By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
Russian President Vladimir Putin has abruptly become a climate-change denialist, apparently under the influence of key figures in the Trump administration, which Putin likely helped install. The spread of anti-intellectualism and the war on science has been a worrisome feature of the American right wing for some time, but now it appears to be spreading even to Russia.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the first anti-scientific stand taken in Moscow. Trofim Lysenko, the Soviet-era biologist, rejected Darwinian natural selection in favor of a form of Lamarckian evolutionary theory that held that animals can acquire characteristics as individuals through experience and then pass those directly to their offspring.
The 19th century Muslim anti-imperial activist, Jamal al-Din Afghani, refuted Lamarck’s version of biology in a debate with Ernest Renan by pointing out that Jews and Muslims had been circumcising their male children for centuries but that no child of either of these groups had ever been born circumcised.
Both the US and now the Russian Federation are becoming neo-Lysenkoist states.
Not all oil and gas states are climate deniers. Some ruling elites can make a distinction between the economic interest of their national carbon industries and the fate of the world. Thus, the al-Thanni emirs of Qatar, a major gas producer, have repeatedly warned about the dangers of human-caused climate change. The United Arab Emirate has a very active green energy program, even though it is a major oil exporter. Canada and China are both heavily dependent on hydrocarbons, but leaders of both countries have expressed serious concern. China in particular is making enormous strides toward getting off dirty coal, for instance.
But now the two major industrialized producers of hydrocarbons– the United States and Russia– are both headed by deniers. For both, denialism makes perfect economic sense on the surface, since their economies benefit heavily from gas, oil and coal. In reality, global warming will take its toll on them, and on all of us. It is hard to see how the Paris climate treaty survives in an effective form if both the US and Russia renege.
Russia has a lot of hydro-electric power, since the Soviets went in for dam building in a big way. But other than that, renewables account for less than one percent of Russia’s energy mix. So it doesn’t matter very much whether Putin accepts the overwhelming evidence for human-made climate change or not. His country has seldom felt it necessary to mobilize over the issue.
Obama’s sanctions on Russia over the covert invasion of Ukraine derailed a $500 billion oil deal between Russian oil interests and the United States. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former CEO of Exxon Mobil, will be looking to jumpstart that deal. Tillerson and Putin are world-slayers.
related video added by Juan Cole: