Scholars about Baikal

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V. Solovyev’s ideas cited above developed further and found some followers in Russia. In the late XIX – early XX centuries prominent scholars I.P. Borodin, A.P. Semenov-Tien-Shansky, V.I. Taleyev and some others developed an ethical-aesthetic approach to environmental protection and reserve management. This approach focuses upon determination of the ethical value of the natural world and it stressed the importance of building humane attitude of Man towards virgin nature, whatever form it should take - be it the floral or animal world, etc. In 1908 one of the founders of the reserve management science Prof. G.A. Kozhevnikov suggested “the right of virgin nature to existence”. This idea was supported by scholars and practitioners who undertook a noble mission of opening The Barguzin Reserve on Lake Baikal.

Thanks to the efforts and ideas by those scholars-enthusiasts Baikal was the first lake for which the issue of establishing a permanent research station was raised in the world literature. This suggestion was first made by B. Dybovsky in the 1880s. Later the necessity of establishing such a station on Baikal was discussed in a number of publications both in Russia and abroad. However, as we have mentioned above, first stations of this kind appeared only in 1925.

The name of Baikal’s explorer A.M. Stanilovsky is undeservingly little known among academics and the public. He, who was born in Moscow and studied at Moscow and Kazan universities, was arrested for participating in an anti-governmental demonstration against the tsarist regime, and in 1899 was deported to Irkutsk for taking part in student riots. Being a man of marked ability, he acted as an executive officer of the East-Siberian division of the Geographical Society in Irkutsk and was its executive board’s member. In 1905 he took a boat trip round the whole Baikal and made interesting observations of life there. In the book that he wrote afterwards one can find stories about animals, fish and other Baikal inhabitants, essays about the life and customs of the indigenous peoples and local Russians, facts concerning archeological finds in the vicinity of the lake. Stanilovsky was among the first explorers to have noted down local folklore, such as songs, riddles, proverbs and sayings. He also provided his book with a dictionary of dialectal and local words. The book also offers descriptions of the peculiarities and traditions of Baikal fishing industry and amateur fishing. What is remarkable, the book gives account of neglectful, sometimes even destructive attitude to nature, and cites interesting examples of the local people’s environmental defensive activities. However, Stanilovsky’s book was published only after his death, on the eve of revolutionary events in the country, and, for this reason, was only little known to the public.

His tragic and absurd death deeply shocked the town of Irkutsk. On October 22, 1905 Stanilovsky went for a dinner with his friends to the “Russia” restaurant. The tsar’s manifesto had been published earlier on that day and the restaurant’s musicians started the national anthem “God, Save the Tsar”. Everyone at the restaurant rose to their feet, while Stanilovsky remained sitting at his table, as since his student years he had stuck to anti-imperial views. One of the army officers who were present there flew at Stanilovsky with his a bare sword, but Stanilovsky’s friends managed to stop him. At that moment there a shot banged, and Stanilovsky fell down dead. It turned out that he was killed by a drunken man - a paramedic at the railway station, who was later deeply remorseful after he had got sober. Stanilovsky’s grave can be found at the former Jerusalem cemetery in Irkutsk (now – the city’s Central park) not far from the grave of a famous local historian and writer M.V. Zagoskin.

Since the 1920s the science of Baikal was closely connected with the name of an outstanding scholar and activist G.Yu. Vereshagin. As a student at Warsaw university in early 1910s he attended lectures about Baikal, delivered by B.I. Dybovsky. His vivid and captivating stories motivated the young man to dedicate himself to explorations of the unique lake. In 1924 he was elected Secretary of the Commission by the Academy of Sciences on Baikal study and then developed a project of a research station at the lake. The Baikal Commission, which he headed in 1925-1929, explored all main parts of the lake and collected numerous factual materials concerning various aspects of Baikal’s environment, most of which had not been studied before. In 1929 The Baikal Expedition was reorganized into The Baikal Biological Station, and since 1932 Vereshagin devoted his life to his work there until his death in 1944. His contemporaries characterized him as “a man of unique energy”, who was equally successful both in solving practical problems and researching theoretical aspects of limnology. Gleb Vereshagin left numerous academic and research works about “the glorious sea” (a name for Baikal) - probably, educational article “Baikal” being the one most filled with care and love.

