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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