Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Russia’s ‘Year of Ecology’ Marked by Decay of Environment and Attacks on Environmental Activist Groups, Bellona Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 1 – Russia’s just-ended Year of Ecology was marked by “an increase in the number and size of [the country’s] ecological problems, the lack of any real prospects for their resolution, and the liquidation of a constructive public environmental movement,” according to Yury Vdovin of the Bellona Organization.

            When Moscow announced this year, the government said that the 12 months would be devoted to the implementation of recent changes in the country’s environmental law (bellona.ru/2017/12/29/yurij-vdovin-god-ekologii-zakanchivaetsya-rostom-kolichestva-i-masshtabov-ekologicheskih-problem/).

            That happened only when those laws loosened controls on environmental degradation, Vdovin says, but not when new legislation had imposed greater restrictions on economic activity.  And this pattern was accompanied by a massive drive to demonize and even shut down Russia’s many environmental activist groups.

            The new laws on forests opened the way to the destruction of large swaths of territory in Siberia and the Far East and of environmentally unique stands of trees and other vegetation there and elsewhere. And with the destruction of these plants came the demise of the eco-systems on which many animals, including humans, depend.

            The situation in the energy sector was no better, Vdovin says. Russia relies on burning organic sources, hydro dams and atomic energy plants. In all three, there are more problems than there were 12 months ago, a sad commentary about a year that was supposed to lead to significant improvements.

             The amount of green house gases the first are releasing continues to contribute to global warming, he continues, and it also has made smog an everyday event in ever more Russian cities.  That reflects not only the burning of fossil fuels but the release of various poisonous gases from other industries, often in violation of official rules.

                Rivers are suffering as a result of the dumping of sewage and oil spills, the most recent of which took place in the Neva only two weeks ago, Vdovin says. And ever more places are drowning in trash, with the authorities making promises to clean it up but not yet doing anything significant in most places. 

            The release of radioactivity from a plant in Chelyabinsk is a reminder that “technogenic catastrophes” in the nuclear sector are inevitable.  Unfortunately, the Russian government continues to rely on old reactors dating to Chernobyl times and is building new ones without having come up with a plan to deal with nuclear wastes or any accident.

            But instead of welcoming the efforts of environmental activist groups to protect the environment, the Kremlin has moved to “liquidate the independent ecological movement” by harassing its operations, declaring some of its groups “foreign agents,” or even closing the groups down altogether.

            The coming year, 2018, has been declared “the Year of Volunteers,” Vdovin says; but it is significant that “places for volunteers in the ecological movement aren’t planned.” 

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