Russia is a big place. Indeed, it is a truly enormous place, with vast tracts of what still remains wilderness. Enormous stretches of forest, sweeping steppes and sprawling plains - the better part of Russia´s countryside still boasts a wealth of untouched nature.
However, that wealth has often fostered a cavalier attitude toward protection of the natural environment (and, as a result, of human beings). The unspoken assumption seems to have been that the capacity of the Russian landscape to resist abuse is inexhaustible, and so there is little point in worrying about damaging to it. (Western Europe, on the other hand, which has virtually none of its natural heritage left, is accordingly one of the most vocal supporters of environmentalism).
The result has been a long series of environmental disasters, ranging from irradiated metal finding its way into watches and appliances to chemical poisoning of the soil and air.
One would think that after experiencing woes like these - in particular the nightmare of Chernobyl - the Russian authorities would have a less cavalier attitude about the matter. After all, they need air to live just as much as the hoi polloi do. But this is, sadly, far from the case. This is perhaps best exemplified by discussions in the Duma about importing nuclear waste (and the fact that 90 percent of the Duma supported the idea, while 90 percent of the population was against it, which says something about the state of Russian democracy) but other examples abound.
Russian environmentalism only goes back as far as the days of perestroika, when environmental protection was one of the campaigns of then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. It has yet to make much of an impact. But fledgling groups do exist, and their activism makes one hopeful for the future. We hope that society takes their message to heart, and sooner rather than later. This is one point on which Russia sorely needs a change of heart.