November 28, 2010

Russians Remain Skeptical Of Climate Change

Despite record-setting, sweltering heat waves and hundreds of brutal forest fires last summer, Russians remain skeptical about man-made climate change, the AFP news agency reported on Saturday.

Although President Dmitry Medvedev has acknowledged that the planet is warming, Russians remain cynical and suspicious about the idea, and experts see no significant movement in the nation's position ahead of the latest U.N. climate conference in Cancun.

During the U.N.'s the last major climate conference in Copenhagen, Medvedev put forth a bold Climate Doctrine, and even named a climate adviser the following month.  Indeed, Russia's own weather agency, Rosgidromet, published a substantive report in 2008, which said that daily average temperatures in Russia would rise by four to six degrees Celsius by 2050, and that the climate change during the past half century was likely man-made.

"The dependency of Russia's nature and economy on climatic factors... demand a serious scientific base to government policy on climate change," the report's authors concluded.

However, just two years later, after the hottest summer on record and forest fires that destroyed more than 2.5 million acres, Russia's state media are debating whether climate change is even real.

In August, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly questioned whether the natural extinction of mammoths some 12,000 years ago means that current climate change is also independent of human influence.   That sentiment underscores comments made by Putin in 2003, when he speculated that global warming by "two or three degrees" could actually be good for Russia as its citizens would no longer require fur coats.

"Most scientists in the world now share the view that climate change is human-caused, but in Russia science is very politicized," said Vladimir Chuprov, a climate expert for Greenpeace Russia, during an interview with the AFP news agency.

Although Medvedev has signified his concern about climate change, many in Russia's academic circles remain skeptical due to Putin's position, since Russian science relies upon government funding, Chuprov said.

"The position is: the world can change but we'll survive on our oil wells and potatoes for however long. Oil is always needed, and we have enough of it in our lifetime."

A recent press conference hosted by the RIA Novosti state news agency, entitled "Climate Change: myth or reality?", provided some indication of Russia's official attitude with respect to climate change.

"Climate is a concept that has existed as long as the Earth exists... several hundred million years ago the temperature was 10-13 degrees higher than now," said Yury Israel, director of the Institute of Global Climate and Environment at the Russian Academy of Sciences, one of Russia's leading climate-change skeptics.

"What is happening now is not some kind of unusual special case," he said, adding that life thrived on Earth during the time of the dinosaurs.

Russia's state media, often a reliable indicator of government policy direction, has also produced well-funded films on the subject of climate-change.

"The anti-cyclone came to Russia and stopped. Why?" said a narrator during a show broadcast in October on state Channel One.

"Professionals don't know, beyond science people offering shocking theories," the narrator said.

A series of apocalyptic images followed, including  one of the Earth bursting into flames, followed by another showing chunks of Greenland breaking apart and flooding in major cities along the Eastern coast of the United States.

"Who Caused the Warming?" the narrator asks.

Russian television answered that question earlier this year during a 40-minute film entitled "Russia On Fire: Climate as a Weapon", which aired on the popular federal network TV5.

"The smoke was very strange. Sometimes it thickened, only to disappear the next day," said the feature's narrator.  

The film went on, insinuating that Russia's summer heatwave and fires were caused by the U.S. Air Force's High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP).

Although skepticism and conspiracy theories abound in Russia, some experts say the brutal summer heat and wildfires might result in a gradual change in attitudes.

Shortly before last year's climate conference in Copenhagen, Channel One aired a film alleging that climate change was a concept concocted as part of a political conspiracy.

However, Russia's summer heatwave has altered public opinion away from that idea, said WWF climate expert Alexei Kokorin.

"Some acknowledgment has occurred, but very slowly," he told the AFP news agency.

"There is a realization that global warming is after all a bad thing."


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