However, after World War II quite different “research clouds” started to gather above the lake. In 1958 a team of hydro-engineers under the guidance of Chief Engineer N. Grigorovich started developing a project of “Baikal’s complex exploitation”. The designers planned to deepen the Angara’s riverbed in order to enhance water supply the hydro-power stations located lower. Baikal’s water-level was to be lowered by 3-5 meters at the beginning, and later it was to be lowered and raised with a 6-meter amplitude during the next decades. Let us give here a brief review of the arguments for the validation of this project made at that time. “Each meter of Baikal’s water, if driven through turbines of the Irkutsk and Bratsk hydropower plants, contains 20 bln kilowatt-hours of electric power. If we bring down the level of Baikal by at least 5 meters, we will gain 100 bln kilowatt-hours - a huge supply of power… Angara’s outlet will become navigable” (see 132, p. 79).

Bulgarian writer Krum Bosev gives an account of his meeting with Prof. M.M. Kozhov, who shared his views on this project by Grigorovich to blast the underwater rock body in Angara’s outlet. The project, according to its designers, was to bring the 2 bln Rub. revenue to the country’s economy. Here are some of Prof. M.M. Kozhov’s arguments, cited by the writer:

“It is billions of Rubles that are besotting design organizations, that hamper our struggle against this project…Two billion! But what will be the cost of 30 000 of ammonite needed for the blasts? What will be the cost of Baikal’s fish resources lost because of the blasts? Our estimates show that the damage to Baikal’s fishing industry will make the same 2 bln! Baikal is the deepest lake in the world, while for the animals inhabiting its vicinity shallow areas are of prime importance. Who can secure that the storage dam of the power plant will bear the pressure from the strong waves caused by the blasts? This blast is going to be as powerful as an A-bomb… There are other considerations, too. However, I believe all this is not so important. Baikal is a priceless gift of nature, it is a pearl, beauty, poetry. No one has the right to destroy such beauty”.

Not only Prof. Kozhov could speak well, but he could also act. A meeting of the Baikal Commission by the All-Union Hydro-biological Society of the USSR Academy of Sciences was held in 1960 in Moscow. This meeting was devoted to the report by Prof. M.M. Kozhov and N.V. Tyumentsev “Biological consequences of fluctuations in Baikal’s water-level”. The report was made in response to the plan of deepening the Angara’s riverbed by applying a powerful blast.

That report not only helped to withdraw the project later, but it also led to further considerations and reflections. Following the results of the meeting, its participants carried out a resolution, which, among other issues, said: “It is necessary to draw public attention to the plans and projects of constructing pulp-and-paper plants on Baikal shores, which are absolutely inadmissible…a unique natural complex of Baikal should be considered as National endowment of the Soviet people…”.

Baikal’s protectors had to oppose not only professionals who sought greater volumes of hydropower and bigger revenues, but also Communist party and Soviet power officials, who supported the project. They again stressed considerations of “public good” created by hydropower plants, as well as concerns for the scientific-technological progress. For example, Secretary of the Irkutsk Obkom (Obkom-Regional Communist Party Committee) Katsuba addressed the scientists in the following way: “We want a new powerful enterprise, we want to produce hundreds of thousands tons of aluminum, but you would collect all sorts of bugs and shrimp!” Secretary of the Buryat Obkom A. Modogoyev, in his turn, called scientist G.I. Galaziy “enemy of the Buryat people” for the position taken by the scientist.

