What is Russia's view on climate change?

April 19, 2022

The critical need to address the climate crisis is a global one. Individual consumer practices and international standards must shift to address the threats of the Anthropocene. Only half-way through 2020 did Putin recognize the anthropogenic factor of climate change. Albeit necessary, this effort is far from sufficient: it does not guarantee action. Putin’s intentions are apparently conflicting: while he stresses the harm of greenhouse gasses, he disagrees with the net-zero commitment; and while concerned with climate change, he missed attendance at last year’s COP26.

Russia’s lack of action is surprising given that the effects of global warming have impacted the nation disproportionately, with its Arctic warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the world. In 2020, Russian rivers were flooded with almost twenty thousand tons of diesel oil after a storage tank failed in Norilsk, generating a catastrophic oil spill. Images of the Russian military force combating wildfires is about as clear as the message can get, yet Russia manages to reinterpret these in an accelerationism of sorts.

The anthropogenic ability to change the Earth’s course is viewed as heroic. In fact, long before global warming was a mainstream topic, Soviet scientists flirted with the idea of intentionally modifying the weather and climate through technology. Quite ironically, a recently released plan of action celebrated the ‘positive’ face of climate change; reduced energy consumption, accessible commercial shipping routes, expanded plots of arable land. Similarly, some Russian officials recognized climate change as an imminent issue beyond Russian control, which should therefore not stop Russia from extracting energy from hydrocarbon resources. 

Picture taken by Kim Young, June 2017. Source: Google Maps
Rising emissions with catastrophic consequences

As the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world, international pressure is unavoidable. In 2019, Russia signed the Paris Accord, demonstrating a commitment to lower its carbon emissions. Nonetheless, because the Soviet 1990s were taken as a benchmark, Russia can increase its emissions, respectful of the 30% reduction target agreed upon. Based on the Ministry of Economic Development’s strategy published in 2020, emissions are indeed set to rise by 2030.

Obviously, scheming extraction models based on past performance is a mistaken methodology because of its dependence on natural sources of energy, which are constantly subject to environmental changes. The problem with adopting an accelerationist strategy is it deposits too much hope on the future. The consequences of intensifying the exploitation of the Earth are unpredictable. That radical and disruptive changes are to occur is a certainty, yet precisely what these changes will be and will entail cannot be known. Russia’s strategy is myopic, involving unforeseeable risks menacing at a planetary level.

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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About the author(s)

With a background in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and a Master’s in History, Martine Dirkzwager Wu is intrigued by researching what the new conditions for the Humanities are in the age of the Anthropocene. In trying to understand a fundamentally unintelligible world, her thought process aims to be as critical as creative. She celebrates an era of post-truth in which knowledge can be traced through academic, but also natural and artistic networks.

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