St Petersburg reflections – environmental action in Russia

I’ve been trying to find out a bit about environmental behaviour, legislation and culture in Russia through my conversations with Denis from Musora Bolshe Net (an organisation encouraging waste free living, more info here) and Angelina Davydova, an environmental journalist and lecturer at St Petersburg State University. Here are a few of my insights and reflections to date:

 

– If someone wants to take action on environmental issues in Russia they often just go ahead and do it within their own lives since politics and lobbying isn’t really an option for creating change like in other countries due to the political system in Russia. A case in point is Musora Bolshe Net.

– Angelina argues legislation is still important and can achieve a lot though. For example, WWF were recently successful in lobbying to stop amendments for commercial activities within national parks, which could have meant extractive industries being allowed in. That means potential damage to ‘protected areas’ in the country has been averted, at least for now.

 

– Interest in environmental issues is growing. Denis puts it down to a mix of things: more people travelling, working or studying abroad and seeing how things work in other countries; a general feeling of people doing things for themselves and more sense of wanting to make positive changes; more young ambitious people, with increased quality of life compared to previous generations, so people have more time to care about other things beyond economic survival, and in general just more spare time; greater interest in personal fitness and health, meaning more thought about food and where it comes from, which leads to greater care for nature.

– Many people Angelina’s age (in their 30s) support their parents, around 80%, which is quite different to the situation in the UK, for example, where it is more likely to be the other way round.

 

– There is growing interest in collaborative consumption and initiatives linked to a sharing economy (like couch surfing, Air B&B, Frents) and a government fund to support social enterprise.

– There is growth in cycling initiatives, ecotourism (e.g. in a state north of St Petersburg a recent conference was investigating alternatives to forestry to derive economic benefit from the landscape in a more benign way), environmental film festivals, vegetarian restaurants, organic food in supermarkets… this all points to a changing mindset/culture, at least in some parts of ‘European Russia’ where two thirds of the Russian population live.

 

– On the flip side, lots of things are being called ‘eco’ now, even when they’re not, which means the term is being diluted.

– 2012 was the year of environmental care in Russia, with lots of government projects set up, many of which did not reap results. Some people react negatively to environmental projects as a result, thinking it may be wasting money.

 

– Climate change is not much talked about in Russia – many people are a bit sceptical, mostly because they do not see the direct effects. There are many other environmental problems felt more acutely, such as water quality, air pollution and waste disposal. People need to be able to see the direct impacts to feel the benefit of making changes. If anything, climate change is looked on favourably because of warmer weather e.g. last year in St Petersburg they had only 2 weeks of snow which is unheard of – everyone was happy about it!

 

– All of these insights come from having only been to St Petersburg so far. Given it is meant to be the most European city in Russia (“It is in Russia – but it is not Russian!” exclaimed Tsar Nicholas I), I wonder how these insights may change as we head south to Moscow and then into Siberia.

 

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Lithuania, Let’s Do It World!

Great chat with Vaida and Roberta in Vilnius (part of the Let’s Do It World network) this afternoon!

200,000 people get involved in the annual clean up day which Mes Darom, the biggest environmental group in Lithuania, organise every year, taking action on and raising awareness about the problematic disposal of rubbish. According to Vaida and Roberta, the amount of rubbish being collected each year gets less because people are thinking more carefully about where they throw things – sign of success!

Recycling is at an earlier stage here to what it is in the UK (my comparison point!) but the future looks positive for better waste management and the level of environmental awareness amongst the Lithuanian population – apparently the number of environmental initiatives and people getting involved keeps on growing.

For the full profile go to www.seekthechange.org/profiles/mes-darom

 

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Sustainability on the doorstep in Ehrenfeld, Cologne

Our couch surfing host Andre gave us some insights into some great initiatives going on in Cologne – see http://youtu.be/T4qwriCm3Go for the video. At 0:37 he’s talking about his reasons for being involved, at 1:00 explaining Slow Food Youth, 1:34 for his take on localism, and 2:10 about the Day of the Good Life, a community initiative in its 2nd year which happened the day before we arrived.

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Day 1 – realising dreams

Well, it’s finally here. The trip I’ve dreamed of doing since university has started. The countdown is over.

8 years imagining and 7 months of planning, ready for 6 months of travelling through 10 (5+5?!) countries. There will be 4 legs of the journey with 3 different people. I’ve got 2 bags with me ready for 1 heck of a journey! (It didn’t take me too long to come up with that, honestly!)

I’ve experienced such a huge mix of emotions over the last week. I feel like I am pushing myself out of my comfort zone to a much bigger extent than I would ever have imagined possible when I was growing up (says the girl who wouldn’t even spend the night away from her parents when she was a child!).

Expanding my comfort zone gradually over the last decade has allowed me to choose to experience life to a much fuller extent, and to take opportunities that have given me some of the best experiences of my life. These have only been mine because I have dared to take them. However, this comfort zone-stretching has not been without trepidation, nerves and tears, and this occasion is no different!

Saying goodbye to (almost all of) the people and places and patterns of life that I know and love has been really hard. But, for me, that’s partly what pushing myself out of my comfort zone is all about. And that was a necessary step for me to be able to realise this dream of travelling overland towards Australasia.

I don’t think it is any coincidence that to realise your dreams requires you to overcome your fears and move out of your comfort zone and onto riskier ground. That risk zone is different for everybody but pushing yourself into it little by little allows you to reach your full potential.