Russia Burning: Not Apocalypse, but Its Prelude

This post is a meta-commentary on media coverage of Russia’s drought and wildfires. Now make no mistake, I admire the yeoman work of some journalists in covering Russia burning: no doubt a few will even make their way into the classical cannon such as The Saga of the Burned Foot (Miriam Elder) or The Tale of How Aleksandr Pochkov Quarreled with Vladimir Vladimirovich (A Good Treaty). 🙂 But in my opinion, they almost all fail to consider the key facts that render their Kremlin criticism moot and fail to grasp the “big picture”: the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010 as a mere herald of things to come.

In summary: 1) There is nothing the Russian government could have done to contain a natural disaster of such magnitude, 2) many of the lectures about how Russia could have done better to prepare itself would have been counter-productive had they actually been implemented, 3) the hysteria about Moscow turning into a giant morgue from heat stress and smog or radioactive ash clouds is overblown, and 4) the real problem, or rather predicament, is global warming, the effects of which are expected to transform Russia’s heartlands into Central Asia within the next few decades.

Unprecedented Drought, Reductio ad Putinum

I’m going to be using Julia Ioffe as a foil in this section (not because I hate her but because I’ve actually read her articles). In her August 5th shock piece, Russia on Fire, she writes:

A strong argument could be made for calling this disaster Putin’s Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, then-President Putin, in consultation with the Russian timber industry, “reformed” forestry regulations, eliminating positions for rangers, making each of the remaining ones responsible for more territory, increasing paperwork so they spent hardly any time outdoors monitoring the forests—and, on the off chance that they did spot a small fire while on patrol, making it a punishable offense (a misuse of state funds) to put it out.

So assume that the Kremlin had listened to forestry expert Ioffe, and restarted the Soviet practice of forest fire suppression whenever they sprang up. That would have solved the problem, right? No. It would have made it a lot worse.

Left alone, forests experience small, contained fires every few years, which clear out excess undergrowth, replenish the soil and maintain the resilience of the forest ecosystem. But as soon as you start playing Canute to the woodlands, layers of dead biomass accumulate on the forest bed. Eventually, it reaches such a critical mass that the next heatwave is bound to create a conflagration, made catastrophic of the interventionist’s own hubris.

But that too would inevitable have been the Kremlin’s fault, according to the Gospel of Julia. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. In her discourse, the main things are personalities, Tsar-Batyushka, the Tatar-Mongol yoke… As Mark Chapman remarked on AGT’s blog:

If Russia’s leaders stay remote and aloof from their subjects, they’re cold and indifferent. If they make any attempt, even one that looks suspiciously scripted, to connect, they’re Janus-faced Tsars.

Now I’m not denying the possibility that the current fire suppression efforts have been riddled with corruption and incompetence. Time will tell. But consider this from another angle. This drought is unprecedented in its severity for at least the last 140 years, if not the last 500! Some much needed facts and figures (as opposed to anecdotes) from Jeff Masters:

At 3:30 pm local time today, the mercury hit 39°C (102.2°F) at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. Moscow had never recorded a temperature exceeding 100°F prior to this year, and today marks the second time the city has beaten the 100°F mark. The first time was on July 29, when the Moscow observatory recorded 100.8°C and Baltschug, another official downtown Moscow weather site, hit an astonishing 102.2°F (39.0°C). Prior to this year, the hottest temperature in Moscow’s history was 37.2°C (99°F), set in August 1920. The Moscow Observatory has now matched or exceeded this 1920 all-time record five times in the past eleven days, including today. The 2010 average July temperature in Moscow was 7.8°C (14°F) above normal, smashing the previous record for hottest July, set in 1938 (5.3°C above normal.) July 2010 also set the record for most July days in excess of 30°C–twenty-two. The previous record was 13 such days, set in July 1972. The past 24 days in a row have exceeded 30°C in Moscow, and there is no relief in sight–the latest forecast for Moscow calls for high temperatures near 100°F (37.8°C) for the next seven days. …

Dr. Rob Carver has done a detailed analysis of the remarkable Russian heat wave in his latest post, The Great Russian Heat Wave of July 2010. A persistent jet stream pattern has set up over Europe, thanks to a phenomena known as blocking. A ridge of high pressure has remained anchored over Russia, and the hot and dry conditions have created helped intensify this ridge in a positive feedback loop. As a result, soil moisture in some portions of European Russia has dropped to levels one would expect only once every 500 years.

Furthermore, consider the vast territorial extent of Eurasia’s drought.

[Russia blanketed by forest fire smoke. Source: NASA.]

In retrospect, the current death toll from the fires, at 50, might well be remarkably low, considering the extreme circumstances (compare with 173 deaths in the Black Saturday bushfires last year in Australia, a country Russia’s critics would all consider “civilized” and developed).

But what do I know? According to Julia Ioffe and Foreign Policy, forest fires only happen in countries with non-liberal Presidents.

Moscow Morgues & Radioactive Ash Clouds

Two rather hysterical stories doing the rounds. Make no mistake: premature deaths from heat stress are tragic. Moscow’s mortality rate rose by 29.7% in July 2009, relative to the same period last year. August might be even worse if the searing temperatures continue into next week. The morgues are overflowing, with the numbers of daily deaths multiplying by 2-7x over normal in recent days (the sources differ).

