Staunton, April 22 – Most discussions of the impact of global warming on the Russian Federation have focused either on the ways in which the melting of permafrost will damage infrastructure in the northern part of that country, imposing severe economic costs, or extend the growing season in many places, giving Russia some economic advantages.
But Boris Zhukov, a Russian biologist, suggests that the greatest impact and greatest danger from global warming on his country may not be on infrastructure or growing seasons but rather in the release of bacteria during the melting of the permafrost that could lead to the spread of diseases no one has the ability to fight (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/179696).
In an article in the New Times provocatively entitled “The Ice will Melt and We will All Die,” the Russian scholar says that global warming almost certainly will mean “the spread of new and old diseases,” many of which risk becoming epidemics in Russia and even spreading beyond the borders of that country.
Many Russians like to talk about the benefits global warming will bring their country, he says; but overall, that change is not going to bring us “anything good.” It isn’t so much that the melting of the permafrost will release diseases medical science is familiar with, although that will happen.
Instead, with the melting of the ice, “certain pathogens with which we are not acquainted, certain strains or even types” will come back into the atmosphere. Because they are unknown to science, these could easily cause epidemics that could kill large number of people in Rusisa and elsewhere.
That is a longterm and by definition impossible to evaluate risk, but there is a real and immediate risk of epidemics connected with climate change, the biologist says. “Changes in average annual temperatures can cause some species of insects and other arthropods to move northward,” spreading diseases from the south that northerners have no immunity to.
One of these – and it is no joke, Zhukov says – is malaria. “That is far from the only such infection capable of shifting to the North” and causing catastrophe.
And there is an additional reason for worry: an increasing number of Russians apparently is not being vaccinated for ordinary diseases, either because of cost or the lack of availability of medications; and as a result, an article in Vzglyad warns, Russia may soon face epidemics of diseases it and others assume have been overcome (vz.ru/society/2019/4/21/973551.html).