The 17-page “Government Order” dated Dec. 31 notes that Russia, a nation largely situated in the Arctic and near-Arctic, has been warming at two and a half times the rate of the rest of the planet and that is causing problems. It specifically lists a number of these well familiar to Alaskans:
- Drought conditions
- Increased risks of forest fires
- Melting permafrost
- Changing ecosystems
- And “the spread of infectious and parasitic diseases.”
Warm climates support more life forms than cold climates. Unfortunately some of those life forms are nasty pathogens.
But the Russians also see opportunities and benefits in climate change:
- “Reduction of energy consumption” for winter heating as the Anchorage Metropolitan area witnessed in November in December 2019 before Mother Nature flipped a switch to turn the weather Arctic-like in 2020.
- A longer shipping season for the Northern Sea Route from Russia to Asia.
- Easier access to the Russian continental shelf beneath which are thought to be vast volumes of oil and natural gas.
- “Improvement of the structure and expansion of the plant growing zone.”
- “Increasing the efficiency of animal husbandry.”
- And “increased productivity of boreal forests.”
The Russians harvest trees for lumber in their northern forests. There is almost none of that in Alaska now. U.S./Alaska economics make it cheaper to ship north lumber from the Pacific Northwest – not to mention most other commodities – than to produce them here.
Beer might be the biggest exception. Although the flavor ingredients for the beer are shipped north, the water – the main component of the product – is Alaskan, and as state labor economic Neal Fried has noted, the state does beer well.
While the Russians have been busy building liquified natural gas (LNG) plants at ports in the Arctic and constructing pipelines to move natural gas markets in China, Alaskans have been upping the production of stouts, porters, pilsners, lagers, ambers and barrel after barrel of IPAs.
Russia’s dependence on the revenues from its oil and gas businesses gives it ample cause to shy away from the climate-change agenda, given that almost every plan for reducing carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas thought to be driving planetary warming – is tied to reducing the use of hydrocarbons.
Keep on pumpin’
The Russian plan would indicate the country believes it can keep on producing, deal with the expected challenges of environmental changes related to global warming, and at the same time obtain “additional benefits in weather-dependent and climate-dependent industries by identifying and implementing optimal business decisions based on current information and the predicted state of the environment.”
Alaska was once way ahead of the Russians on this one. Forty years ago, the former and now late Gov. Jay Hammond along with sidekick Bob Palmer, a special advisor who died in 2004, were making plans for a massive expansion of weather-dependent Alaska agriculture.
“Alaska is tapping its oil wells for a second product — bountiful cropland — to ensure a continuing harvest long after the oil runs out,” Jonathan Harsch reported for the Christian Science Monitor from Chicago in 1980. “Over the past 18 months, forests have been stripped and converted into rich fields of grain. The transformation, at a cost so far of $15 million for the first 50,000-acre, state-run demonstration project at Delta Junction, southeast of Fairbanks, has been made possible by oil revenues. It comes at a time when agricultural experts are increasingly concerned by the steady loss of US farmland to urban sprawl and industrialization.”
Hammond and Palmer were, unfortunately, way too far ahead of the warming curve. The Delta Barley Project turned into a giant state boondoggle although some of the barley farms survived and have shown a resurgence in recent years with a promise of more for the future given a feared global shortage of barley for beer as the climate continues to warm.
The farmers have been helped by an increasingly longer Alaska growing season, but they have not benefitted from climate change nearly as much as the state’s commercial fishermen.
Due largely to a warmer ocean, average annual state salmon harvests have climbed every decade since the 1980s and were at record levels in the 2010s. But no one is sure how long this will last.
Over the long term, global warming is thought to be a threat to Pacific salmon.
Thus it is arguably good for Alaskans that the Russian order does promise “compliance with international obligations of the Russian Federations under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and other international treaties in which the Russian Federation is a party.”
The United Nation’s Framework caps Russian carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately, the cap was set at the level of emissions in the now-defunct and once heavily industrialized Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
The Russian Federation is comprised of only some of the republics that made up the USSR, and the cap on Russian carbon as set by the U.N. actually allows for increased Russian carbon production.
“Russia’s commitment means it can actually increase its emissions from the current 1.8 gigatonnes a year and still meet its commitments to the Paris deal.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin would appear to like that idea given that he can play to both sides of the climate issue, promising on one hand to do Russia’s part to slow global warming by staying under the U.N. cap and preparing on the other hand to use global warming to continue his efforts to rebuild Russia to the position of the global power it was before the fall of the USSR.
The collapse of the USSR marked the end of what was known as the Cold War between Russian and the West. Could this mark the start of a new Warm War?