How did Russia — hardly considered a cradle of environmentalism, given Joseph Stalin’s crash program of industrialization — become a global pioneer in conservation?
Much of the answer begins with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. In 1919, a young agronomist named Nikolai Podyapolski traveled north from the Volga River delta, where hunting had almost eliminated many species, to Moscow, where he met Lenin. Arriving at the Bolshevik leader’s office to seek approval for a new zapovednik, Podyapolski felt “worried,” he said, “as before an exam in high school.” But Lenin, a longtime enthusiast for hiking and camping, agreed that protecting nature had “urgent value.”
Two years later, Lenin signed legislation ordering that “significant areas of nature” across the continent be protected. Within three decades, some 30 million acres (equal in area to about 40 states of Rhode Island) from the European peaks of the Caucasus to the Pacific volcanoes of Kamchatka were set aside in a system of 128 reserves.
Recent articles in the series highlighting “history and legacy of Communism, 100 years after the Russian Revolution” include Socialism’s Future May Be Its Past (the usual defense of perfecting socialism) and The Unexpected Afterlife of American Communism (how communism allegedly combats racism). Laughable, if you ask me.
In 2015, President Vladimir Putin, who famously enjoys photo opportunities in nature with tigers, bears and whales, announced that the centennial year for Russia’s zapodneviks, 2017, would be the “Year of Protected Areas.” His government pledged to increase Russia’s protected acreage by 18 percent over the next eight years.
Was the Soviet Union environmentally-friendly? Far from it.
40% of the Soviet people live in areas where air pollutants are three to four times the maximum allowable levels. Sanitation is primitive. Where it exists, for example in Moscow, it doesn’t work properly. Half of all industrial waste water in the capital city goes untreated. In Leningrad, nearly half of the children have intestinal disorders caused by drinking contaminated water from what was once Europe’s most pristine supply.
In a 1996 Russia Country Study published by the Library of Congress, Russia’s environmental conditions were categorized as heavily polluted, unclean, and disastrous by American standards. Only 15% of the nation’s urban population “breathes air that is not harmful.” As for water conditions in the former USSR, the same study found that “75 percent of Russia’s surface water is now polluted, 50 percent of all water is not potable according to quality standards established in 1992, and an estimated 30 percent of groundwater available for use is highly polluted.”
Dangerous environmental conditions came to the attention of the public in the Soviet Union under the glasnost policy of the regime of Mikhail S. Gorbachev (in office 1985-91), which liberated the exchange of information in the late 1980s. The three situations that gripped public attention were the April 1986 nuclear explosion at the Chernobyl’ Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine, the long-term and ongoing desiccation of the Aral Sea between Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, and the irradiation of northern Kazakstan by the Semipalatinsk (present-day Semey) nuclear testing site. The overall cost of rectifying these three disasters is staggering, dwarfing the cost of cleanups elsewhere, such as the superfund campaign to eliminate toxic waste sites in the United States. By the time the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, such conditions had become symbols of that system’s disregard for the quality of the environment.
Yes, New York Times, let’s look to Lenin and the former USSR for inspiration when it comes to raising environmental standards. (Not!)
If you recall history or want some context behind NYT’s affinity for the Bolshevik Revolution and a return to the “good ol’ days” of communism, examine their past associates. Walter Duranty, who headed the publication’s Moscow bureau from 1922-1936, was an avowed Stalin apologist. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his “award-winning” coverage in the USSR despite whitewashing accounts of Soviet prisoners starving there. Despite condemnation by his colleagues, Duranty remained with the NYT until 1941. See the connection now?
Let me be clear: Lenin was a great steward of the environment. He and his Bolshevik successors believed in composting–the composting of dead bodies comprising Russians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Latvians, Estonians, Belorussians, and other nationalities they abused and killed under their regime for most of the 20th century. By their standards, that’s environmental justice — don’t you know?
As many have said in years’ prior: green is the new red. Unlike many on the Left, I’ll be honoring the 100 million + victims of communism this year by not giving license to the Bolshevik Revolution’s bloody history. Learn how to honor its victims here.