Contemporary Environmental Issues in the Russian Arctic – Blog Post

In this entry, we publish the other best post, submitted by the participants of the “Contemporary Environmental Issues in the Russian Arctic” course. This poem is written by Vilma Ristikangas, a student at the European and Nordic Studies Master’s programme.

The Tale of the Human Demand and the Fish

There was a small house on a small hill near a lake, located in the Russian North.
The river streamed through villages and woods, and to the Arctic Sea and so forth.

The lake hadn’t seen ice in decades, but its surface reflected a power plant and a mine.
Its murky bottom hid the most terrible secrets and prevented the water to shine.

In this house, where an old couple used to live, now lived their grandson with his wife.
Following the family’s footsteps in the industry, they wanted to raise money for their future life.

While the wife was working at the power plant, the husband took their boat to the lake.
He threw in a fish rod a few times, until something strong bit the bait.

Pulling the rod vigorously, he struggled, and fell to the bottom of the boat with the fish.
Opening his eyes he couldn’t believe: his golden catch told him to let it go and make a wish.

The fish’s five eyes and three fins moved anxiously, it gasped air and hurried the man up.
Instead of eating this weird creature he asked:
“Make me the boss of the power plant and this place an industrial hub!”

In a moment the man was at the shore, looking at his new house so big that the hill looked smaller.
Nearby rose a town around the lake with a harbour, chemical manufacturer, and a huge sawmill.

The power plant boss was taking it easy with his job, but the wife wanted something good, too.
She set sail to the darkening, muddy lake and tried to see where a golden fin would shine through.

The fish ended up to the boat again, now blinking its seven eyes and flapping its four tails.
Before making its speech about the wishes, the wife demanded her own claims:

“I wish we had even a bigger, newer house, and I want to lead the harbour and the mine,
but we need more resources here, so will you transport us more stuff, so we will survive?”

Queues of trucks and lorries grew from day to day, and the couples huge house kept sinking lower.
While the river carried the gloomy water further, the spouses thought they had all the world’s power!

The winter thought of coming, but it never did, instead it sent half a year of darkness and rain.
Without the snowy problem ahead of themselves, the industries grew on to the nearby terrain.

The weather got even warmer and the rain washed everything (also Igor’s car) to the bubbly river.
The lands were exposed, nothing grew anymore, and the profits from the businesses grew thinner.

The husband rowed the boat in the thickening water, while the wife tried to catch the golden one.
“Lucky we know about this magic fish; we can wish that these problems never begun.”

Ten eyes stared at them from below, and the fish jumped on the boat on his own.
“It is easier to breathe up here! In this lake phosphorus, nitrogen and nutrients have overgrown.”

“We want to make a wish!” yelled the man in the biting rain, blinded by the golden scales.
“Our achievements are collapsing, and we need more time, help us before our livelihood fails!”

The lake bubbled ominously, and dust in the air and waste on the ground formed a tornado.
The fish jumped to the water before everything was overcast by an all-absorbing shadow.

The wife and the husband found themselves next to their home, but the hill was not there anymore.
Their house had sunk to a weird, wet pit, and there was no sight of industry on the opposing shore.

The couple lost it all but gained everything back, as now the water reflected the sun and the lands.
They took their boat and floated away to the sea. For the nature they no longer had other demands.

Contemporary Environmental Issues in the Russian Arctic – blog posts

This November four Doctoral candidates of our research group, Francesco Durante, Elena Gorbacheva, Karoliina Hurri, and Sohvi Kangasluoma, taught a Master-level course they created, named “Contemporary Environmental Issues in the Russian Arctic”. One of the course assignments was to write a blog post on one of the topics related to the environmental issues in the Russian Arctic. In our blog, we want to publish two best posts written by the students. The first text, published in this entry, is written by Ellen Ahdekivi, a student at the Environmental Change and Global Sustainability (ECGS) Master’s programme.

Mysterious craters in the Yamal peninsula – A ticking time bomb in disguise?

Welcome to the Yamal peninsula – a vast, harsh and desolate territory, home to few people in the world. It is an environment that shows little evidence of human settlement and development, other than some gas pipelines and the occasional reindeer herder. However, this faraway land has become a headline in recent years. A particular phenomenon is likely providing unexpected evidence of anthropogenic repercussions which no one knew were taking place in the Russian Arctic. And it has the possibility to have an unprecedented effect on how we view climate change and its effects both on a local and global scale.

