Climate Policy in a surviving USSR

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by white crowe, Dec 5, 2018 at 6:39 AM.

  1. white crowe Well-Known Member

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    Presuming that the USSR was able to hold on in one form or another, what is their take on climate change and emissions policy likely to be?

    Given their likely dependence on fossil fuel exports, is it likely that they would attempt to discredit it or would they support efforts to limit emissions?
     
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  2. Theoretical_TJ Well-Known Member

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    If you want to see the Soviet approach to the environment, go visit Prague. There's so many beautiful, historic statues that are black from decades of soot, and that's 20 years after the fall of communism.
     
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  3. Mr.E The Man that Time Forgot

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    Given the extent of the pollution problem, they'll likely at least acknowledge it. Whether they'll actually do something about it is a different story.
     
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  4. ragnarokalok Active Member

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    It depends on how they survive. Environmental groups were some of the biggest beneficiaries of perestroika; a successful Gorbachev would have drastically different environmental policy than a surviving USSR based on hardliners removing him and clamping down. A surviving USSR based on no Chernobyl would also lead to major differences.

    While communism had a pretty bad environmental record generally, there's reason to think that'd change if they lasted through the 90's. Once carbon and climate change get accepted as the main environmental issues, there's a few things to keep in mind. First, the USSR could probably go low carbon faster than the west, once they chose to (command economy, lots of nuclear/hydro/public transit). Second, a surviving superpower competition dynamic would drasticly change the early politcs of emissions reduction treaties. The first world had by far the most emissions, the third world wanted to grow their own emissions as part of economic growth. With a USSR, the first and second worlds would still be competing for the favor of third world countries, meaning both groups would be more willing to offer reductions, and more willing to offer sustainable development aid to poor countries. With the USSR likely seen as the weaker of the two, and more able to make changes, it's perfectly plausible they try to weaponize climate propaganda to regain status compared to the USA.
     
  5. jerseyguy Well-Known Member

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    This is the country that drained the aral sea and banned DNA research for more than 20 years thanks to lysenkoism, the politburo couldn't care less about pollution or a scientific field that doesn't affect the military.
    If they were going to tip the scales either way, their incentive would be to oppose action on climate change to preserve the market for their oil. The Kremlin could pay for some slick pamphlets about how climate change is a bourgeois hoax spread by the capitalist nations to prevent the global south from industrializing, and everyone should keep buying Russian oil. If they can get into OPEC then they have a serious economic weapon to use against europe and the capitalist world in terms of higher oil prices.
     
  6. Dorknought Well-Known Member

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    New age Soviet man will breathe in Carbon Dioxide.
     
  7. kurdo Permanent snowbird

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    That.. explains a lot.
     
  8. jerseyguy Well-Known Member

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    It's also why North Korea is such an exception. Pyongyang is filled with white marble buildings and statues, but they only look like this because the North depends on foreign aid instead of developing heavy industry in Pyongyang. Most of the city was built during the '70s and '80s when the Soviet gravy train was still flowing strong, but the white is supposed to symbolize the "unsullied purity" of the Korean race.
    It's also why propaganda frequently depicts photos or paintings of Pyongyang in the winter when there is snow everywhere.
     
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  9. jerseyguy Well-Known Member

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    If the Soviet Union was able to objectively acknowledge and respond to problems outside of ideological orthodoxy, it wouldn't be the USSR.
     
  10. interpoltomo please don't do coke in the bathroom Kicked

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    global warming is fake news and propaganda from decadent west

    soviet science will overcome all
     
  11. Mr.E The Man that Time Forgot

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    You couldn't have just edited this into your other response to me?

    Anyway, yes, I agree, which is why they might acknowledge the problem in official or international channels (or shift most of the blame to the West), but not actually do anything.
     
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  12. SealTheRealDeal Well-Known Member

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    This is the USSR that drained the Aral Sea to make cotton plantations and set a natural gas field on fire because they couldn't think of any better use for it. A surviving USSR will probably set to work clear cutting Siberia.
     
  13. overoceans Well-Known Member

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    Well, except that what qualifies as "ideological orthodoxy" did change over time, on a number of issues. For example...

    Abortion in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

    When they went back to restrictive laws under Uncle Joe, Lenin's widow Krupskaya was carted out to write an article saying that the early Bolsheviks really didn't like abortion, but that legalizing it was the only way to free women from the burden of unwanted pregnancies, but now that everything is hunkydory for women in the USSR, they don't need abortion anymore.
     
  14. Barry Bull Donor

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    Hum, the DPRK did use Soviet and Comintern aid to develop heavy industry, it's just that most of those are located elsewhere.
     
  15. GeographyDude Well-Known Member

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    That’s the way I wished things had worked throughout the cold war :)

    But most of the time, it seemed we in the U.S. were propping up dictatorships, and the Soviets were supporting rebel groups to cause us problems.
     
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  16. Theoretical_TJ Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, if you watch old episodes of Captain Planet and replace the villain in every single episode with some random Soviet Apparatchik, you'd be doing just fine.
     
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  17. Garetor Well-Known Member

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    I don't think a USSR that just limped on from its state in the 80s would necessarily be able to address the issue of climate change any better than capitalist states, at least not until the problem grew beyond all denial. While in theory they could use their command economy to pivot, they would encounter difficulties in both getting local SSRs to come along and in being able to control their own people as cutbacks are necessitated by slowing production.