But this does happen when record-breaking heat waves strike, anywhere. I was unfortunate enough to be in Paris during the 2003 heatwave, when temperates hit 40C and more. It was a torrid hell of heat and concrete: I remember taking several cold showers per day and avoiding sun-drenched spaces like a vampire. But I had it good. People with pre-existing medical conditions were dying early. The French capital observed a 142% mortality increase in August 2003, with deaths spiking to 2-8x their normal levels during the week of the heat wave.

[Number of deaths in Paris during August 2003 heatwave.]

But at least Parisians are more used to hot summers and didn’t have to contend with the smoke. Neither can be said for Muscovites. So a high number of excess deaths – estimated to reach 40,000 by Jeff Masters – is regrettable, but to be expected.

[The 2003 European Heatwave and the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 compared.]

What about the fires releasing radioactive ashclouds from the areas around Chernobyl? Pure hysteria. Even if the inferno spread there, the radioactive particles released in 1986 have long since become diluted in the environment. Rinse and repeat if taken on an airborne ride by the fires a second time.

The Real Meaning of the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010

Most commentators prefer to spend their time discussing Putin’s ownage of the Sovok citizen blogger or the destruction of the naval aviation storage base that spawned a firestorm of blame and recriminations. It certainly doesn’t shed a good light into the nefarious workings of the Russian bureaucracy (few things do), but guys, this is largely irrelevant. What’s really significant is that this once-in-a-century (or is now once-in-a-millennium?) drought is a symptom of global warming, a few more degrees of which will transform the Russian heartlands into Central Asia.

So here are the really important things:

1. The collapse of Russia’s grain production, estimated to fall from 100mn tons in 2009 to just 65mn tons this year. This is huge. It reverses practically all the agricultural revival (in volume output) achieved in the past few years, bringing Russia back (maybe even below) its post-Soviet agricultural nadir. Furthermore, the depression may continue for another two years, if the earth is baked too hard for sowing the winter crop: a nation accounting for 25% of the world’s wheat exports will be out of business for two years. Coupled with agricultural decline in other countries (e.g. floods in China to reduce its rice crop by 5-7% this year) and rising food protectionism, social welfare in poor food importers like Egypt and Pakistan will plummet. The conditions aren’t in place for a repeat of the 2008 food crisis, but this does confirm that our age is now one of increasing scarcity.

2. This year is unprecedented everywhere: it is the hottest July on record (and the hottest year on record). Thermometers have been snapping left, right and center as new temperature records are set from Belarus to Sudan. The Arctic has given up the ghost, with sea ice volume plummeting into oblivion.

[“Daily Sea Ice volume anomalies for each day are computed relative to the 1979 to 2009 average for that day. The trend for the 1979- present period is shown in blue. Shaded areas show one and two standard deviations from the trend.”]

This is despite the fact that we are at a periodic, deep minimum in solar irradiance. One can only imagine the kind of havoc we’ll see in 2012-15 as it bounces back to its maximum.

And that’s not all the bad news. The Russian fires will have burned an unholy amount of biomass, which is even now making its way into the atmosphere in the form of CO2. Historically, heatwave years are associated with above-average increases in atmospheric CO2 as the carbon cycle reverses direction. It is not impossible that 2010 will be the first year in which atmospheric CO2 increases by more than 3ppm (the previous record was 2.93ppm in 1998, a scorcher year that saw massive peat bog fires in Borneo).

The general agricultural and climate crisis is the context in which Russia’s wildfires must be framed.

3. The extent to which Russia benefits from global warming surely ought to be reassessed. Most climate models predicted a moderate increase in agricultural output on the cold Eurasian steppes with up to 2C of warming, making up for declining yields in the mid-latitudes and tropics. These assumptions might have to be reassessed if Russia’s Black Earth metamorphoses into a Dust Bowl. Though mass migration to the Arctic is a possible (and probably inevitable in the long-term) adaptation, it needs generations to be effected.

The preparations have to begin now. The sooner Putin and Medvedev realize this, the more favorably history will judge them; minor things will be forgotten. (I intend to write a post on Russia’s future as an Arctic civilization sometime in the next few weeks).

Russia is unlikely to ever have problems feeding itself, as long as its agricultural policies remain more or less sane. Nonetheless, its massive drought (which may become the norm rather than the exception sooner rather later) and grain export ban indicate it’s unwise to rely on it to bring big food surpluses to the global dinner table in the next few decades.

UPDATE, August 10: So it really is not just a one in a hundred years but a once in a thousand years event: Russian Meteorological Center: There was nothing similar to this on the territory of Russia during the last one thousand years in regard to the heat.


  1. The Arctic has given up the ghost, with sea ice volume plummetting into oblivion.

    I would say plummeting into sublime oblivion

  2. If your country bursts into flames in 800+ places I would tend to suspect arson. How hard would it be for USAID to send out a couple thousand firebugs with flare guns? Much is known about these types of fires in places like California and the kinds of damage they can do. Why take risks with military action when you can just burn the people out and blame it on the weather and/or domestic security shortsightedness of the russian leadership?