Grigory Ivanovich Galaziy, a facilitator of science at Baikal, deserves a special mentioning. Thanks to his activities, a small research station at Baikal was re-organized into the Institute for Limnology at the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Science, which he headed during 26 years. Galaziy dreamt of leaving the lake intact for the future generations as a living museum, so he passionately struggled for its virginity and beauty. Member of the USSR Academy of Science, Doctor of Biology, author of over 400 publications and 8 books about Baikal, he never stayed away from the disputes about the lake’s future, but vigorously expressed his arguments for its protection at various levels of political power and in mass media. For his activities he was elected Member of the Russian State Duma (Parliament) in 1996, and won high esteem in Moscow, like he had done in his home town.

The position taken by the “Knights of Baikal” encourages us to recall the major stages in the struggle of scholars and the public for Baikal’s virginity within a framework of the general environmental movement in the country. In 1924 Moscow State University Professors G. A. Kozhevnikov and N.M. Kulagin initiated establishment of the All-Russian Nature Protection Society (ANPS), which put a goal of involving as many people as it would be possible in the environmental movement. Nevertheless, despite the noble causes, the ANPS had no freedom to openly protest against the hazardous to the environment follies of the utilitarian state.

It is remarkable that Baikal became the starting point for the practical implementation of the movement for the environmental purity and safety on the nation-wide scale in the USSR and, later, Russia. We can say with certainty that the Soviet and Russian “green” movement first appeared and consolidated at Baikal. The movement proved its power when it won in the struggle against “the southern pipe” (disposal of wastes by the Baikalsky pulp-and-paper plant into the Irkut river) in 1987-1988, and later, in their campaign against “the northern pipe” (oil pipe-line from East Siberia to the Pacific Ocean region) in 2006, when they managed to gain support from the Russian President.

In 1958 the “Literaturnaya Gazeta ” newspaper published an article entitled “In Protection of Baikal”. The article severely criticized the project of enhancing hydro-power characteristics of the river Angara by deepening its river-bed through a powerful blast. The project was suggested by N.A. Grigorovich. The article was singed by well-known citizens of the Irkutsk region: G. Galaziy – at that time Director of the Limnological station, A. Bochkin – Site Manager of the Irkutsk Hydropower Plant, Professors Ya. Grushko and M. Kozhov, writers K. Sedykh and F. Taurin and others.

In 1959 the Moscow Branch of the country’s Geographic Society had a special meeting devoted to protection of Baikal, where they made a statement about the inadmissibility of constructing a pulp-and-paper plant on Baikal’s shore. Later in Sverdlovsky region workers of the Uralmash factory put forward an initiative to collect one Ruble from every citizen of the country and use the 350 mln rubles for constructing the plant in a different location. Public rallies in protection of Baikal went on in the Priangarye region as well. Despite all the protests, the decision about the plant’s construction was still taken, although it was followed by a Decree № 652 “On protection and exploitation of natural resources in Lake Baikal’s water-basin”, which prohibited commissioning and running of the Baikalsky plant without the measures securing water-waste treatment.

Establishment of the Siberian Branch of the Academy of Science in late 1950s advanced the role of scholars in solving problems of Baikal. The newly opened Institute for Limnology not only enabled deeper research into Baikal studies, but also made its staff the driving force in the movement for Baikal’s protection.

In 1961 the “Komsomolskaya pravda” newspaper published an open letter by G. Galaziy “Baikal in Danger”. In it he suggested several variants of removing the pulp-and-paper plant from Baikal’s site, as well as changes in the technology of pulp-making. “I urge designers, engineers, management and employees of Gosplan (The State Planning Committee of the USSR) to make their suggestions aimed at protecting Baikal from the damage. I am sure we can find a way how to do it without long delays and extra costs to the construction”.

In April 1966 M.A. Sholokhov (an outstanding Russian writer) made a speech at the 23rd Congress of the USSR Communist Party (the “highest” rostrum in the country at that time), in which he vividly described the possible tragic fate of the sacred lake caused by deforestation and construction of pulp-and-paper plants and urged to rescue Lake Baikal. His speech helped the environmentalists, but still could only little influence the energy of “keen developers”.

