Sustainability and Russia

Sustainability and Russia: a Talk at Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering 2011


The theme of Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering (August 2011) was “Growing in the Spirit: changing the way we live to sustain the world we live in”.  FHM staff member Natasha Zhuravenkova gave a talk on “Sustainability and Russia”.  Here are some of Natasha’s notes to accompany part of her talk.

Climate Change

Summer 2011 is hot in Moscow, but not as extreme as summer in 2010. Temperatures came up to 33 C in July 2011. Most Russians do not have any air conditioning at home and at work. There are no air conditioners in the famous children’s hospitals in Moscow, where seriously ill kids are taken from all over Russia.

Forest Fires

Extremely high summer temperatures caused much wild fires (500 000 hectares) in Russia in 2010. Moscow and other cities and towns were filled by heavy smoke. More than 1,000 houses were destroyed, 53 people were killed by fire. Death rates in Moscow became twice higher than usual because of the smoke and heat. People were evacuated from the most dangerous zones of Volga region. New forest legislation (effective since 2007) seriously curtailed forest protection in Russia. As a result the catastrophic summer forest fires met very weak resistance in 2010. Special fire brigades could only offer help, when villages or towns were burning. Protected woodlands were mostly rescued by volunteer ecology activists. Forest fires are burning every year in Russia, and the human factor remains the main cause for them, for example: campfires, stubble burning and even occasional arsons.

Nature Conservation

Nature reservations, wildlife sanctuaries, national forest parks and forest reserves are quite numerous in Russia. European Bison Nursery is one of the popular places of interest near Moscow. Some campaigns to protect animal species are supported by the highest authorities. And Russia bans hunting of seal-pups, protects Amur tigers, etc. At the same time the highest authorities initiated the holding of Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 and the XXVII World University Summer Games in Kazan in 2013. Lots of environmentally destructive construction is taking place in Sochi and Kazan in spite of the official planning laws and local activists’ protests. A huge stadium will take the place of what was the former unique nature reserve inside Kazan city. Local environmental activists take construction companies to court, but they only managed to win one case. The builder was to restore one lake among the 200 other local water sources which have been or are to be destroyed. FHM representatives visited Kazan in March of 2011. I was hoping to see the ice was starting to crack on the Volga, which should be a great view. It appeared to be too early for ice cracking – we saw motor cars crossing Volga upon the ice. But we were also told that the ice does not crack on Volga near Kazan any more. Much water is taken from the river, so that there is almost no water flow at all. The ice just melts in spring. By the way, the larger part of European Russia uses water from Volga, which is terribly polluted by industry and also by agricultural pesticides and fertilizers. In order to kill bacteria, chemicals are added to the tap water, which poses different danger. Boiling it concentrates the chemicals.

Baikal and other water reservoirs in Russia

In spite of the great efforts of ecology activists, a paper cellulose plant (built in 1960s) continues to pollute the largest and the most famous Russian lake Baikal. Ecological groups also monitor the situation of many other large and small water reservoirs in Russia.

Ecological Organisations and Activism in Russia

Social ecological activism developed in Russia slower than in Western countries. Some ecological actions were organised by the authorities. Some youth ecological groups were started at the Universities during the Soviet times; many of them are still very active today. The sprouts of grass-root initiatives became more visible after Perestroika (period of social, political and economical reorganisation of the Soviet Union in 1985-91). In 1989 Greenpeace became the first independent organisation in USSR:

Greenpeace has two offices (in Moscow and St. Petersburg) in Russia now. World Wildlife Fund is also present in Russia today:

Ecological activism closely interweaves and co-operates with other social and public initiatives, such as protection of cultural heritage, preservation of ancient buildings, etc.

Forest Defence: Khimki Forest Movement

A civil gathering called Anti-Seliger took place in Khimki forest in June 2011. This was in opposition to an official public event organized by the authorities at the lake Seliger in Russia. During the four days of Anti-Seliger 2000 participants visited the forum or camped in Khimki forest, including ecology and human rights activists, famous bloggers, representatives of Russian political opposition, musicians, poets, etc. Friends House Moscow staff member Sergei Grushko spent one day at the forum. Police forces were immense, but everything went on quite peacefully and non-violently. Participants encountered problems with mobile phone connection. Police car obviously equipped to muffle the mobile signal was seen and photographed nearby, although police authorities later rejected any muffling at the event at all. Anti-Seliger participants have also reported about several unsuccessful attempts of provocation.

The battle for Khimki Forest goes wider. Clearing of Solnechnogorsk forests (in Moscow region) for the Moscow – St. Petersburg toll motorway yields yet another conflict.

Resource-Saving, Raising Public Awareness on Ecological Issues

The majority of Russian people still consider the global warming problem as a suspicious idea. Many scientists, who support the anti-nuclear campaign, protection of endangered species and nature-conservation measures, at the same time remain sceptical about the global warming process and the human impact on it. Resource-saving style of life is not popular in Russia. Local authorities in Moscow tried to offer possibility of the separated collection of domestic waste. But the plan has failed because of complete lack of any public awareness or social advertising on the matter of resource-saving. Rubbish-burning technologies remain the basic method of dealing with garbage. Recycling technologies are rarely used both by people and organisations. The official plan to build a circle of Waste Incineration Plants in Moscow was postponed because of the world financial crisis. Much of domestic waste is burning at the landfills near cities and towns, or is buried. Lots of garbage (including industrial waste) pollute water, air, soil. During many years Friends House Moscow has been supporting various projects for ill children and orphans in Dzerzhinsk – one of the former principal production sites for chemical weapons in the USSR. Due to the chemical pollution, it has a life expectancy of 42 years for men and 47 for women.