    • I don’t think it was arson, but I am surprised we still don’t have ecoterrorism on a massive scale. I pray to Allah that he continues keeping the more insane of his servants mired in ignorance

    • @donnyess & @Elena,
      Blaming this on careless BBQ-ers or arsonists, let alone the US, is even more pointless than blaming it on the Kremlin. IMHO.

      I don’t know. Ecoterrorism is pretty hard, I’d think, and the “rewards” aren’t immediate.
      Though funny you should mention OBL – this February he called for an “economic jihad” against the US on the basis that it is a big CO2 polluter! (See #2 in <a href="Sublime News #2).

  3. As always some stupid people decided to have a bbq in a 40C hot forest and didn’t care to take precautions…

  4. Yalensis says:

    Finally! Some intelligent discussion after reading all the hysterical bulls**t. Anatoly, my deepest gratitude to you and your ineffable sanity! The news is horrible enough; it gets even worse when political opportunists (= liberasti) attempt to exploit it for their own nefarious purposes.
    Quick question: being ignorant of metereology myself, but I heard one theory that the oil clogging up Gulf of Mexico may have been a factor in Russian heatwave, due to Gulf Stream currents, etc. Any opinion on this? If this were true, then we would be forced to blame “authoritarian” Barack Obama and ancient native-American yoke instead of Putin and poor maligned Mongol-Tatars.
    Quick point: Doesn’t it seem like Putin is more afraid of sovok criticisms than of liberasti, since he rushed with lightning speed to silence my new hero, Pochkov. Why is Pochkov my new hero? Well, I have to admit I am a bit of a sovok myself, politically. Also, thanks to Pochkov, I learned a new word today: рында. I had never actually heard or read that word before, I had to look it up in my Russian dictionary!

    • Thanks for the kind words, yalensis.

      I don’t see how the oil spill could have had an effect, I’m afraid. As BP CEO Tony Hayward said, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume”. In terms of ocean physics / thermodynamics, he’s right.

      Yes, I agree with your quick point. After all, whereas 15-20% of Russians are “sovoks”, only 5% at most are “liberasts”. And their other positive trait is that they actually put Russia’s interests ahead of the “international community’s” (read: America’s). This makes their criticism both more meaningful and more dangerous for the власть.

  5. Alex("zed" one) says:

    I am not convinced that fire-proofing of forests is worse than letting them grow wild – particularly, with people living nearby. I also suspect that eg. ~ 1,150,000 US fire fighters, while perhaps, not enough to completely control a disaster on a similar to Russian scale, still is better than- how many in Russia? nobody even knows after the “reform”? I saw figures from 10,000 officially employed to ~ 250,000 (including volunteers) currently on the front line.Equipped with what? (– unprintable?–) – was it Shoigu who called RLO a “bicycle pump”? How many of these “pumps” are now available? How many ВСУ-5 and helicopters? I mentioned the number of firefighters as a part of what “business optimization” able to do. One does not need a global warming (or cooling) for a disaster to strike, where private business is permitted to govern a country.

    Here is a text along the same lines:
    2010-#148-Johnson’s Russia List #10 (in English) or (original in Russian)

  6. Hi Anatoly, very interesting post indeed. In this regard, I want to underlie three points:

    1) in California, notwithstanding an army of firefighters and advanced tools, they were not able to stop the huge wildfires that raged there in the past years. This is why they are (slowly) moving to a Mexican type of fire management: Why Mexican? There were some advanced studies comparing the fire management of American California with the Mexican California, who reached the same conclusions you post above: a limited number of small controlled fires allows to clear out excess undergrowth and maintain the resilience of the forest ecosystem, while stopping small fires then results in huge uncontrollable wild fires (I just talked about that with some friends of mine in California some days ago),.

    2) In 2009, an inquiry made by the Italian newspaper ilSole24ore (the most important economic and financial journal in Italy) found that there are more than 68000 Italian forest guards but, very surprisingly, over 30000 are in Sicily, 11000 in Calabria , 7.000 in Basilicata, 6.500 in Sardegna, 5.040 in Campania. Instead, for example, in Friuli Venezia Giulia (the region where I was born) there are only 298 (!!!) forest guards even though the region has many woods and has a similar dimension to Basilicata. In general, in the central and northern Italian regions, the number or forest guards range between 50 and 1050. How could that be? One may say that the south of Italy is usually hotter than the north so that more fires are there : let’s have a look at the official statistics about fires in Italy in 2009 (in Italian):

    While indeed there are more fires in Sicily, they are not in a ratio of 1:100 with respect to the fires in the north. The same is true if we consider the areas involved in the fire. The disproportion are even more striking if we consider the other south regions. The scandal of the forest guards in south Italy is very well known for a series of reasons: the forest guards in the south represents an important “electoral body”, which can move hundreds of thousands of votes (each guard can control up to 100 or more votes, thanks to relatives and friends), therefore no one dare to touch them. Moreover, whenever some proposal to reduce their number is advanced, the number of fires “magically” increases, till the proposal is canceled. This is why is better to have a small but very well equipped and trained group of forest guards, than legions of inefficient guards.

