China’s Threat to Russia’s Amazon
Putin and Xi’s “new levels of cooperation” spell disaster for the Siberian taiga
When exactly will the forest end? I had this thought 30-odd years ago while crossing the Russian taiga on the Trans-Siberian Railroad from St. Petersburg to Irkutsk. For hours and then days, the massive boreal aggregation of pines and firs, hemlocks and spruces strobed past the train’s windows — a veritable sea of green that seemed to defy all boundaries of what I imagined an intact ecosystem looked like.
I thought again of the endless-seeming taiga this month as Presidents Putin and Xi met to discuss their “new levels of cooperation” as the Ukraine war grinds into its second year. With sanctions effectively severing Russia from the Western goods and services trade has increased with China by more than 30%. As this happens, Russia is gradually transforming itself from a carbon sink into a planet toaster.
At more than 12 million square kilometers, The Russian taiga is nearly double the size of the Amazon.
That process had already begun with Russian oil. Before the war, oil accounted for around half of the country’s exports to the tune of $340 billion. With 106 billion barrels still in the ground this reserve will increasingly be Russia’s most important avenue to non-ruble currency. China, the energy-thirsty giant next door, is making use of this possibility. India, too, is also expanding its Russian crude import.
But even more troubling than an accelerated burning up of Russia’s oil reserves is the increaslingly likely specter of the country cashing out its forests. During the same month that Russia began its invasion of Ukraine a paper in the journal Nature reported that the Amazon rain forest was reaching a critical “tipping point” and could soon spiral down into a dried out savannah. At more than 12 million square kilometers, The Russian taiga is nearly double the size of the Amazon. Even before the war in Ukraine began, a devastating war against the taiga was in progress. 12 million hectares of it were being cut down every year. In a world where Russia’s supplies China with half of its wood, it’s likely we’ll see even more of the taiga go into Chinese sawmills in…