So what exactly is going on in the Yamal peninsula, and what does it have to do with anybody for that matter? Well, in 2014, a 60-metre sink hole, which was later followed by several more, was discovered accidentally, and its origin was an utter mystery to scientists. Naturally, this stirred conversation amongst the scientific community and others to speculate its origin – ranging from UFOs, meteorites to collapsed gas facilities hidden from the public. In short, there was quite a bit of debate on the origin of such a dramatic and powerful change in the landscape. What on earth could cause such a phenomenon?

As it turns out, the likely explanation is a process that is induced by human action. Scientists now believe that the craters are the result of a build-up of methane gas in pockets of thawing permafrost. Hurray, the mystery has been solved! But what does this reveal about the state of the Russian Arctic? To be honest, it reveals an alarming process that can have the ability to alter the Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse gas intake alarmingly.

Since discovering the crater in 2014, several more similar ones have been found. These are directly located in the Yamal peninsula, meaning that their origin must be locally induced. Climate data from Siberia shows an increase in average temperature that supports the findings, which is an indication of wide scale permafrost thawing. Because permafrost works as a large storage for soil carbon deposits, degrading permafrost works as a releasing force for carbon dioxide and methane emissions. This in turn, creates a vicious cycle; releasing emissions that amplify the effects of climate change, create more opportunity for thawing permafrost.

The formation of these black hole-like craters is a big wake up call for people all over the world. As the warming of the climate continues, the Arctic is projected to be warming two-times faster than the global average. Hence, there is little room for negligence and disinterest. The environment, in this case the Yamal peninsula, is sending warning signals on the fact that business as usual activities can no longer continue without significant repercussions, where these craters are not isolated incidents. The build-up of methane in these permafrost soils represent a ticking time bomb which is waiting to go off. This may also indicate a point of no return regarding permafrost degradation. Although these newly formed craters do not affect local communities on a spatial scale, the craters affect local populations through the amplification of climate change – through coastal erosion, infrastructure failure, changing living conditions and other significant effects of climate change. The mysterious craters of the Yamal peninsula are a representation of what humans are truly capable of doing without direct intention. It begs us to ask the question – what are we capable of doing if we determinedly strived to prevent similar events from happening in the future?

Image: The first crater B1 which was discovered by helicopter pilots.

Photo by Ruslan Amanzhurov. Source: Buldovicz, S.N., Khilimonyuk, V.Z., Bychkov, A.Y. et al. Cryovolcanism on the Earth: Origin of a Spectacular Crater in the Yamal Peninsula (Russia). Sci Rep 8, 13534 (2018).

A book review on Sanna Kopra’s book “China and great power responsibility for climate change” has been published this week

A book review by Sebastian Losacker on Sanna Kopra’s book “China and great power responsibility for climate change” has been published this week in Eurasian Geography and Economics.

China is playing an increasingly important role in global politics and value chains. Against this background, it is not only the country’s power that is changing, but also its responsibility. This is particularly true for international climate policy, as China is not only the largest emitter of CO2, but an influential international player. At the same time, other nations such as the USA are currently assuming less and less responsibility. However, China continues to be an emerging economy in many areas and must reconcile this global responsibility with other goals such as poverty reduction and economic catching up. In her book China and Great Power Responsibility for Climate Change, which is based on her dissertation project, Sanna Kopra discusses the understanding of great powers and climate responsibility in the context of China’s current international climate policy engagement.

Losacker, in conclusion, states that “Altogether, Kopra manages not only to deepen the theoretical understanding of great power responsibility, she also provides important empirical insights on China’s international climate policy, marking the book as an important read for academics and policy practitioners alike“. The full version of the review can be read on the journal’s webpage.

The Changing Nature of Russia’s Arctic Presence: A Case Study of Pyramiden

In February 2019 Alina Bykova, a Master’s student at the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto attended our “Russian and Post-socialist environment and energy” research seminar, where she presented a draft version of her Master’s thesis “The changing nature of Russia’s Arctic presence: a case study of Pyramiden”. For her thesis she also interviewed Professor Tynkkynen. The thesis examines the development of Soviet mining colonies on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard (Spitsbergen). Now the thesis is ready and was published as a short article on the Arctic Institute’s website.

Master’s Thesis “Kaupunki turvallisuuden kohteena: Tulevaisuusskenaarioita Euroopan turvallisuusympäristöstä vuonna 2040”

Last June Professor Tynkkynen was interviewed by Maria Malho from the University of Helsinki, for her Master’s Thesis “Kaupunki turvallisuuden kohteena: Tulevaisuusskenaarioita Euroopan turvallisuusympäristöstä vuonna 2040” (City as Referent Object of Security: Futures Scenarios of Europe’s Security Environment in 2040). This highly evaluated thesis can be found online. Additionally, you can read Maria Malho’s research on the topic in English at Demos Helsinki.