Grassroots activism in Russia: A conversation with Tatyana Kagina

I was having a quick review of my blog posts and realised I never put this one up from back in Moscow!

Environmental action at grassroots level is on the increase in Russia. Tatyana puts this down to a number of factors:

– Internet – use of social networks (and increasingly apps too) for generating support, finances, a team around you and publicity. It is used mostly by the younger generation, creating horizontal links and enabling initiatives to get off the ground through crowd funding.

– Disappointment in authorities – people are calling for change and taking action themselves

– Observation of and involvement in international movements – communication with colleagues in Europe and the USA means there is increased activity here e.g. 10:10:10, youth climate movement

– Fashion – being ‘eco’ is becoming fashionable in Moscow and St Petersburg so more people are getting involved

 

There are some fantastic examples of initiatives and movements that have been set up in the last few years and are achieving success:

– Save Khoper Movement (http://savekhoper.ru/) – campaigning against the development of a nickel mine, about 600km from Moscow. Its coordination has mostly been through the use of online social networks

– Development of recycling infrastructure – this is the kind of thing Musora Bolshe Net get involved in. There are many more examples too, as Denis had said – two girls here in Moscow organise an ‘eco yard’ once a month to collect signatures (and recycling) to call on the local administration to provide recycling facilities (http://ecamir.ru/news/Prazdnik-Eko-Dvor-v-Severo-Vostochnom-okruge-Moskvyi.html). Sergey Zogorobov created his own recycling system for his apartment block – he now has a grant from the city administration! (http://ecamir.ru/experts/Razdelnyiy-sbor-othodov-vozle-doma%E2%80%A6sdelal-SAM.html)

– Demand for bicycles as a transport alternative – ‘Let’s Bike It’ calls on the central administration in Moscow to increase the availability of cycle lanes and bike racks. Two years ago 5000 people took part in a festival to call on the administration to provide more facilities so that people can use it as a mode of transport in the city.

– Eco-communities – in Moscow a guy called Sablin Roman set up an eco-commune where many activists (including Tatyana) lived together for 3 years, which increased the level of activity and sense of community. It unfortunately no longer exists due to people moving on to other projects or life stages.

– Eco-events – a film festival is being organised for later this year in Moscow focused on grassroots initiatives; http://delaisam.org/ (which translates as ‘do it yourself’) is an annual ‘un-conference’ bringing together lots of initiatives e.g. environmental, social, street art, film making, all about sharing experiences, in Russia and internationally.

 

Tatyana has been involved in environmental action for the last 5 years in Russia, first with an NGO in Irkutsk, now with ecocamir (http://ecamir.ru/), a tree-planting initiative working across Russia, bringing local teams together, and championing those taking leading roles to get involved in other initiatives too. It is funded by a business man who owns a cosmetics company.

 

My conversation with Tatyana re-instils the difficulties associated with the political system for getting things done, but re-affirms how many individuals are finding ways around this, and still managing to make changes. To me, it seems there is a hopeful future and increasing numbers of people getting involved, which is starting to reflect in central and local administrations to some extent. My main concern/counter-point to this positive picture is the worry that if individuals are setting things up, it then means government doesn’t have to. Then again maybe that is actually democracy and active citizenship at its best, depending on how you look at it!

 

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Beaches, native species and so much space

I am settling into New Zealand living nicely… Been to two incredible beaches here so far, one with dramatic cliffs, black sand and lots of NZ birds I’ve never seen before (Kare-Kare), the other wide and sandy, with kites and cars and wind-surfers, finding pipis (mollusc native to NZ) in the sand. Also been to two main cities – Auckland and Palmerston North, though my attention was taken up more with the beaches!

Two major things have struck me so far since arriving in NZ:

– the incredibly low population density here, with wide open spaces, beautiful countryside and wild spaces, and where there are towns, such wide roads and so much greenery. Kiwis are lucky people to have so much room and so many options for getting outdoors and into nature

– defining different species according to whether they are native or non-native, and attaching positive or negative connotations accordingly. It is really interesting to hear about the role of the Department of Conservation being so taken up with controlling the non-native species, particularly rats, weasels and possums. The people I have met so far all seem to have a good knowledge of whether something is native or non-native and their perception of it affected accordingly.

I have learnt a bit about Generation Zero, a youth-led voluntary group campaigning and taking action for addressing climate change. I am looking forward to meeting more people involved in due course to get the whole picture!

Tsukiji fish market: tuna, blood and marine extinction

Went to Tsukiji fish market this morning – the scale of it left me fairly speechless. When I think of the fact that this is just one tiny snapshot of what happens on a global scale, it beggars belief how much we take from the oceans, on a daily basis. I can’t believe more marine life hasn’t already gone extinct.

We left without an appetite for the fresh sushi most tourists then go and have, but WITH a fresh resolve to eat less fish (maybe 3-4 times a month maximum) and to pay more attention to which species we do eat and whether they have been caught in sustainable ways.

I will be using http://www.fishonline.org/ (good for consumers in the UK) or http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/how_we_work/conservation/marine/sustainable_fishing/sustainable_seafood/seafood_guides/ for when I am in other countries, to help me figure this out. Any other useful resources or efforts on this topic that you know of, please send them my way!

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Immigrant employability and Belgian social cohesion – learning in the Mongolian steppe

See new profile on DUO for a JOB, a social enterprise in Belgium, focused on increasing social cohesion and the employability of new immigrants in Belgium – www.seekthechange.org/profiles/duo-for-a-job

I didn’t go to Belgium to learn about this I must admit – Matthieu, one of my travel companions in Mongolia, is one of the co-founders! We had some very interesting conversations in the Mongolian Steppe.

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Sustainable Japan

I feel like I still haven’t got a handle on how environmentally conscious Japanese people are or what the overall level of sustainability thinking is in the country. Like everything else here, it is a situation of contrasts and contradictions – some shining examples, other signs of doom and gloom.

On the plus side, I have met some incredibly environmentally conscious and active young people in Tokyo; I have learnt about some fantastic sustainability efforts going on in Kyoto University after having met two associate professors there; recycling is everywhere here – it is just the naturally done thing; it is the home of the Kyoto Protocol and I saw their commemoration of it at the conference centre where the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties was held which was great; focus on local and seasonal food; nationwide efforts to cut energy use after all of the nuclear power plants were shut down, showing how the country really can and does, if deemed necessary; the major celebration and reverence attached to the natural world e.g. viewing the autumn colours, consciousness of the threat of typhoons, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes;and just yesterday I discovered a section on Japan’s sustainability efforts in the Rough Guide I have been using which has opened my eyes to some more great efforts and eco-communities around the country which I want to investigate further.

Elements which make me question how sustainably minded and environmentally conscious Japan can really be include my day to day experiences of the incredibly high use of air conditioning units as heaters; the lack of insulation in so many places we have stayed suggesting very inefficient use of energy; the use of electricity in many more ways than I have come across before – for flushing toilets, heating loo seats, locking gates…; very high levels of packaging in shops and supermarkets; an increasing inwards-looking focus by politicians and increasing militarisation, according to a number of people I have spoken to and articles I have read; and the very low numbers of people living in rural areas (which makes me wonder how aware people are of the use of natural resources in our daily lives).

We’ll see if my perspectives switch one way or the other during my final week here!

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