Putin defends climate deniers and looks forward to the Arctic melting

The Russian president also praised “opponents” of climate action.

CREDIT: CNBC
CREDIT: CNBC

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised U.S. EPA head Scott Pruitt during a television interview on Thursday, then went on to say Russia stands to benefit from global warming, despite the fact the country has already seen deaths, wildfires, and anthrax outbreaks related to climate change.

“Climate change brings in more favorable conditions and improves the economic potential of this region,” Putin said told CNBC while attending the International Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia. “Today, Russia’s GDP is the result of the economic activity of this region.”

It is true that with the melting Arctic, Russia is expected to see increased shipping lanes and more moderate temperatures in its northern region. Russia is heavily invested in extracting Arctic oil reserves, as well, which could open up as the poles melt.

Putin downplayed the need to act on climate, saying, through a translator, that people like Pruitt “who are not in agreement with opponents may not be at all silly.”

The question “isn’t about preventing global warming. I agree with those people who believe it is impossible. It may be related to some global cycles or some greater outer space cycles. It’s about how to adjust ourselves to it,” Putin said. “The local communities will get adjusted,” he added.

Suggesting that “local communities will get adjusted” in the context of global warming is cruel. Sea level rise and drought, specifically, are not events that people can “adjust” to. Moreover, the communities most at risk to the effects of global warming are also the communities that are least able to adapt.

And Russia itself is not escaping the effects of climate change unscathed. In 2010, a heat wave that has been linked to climate change killed some 50,000 people. Lest that can be confused with “adjusting,” it also caused the Russian government to ban grain exports, following widespread crop failure.

Last summer, melting permafrost in Siberia released anthrax, killing at least one person and sickening a hundred others. Scientists are concerned about spores and viruses that will be released, as well.

There is a debate — within environmental, economic, and political spheres — about whether mitigation (i.e., reducing carbon emissions) or adaptation (i.e., building infrastructure that can withstand sea level rise) is a better strategy.

But most people — aside from U.S. politicians — believe both mitigation and adaptation efforts must be pursued. It is, at this point, unlikely humanity will prevent 1.5°C of warming. It’s unlikely, although not impossible, to avoid 2°C warming. But when we talk about 4°C of warming, there is still plenty of room for action.

Putin seemed to reject the role humanity could play in mitigating the worst effects of climate change, saying, “global warming will continue anyway, anyhow.”

He also downplayed global concerns that the United States would pull out of the Paris climate agreement — a decision the Trump administration has been vacillating over for months. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that the administration would make a decision before the next G7 summit in late May.

“It’s not about a concern, but about trying to reach each other halfway and seeking trade offs,” Putin said, after reaffirming Russia’s commitment to stay in the global agreement. “I would not dramatize things, and I wouldn’t use these global factors for the domestic American political struggle,” he added.

The Russian president may want to avoid commenting on the American political struggle. His country’s influence in the election of President Trump has been dominating headlines for months — and is now the focus of House, Senate, and FBI investigations.

Critics have suggested Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election could have been related to oil reserves.

A major deal between ExxonMobil (formerly headed by current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) and Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft, went south after the Obama administration issued sanctions on Russia. If Trump lifts sanctions — something his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was unlikely do to — the $500 billion deal could be back on.