    3) I agree with you that we are at the prelude of the massive effects of climate change: I have to say that I am only partially surprise by the violence of the effects already this year (and not later as many people think), since the global weather system is basically a “chaotic” system in the statistical sense, so that it is sufficient a small shock to bring it to the explosive path quite early.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      Hello DF,
      can you provide a link to the ilSole24ore article? I’d like to read it. To me, it looks like it is a sensationalist article, like the one about the 200 Russian Navy airplanes burnt in a base. Actually, it seems that in this article the number of forest guards for southern region is given by the sum of the true number of forest guards with the manpower of seasonal forest workers, while for northern regions only the forest guards were taken into account.
      The Forest State Corp (Corpo Forestale dello Stato) has 8500 units, and for autonomous regions (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sicilia, Sardegna, Valle d’Aosta) and provinces (Trento and Bolzano) there are separate corps. So there is no way that Calabria can have 11000 forest guards, while 7000 in Basilicata or 5040 in Campania are hard to believe, and can’t be both true. Also the Regional Forest Corp of Sardinia (Corpo Forestale e di Vigilanza Ambientale) has 1400 units, not 6500. On the other hand, the Regional Forest Corp of Friuli-Venezia Giulia has 298 units, that is to say seasonal forest workers (if any) were not included.

      The scandal of the forest guards in south Italy is very well known for a series of reasons: the forest guards in the south represents an important “electoral body”, which can move hundreds of thousands of votes (each guard can control up to 100 or more votes, thanks to relatives and friends), therefore no one dare to touch them.

      Sorry, this is nonsense. If forest guards in Sicily are such a powerful lobby, how comes that there has not been any public selection for regional forest guards in the last 20 years?

      Note 1: I’m Sicilian and work as an Assistant Professor (Ricercatore Universitario), how many votes can I “control”? I hope a little bit more than a forest guard.
      Note 2: This is not meant to say that everything is OK here, just not to blow it out of proportion.
      Note 3 (to AK): sorry for the long OT. (AK responds: No, please carry on; this discussion is both interesting and relevant).

      • Hi Giuseppe,
        I do not have the link to the Sole24ore article (I think it is in the archives of the journal which are not for free) which was published in 2007 (not 2009, sorry for the typo), but you can find those numbers reported in the official transcripts of the Italian Senate (in Italian):
        As you see, according the Italian labour Union Flai Cgil, in Sicily there are currently 30.754 forest guards, which include permanent and seasonal workers. More particularly they are employed for 78, 101, 151 days every year, for a total cost of 170 millions euro.
        Please do not call “sensationalist” the newspaper ilSole24ore, since it is one of the few respectable daily newspaper in Italy, with rather precise analysis (sometimes there are some small errors, but not as bad as the others). Besides, this economic newspaper is not is not full of economic and financial analysis as the Financial Times of WSj, but it is an indispensable tool for tax and law issues, given that Italian laws change continuously, and sometimes it is the “interpretation” and analysis reported by the Sole24ore to make the law clear at the “official level” . Therefore, calling this daily newspaper “sensationalist”, as if it were a gossip type journal like the English “The Sun” or the German “Bild”, is high disrespectful and offensive.
        Coming back to Sicilian forest guards, while the most of these contracts are seasonal, they are renovated every year. Moreover, last year , there was the inquiry by Panorama, which, even though is not precise and rigorous as Il Sole 24ore, showed how some of these forest guards to a second job (in black, i.e. tax evading) during the official time of forecast guards (see the video-inquiry here – in Italian)
        On the 13/07/2010, there was a protest by the forecast guards in Catania (Sicily), who were promised by the politicians an increase in the working days from 78, 101 e 151 (in 2008), to 101, 151 e 180 days in 2010,respectively. Unfortunately, due to the bad condition of the Italian finances, this increases were not approved. The interesting thing is what the spokesman for the forest guards said:
        “Last year, there was an agreement who was signed between the government guided by Lombardo and the labor unions promising, among other things, an increase in working days:…
        It is already many years that they talk about stabilization, without concrete results. The politicians making pledges during elections, USING US AS “ELECTORAL FUEL TANK”, knowing that in Sicily there are over 25,000 forest guards, and particularly in 5500 in Catania”. See the full interview in Italian here:

        As for forest guards in CALABRIA, according to the Regional Councilor for Agriculture (“Assessore Regionale in Italian) in Calabria Mario Pirillo interviewed on the 08/08/2007, the forest guards are “9600, all employed with permanent job contracts of hydraulic-forestry employment”, see the original interview in Italian:
        A similar number can be found above in the official transcript of the Italian Senate. Interestingly, the same public Councilor admits that “many of them are over 50 and are not able to stop fires”.

