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New York Goes Dutch; The Case for Pushing Putin; Imagine a World

Aired May 13, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Imagine if our cities, our skylines and most famous landmarks were suddenly submerged. That's the nightmare scenario, a disaster movie designed to spur us into action as our world slowly drowns. And the real picture is not much prettier. Two separate groups of American scientists are now warning that the West Antarctic ice sheet is melting and that nothing can be done to stop it.

And that section alone, they say, will cause sea levels to rise four feet worldwide.

This after last week's White House report said that climate change is a clear and present danger, not some problem for the future, and that right now it's affecting every region of the country and key sectors of the economy.

Now remember Hurricane Sandy, the worst storm ever to hit the United States back in October 2012? It killed 186 people in its path; it caused hundreds of billions of dollars of damage and lost revenue and it saw the low-lying parts of New York City underwater.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): I would have never imagined after that day that the tide went out that a year and then some later I would still be looking at the damage. I thought it was over. It was just beginning.


AMANPOUR: But could Hurricane Sandy in fact be the beginning of a new opportunity?

The United States is reaching across the Atlantic for answers about how to battle back the waters from a country that should by rights barely exist: the Netherlands, otherwise known as the Low Countries. For centuries, the Dutch have been waging this battle; otherwise 30 percent of the country would be drowned because it is below sea level. Their massive sea barriers are legendary and now they're trying something new, so can they export that knowledge and their culture to the famously skeptical United States?

Dutch innovator Henk Ovink thinks so, and the U.S. government is betting on him to help beat climate Armageddon.


AMANPOUR: Henk Ovink, welcome. Thanks for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Let's ask you first how did the Dutch do it? You are famed in your country for centuries of fighting the war.

Walk me through how you guys did it.

OVINK: Actually, we're not fighting so much the water and I think that actually explains very much the asset of deduction. We've been working with the water for over 900 years. Around 1200, our first water board emerged. We got out of necessity.

People got together, several communities, saying let's work together to solve our water problem because, you know, our lands get flooded; it's not good for our economy, for our business, for our families.

And the only way they found out which is, you know, the interesting aspect of water, if you build a little barrier, it moves to your neighbor. And so if you don't collaborate with your neighbor, you're either at war or a fight or you better solve it together.

AMANPOUR: Well, here's the thing. You just now strike a real chord because you're talking about community solutions, building it together. And now that you're in the United States, what is the challenge you're finding with trying to translate that notion of regional community to a very individualistic culture?

OVINK: I think there is a big challenge and also a tension, an individual culture versus the idea of collaboration. I think that's actually an opportunity. Collaboration always consists of individuals or different communities or different cities.

And Sandy, in that sense, was an opportunity. Sandy put so much pressure on this populated region, also very vulcanized (ph) region, with at least two big states, with two big governors and a big city and a big federal government because the interests of the New York region for the federal budget is enormous.

So you had all these interests and the -- of the business community. The only way forward is to collaborate.

AMANPOUR: Before we get to changing the culture, what physical examples and redesigns are you trying to import from the Netherlands into the United States?

OVINK: This is exactly what living with water means in the Netherlands. After our '53 disaster and the storms in the '90s, we developed a strategy of working and living with water, making more room for the river instead of less.


OVINK: By opening it up, giving up some of the land and negotiating - -

AMANPOUR: Some farmland?

OVINK: -- yes, negotiating with the farmers and even some smaller urban parcels to secure more room for this water, so more -- and then your river system becomes more flexible because -- and I really have to stress this. Water is not a threat; it's an asset, especially for the Dutch.

AMANPOUR: And it's not just farmland and widening the rivers; you've got designs for towns as well.

OVINK: And what you see is that it's not only about the surge that's coming from the sea or a surge that's coming from the melted water in the river, it's also more intense rainfall or no water at all. So bigger periods of -- longer periods of drought and longer periods of intense rainfall all come together.

