Moscow, Russia — Article by Sergei Golubchikov, an environmental expert,vice president of Russia’s National Geocryological Foundation.
Natural calamities are getting ever more frequent. Many scientists andpolitical activists blame them on industry. The World Bank calls every nation todonate 1% of its gross domestic product to fight global warming.
Green activism brought Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize. But are theenvironmental alarmists right?
Environmental phobias go hand in hand with technological civilization.Anxiety over climate change is carried too far, to my mind. Anxiety easily turnsto panic, forcing the world into hasty, and possibly wrong, steps. The KyotoProtocol, for instance, was ratified even before the link between global warmingand the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had been proved.Signatories to Kyoto pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emission by a collectiveaverage of 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.
But is the gas so bad? It is no poison, and plants need it as much as wehumans need our daily bread. At present it makes up a mere 0.037% of theatmosphere. Greater concentrations cause plant life to flourish-especiallyforests, the greatest absorbers of greenhouse gases.
If the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere were suddenly stopped,the earth’s plant life would consume that remaining in a matter of 8-11 years.After that they would curl up and die. Every living thing on earth would bedoomed with them. As it is, volcanic eruptions and other calamities emit enoughof the gas to stimulate plant growth and so increase the amount of air oxygen.Marine life is the richest of all, and as such the sea is on a par with thegreat continental forests as an absorber of greenhouse gases. As 95% of theworld’s carbon dioxide is dissolved in saline water, global warming makes thesea the principal source of emissions, leaving industry far behind.
To my mind, international agreements should instead seek to reduce emissionsof sulfur dioxide, carbonic and nitric oxides, benzpyrene, soot, heavy metalsand other toxic substances responsible for causing cancer and mutations. Theseare, in fact, the greatest environmental challenge to governments and the public.It is also easy to monitor the concentration of such substances in theatmosphere.
Oil slicks cover 13% of the world’s sea surface. This and other maritimepollution, plus the melting of permafrost and the polar ice caps have far worseimplications for the global climate than industry. The Arctic is known as the”Weather Kitchen.” Its cyclones make the cold season in the northernhemisphere. I think northern Europe owes its warming of the last 20 years to aweakening of these arctic cyclones, which is the result of a permanent thaw inthe Arctic Ocean.
According to experts at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, the arctic ice isshrinking by 5% every ten years. At this rate the North Pole will be completelyice-free by the middle of the century.
The melting of the ice cap is not only a result of fluctuations intemperature. The flow of the Gulf Stream, the ocean current that warms thecoasts of western Europe, is shifting due to a preponderance of warm sewage andwaste. The levels of pollution are disastrous. I saw with my own eyes garbagefrom the entire North Atlantic floating along the west coast of Novaya Zemlya,an Arctic archipelago washed by the Stream.
Nothing deserves closer attention from scientists and political leaders thanthe ocean, the Arctic and Siberia. Yet they are largely ignored. Politicians andexperts win Nobel prizes with impassioned calls to fight global warming andshift national economies to sustainable development. To be honest, promises of aradiant noospheric future sound baffling to me, for there are no objectivecriteria to the noosphere [the third stage of environmental development afterthe geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (organic life)]. It cannot bemeasured, weighed or otherwise evaluated, and there is no way to establish itsborders in time and space. But please don’t think I shrug off the doctrine ofthe noosphere. On the contrary, I have the utmost respect for it, just as forthose who stood at its cradle-brilliant Russian scientists Vladimir Vernadskyand Nikita Moiseyev.
There is a serious flaw in the Kyoto Protocol. Economic progress or none,Russia will become a huge carbon dioxide producer if climate change continues,mainly due to its position in the Eurasian heartland, which will see the mostsevere warming on the planet-far greater than in coastal areas. Siberia, theworld’s largest area of permafrost, will thaw, and with it vast deposits of peatand other carbonized vegetable tissues. Siberian peat bogs will emit tremendousamounts of previously trapped carbon dioxide.
The permafrost will thaw not only on the surface, but deep down, where hugeamounts of carbon-rich gas hydrates lie hidden as ice crystals. These will passstraight from solid to gas, surging to the surface to saturate the air withmethane and carbon dioxide. As the earth warms up, Siberian forest fires willalso be much more frequent, releasing yet more carbon dioxide. In such a vast,unpopulated area, with no roads to speak of, effective fire fighting isimpossible.
Western Europe has no such natural emitters of carbon dioxide, so the KyotoProtocol will bring it tremendous gains even if the entirety of Russian industrycomes to a standstill.
Professor Nikolai Tkachenko estimates that over the past 100 years man hasbeen responsible for the loss of at least 1013 tons of atmospheric oxygen-mainlythrough heating and corrosion. In that time the concentration of oxygen in theatmosphere has fallen by 1%, to around 20% – worryingly close to the healthyminimum of 18%. Stifling air exacerbates disease and damages general health.
But here the geography that could be Russia’s curse is also its blessing.Russia possesses precious oxygen-producing environmental systems-forests andpermafrost marshland, where decay is extremely slow. They are the world’sprincipal sources of oxygen; so Russian air is the richest in oxygen.
Humanity is focusing environmental efforts on the bogeyman of global warming.Why not shift the emphasis to protecting the oxygen-producing environment? Mycountry, with its unique conditions, can make an honorable contribution.