    They have the same cruel calculus that is killing us: infinite growth in a finite system is a recipe for death. I think you would have to have an overall much richer Soviet bloc before you could have one capable of taking the blow of moving from a growth economy to a sustainable one.

    Now suppose you have a brilliant leader with a supine bureaucracy, an energized Soviet public, and the will and wealth to cut production, eat bitter, zero out emissions, and plant billions of trees. You know who's going to see that as an opportunity? The West and China, who will together more than make up for the Soviet bloc in terms of pollution. They may change their tune once the catastrophes start happening, but by then it's almost too late.

    It's a rough one, no doubt.
     
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  18. karatachi Thanks Moravec

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    Divided just like America.
     
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  19. fasquardon Cosmonaut

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    Yes, the Soviets, who had such brilliant minds that they could made orthodox ideological arguments for why Socialist Imperialism was a good thing and for why the fatherland was important even when Marx said the working class had no fatherland... The ideological framework of the Soviet Union was certainly limiting, but much more flexible than you might expect. So I doubt that this would be a particularly bad impediment to the Soviets acting on what climate science tells them.

    That said, they've got bigger problems which IMO will make any cogent response rather difficult.

    For darn sure. The Soviets, first and foremost, were a modern industrial society. More like the West than unlike it. In this case, that's not a good thing.

    So OTL basically only with fewer starving pensioners? Part of the problem here is they'd be hollowing out their industrial power just as in OTL they unintentionally hollowed out their industrial power. It's a bit of a risky play when there's a very real risk WW3 could happen at any moment.

    Much depends on how it holds on.

    Soviet environmentalism was in its infancy before Gorbachev turbo-charged things. It was also fairly nationalist - for example poets and writers who objected to the Soviets despoiling the natural resources of _Russia_ for the benefit of Central Asians or Ukrainians.

    So does the Soviet Union end up flattening the environmentalist movement inside its borders because of its nationalism? Does it pander to the movement to gain the support of nationalists? Does the Party start "green-washing" itself to steal the ecological issue from the nationalists? It could go either way.

    Also, it's important to keep in mind why the Soviet system was so dysfunctional - the biggest problem in the system is the way that bureaucrats at all levels weaponized information to use against other bureaucrats. The Soviet Union actually had fairly strict environmental regulations by the 80s - the problem was that because any information sharing undermined the power of the bureaucrat sharing the information, the regulators were kept blind, unable to get enough information to really tackle the pollution problems that were unfolding. As long as information flows are impeded, the Soviets will struggle to implement any well-meaning policies. If they successfully push back the culture of secrecy as Andropov and Gorbachev were trying to do, then the existing environmental regulations can start to have beneficial impacts even if the Soviets do not have any overt policy of tackling ecological problems.

    And the Soviets have one advantage - their backs are well and truly against the wall. The go-to way to solve economic problems in the Soviet Union had been "throw more stuff at it", resulting in the hideous waste of material the Soviets are so famous for. And it was very clear by the 80s that "throw more stuff at it" was not cutting the mustard any more. If the Soviets survive, they must have found qualitative, rather than quantitative solutions. Even to cling on as a slowly declining zombie garrison state, the Soviets must make some qualitative improvements (got to run to stand still). And such qualitative improvements would tend to have economic and ecological benefits.

    For example, the Soviet Union hadn't reformed the coal price since Stalin's time, meaning that the state was subsidizing dirty coal plants - reform the coal price, and industry is pushed to more efficient energy sources and the state ditches a costly subsidy.

    On the other hand, the Soviet "war against the Earth" is likely to continue. I suspect that at the very least, canals would be built to divert water from the north of European Russia to Souther Russia and the Ukraine, which would hit the wetlands in that region hard, leading to loss of biodiversity and carbon release from the wetland soils. The Soviets may even end up diverting some of the Siberian rivers into the Aral Sea (with similarly awful impacts on the Siberian wetlands, though it would at least refill the Aral sea). I can't see the Cold War ending, so any Soviet leadership will be weighing ecological needs against "what if the Americans invade" - and the ecology is going to lose that argument often.

    Much of the ecological recovery of post-Soviet Eurasia doesn't happen, because absent a Soviet collapse, there's just less opportunity for the wilderness to push human civilization back.

    On the other hand, even if the Soviets don't divert Siberian rivers into the Aral Sea, that particular ecological disaster still won't be nearly as bad - the Aral Sea disaster was pushed into overdrive by post-Soviet slave agriculture and the sea being divided up between several newly independent states.

    So overall, I would expect that a surviving Soviet Union would be somewhere between "somewhat improved" and "very improved" in its ecological stewardship compared to how it was in the 1980s, but things would still be worse than OTL's post-Soviet states.

    Especially because I suspect that the Soviets surviving would have a bad impact on the West - whatever the actual Soviet policies I suspect that the Soviets would deploy their usual whataboutism and might even go so far as "green washing" Communism for Western audiences to attempt to co-opt Western Green anti-capitalists (especially if, as mentioned above, the Party green-washes itself INSIDE the Soviet Union as well, to weaken nationalist voices). And that, of course, would make a very convenient target for anti-Green factions in the West.

    Considering that methane release from the Arctic is already in OTL at "extreme danger" level, the Soviet Union surviving may well lead to human extinction.

    fasquardon
     
  20. Garetor Well-Known Member

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    Frankly, I suspect an eco-focused SU would have a period of decades where an army/KGB coup could happen at basically any minute, because reforming and greenstreaming the core regions would pretty much demand retreating from the periphery.

    Good POD for an apocalypse timeline, actually.