What do Russian efforts to revive the woolly mammoth for climate change combat say about the nation?
Russia holds no great reputation as an environmental guardian. Petroleum and vodka are the official national beverages, and they’re now cozier than ever with their oil swilling partner the United States. “Sanctions, be damned!” say Vladimir Putin and Rexxon Tillerson.
But there’s also an entirely different culture in Russia—Arctic Siberia, specifically. It couldn’t be more different, really, except for sharing the Russian tendency to think big. The Arctic Siberian Tundra, global warming, and woolly mammoths: big, big, big! Why quit there? Why not try to recreate an entire biome from the Ice Age? Well, that’s precisely what scientists here are doing.
Their headquarters are at the cheekily named Pleistocene Park (Jurassic’s Russian cousin?), a nature reserve where an army of scientists is working on what they call a “radical geoengineering scheme.” The goal is to “reset” back to a previous point in history before global warming had begun to take its toll. Similar to a computer’s “restore point.”
Why are the Russians calling out—resurrecting—the big guns? The Atlantic magazine put it this way: “If this intercontinental ice block warms too quickly, its thawing will send as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere each year as do all of America’s SUVs, airliners, container ships, factories, and coal-burning plants combined.”
The idea is to spread the growth of grasslands identical to those of the “Mammoth Steppe” 12,000 years ago, complete with now-extinct animals species. Sergey Zimov, the park’s “grandfather,” calls it “the largest project in human history.” Well,.. I guess if you’re impressed by that sort of thing…
The role of the woolly mammoth in all of this is startlingly simple: the huge animals are exceedingly good at taking down the trees and shrubs which slow the development of the grasslands. It was humans—surprise—who killed the species off, through over-hunting. Does the dichotomy of trading long-term survival (a sustainable ecosystem) for short-term benefit (food) sound familiar? It should. Think of our continued burning of fossil fuels.
So, when the United States puffs up its chest (daily), what does our happily competitive society have to compare to Pleistocene Park? NASA’s climatology research? Not only does it fall short in actual action, but it’s in the process of being cut to within an inch of its life. Punishment for issuing state-of-the-art reports on global warming which the U.S. executive deems “fake news.”
The project’s director, asked by The Atlantic magazine about the anticipatory excitement of woolly mammoths soon roaming the park, responded soberly. The animals will be great, he said, but he’s more motivated by humans: “I have three kids. I’m doing it for them.”
My upcoming novel, ULTIMATE ERROR, is about humankind’s existential staredown with the future. Will we embark on massive projects like Pleistocene Park, or will we continue to embrace the status quo? Trillions of dollars are invested by corporations yearly on maintaining the latter.