Professor Vladimir KLIMENKO is truly one of the leading Russian climatologists. Follows his overview of the current problems facing the Russian Northern territories
DOES CHUKOTKA HAVE A FUTURE?
Russians tend to be very proud of themselves. We are so fond of our self-proclaimed greatness, and we still remain convinced that Russia is the greatest country of them all. But is it true? A correct answer is of utmost importance, especially if one is to make correct administrative decisions.
At the turn of the century, Russia had the third biggest population of the world. Today, «seconds» away from the XXIst century, it is ranked sixth. The die-hard patriots will persist and argue: «Yes, but Russia is still the biggest national entity». Which is indeed true from the territorial point of view.
However, even though Russia as a state has more land than any other, its livable territory is only the fifth biggest on the planet. Ten thousand years after the last glacier period, the white man still has not learnt to live in hostile environments like altitudes above 2000 meters or areas with average annual temperatures below 2oC. No matter how impressive the progress of humanity, density of population in the Northern territories still remains very close to zero. Except for a small number of paleoasians, who until recently hunted and raised cattle to survive, nobody else got used to the harsh conditions of these places. Rather as an exception to the rule, of the many thousand cities of the world, only a few are sitting above the 2000 meters mark, Bogota being one of the best known. This shows the limits within which the species to which we belong, or at least its biggest part — the europeoidals — can live comfortably.
As it is, more than two thirds of our national territory turn out to be unfit for living, because they either are above the 2000 meters mark, or have average annual temperatures below 2oC. But Russians do live there! Drugged by Bolsheviks' ideas, Russia was the only country in the world to engage in a massive conquest of the Northern territories on a big scale, building up there residential blocks, kindergartens, the whole infrastructural lot. Russia is the only country to have towns with populations above 100 000 people each — Vorkuta, Surgut, Norilsk, Nijnevartovsk — in extreme natural environment.
As of today, of those who used to live in the unnatural conditions of the Northern territories, 40% have already left. It is also true that even in the Soviet days, most of the inhabitants of the Arctic zone considered it as a temporary residence where they stayed only as long as it took to save enough for the eventual purchase of a car and of a house in a much friendlier place like the Krasnodar province. True, the Northern territories are a national cellar full of great riches. But you can't live perpetually in a cellar!
Another widespread myth deals with immense riches of Russian soil. Which can even be accepted as true since Russia is indeed naturally endowed as no other country. However, these same facts can be seen in a totally different perspective.
Over the last 200 years, our civilization's consumption of energy has quintupled. As a result, life expectation has doubled, duration of the working week has been cut by half, and food production has grown quickly enough to feed a population six times bigger than before. The whole history of humanity can indeed be seen as an exponential growth of the energetic power of civilization.
Nevertheless, the per capita consumption of energy, per se, does not prove anything. Suffice it to say that Romania, which consumes 20% more energy per capita than Spain, has a GDP 7 times smaller than the Spaniards. Why? Because the unlucky Romanians happen to live in a much colder country, and therefore have to spent most of their energy to heat up air.
Thus, to show correctly the potential of a country, one has to take into account not only its natural reserves (like, for instance, oil, gas, coal, uranium, etc) and its hydraulic resources (for the construction of power plants), but also its climatic conditions. Simply put, one has to register the correct average annual temperatures. Because in the Northern countries, a great deal of energy is «wasted» to fight off cold instead of being used to improve living conditions.
To provide an equal standard of living in the North, one has to spend much more energy than in the South. In Iceland, where the average annual temperature is 0.9oC, the annual per capita consumption of energy is of 9 tons of conventional fuel (TCF). In Malta, which has the benefit of an annual average temperature of 18.6oC, there is no need for heating at all, and the optimum consumption of energy is as low as 2.5 TCF.
In the race for optimum consumption of energy, Russia is at the moment competing with countries like Colombia, Congo, Iraq... Not because its per capita consumption is low — far from it! an average Russian consumes close to 8 TCF, three times more than the world average — but because this same Russian needs 19 TCF per year, given our colds and our distances, to live his or her life according to the European standard of decency. To achieve the same standard, a German will have to consume 6.1 TCF, and the French, 5.1 TCF. The handicap we face is huge!
Put in this perspective, a temperate climate is as good a natural resource as oil or gas. Immensely rich in timber, oil, coal and many other valuables, Russia is most unfortunate in its climatic misery. In Northern Finland, warmed up by the Gulf Stream, the average annual is +1.5oC; in Iceland — +0.9oC; in Canada — -5.1oC. Compare it to the -5.5oC in Russia! Even though the difference between the Canadian -5.1 and the Russian -5.5 seems minimal, as was shown above Russia is the only one to have big cities in the disadvantageous areas. In Canada, which is situated in more or less the same tough climate zone as we are, there is only one sizeable town, Edmonton, which is located approximately on the same latitude as Oryol (roughly 400 km south of Moscow).
Does that mean that the Russian Northern territories are doomed and will become a desert? Should things remain unchanged on the planet, the answer would have been yes. But a global warming of the climate is coming. And a gain of 5 degrees, added to the average annual, is worth as much as the full yield of an oil field the size of the West Siberian one.
We certainly cannot realistically count on any such gain. According to the studies of our team, in fifty years time, Russian average annual temperatures should grow by 2.1oC, thus allowing a 10% decrease of the required optimum consumption of energy which should drop to 12.8 TCF. Which is not bad at all. The limits of the average annual isotherm will move North, and the total surface of useful — livable — territories will grow. We shall then have to think of a name for them other than North...