
pretending to be tourists and would meet them clandestinely, and would give
seminars, take questions, read papers takers and so on. And, of course, one
of the problems was a shortage of books. And the communist authorities didn't
allow people to buy Plato's Republic in either Czech or, indeed, in the
original Greek. It just wasn't available. And the Greek New Testament, as
well, wasn't available. So my father loaded up with other philosophical books
I remember watching him pack his suitcase, and he said to me, `until 1914,
anytime in European history from the Roman empire onwards, it would have
seemed completely inconceivable what someone from the University of Oxford
would be needing to smuggle these books across the frontier between Austria
and Bohemia. And this is what the iron curtain has brought us. And I was
perhaps 12 or 13 at the time, but that left a deep impression on me, the idea
that these ancient, dusty books were so explosive that my father was risking
his freedom in order to smuggle them to people who wanted to read them so
badly that they were risking their freedom, too.
GROSS: So sum up for us, what you see as being the treat that Russia poses to
the West now?
Mr. LUCAS: The biggest threat is that Russia exploits our own weaknesses.
If you believe that only money matters, then you're defenseless when people
attack you with money. Ultimately a free economy can't be divorced from a
free society, and we need to get back a bit more of the moral clarity and
self-discipline that we had during the Cold War to make sure that we win the
GROSS: So you think the West should use its economic leverage to pressure
Russia to have what?
Mr. LUCAS: I don't think we can pressure Russia to do specific things
anymore. I think what we can do to is to show--make some important symbolic
and practical steps to say `if you want to do it that way, that's fine, but
you can no longer do that with us.' We need to say things like `Western
capital markets are great places, but they're only for real companies.' We
need to say the Council of Europe and these other big
international...(unintelligible)...are very prestigious to belong to, but you
have actually to believe in principles that we stand for and also practice
them. If you don't, unfortunately, you can't be a member.
GROSS: Edward Lucas, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. LUCAS: Thank you, Terry. It was a pleasure.
GROSS: Edward Lucas is the author of "The New Cold War." He covers Eastern
Europe for The Economist.
Coming up, one very big box set, 80 CDs by Glenn Gould. Lloyd Schwartz has a
review after this break. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Lloyd Schwartz reviews a set of recordings by pianist
TERRY GROSS, host:
The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould was one of the most eccentric figures in
classical music and one of the most beloved.
Twenty-five years after his early death at the age of 50, his performances are
still being reissued. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a review of a
particularly thorough set of Gould's recordings, 80 CDs.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. LLOYD SCHWARTZ: Pianist Glenn Gould was an indispensable artist, even
when he wasn't at his sublime best. No other pianist ever captured his
uncanny combination of the sparkling and the gravely solemn. The crisp, clear
sound of his touch is unmistakable. The recording studio was more important
to him than the concert hall, and even after he stopped appearing in public
when he was 32, he continued to record for another 18 years.
Sony has released a new bargain-priced set of all his Columbia records, which
traces the extraordinary range of his recording career. His first album in
1955 was his incandescent version of Bach's "Goldberg Variations," maybe the
single most famous performance of this brilliant work.
(Soundbite of "The Goldberg Variations")
Mr. SCHWARTZ: A very different version of "The Goldberg Variations"--slower,
more autumnal, more deliberate than exhilarating, and more controversial--was
the very last recording Gould released during his lifetime. An entire bonus
disc is devoted to Gould and critic Tim Page discussing the differences
between these two versions.
Gould specialized in Bach, and was both apologetic and unapologetic about
playing Bach on the piano rather than on more historically authentic
instruments. Beethoven was another Gould cornerstone. He recorded 21 sonatas
plus concertos, variations, a marvelous disc of bagatelles and even a complete
Beethoven symphony arranged for piano by Franz Liszt.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Very few pianists play Haydn, but early in his career Gould
made a memorable version of a Haydn sonata. Very late, he recorded this one
again and five more. He had a low opinion of Mozart, and said he recorded his
last Mozart sonata just to complete the set. He certainly raced through them.
He was essentially a classicist, and never recorded either Chopin or Schubert.
But he played surprisingly beautiful and sensitive Brahms. His great loves
ranged from the early English composers William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons to
such challenging 20th-century figures as Berg and Schoenberg. He rediscovered
unusual pieces by Bizet, Sibelius, Grieg and Richard Strauss. His strangest
disc might be Strauss' melodramatic "Enoch Arden," with actor Claude Rains,
the police captain in "Casablanca," reciting what Gould called Tennyson's
(Soundbite of "Enoch Arden")
Mr. CLAUDE RAINS: Or all day long sat often in the seaward-gazing gorge, a
shipwrecked sailor waiting for a sail. No sail from day to day.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. RAINS: But every day the sunrise broke into scarlet shafts among the
palms and ferns and precipices; the blaze upon the waters to the east; the
blaze upon his island overhead; the blaze upon the waters to the west. Then
the great stars that globed themselves in heaven, the hollower-bellowing
ocean, and again the scarlet shafts of sunrise--but no sail.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Gould was also a composer. Among his pieces are a string
quartet and a delightful vocal quartet called "So You Want to Write a Fugue."
Both are included in this new set, in which the discs come in CD-sized
reproductions of all his original album covers. He wrote most of his own
liner notes--he was a good writer. But you need a magnifying glass to read
them. Even the new bargain-priced set won't unravel all of Gould's mysteries,
but hearing them keeps reminding us that he was one of the most astoundingly
original musicians who ever recorded.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix and
co-editor of the Library of America's new volume of Elizabeth Bishop's poems,
prose and letters. He reviewed "Glenn Gould: The Compete Original Jacket
Collection" on Sony.
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.