In May 1966 the “Komsomolskaya pravda” newspaper published another letter signed by a group of reputed scholars and writers with a headline “Baikal is Waiting”. In the letter they demanded to “reconsider the taken decisions and correct the errors made by the former State Committee on Forest, Pulp-and-Paper and Wood Processing Industry and Forest Management. The error that risks to turn into a real disaster for the national economy in that region”. And again all the warnings made by scholars and the public in the 1960s and 1970s failed to reach those who were making such absurd decisions. Anyway, hardly any of the decision-makers, as well as scholars and designers, could have changed the will of the Communist Party it its desire “to catch up and take over America”.

As for Baikal’s problems – they should rather have been avoided. We can bring more facts connected with launching the Baikalsky pulp-and-paper plant. A book entitled “The Land of Irkutsk”, which was released in 1967, gave an detailed account of the Irkutsk region’s achievements in many fields, but none of the articles in the book paid attention to any of the region’s problems. Here is an extract from the article under the title “Pearl of Russia” mentioning the launch of the Baikalsky plant: “A pulp-and-paper plant has been recently constructed on the lake’s shore. Residents of Baikalsk have celebrated two important events during this year of Soviet power’s anniversary – completion of the first stage in the plant’s construction, and transformation of the settlement at the plant into a town with a romantic name – Baikalsk. This is the newest town in the region. It produces cellulose of the highest quality. First-class waste water treatment facilities, a strict state control, and assistance of the Science must secure preservation of the lake’s waters in their virgin purity”.

Not a word was said about the fact that even at that time the “most up-to-date and first-class” waste water treatment facilities failed to meet the requirements, although only one member of the State Commission inspecting the facilities – M.Z. Gofman – refused to sign the acceptance certificate, protesting against their quality.

Any decision – good or harmful – is first formed in the minds of individuals, ripen there, and being supported by others, come to reality. Therefore, it is essential to reveal the motives of the individuals, who were for and against the construction of various environmentally hazardous objects.

So, the motivation of those who supported construction of harmful productions:

  • Confidence in promoting the nation’s interests, economic and strategic benefits (production of paper and “clean” cellulose);

  • Habit of following the directions of the higher authorities thoughtlessly, obedience;

  • Desire to please the authority;

  • Fear for own career;

  • Pressure from the powerful decision-makers;

  • Belief that “minor” pollution is unlikely to make a serious damage to Baikal. “Baikal has long been taking in the dirty waters of the Selenga river, but nothing happens”;

  • Assumption that all waste waters from pulp-making plants are harmless to the fauna and flora of the lake;

  • Protection of the “corporate image” after the decision has been taken;

  • Expenditures already made: the project started, so too late to turn back.

  • Unwillingness to admit the mistake.

We could give numerous examples to the listed above motives that made people neglect Baikal’s safety, but today they are not so important. Still, let us cite two opinions - of Minister Orlov, who initiated the whole “cellulose campaign” at the sacred lake, and of Chief Designer Smirnov – taken from Academician A.A. Trofimuk’s letter to L. I. Brezhnev and his interview published in the “Nash Bakal” Newspaper (№ 5, 1990).

Characterizing the former, the academician said: “Choice of the site to locate the Baikalsky and Selenginsky plants was Minister Com. Orlov’s arbitrary decision, while he ignored data collected by the scientists…Orlov, who has long lost honor and conscience of a real communist, systematically misinforms the government and the Communist Party Central Committee, claiming that the decisions concerning construction and exploitation of the named plants were right. The desire to protect his own image prevents him from assessing and accepting the suggestions made by the Academy of Science. He does everything, using unworthy methods as well, to defame these suggestions… We know him as an impudent person who does not hesitate to tell lies. It was him who demanded to sternly punish G. Galaziy. We could all feel that he is extremely authoritarian, and if such a man comes in for authority… ”. In his interview A. Trofimuk characterized engineer Smirnov in the following way: “I got a feeling that he would execute any order. In fact, it was true. I don’t think he was a creative person, rather a good manager who could please the bosses. The thing is that the plant was being built even without the project documentation, but according to executive cost sheets only. The construction process was not properly supervised, instead they put a security label on the project. They claimed that they were building a plant for the production of aircraft tyres for the military, but it was a lie.”

