Will Climate Change Provide an “Opportunity” for Russia?

Park in Moscow, Russia; photo by Natylie Baldwin, October 2015

Building upon some themes from my last post, I wanted to talk about some concerns that were triggered by another article pertaining to Russia, this time about whether there will be “opportunities” for Russia in connection with climate change.

The article in question takes one supposed benefit of climate change – warmer temperatures in some parts of Russia – and divorces it from the other effects that will likely come from climate change. Of course, this is not how ecology works as the natural world is an interconnected system. Sudden and extreme climate change will, among other things, also bring about new disease outbreaks in humans, animals, trees, and crops. How much will these new disease outbreaks cost Russia? There is no mention of this by the author. Furthermore, the Russian government has recently acknowledged that the effects of climate change are occurring in Russia at a rate that is 2.5 times the global average due to its geographical location. It also admitted that it will take enormous amounts of money to mitigate the likely infrastructure damage that will result in the coming years.

I understand that a lot of us are happy to see any western media articles that provide even a remotely positive characterization of Russia. Unfortunately, this particular article seems to be more in the tradition of trying to put a smiley face on climate change so that people will be lulled into thinking we don’t really have to do much about it, that we won’t have to significantly change our economic system or lifestyle in any meaningful way because scrappy farmers and capitalists will use technology to solve the problem. Corporate interests want people to think like this so we can keep the party that benefits them going as long as possible. As I reiterated in my last post, U.S. corporations are legally organized to maximize profit with no concern for the costs to humanity or the environment. As many articles over the past couple of years show, many climate scientists have stated that the rate and intensity of the problem is worse than they’d thought. This is simply not sustainable. As Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

This reminds me of the concept of progress traps – how new technologies that are supposed to facilitate progress often create several new problems that then have to be addressed, often with more technology, creating a vicious cycle. This was discussed by historian/anthropologist Ronald Wright, in his book A Short History of Progress. In that book, “Wright illustrates how various cultures throughout history have literally manufactured their own end by producing an overabundance of innovation and stripping bare the very elements that allowed them to initially advance.”

Wright discusses the basic principles of his book in the interview below:

This is all to say that I’m deeply skeptical of the idea that the profound challenges of climate change are going to provide real “opportunities” for any country. It is much more likely that it will be a matter of which countries can do better damage control.