So your whole urban system has to deal with it. So that means that you have to make not only more room for the water in your river system, you also have to make more room for your water in your cities by parks that can withhold waters or water squares and, you know, storing capacity in parking garages.

So you really use the urban fabric to deal with water. And again, it's about living with it.

AMANPOUR: Now you're bullish on, as you said, Sandy being a target of opportunity, bullish on the ability of the U.S. actually to adapt and survive.

But then how do you deal with a culture -- and we touched on this -- that sees communal efforts as socialism, somebody famously said to you?

How do you convince a culture in the United States, where a recent poll of what's most important to them, saw climate change bottom?

OVINK: By design and a collaborative process; we start on the ground with working with communities and the mayor and the governor. We started on dealing with the issues that face people and businesses on the ground and come up with solutions together.

So it was not a group of designers and engineers and scientists that were isolated in a room and came with a rabbit out of a big hat and said, oh, we know how to solve this.

So actually by working together you could show that the people in the businesses as well as the government in the region, that the only way forward is collaboration. When we started to connect it to solutions, also again developing that together, it brought the insight there that climate change is real.

It's a fact: sea level rise is real. It's a fact: these storms are very hard to deal with. But they're also solutions that if we deal with them collectively, we can actually, you know, build a better region and with that better region, strengthen our ecology, strengthen our economy and strengthen our culture.

AMANPOUR: And if not, what is the worst-case scenario?

OVINK: We have to change our behavior. We're pretty much, you know, we're a pretty devastating species, mankind, when it comes to our ecology. So we have to change our behavior at one. And at the same time, we also have to come up with solutions to deal with current and future times.

And my belief is -- and the Dutch showed it over our 900 years working and living with water -- that our country, one-third is below sea level; another third is at sea level. So only a third is above.

And we've been working with the water for all those ages and decades. We came up with intelligent solutions, not -- they were not always fine in the beginning, but you know, it's an evolutionary process.

So we need, on one hand, speed, because of this urgency, and at the same time it will take another generation to really change the hearts and minds of everybody involved.

AMANPOUR: In fact, the Dutch were pretty upset after centuries of fighting back the water, when you all suggested, well, hang on a second, as you described, let's make room in our cities and lowlands for the water.

How did you convince your own people?

OVINK: You really have to sit down with people and work with them within their environment and show them that there are solutions; we can build together.

For one polar this contained parcel of land we needed for, you know, calamity storage of water, there were several farmers that said, you know, we're not going to leave. This was our land of our fathers and grandfathers. It's going to be our land of our daughters and sons.

And together we came up with a solution. The Dutch used to live on terps so high, parcels of land, we used to raise the land for our farms.

We created actually new terps for new farms. Now so now when the water comes in, they move their cattle and their family up on these terps and when there's no water, they can use the land for their farming. So --


OVINK: No, it's not easy. It's very hard. It is a change between the -- your ears and eyes. It's a change of culture and therefore a change of the heart, which is always harder than an engineering change or harder than an investment decision. You really have to change the way we go about water.

And I think water is a key asset for our -- the world, for human beings, for our businesses and economy. Without clean water, we have nowhere to go. There's a lot of scarcity of water.

And I think internationally, we have to really get, you know, get our hands together and collaborate on the issues of water, being it too much or too little, being of quality or non-quality, there's no way forward except to collaborate.

AMANPOUR: And how long do we have?

OVINK: We got no minutes to lose, but we have a generation to invest.

AMANPOUR: Well, let us hope that our children's generation have a better sense of urgency than ours and our parents' generation.

Henk Ovink, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

OVINK: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: So while people like Ovink use technology to secure our futures, others are using it to unlock our past secrets.

Has the 500-year-old watery grave of Christopher Columbus' ship finally being discovered? A top American archeological investigator says he's found the wreckage at the bottom of the sea off the north coast of Haiti in the exact spot that Columbus said the Santa Maria sank. It was one of the vessels the Italian explorer used to travel to the Americas.