The “opponents”, supported by powerful Party and Soviets bodies, as well as mass media, struck back following the principle “offence is the best defense”. On April 8-9, 1965 an Irkutsk newspaper “Vostochno-Sibirskaya Pravda” published an article by Chief Engineer B. Smirnov titled “To clear the fog over Baikal” . The article was a response to those who tolled an alarm bell about the harmful impact of the puilp-and-paper plant on Baikal. Its main argument said that the amount of pollutants from the plants will be significantly lower than from the rivers falling into the lake. The article sternly criticized initiators of the opposition campaign – Volkov, Galaziy, Solonetsky, Taurin, who, as the article emphasized, “received approval and support from the media in the US and other capitalistic states” (this phrase alone was a weighty argument against those people at that time and could lead to rather serious consequences).

Their way of thinking and motivation can be explained like this: both Orlov and Smirnov – the Minister and the project executor – were outsiders on the Baikal territory, for them these lands were not “home”, therefore they did not have real concern about the future of this area. Sadly, but nowadays, too, there are many owners and developers in our region, whose headquarters are located miles and miles away, and who take little consideration of Lake Baikal’s problems. Therefore, the question now is how to encourage such businessmen to take close to their heart not only the pains and the concerns of their own business, but of the land where they do it, as well. Surely, both economic, legislative and psychological leverage has to be employed in this respect.

True “knights” of Baikal, the ones that we have already mentioned, and those whom we have not mentioned here (we regret to say that it is impossible to mention all of them in one book) never hesitated to fight for its security and well-being with no fear for their personal comfort or career. What motivated them in their position, apart from passionate love for Nature and the Sacred Lake, is as follows:

  • Rejection of the destructive and indifferent attitude towards the earth and future prospects of the humanity;

  • Personal involvement into Baikal’s prospects;

  • Understanding of the possible negative consequences threatening people living locally, and even in other regions;

  • An active “citizen’s stand” – the desire to struggle for a socially relevant cause;

  • An urge to put pressure and influence the presumptuous authorities;

  • Support for environmental movement and risen people’s “green” consciousness that consolidated especially after the victories in the struggle against the plans to build waste discharge facilities in the 1980s won by residents of Irkutsk who formed a public pressure group “Movement in protection of Baikal”.

Another victory over another pipe – the oil pipe-line “East Siberia – Pacific Ocean” is worth our special attention. The plan to lay the pipe-line along Baikal’s coastline designed by OAO “AK Transneft” provoked public outcry in the region and reached the federal government. At the meeting of the Siberian Federal District’s leaders held in Tomsk on April 26, 2006 the Russian President – Vladimir Putin – made a decision to relocate the oil pipe-line from the lake’s shores, thus responding to the demands of the public. He said: “The Baikal part of the pipe-line has to be laid outside the watershed area, at least 40 km away from the water-line… If there is even a small chance of polluting Lake Baikal, we must do our best to avoid this hazard completely, rater than minimize it”.

Many people even now argue that the harmful influence of the Baikalsky and Selenginsky pulp-and-paper plants on the environment is local and minimal. Apparently, there could be some reason in their arguments, as they provide scientific data and calculations, sweeping away opposing opinions by “amateurs”. For example, Director of the Institute for Limnology academician M. Grachyov, in line with Smirnovsky, tried to “clear the fog over Baikal” in his interview to “The Russian Federation Today” magazine, which was headlined “No Need in Myths about Baikal”, in which he said: “The results of our Institute’s work have disproved the myth about a total pollution of Baikal. On the contrary, it has been discovered that the lake remains practically intact. In my view, this attainment has a huge practical value”