        Finally, a remark about the exchange of votes (“Voto di Scambio” in Italian): there is a vast literature, just do a Google search. While being a skilled worker with an higher education, makes you distant from the problem, I am sorry to say that is a widespread phenomenon. Most of my friends come from the South of Italy, including a couple that was among the main organizers of my marriage, and I worked in Campania region for a year. I know that reality very well: the lorries that go in the poor suburbs and towns offering pasta and other goods before the elections is a standard procedure (recently, there was a nice analysis on “Report”, Third public channel, with a service about Afragola, close to Naples; you can find the full video on Sorry, I perfectly understand that you want to defend your place of origin, but hiding the problem will not help to solve it.
        A major writer about the exchange of votes in general (including forest guards) is the journalist Roberto Galullo of the Sole24ore, who has an interesting blog regarding criminality in the south of Italy (and he is able to keep an ironic style, too)
        while for a nice piece about the exchange of votes among forest guards see one of his post :è-sempre-un-tariffario.html
        and of course the previous interview with one of the spokesman of the forest guards, where he clearly says that “the politicians use us as an electoral fuel tank”. The connections among relatives and close friends in the South are extremely strong, and they do not vote before a common decision is taken. If you are curious, just look for the literature in this regard (they even made a Wikipedia in Italian and in Sicilian slang about this problem!)
        Sorry AK for the long answer, but I think this may help clarify some previous points that I presented above in my first post without writing too many references.

        • P.S.Sometimes, I misprinted “forest guards” with “forecast guards”: I think it is due to both my work with financial data, and the terrible air here in Moscow (the last four days were extremely tough)

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          Hello DF,
          I wrote that the article is sensationalist, not the newspaper, and I’ve to add that’s not the only example of bad journalism in “Il Sole 24ore”. Overall a good newspaper, but far from perfect.
          The article is mixing up (I don’t know the reason, can be either ignorance or malice) forest guards with forest workers. The formers are a police force, which has little to do with fire prevention, the latters are mostly temporary workers hired on a local level. For a better description of the difference see here (in Italian). I think this forum discussion can be of interest too (also in Italian).
          As for Panorama, the article you link shows that they can’t do basic math: More particularly they are employed for 78, 101, 151 days every year, for a total cost of 170 millions euro.
          170 million divided by ~78 millions is a bit more than 2 euro a day. Also, 78 millions workdays a year divided by 30000 workers gives 2600 workdays for worker in a year. Do you take this data seriously?
          In order to make any meaningful comparison between Italian regions, we should know how much each region spends for forestry services from some respectable source, like the “Corte dei Conti” (something like the US GAO) or ISTAT (the Italian statistic service) not taking for granted the data from sensationalist articles and blog rants.
          I don’t expect southern regions to fare any better than northern ones, actually I think we are in a much worser condition, but making absurd claims isn’t going to help anyone.
          As for voting corruption, I’m aware of the problem, but I don’t understand why it needs to be blown out of proportion. Do you realize that 30000 forest workers controlling an average 100 votes each means that they control 3 million votes in a region with 5 millions inhabitants?
          I’m a skilled worker with an higher education as you write, but I’m also the son of a farmer and I’ve lived in a small town, so I know very well how the fake unemployed fraud works. It’s quite simple but curiously enough all these investigative journalists fail to understand it.

          • I am happy that you finally agree on the problem. Moreover, I sauf above that each worker controls “up to 100 votes”, and that the forest workers are an important “electoral body” , confirmed by the same forest workers (they say they are an “electoral fuel tank”, but the meaning is the same). Of course, there are also other important groups: Again , there is a vast literature about this problem.

            As for the difference between forest police guards and forest workers, using the pdf document you suggested, I read:
            ” The agents and officers of the “State Forest Corps” are a prestigious state police force with ancient history, consisting of OPERATORS WITH STRONG TECHNICAL FUNCTIONS IN FORESTRY AND ENVIRONMENT…”. “…It would be advisable for further clarity, a mass-media message saying that the “forest” guards, so many times cited in national televised public news and in the newspapers, are forest workers, seasonal or permanent employees used by local authorities, are CIVILIAN PERSONNELS, WHOSE WORK IS TO PLANT TREES, WORK FOR THE GOOD SYSTEM OF FORESTS AND PERFORM ACTIVITIES AGAIST FIRE……THESE WORKERS, WRONGLY OR CORRECTLY, ARE SOMETIMES THE HEADLINES FOR CONTROVERSY DUE TO THEIR ALLEGED INVOLVEMENT IN ACTS OF ACTIVATION OF A FIRE, WHICH THEY SHOULD LATER TURN OFF AND THEN PROCEED TO REFORESTATION. But this is actually quite unrelated to the forest police which, at the opposite, SHOULD PROCEED TO ARREST THOSE WHO SET FIRE .”
            This piece is good summary and say it all: “operators with strong technical functions in forestry and environment (THE FOREST POLICE)” and “civilian personnel, whose work is to plant trees, work for the good system of forests and perform activities against fire (THE FOREST SEASONAL WORKERS) “, are very close and substantially they work for the same goal. It is clear from the pdf you sent me, that the “prestigious”(!) forest police is trying to distance themselves from the “poor and bad” forest workers, when they work neck to neck doing the same thing, and the only difference is that they have the power to arrest, while the poor seasonal workers do not.
            Anyway, we can go on and on debating on every single legal term and Italian word definition, but I think it would not be useful (when the substance is already clear) and it would be extremely boring .
            One remark: most of these seasonal workers are people with past penal charges, drug addiction and social problems, and this job was given to them to avoid that they woud come back to commit criminal acts. I perfectly understand the social goal of this employment, but I think it was not the correct type of rehabilitation (personal opinion). It would have been better to teach an occupation (like farming or industry workers, or turist beach operator), that basically let them walk in the woods without a clear work. It is also very understandable why, at a certain point, they start fires themselves (they have almost nothing to do and their job contract is at risk not be renovated next year). Moreover, now the Italian public finances are in bad shapes and I do not know these contract will be renovated in the future.

