Grigory Pasko: Russia Gets Eco-Schooled

children072809.jpgI recently attended a seminar for radio journalists in Irkutsk, which had an interesting article published in the official programme about the implementation of “energy conservation projects in the Shelekhov municipal district.

Will you look at that, I thought to myself, there are actually ahead-of-the-curve people in off-the-beaten-track Shelekhov district, thinking progressively and implementing energy-conservation technologies! The only thing that perplexed me was why there weren’t any such examples of energy conservation in the oblast center itself – in Irkutsk. Well, be that as it may, I together with a group of radio journalists set off for Shelekhov to check it out.

An ordinary run-of-the-mill little town, the same as countlessothers you can find all over Russia. A typical district administrationbuilding. Next to the building – a monument to Lenin. The mayor of theShelekhov municipal district, Yuri Syusin, spent a long time telling usabout the district and its industrial facilities (Deripaska’s aluminumplant alone is worth telling about); about the plans for thedevelopment of the district, about overcoming the crisis…


Mayor of Shelekhovsky municipal district Yuri Syusin (L) (photo by Grigory Pasko)

Questions about the environment and energy conservation, he said,would be answered for us by Olga Skorokhodova – head of the departmentof education, youth policy and sport. In such a manner, it became clearthat energy conservation – this is a problem of education and sport. Ohyes, and youth, too. Moreover, really young youth – for an example ofenergy conservation, they took us to pre-school day-care center No. 14«Alenka».

The toddlers were playing out on the street. A colleague with amicrophone walked up to a group of specially prepared girls and boys.To her question «How do we need to conserve energy?», only one of thefour responded: we need to turn off the light – he said animatedly.

And then the director of the center, Alena Suvorova, reported, atlast, what exactly they’ve got by way of technology: 17 plastic(instead of wooden) _ windows (double-glazed); new valves for theheating system; several energy-efficient light bulbs; adhesive plasticsheeting on the doors (somewhat pompously called a «thermal screen»); acirculation pump («with the aims of activization of the heat supplysystem»).

And that’s it? – certain of my colleagues asked disappointedly. (Theothers, apparently, didn’t want to upset Alena Suvorova with thisquestion). Instead of a reply, Alena Viktorovna showed us a new swingset and reported: «With the money we saved on energy, we have upgradedthe children’s playground». On the new swing set being demonstrated byher was emblazoned the inscription «From the American people». Later itwas made clear that the day-care center had won a grant from those sameAmerican people, and had bought the swing set with the grant money.

Then we were read a lecture about the usefulness of energyconservation, shown perhaps thirty brochures on this topic, and at theend of the meeting, specially prepared children (the same ones who hadgreeted us earlier) sang a little song about how you shouldn’t be meanto animals – flies, bees, and bugs.

I studied the brochures. They had been published, as you have probablyalready guessed, with the money of «the American people» – a grant fromUSAID. By the way, on one of the brochures I saw the trademark of thealuminum holding «Sual». The brochures describe how to conserve heat inhomes, how to save water and electricity, in what ways house plants areuseful, and other things. It is noted that the day-care center has beenengaged in problems of energy conservation since the year 2005. 72thousand rubles [a bit more than two thousand US dollars–G.P.] havebeen saved over three years.

In one of the brochures, a section entitled «The Fedotov family’sexperience with energy conservation» caught my eye. The experienceboiled down to the family’s advice that for heating the stove in thehome it is better not to use Cheremkhovo coal, but rather that fromAzey, «which gives off fewer harmful emissions when burned». (Ah, thateternal Russian choice between bad and worse!)

I don’t know what Cheremkhovo coal is and how it differs from the Azeyvariety. But I do know what a stove in the house is – it is a source ofdioxins, which form when you burn anything whatsoever, be it coal fromCheremkhovo or from Azey or even just plain wood. By the way, thebrochure speaks honestly about this: even the tiniest does of dioxinsare enough for serious poisoning. So why is it that in a country thatbuilds airplanes, tanks, atomic submarines, nuclear reactors, brags ofits achievements in the field of nanotechnology and gets super-profitsfrom the sale of energy resources, the inhabitants of the overwhelmingquantity of little towns and villages are forced to heat harmful stovesin their homes? A rhetorical question as I’m sure you understand.

All in all, as I understood it, the biggest victory of all the peopleof Shelekhovsky district engaged in the problem of energy conservationis that they have started talking and thinking about this topic in thefirst place – it is clearly something new in their Siberian life.