As Russia moves potentially into an extended period of depopulation, it is worth noting that they have barely begun to move away from considering pollution control as simply an unnecessary hinderence to economic development. Yet the Russian people have traveled a difficult road. In the last century they have managed to survive extended periods of conflict both from outside forces and also from despots within. Russia suffered defeat in its late entry into World War I, violent internal conflict at the beginning of the Communist Revolution, Stalin’s purges, 20 million deaths in World War II, the GULAGS, and near bankrupsy as the USSR was dissolved. By then over 40 percent of its territory was under significant ecological stress, having had no useful conservation strategy, inefficiently squandered sizable energy resources, polluted a significant percentage of its water supply, fouled its air and managed to significantly pollute a number of sites where its nuclear facilities stand.
Some efforts are in fact being made to turn things around. There are now over 100 protected park lands, yet many animals face extinction from serious poaching threats and the environment. Poaching and deforestation are still rampant. The state loses over one billion U.S. dollars annually in illegal logging. Many millions of acres of forest are lost annually due to logging, pollution and fires. Logging which does occur as approved by the state is often inefficient as a large percentage of the logs are never used. Systematic strategies for protection and renewal of forests is long overdue.
Energy resources are currently inefficiently used. Energy sector equipment is outmoded and upgrading would cut polluting emissions significantly and likely save at least a billion U.S. dollars a year in fossil fuel costs. About 70 percent of the nation’s energy is derived from fossil fuels, most of the rest being derived from nuclear power. Unhappily, a number of the nation’s 31 reactors are past their useful life span and should be decommisioned, but they live on for now. Nuclear waste issues are enormous.
Water pollution is significant: 75 percent of the nation’s surface waters and 50 perent of all waters are polutted. These are major issues both in cities and in the countryside. Only a small percentage of the water that is released after industrial or public consumption is treated before it is returned to the environment. Air pollution is rampant. Nearly 50 million tons of pollutants are released into the air — about equal amounts from industies and vehicles. Both air and water pollution are major health concern in many areas.
Of the ten worst polluted sites in the world six of them are in Russia or in one of the republics of the old USSR. We’ll take a more extended look at some of these in future posts.