            • Giuseppe Flavio says:

              I “finally” agree with you? Please read note 2 on my first comment.
              Is it true that forest workers in Sicily are an “electoral fuel tank”? Sure.
              Is it true that each of the 30000 (or 25000 according to another article you linked) controls 100+ votes? Sure not, as an easy multiplication (30000*100=3 millions) can easily show.
              What’s the point in making such absurd claims?
              Saying that forest guards and forest workers are the same thing is like saying that traffic policemen and road construction and maintenance workers are the same. I won’t venture into explaining the difference in english, there are already many Italian sources about it.

              • You are still playing with words: both forest guards and forest workers have to stop fires and do works to avoid fires. They do the same thing , but their job contract is different: police force the first, seasonal workers the second. I look at the substance not at the form.

  7. A couple points:

    – I remember it was a common conservative political foil when I lived in Fresno that the Forest Service and Park Service were led by some kind of conspiracy because they were letting small fires burn. Of course, Yosemite Valley used to be a grassland, now it’s a forest because letting it burn every summer is dangerous with so many permanent structures on the valley floor. Most commentators talk about how letting the fires burn is bad for tourism, the cause of Central Valley smog, etc. They rarely admit that tourism is probably not the best focus for those tending those public lands, and most Valley smog is due to the ungodly numbers of entropic auto-dependent suburbs carpeting the once agricultural hinterland of central CA. So it’s no surprise these same usual suspects extend these criticisms to Russia’s land stewardship policies.

    – Canada and the Upper Midwest of the US are also experiencing a bad year for rain and floods. Basically every major world source for grain exports are having a crappy year. The trend next year: watch Chinese smart men touring the globe and buying up grain hedges in any country that will allow it. Those countries might be sorry for allowing it (something Russia is not)…

    – I am curious whether the increased albedo from the smoke of the fires might counter the decreased albedo from melted Arctic ice? Totally not my department academically, but you’ve gone into it often and I’m curious whether you’ve landed on any analyses in the current situation?

    • Agreed. The Forest Service is abused by the guys who build their mansions near forests, demand they control all fires, then sue them for failing to prevent the eventual, inevitable conflagration that burns down their houses. Then they win in court and the FS is left with no money (not that they ever had much).

      I don’t think the ash-clouds will do much for albedo: certainly not in the long-term. On the other hand the burned particulates might land on the Arctic sea ice, further accelerating melting. (This phenomenon is observed in Himalayan glacier melt accelerating thanks to the hundreds of millions of village Indians who burn biomass in primitive wood stoves).

  8. There are many conspiracy theories floating in Russia that the US has caused the Russian heat wave and drought with HAARP.

    • Carl

      The day you find no conspiracy theories floating around in Russia, please let me know. I have an almost irresistible obsession with supranatural phenomena

  9. I happen to know your theory is nonsense. I learned the real truth from the Conservative Republican Nutjobs of America’s (CRNA) Science Department. It is just common sense: Washington’s record snowfalls this year are proof that global warming is totally made up by attention-seeking nerds with clipboards who can’t get laid like real men. Don’t believe me? Read it and weep.

    How could there be such a thing as global warming if Washington, the centre of the known universe, was COLDER this year; answer me that.

    Seriously, this is a much-needed and excellent perspective, Anatoly. Your conclusions are well-supported, although the bit about preventive forest maintenance for fire control is rightly open to conjecture (as Alex suggests).

    Remember Frederick Forsyth’s, “The Devil’s Alternative”? It was a work of fiction, but looks prescient now, although the failure of the Soviet grain crop in that instance was due to a chemical malfunction in a broadly-used fertilizer/bird repellent. Lindane, if memory serves. Anyway, satellite photography revealed the extent of the devastation, and the U.S. decides to press for drastic concessions in weapon reductions in exchange for selling the USSR grain to make up the shortfall, without which there would likely be starvation. For their part, the USSR contemplates a military lunge to take what they must have. The rest is fairly predictable thriller fare, although it’s a really good escapist read.

    Russia is an enormous consumer of grain, and I’ve read Canada can’t help them this year, because we had the opposite problem – too much rain early in the season made for a terrible year for wheat; Australia experienced something similar. I didn’t read anything on the U.S situation. The shortage is something people who are responsible for that sort of thing better start looking into now, against the possibility winter will be just as harsh as summer was. China is the world’s largest wheat producer: I wonder how they’re fixed? Also, the destruction to the forests will have long-term implications as well; forestry is a coming industry for Russia, and they have enormous reserves. It remains to be seen what will be left. I wonder why they haven’t asked for help outside Russia?

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      Global wheat supply is not so bad worldwide, at least according to latest FAO estimates link.

      I wonder why they haven’t asked for help outside Russia?
      Italy and France are sending firefighting planes. In the past Russian Beriev 200 firefighting planes operated in Italy to suppress wildfires in Sardinia. To my knowledge, these exchanges are quite common.