Locating the Santa Maria would be one of the most important underwater discoveries in history.

And when we come back, as Europe continues to pile sanctions on Russia for stoking separatism in the Ukraine, we talked to one German business leader who says they support their government, even if does mean a loss of trade.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Ukraine says six of their soldiers were killed in a, quote, "terrorist attack" in the East. Tensions remain high as separatists in Eastern Ukraine are now asking to join Russia. But Russia is staying mum this time, unlike its quick approval of the Crimea referendum followed by its equality rapid annexation of the province in March.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking towards Ukraine's national elections on May 25th and Germany is again taking the lead in trying to prepare the political groundwork for a vote that the West considers crucial to the future of Ukraine and the whole region.

The German foreign minister is there for talks with the interim government in Kiev and he's also visiting Odessa in the south.

Germany came in from some early criticism for being viewed as too soft on Russia because of the massive trade and historic links between the two countries. Remember, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel were both behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, she as a young scientist and Russian scholar, he as a KGB officer. They speak each other's languages fluently.

But if diplomacy doesn't work, then German industry is now publicly stepping out to refute the notion that billions of dollars in trade trumps international rule of law, as Markus Kerber, director general of the Federation of German Industries, told me earlier from Berlin.


AMANPOUR: Marcus Kerber, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Today the German foreign minister is continuing the government's attempt to bring some kind of negotiation between all sides over Ukraine and Europe has got more sanctions that it's levying.

What is German business, German industry's responsibility in this very difficult situation?

KERBER: It is our firm view that German industry, given its specific relationship it has with the region and with the Russian Federation in particular, must be a part of a business solution.

Now why am I talking about a business solution? People must understand that Germany and German industry is the second biggest importer seen from Russia. Number one is China, with 15 percent of Russia's imports and at least 10 percent Germany.

We are the West's number one modernization partner for Russia.

Now I think -- and German industry thinks -- that we have a particular responsibility to explain to Russia that they need to turn the ship around, so to speak, and resort to what we all thought was the post-1990 world order, which is the rule of international law.

AMANPOUR: What do you think, then, of the Americans, particularly people like some in the Senate, who criticize particularly German business for being sort of soft on Russia, precisely because of the amount of trade you do. I think it's something like $35 billion a year.

KERBER: Yes, and I've heard about these voices coming from Capitol Hill in Washington. And I can understand the anger that is behind these voices.

But I think even someone as articulate as Senator McCain has to understand that Germany post-1949 had to play and had to perform a specific role with Russia, because we cannot forget -- and we must not forget -- that it was German aggression under the Nazis that cost 20 million Russian lives, which, again, is part of the structural problems that Russia has until today.

So it is not just a business interest that German politicians and German businessmen see when they go to Russia; it is also to bring Russia back into the family of European nations and therefore our relationship is beyond just figures.

And I think that has to be understood in Washington, where sometimes people have a too-narrow view of the affairs in Central and Eastern Europe.

AMANPOUR: And yet there are real serious figures here at stake, dollars and cents. As I said, you, the industries in Germany, have a massive multibillion-dollar trade per year with Russia. And you say that, with a heavy heart, you support your government's sanctions against Russia because of what it's doing right now.

But let me read to you some things that some of the European leaders are saying.

For instance, the foreign minister of Poland says, "We have to be very careful not to hurt ourselves more than we hurt the other side."

And of course, the American secretary of state (sic), Jacob Lew, has said that he's very concerned about Russian retaliation.

So the question is are you, is Germany, is Europe worried about Russian retaliation?

KERBER: We are worried about trade war. We are worried about the possibility that a development that started 25 years ago with the famous fall of the Berlin Wall, just in my back here, that this development is brought down over a conflict that I think could have and will still be easily solvable at the diplomatic negotiation table.

And therefore German industry takes its role very, very seriously and does support its government in choosing the right options to resolve this crisis.

