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Siberia's North


Doug Causey

Professor and Chair Biological Sciences
University of Alaska at Anchorage
Ornithology, Conservation Biology

Lecture by Doug Causey

Doug Causey, University of Alaska at Anchorage

One of the most challenging things about working in Siberia is that the data is missing from recent years. There was a brief window of time during Glasnost when scientists were able to do what they’ve always wanted to do, and collected and compile data on a wide array of topics. But in1998 it pretty much stopped, and the best data sets available today are from the 1990’s. So some of the data that we will discuss in this presentation will seem a little old, but it is the best available data that we can examine.

The slide is of a Time magazine cover depicting “the rape of Siberia” in the mid 1990’s, during the change to capitalism without controls. The legacy of the Soviet period, combined with the legacy of this period (mid-1990’s) when there was no governmental control over the environmental impacts of industrial development, created serious environmental problems.

Slide is an overview of the USSR environmental policy—the important thing to look at is what is in the boxes and where arrows go. The size of the arrows depicts the degree of connection/control.

During the Soviet era the politburo would come up with a policy for Gosplan in an area of the environment. This would then flow down through the ministry of forestry, fisheries, etc. to create policies and practices that would then flow downward to the local administrative units.

Top down, similar in some of the basic structure to environmental regulation in the U.S.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union there were dramatic changes, and Russia became a country separated from many of the other Soviet Republics. But when you look at the overall framework, environmental regulation still had a similar structure.

The Chernobyl Catastrophe in Ukraine completely changed the way in which the state viewed environment problems because of how widespread the impact was.

1993—now there is a new box that says “environment”, with the only input from the executive branch. At that time the executive referred strictly to the president. The Ministry of Environment was Goskompriroda

1995—arrows have changed. Now the arrows flowing down to regions are more tenuous. Republics were becoming more autonomous. The resurgence of autonomy of republics during this period resulted in many of the increasingly more autonomous republics developing their own policies and not following national environmental policy.

Soviet petroleum system—on the map, the colored areas are oil deposits, the lines are pipelines. You can see that there are lots of pipelines in the European part of Russia, but the more you get into Siberia, the fewer and fewer pipelines you see. Siberia has enormous oil reserves, but without a developed pipeline infrastructure, you can’t get the oil anywhere.

The Soviet refinery system is basically the same pattern as in Alaska. Alaska has only one refinery, which produces jet fuel for the military. Alaskan oil is shipped through the pipeline to the lower 48 states for refining, then shipped back to Alaska for use. That’s why it costs well over $3.00 a gallon to fill up your car in Anchorage. In Siberia, there is 7000 miles with no refineries. Vladivostok gets fuel for local use from refineries in Korea or China.

1998—in this chart, the green box highlight natural resource agencies that were lumped together in government policy decision-making. You can see that there were stronger ties between the Executive branch and Goskompriroda at this time. In 1998 the republics were no longer autonomous. Citizens no longer voted for the head of their republic, instead they were now appointed by the Executive branch. (starting n 1999 note that the arrows down are really fat, there is much more control. Environmental policy no longer has a connection to environment.

2010—hard to tell what connections are right now. Decisions about what natural resources are going to get exploited, who profits, etc. are really secretive.

The next slide shows photos that are only about 4 years old. Its hard to believe that they are recent photos and not long ago. There is some parallel with Alaska. In Alaska there is really only one road. It is common to hear “off the grid”. 2/3rds of all cities in Alaska are reached only by plane or boat, with no roads or railroads linking them. The ratio of paved to unpaved roads in Alaska is the same proportion as Guatemala. And Siberia is 10 times worse. In both Alaska and Siberia the best travel is in winter, and you may have seen the TV reality show “ice road truckers” which can be thought of as an example of this.

This is a slide of Sverdlovsk in 1998, which shows a “modern” power plant with a nuclear reactor. It looks like it is not very technologically advanced.

Taimyr 1997 reindeer herded by Nenets. Northern indigenous peoples in Siberia are called “small peoples’. Most of Siberia is subsistence, which is not too different than Alaska.

A photo of a gulag in Madadan.

Map of all gulag sites in Russia. Shows entire Soviet Union, most gulag sites in European Russia, Central Asian republics. In Siberia the Gulags were set up during Stalin times (early 30’s). Most of the infrastructure in Siberia was constructed by gulags. By infrastructure we mean roads, pipelines, etc. Very few of the Gulags in Siberia were penal colonies, instead they were work colonies.

The levels of air pollution in European Russia are lower than in Siberia. Air pollution is very high in Siberia. Table 1 is the best data currently available, so even though it is 2001 data (a little old), you can't find anything more recent. The UN reported that in 2001 there were more people dying in Siberia than being born (about 50% more dying compared to the infant death rate, which is high even for Russia). In comparison, the US is about 9 per 100,000.

The charts are from a group that Doug works with from the MacArthur foundation. Noril'sk is in a valley, the photo is of a strip mining machine. This huge machine is not even the biggest around.

At the bottom of the page in the attachment section there is a Google Earth tour of Noril'sk, you can download the kmz file and then open it in Google Earth to view it. 
Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Oct 10, 2010, 8:07 PM