      • Moscow looks like Sydney or Beijing in recent years. Russia will need to restore its trees and cut logging as a preventative measure. Most of the logging is done illegally by assholes, so just enforcing the law is one of the challenges.

        This is also climate change, not global warming. The globe is experiencing more temperature extremes. South America is having a Russian winter this year so the two continents should be trading bikinis and fur hats right now.

      • That’s interesting and informative, Giuseppe; thanks. I hadn’t seen any such reports. Firefighting bombers will be like gold, because many of the fires look to be in remote areas unreachable by road. At least, even dry as it is, Russia shouldn’t have to worry about running short of water for firefighting.

  10. AK,

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in the late 70s if I’m not mistaken that Russia’s destiny lay in colonizing the great North of Arctic Siberia and the Far East, not in the Soviet adventurism in places like Angola he condemned at the time. I don’t think he imagined said colonization occurring under the pressure of drought across central Russia.

    “There are many conspiracy theories floating in Russia that the US has caused the Russian heat wave and drought with HAARP.” Maybe the real-life Dominique Greens of Quantum wanted to punish Russia for hacking the East Anglia emails and temporarily screwing up their plans for a global carbon tax? It’s DOA in Congress and the EPA’s attempts to impose it by executive fiat are meeting fierce resistance from the hinterlands, notably the Texas Attorney General. No surprise Texastan may behave a bit like Russia in this instance as both are major hydrocarbon exporters. Dangling the carrot of measuring Russia’s CO2 emissions according to the polluting 1990 USSR benchmark so Russia would have lots of carbon credits to sell apparently did not work.

    And if we really all have our tin foil hats on like Mel Gibson’s Jerry character in Conspiracy Theory, why did D.C. observe it’s first earthquake in recorded history (a puny 3.0, but still warning shot?). Is that retaliation for HAARP?

  11. So AK, if Russia turns into Central Asia, then what does Central Asia turn into? And India, China and other HOT countries? I shudder at the thought.

    Is your next GW report going to consider effects of a possible Gulf Stream collapse? That has been my big fear, but it might not be so bad if such effects are compensated by more warming.

    Meanwhile, I’m back in Moscow this morning, on the 4th floor, and the unpleasant pungency of smoke continues to reach my nostrils through the ventilation system.

    Buy Arctic real estate now!

    • In the worst case scenario (and after quite a while), Central Asia / China / India may become outright uninhabitable. That’s assuming high climate sensitivity and no successful geoengineering. The world system will become centered around the Arctic regions, with teeming metropolises springing up on the estuaries of Siberian and Canadian rivers.

      The latest research indicates that thermohaline circulation collapse should be rather gradual, and will balance out warming in north-west Europe. So places like Scandinavia and Scotland should become very attractive.

      About buying up the Arctic – this is, incidentally, something I’ve been “thinking of thinking seriously” about in the last few months.

      • Well that’s a relief about thermohaline collapse! (If true, that is.) But I find it ironic, considering you’ve done some posts around the idea of the Coming Chinese Superpower™, to think that said superpower might wind up not just uninhabitable, but possibly facing the worst eco-demographic disaster in the history of the world.

        • But it’s probably many decades into the future (or 3-5C rise) before China’s carrying capacity is to start collapsing from the effects of climate change.

          I’m more bullish on China than (even) the mainstream and think that it can emerge as the leading Power by the 2020’s, so it will have plenty of scope to tackle its monumental challenges. IMO, how it deals with its environmental (and energy!) will in large part inform 21st C history.

      • “The world system will become centered around the Arctic regions, with teeming metropolises springing up on the estuaries of Siberian and Canadian rivers.”

        Well, in that scenario the sea level would become unstable, so arctic uplands would be more attractive than arctic estuaries.

        Not that I’m endorsing that scenario as likely or anything – I’m still an agnostic about the A part of AGW and about these guys’ ability to predict future trends. One would probably need years of immersion in that subject to have a hope of forming an independent opinion on it, and I certainly haven’t done that.

  12. Relevant update: So it really is not just a one in a hundred years but a once in a thousand years event: Russian Meteorological Center: There was nothing similar to this on the territory of Russia during the last one thousand years in regard to the heat.

  13. The underlying problem leading to forest fires is ozone pollution. Decades of cumulative exposure to toxic greenhouse gases have damaged trees all over the globe, which has led to a rapidly accelerating, irreversible decline. Trees are rotted, weakened, and more susceptible to insects, fungus, disease, weather and fire because volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere, emitted from burning fuel, interact with UV radiation and the resulting ozone is poisonous.

    Characteristic stippling, singeing, holes and shriveling can be seen on the foliage of annual plants as well, causing crop losses. Our entire industrial lifestyle is the main cause of this and will shortly lead to mass famine, well before climate change from CO2 destroys civilization and most species on earth.

