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Russia must accept the true scale of its climate crisis

Russia must accept the true scale of its climate crisis

On the 22nd of October, the day of the Global Climate Strike began, a strange wind gust blew through the Kremlin, damaging its parapet and the outer wall. Although there are no theories linking the U.S. to a global climate conspiracy, the incident does demonstrate that even the most protected places can be hit by a climate crisis.

The climate crisis in Russia has affected more than the Kremlin.

In 2021, fires destroyed 17.08 million hectares of Russian forest — a nine-year record, according to the Russian office of Greenpeace. One Google search reveals how severely Russia was hit this year by floods.

If you believe the official estimate that the damage amounted to tens of billions of rubles, it doesn’t seem too catastrophic. These figures are difficult to believe, as Russian leaders often lie and downplay the extent of disasters.

It’s difficult to even list all the problems Russia faces due to the climate crisis. 

Russia is the most populous country in the world by territory. However, Russia is likely to be the least knowledgeable about the relationship between the climate crisis in the region and how these territories are affected at the local level.

Dagestan, for instance, is suffering from desertification — clearly a result of global warming — and yet state-owned media make no mention of it. Permafrost melts, destroying infrastructure all across Russia. 

Russia is at odds to everyone, so it is almost impossible to gauge the effects of these natural disasters that accumulate. 

How can you trust a scientific community that is dependent on the state for its survival. How can you believe official figures about losses from melting permafrost when you have absolutely no benchmarks against which to gauge them, and when the phenomenon itself remains entirely outside of most people’s daily experience or knowledge base?

Russia’s black sky is visible

Krasnoyarsk in Siberia has more than once issued a “black sky” alert — a problem stemming primarily from the region’s burning of brown coal.

We decided to show solidarity with the locals by organizing pickets all across the country, from Moscow and Vladivostok, when it occurred in February 2020. 

Even though only a few dozen people attended, it was remarkable for Russia. Greta Thunberg retweeted news of our picketers, which brought attention to our actions in the media.

It was also mentioned by opposition politicians, and even the government in Krasnoyarsk responded to the problem. It was ironic, that Greta Thunberg took action on the Krasnoyarsk problem before regional authorities.

This is only a beginning, a first step towards understanding how the global problem connects to the various local crises that affect everyone. But such actions of solidarity inspire us all to continue the struggle, not only with the system, but also with the climate — that has become a climate of depression and learned helplessness. 

Before the pandemic, my first trip to Novokuznetsk was to see the prices we were paying to mine coal in Russia. My first thought when I saw the conditions was: How is this possible? How is it possible?  

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The Eco Defense organization released a report, which was quoted by the Kommersant newspaper as stating that it found that in 2019, the mortality rate in the main coal region of the country was 16% higher than the average for Russia.

Kuzbass’s death rate from malignant tumors has increased noticeably, from 208.94 per 100,000 in 2003 to 240.8 by 2019. Official statistics show that the death rate from respiratory diseases in Kuzbass has been increasing for close to 30 years. This is compared to the 58.98 average in Russia.

These are not numbers that can be recited. These are the stories of millions whose livelihoods depend upon coal mining.

Russia must ensure a just transition towards clean energy. It needs climate activists who will demand changes to the country’s climate and environmental policies. The most important thing for Russians is to face the horrible truth. This government has been denying the crisis for decades and doing nothing about it. We have no choice but to act in the coming years.

There are no easy solutions. We must fight the “foreign agents” law that is stifling Russia’s independent media. We must educate ourself and demand the release from political prisoner. The climate crisis is a human rights crisis — a crisis that exacerbates all other problems. And Russia’s greatest place of vulnerability is not the Kremlin, but the ordinary people like us who are afraid for their future, but who still do something because the price of inaction is too high.

Our future cannot be measured in money — and it is more important than politics.

The opinions expressed in opinion articles do not necessarily reflect those of The Moscow Times.


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