How curbing climate change can prevent Russia from becoming a superpower

(Alexei Nikolsky / Associated Press)
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On Monday night, Democratic senators held an all night “talk-athon” on the Senate floor to bring increased attention to the issue of climate change. Predictably, their efforts were mocked by the Republican leadership.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the Democratic efforts “30 hours of excuses” for why “families are losing work because of government attacks on the coal industry.”

Interestingly, McConnell didn’t deny that global warming existed. His argument was that fighting climate change isn’t worth the economic costs. That puts him in line with the majority of non-tea party Republicans on the issue -- 61 percent of whom, according to a recent Pew poll, agree that global warming is occurring.


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The science on climate change is clear enough that most conservatives don’t deny it; they just don’t care. The Earth has warmed and cooled throughout its history, they argue. Big deal. It’s not worth the cost of prevention. To all those out there who hold this view, I would caution this: you have a powerful ally in Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

‘’10,000 years ago, the mammoths started to die out,” Putin mused in 2010. “This was linked to a warming of the climate, a rise in sea levels, a reduction of pastures. All this happened without human influence.”

Whether or not Putin actually believes this or was just being coy remains to be seen. What is clear is this: according to a 2011 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, two-thirds of Russia’s land mass is currently buried under permafrost. Underneath that frost lie vast stores of nickel, cobalt, copper and diamonds --not to mention oil and natural gas.

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Melting of permafrost will further open up previously marginal or even unworkable lands to agriculture. Melting Arctic ice will create new shipping routes along Russia’s northern coast and will open up previously inaccessible oil and gas reserves. Russia’s warming has already helped the country hit record harvests of rice, corn and sunflower seeds in recent years. Continued warming could conceivably allow the country to become the world’s bread basket -- and control the planet’s food supply.


Russia is, of course, fully aware of these possible rosy global warming scenarios. Putin has said that “two or three degrees” of climate change could be good for Russia, in that it would reduce heating costs and increase crop yields.

Of course Russia will face harsh consequences from global warming as well. Wildfires and drought have hit the country hard in recent years -- trends that will likely only worsen as the planet continues to heat up. But there isn’t a country in the world that isn’t poised to face similar problems -- the United States among them. The only difference is, we don’t have half-a-continent’s worth of untouched natural resources buried under permafrost to compensate for the deleterious consequences of climate change.

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So for all you out there blasé about climate change, you may want to take a long hard look at your position -- because it doesn’t take that much effort to see a post-global warming Russia emerging as an unchecked superpower.

America has done pretty well for itself under the current global climate. Doesn’t it make sense to do everything we can to preserve that trove of good fortune?



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Matthew Fleischer is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @MatteFleischer.