Activists work hard to protect pristine Lake Baikal from toxic waste

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Pollution update

Two years ago, Dennis Bukarov mobilized support social media Prevent the construction of a Chinese-funded bottled water plant on the shore of Lake Baikal.

Now, the environmental activist has set his sights on his political career as he stepped up efforts to protect the world’s oldest, largest, and deepest freshwater body from another threat-millions of tons of poisonous effluent from abandoned Soviet-era paper substance. grind.

“Being able to debate these things in Parliament instead of YouTube or Instagram will make the government pay more attention to these issues and may actually lead to solutions,” he said of his political hopes.

Bukalov’s plan to participate in this month’s Russian parliamentary elections was blocked at the last minute — without any explanation — highlighting the scale of the challenge facing him and a small group of environmentalists in the country.

Dennis Bukarov (left) and Anton Pirogov, co-founder of the Campaign to Save Baikal, on the shore of Lake Listvyanka © Nastassia Astrasheuskaya/FT

The 39-year-old is a public image of the campaign to save Lake Baikal. UNESCO World Heritage Known as the “sacred sea”, it contains one-fifth of the world’s fresh water. This lake, known for its pure water, faces multiple environmental challenges, from chemical waste to excessive tourism and the effects of climate change.

“Totally indifferent to these issues,” Bukalov told the Financial Times in the tourist town of Listvyanka on the west side of the lake in the Irkutsk region.

Bukalov is from Kazakhstan, and during his trip to the region, he recalled the day when he promised to devote his life to defending the lake. “I was sitting there watching the foul-smelling discharge flow into the water, and at that moment I assured myself that I would protect Lake Baikal,” he explained.

He continued: “Lake Baikal has a history of millions of years-it appeared before us and will continue to stay behind us. It may be crazy to think of it as a living thing, but I think it is living Yes. It keeps the memory of the universe in it.”

The biodiversity of Lake Baikal includes species unique to its waters, such as the only freshwater seal in the world, which was named “Galapagos of Russia” by UNESCO. The United Nations agency stated that it is “one of the richest and most unusual groups of freshwater animals in the world and has special value for evolutionary science.”

Location map of Lake Baikal in Russia

Vitali Ryabtsev, former deputy director of the Baikal National Park, said, “The flora and fauna here have been well preserved since before the Ice Age.” But he also noticed how the water quality has deteriorated in recent years. “In some places, I used to scoop up water from a cup to drink. Now not only is drinking very dangerous, but even swimming there is very dangerous,” he said.

The most pressing problem stems from the run-down paper mill in Baikalsk at the southern tip of Hunan.

The plant was closed in 2013 in accordance with a decree of President Vladimir Putin, which required the establishment of a nature reserve on the site.

The locals hardly saw any progress. The factory still exists, but people have been worried that heavy rain or snowmelt will cause mudslides. It is estimated that 6.5 million tons of solid and liquid wastes still on-site are washed into the lake.

Last year, the flood near the factory triggered Greenpeace The snowmelt triggered another environmental emergency in April.

“If this happens, it would be equivalent to 700 years of pollution for the factory. It would be a planetary tragedy. Even without it, every rainfall would release more waste into the water,” Bukarov said.

Abandoned paper mill at the southern end of Lake Baikal

An abandoned paper mill in Hunan. Activists worry that more than 6 million tons of waste may still be washed into Lake Baikal at the scene, causing environmental disaster © Alexei Kushnirenko/TASS via Getty

At the end of last year, Rosatom, the latest national nuclear company to undertake the cleanup task, said that it hopes to complete this task next year.

“We attach great importance to the responsibility of protecting the unique ecosystem of Lake Baikal,” it said in a statement. “We understand that the remaining problems of the Baikalsk paper mill and pulp mill have a significant impact on the lake ecology and local residents, and we are absolutely committed to doing our best to correct this.”

Although Vnesheconombank announced an ambitious plan to build a 60 billion rupees ($820 million) luxury hotel complex on the site, Bukarov called it a bluff. “We welcome wealthy investors, but clean up the factory and then create Roza Khutor,” he said, referring to the resort built for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

People on the ice of Lake Baikal

In addition to the threats of chemical waste and climate change, Lake Baikal also has the problem of over-tourism, as many people go there in winter to admire the clear blue ice © Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Reuters

It is not only the crumbling industry of the Soviet era that threatens Lake Baikal.Scientists say climate change is bringing changes Micro level The more obvious form is more frequent wildfires, which now bring scars to the surrounding coniferous forests.

Viktor Kuznetsov, an official of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, said that ordinary people should also be blamed for discarding trash in and around the lake. “I see people sitting on the shore and eating, instead of cleaning up by themselves, but throwing garbage behind. I don’t know where people’s brains are.”

Corrupt businessmen and incompetent officials exacerbated the problem. After Kuznetsov called for a ban on felling trees around the Svetlaya River, which provides water to Lake Baikal, the local prosecutor responded by denying that the site was dangerous.

“We put the wrong people in power. New people come in and work without knowing anything about the area,” he complained.

Bukalov was blocked by the parliament and lacked money. He said that he still plans to participate in the local elections next year and continue to protect Lake Baikal for future generations.

“Of course, we want to live a better life without worrying about where to find money for the children. But I don’t want to have everything and then sit and watch the lake be destroyed. What will they leave behind?”

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