  14. right oh

  15. I am responding a little bit late to this post but I usually do not read your blog as I consider it the extension of Russia Today, a Kremlin paid propaganda channel which for me is easy to recognize as I had grown up and lived in Soviet Russia for more than 30 years. Tell me, Anatoly Karlin, who are you to judge what western journalists have to go through to cover stories about Russia, when you are sitting comfortably in California and watching Russia Today and interviewing so called experts as people Lavelle and the likes of him. I am the mother of Miriam Elder and I am outraged at your callous remark about the burns she suffered while covering fires in Russia. Have you even talked to her? Have you seen the injury? Do you know what she is going through right now?
    How dare you? You are a little bitter man fancying yourself to be a great philosopher and an expert. You know nothing!!!! Вы очень непорядочный человек! Вы подонок.


    • Thanks for your comment Ella, I love you too.

      Now assuming you are who you claim to be, I’ll address the sole point that is (tangentially) related to the topic of this post.

      Miriam wrote a journalistic story about her foot and the burning sandpit. Julia Ioffe referenced it in the New Yorker. Miriam then tweeted about how Julia made her foot famous. The only “callous” thing I did was paraphrase your daughter’s own words and sense of humor.

      Furthermore, do bear in mind that to me – as to everyone else who only knows Miriam through her writings on the Internet – she is a journalist and a public figure (and incidentally one who can always comfortably fly back to America for medical treatment when Russia turns the heat on). I do wish her a speedy recovery, but why you expect me to express special concern or respect for her must remain a mystery.

      I don’t really feel the need to respond to the rest of your post, especially since I’ve already done so here. You might benefit from reading it.

      Падонок Всея Руси.

      • Mark Sleboda says:

        IMHO That was uneccesary. You really didn’t need to respond to a liberal (and I say that word with the same innotation I might say Guinea Worm or other parasite) Russia-Watching blogger’s self-exiled self-hating mother running hysterically off her porch to stop the kids from picking on her special little girl and to kiss her boo boo and make it all better… Beneath your dignity to respond to that.

      • Yes, I am who I say I am. And, no I am not going to read your posts. I detest all your ideas and thoughts expressed in your ruminations. I learned about this particular post because someone had told me about it. And yes, my daughter is in the States, because her injury turned out to be more serious to be treated properly in Russia. As to the rest of your reply, I really do not care what you or your apologists on this blog say.

        • Mark Sleboda says:

          “As to the rest of your reply, I really do not care what you or your apologists on this blog say.”
          – Now, now, now – we should not tell lies here, and we all know this one is not true or you would not have and read and then posted on this thread in the first place.

          “because her injury turned out to be more serious to be treated properly in Russia.
          – This is a common symptom of Russian liberalism and the self-hating, self-exile – the idea that Russians can’t do anything right and that everything is somehow better in the West. My wife and I have discovered after living in Russia, the USA, and the UK over the last decade – that the best medical care in terms of treatment, cost, and bedside manner, is in Russia by far (the only thing you are likely to get in the USA is some underqualified overpayed hack shoving unnecessary drugs down your throat as his sportscar and house are dependent on his pay as a shill to some pharmaceutical giant or private health care insurance ponzi scheme). We would not think of getting treatment anywhere else We can suggest suggest the name of a very good clinic with the best doctors in Moskva if you want the next time your little girl burns her toes or scrapes her knees while on safari in the big bad Russia while writing her Yellow Press bile.

        • “I detest all your ideas and thoughts expressed in your ruminations.”
          That reminds me of a line in some movie I once watched:
          “I loathe and despise you with every fiber of my being … and yet I feel strangely attracted to you…” [followed by big kissing scene]

          In other news… hey everyone, check out this article in regnum about Kyrgyzia, this stuff is right up my alley:

          • Believe me, I’ve had no shortage of middle-aged Russophobic Russian-American women wanting a love-hate relationship before Ella came along! 😉

            Since you appear to be following the Kyrgyz situation much more than I do, how influential is this СССР party? Are they allied with Roza Otunbayeva? They seem like a good party, but can any political model dig the Kyrgyz economy out of its continuing post-Soviet hyperdepression?

            • Hey, come on, Anatoly! I am betting you Ella is a red-hot sexy cougar! Maybe we can convince her to post her photo on your blog so we can tell for sure…
              Seriously, though… Unfortunately all I know about Kyrgyzia is what I read in the online gazettes. I have no idea if this CCCP party has any influence or is just a tiny fringe group. I hope they do well in the upcoming elections, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking of my part. I can’t seem to find much substantial material, let alone something like an opinion poll. Roza seems like a good leader, she is really trying to hold things together in a very difficult situation. I wish Russia would help her more. It is significant that Putin was the first person she turned to for help. He turned her down, which disappointed me, but I do admit he probably had a good reason. I know that Americans are very interested in establishing their dominance there, in the Fergana Valley, which they consider the strategic key to controlling all energy resources of Eurasia. (I think I read that in Stratfor, let me see if I can find some links…)

    • Ella, you are out of line and you owe everyone on this forum an apology. No one said anything derogatory about your daughter. We are trying to have civilized discussion about important issues. If you have political disagreements with Anatoly, that is your right, but it is childish on your part to resort to personal abuse and name-calling.

  16. PhilipOwen says:

    It’s not climate change; It’s weather. Next year could be soaking wet.

    • It would be weather if it were within normal bounds (e.g. last 100 years) of expected temperature maximums. Becomes much harder to hold that view when it’s once in 15,000 years assuming that climatic conditions are stable.