Let God be judge to such an attainment, still, some parts of this interview need commenting. Dependence of the science on the state - first of all, in issues of research projects’ funding – discouraged many scientists from opposing the state authorities openly; they either direct their efforts at developing “approved” (though often fruitless) projects, or report conclusions that are basically non-figurative and weasel – therefore, quite safe for the authors. The cited above abstracts from the interview are of the this kind, and thus, “helps” politicians in taking certain decisions. Let us quote another part from the mentioned above interview: “as a person who knows Baikal well, as well as a scientist who is in charge of the Institute for Limnology, I can say with assurance that there is no danger threatening Baikal now, and nothing disastrous can be foreseen in the future”. Or another one, even “better”: “Baikal is a huge system. In comparison to it, the pulp-and-paper plant is a sand-grain. A renowned popularizer of science Ya. Perelman wrote that if all the humanity were drowned in Baikal, its water level would rise by five millimeters. Fifty years have passed since then, the number of humans almost doubled, so Baikal’s level would rise by five more millimeters! I suppose this example gives quite a vivid idea about the size of the natural object named Baikal. Thus, to pollute it would be a difficult and a costly task - in all probability, combined industries of the most advanced countries would not cope with this task. This region is populated by about two mln people, while only 100 000 reside on Baikal’s shores – that is, extremely few people. Once I demonstrated to my German colleagues what Baikal is: I placed the lake’s map on the map of Germany and Baikal almost covered its entire territory! So, let’s not indulge in illusions: we do not have sufficient technical facilities to pollute Baikal to a disastrous state”.

I have no wish to belittle the importance of this official or the successes of the institution headed by him. But don’t his words mean a veiled compliance with not only the existing plants on Baikal’s shores, but with dozens of new ones? And don’t these words contain an involuntary (?) disrespect to those who fight, fought and will fight for Baikal’s ecology?

Any scientist should take high responsibility for his or her words. Another acquaintance of mine – a science manager at Baikal, too – in his interview to a regional newspaper said the phrase “the lake is a soup of plankton”, which was later (with his assistance or not – we can not say) repeated by the Russian Prime-Minister Vladimir Putin. But myriads of living creatures –entomostracan “epischuras” purify Baikal’s water and make it living, while “soup” is something boiled and, therefore, dead. God save us from Baikal ever turning into “soup”.

The “gap” between the economy and ecology on the global scale has been well demonstrated by the Baikalsky pulp-and-paper plant. Back in the 1960s economists and politicians ignored the environment and image of the Siberian Pearl and built it on Baikal’s shores at their own will. The plant has caused much damage to the flora and fauna of the southern shore. At the beginning of the 21st centuries environmentalists won a victory in their battle for the lake, but the environmentally less harmful closed water cycle made the Baikalsky plant unprofitable economically, which affected lives of thousands of people working and living there. It has been mentioned above that the current situation demands implementing the principle “economy must be ecological, and ecology must be economical”. Only if a country follows this principle, there will be no problems, like the situation with the Baikalsky pulp-and-paper plant. Businesspeople, economists, environmentalists should be, first of all, psychologically prepared to change their mentality. Those, who will manage our economy in the future, should be taught how to think in respective categories. In this respect we mean students of both schools and universities, who greatly need the expertise and skills of ecological economy for their future life.

The motives that encourage people to oppose closing-down of the plant are clear and understandable. Baikalsky pulp-and-paper plant is not only a profitable enterprise, but the center of life for the town with seventeen thousand people living in it. For them the plant’s close-down would become, if not a tragedy, but a serious blow as they may lose a steady income. In due time they will probably have to be retrained to be employed in hospitality and tourism, furniture-making and wood-making industries. According to economists, productions that should prevail in the town include construction of a wood-processing plant (production of OSB boards, building materials, furniture and houses according to Dendrolight technology), a resort center, a soft-drink and drinking water plant, as well as development of small businesses. All these variants are said to be economically efficient, but at present are not supported financially. 

See also

Literature

  1. A.D. Karnyshev "The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal"© BSU Publishing House, 2011

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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