And if I may do that, I just wanted to rephrase what I and others have said, if and only if our government, together with the European partners, think that economic sanctions are the last resort by which we can try to bring the Russian Federation back into line with international law, well, we cannot say no to this part.

It is a long, long road until that point, I think, still. There are occasions in the near future where, for instance, business people from around the world, will have a chance to speak very frankly, very openly to the Russian business elite and to the Russian government and convince them that the path that the Russian Federation has taken over the last three months is definitely the wrong one.

And we all honor Russian interests in the region. But we all have interests, all around the world, but we have certain means on which the civilized nations of this world have agreed to work on. And I think we need to resort back to these diplomatic means and to normal negotiation means.

AMANPOUR: And your role, again, as business leaders, what is the ability that you have to talk to your counterparts, business leaders, in Russia?

What are you saying to them?

What are they saying to you?

Do they feel hurt by the -- I mean, actually physically dollars and cents hurt -- by the reaction of the West?

I know the ruble is going up and down, mostly down; the markets are doing the same.

KERBER: There is definitely a feeling or an impression that a large part of the Russian population feels under siege. It feels somewhat hurt in its pride. And I think this is a phenomenon that we see all around the world in the -- in the trend of globalization where nations compete with each other.

And what we try to do as German business and industry leaders is to be very open, to be very adamant with our Russian partners and friends and tell them we do acknowledge the interests you have.

We do acknowledge the feelings you have. But you have to acknowledge that the means that you have taken cannot be accepted by the free world. And yet we will try to bring this all to a diplomatic solution in the end.

AMANPOUR: And you've also said that Russia actually has to swallow its pride and its anger and remember what brought down the Berlin Wall.

KERBER: Yes, and the Berlin Wall was brought down by millions and millions of people's desire to live in a free society and to express and develop themselves as they -- as they wished.

And I think this is a message that we need to, again and again, analyze with our Russian friends and other parts.

And I think it's part of a much, much larger systemic struggle that we're seeing, does globalization bring about the spreading of the West's system of free market economies, of personal and individual freedom? And I do believe this is the case.

And if other parts of the world have a problem with that because it undermines their political systems, then I think we as business people need to be straight-talking here and say you cannot have all the benefits of a free market economy without the benefit that the societies in the free market economies want to have.

I don't think -- this is the number one lesson of the last 25 years; you cannot have the one without the other.

AMANPOUR: Markus Kerber, thank you so much for joining me from Berlin.

KERBER: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: That's the view from German industry. And of course Germany wants all hands on deck to deter President Putin from continuing to destabilize Ukraine.

On a visit to Beijing last month, the German deputy chancellor called on China to play a more active role, considering its relationship with Russia.

China may well be continuing along a well-worn path, steering away from the world's contentious problems. But that hasn't stopped the country marveling at the world's many wonders and even recreating them. That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, earlier in the program we discussed our feeble fight against rising tides and global warming. So imagine tonight the nightmare scenario becomes reality and all the world as well as its wonders go underwater.

Now lest that actually happen, replicas of some of the Earth's greatest treasures have popped up in one of the world's unlikeliest places, China. Reuters photographers have snapped these remarkable images for a pretty souvenir de Paris, you can find a mock Eiffel Tower at this housing complex in Hangzhou.

But if Roman architecture is more your style, continue the European tour by swinging down to Macao for a view of the famous Colosseum and if you find yourself in Beijing, check out these Easter Island statues in the business district. Their big stone noses are free of the anti-smog masks that are usually donned by their own citizens in China to combat horrible air pollution.

And also in Beijing is this replica of the U.S. Capitol, even this young Chinese boy appears to be enacting a replica of the frustration that so many Americans feel with their government gridlock.

And finally, in the city of Shenyang (ph),you can find a windmill, the symbol of Dutch innovation helping to keep water from swallowing up their land. Here's hoping now that the world finds new, innovative ways to deal with global warming and its catastrophic consequences and that those inventions will one day be replicated and on display somewhere in China.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.