As nearly half of the Internet is going haywire arguing about Donald Trump and his next move, one cannot help but notice that the name of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, comes up in the news almost as often. This is perfectly understood, as people all over the planet, especially in the Western world, are still very much interested in the interaction between the world’s two largest superpowers.

But what do news media consumers in the West really know about Russia? Besides of it being “Putin’s dominion” and “the land of sanctions”, two topics that currently seem to be dominating the Western news media publications on Russia, do we often get to read about various aspects of common people’s life there? Sadly, for many Westerners, Russia still remains very much a mystery.

Amazing as it may seem to an average Western news consumer, there is a lot of similarities between Russia and the Western world, especially when it comes to the latest ideas in green thinking, sustainability and living harmoniously with the planet. Very recently, I was lucky to visit friends in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, a city whose history and culture are as eventful and amazing as its architecture and its contemporary night life. At the same time, Saint-Petersburg’s dwellers have long recognized a number of environmental issues that the city currently faces (one of the most serious being the problem of a sustainable garbage disposal), and they were not going to sit idly by.


An ecological movement called Musora.Bolshe.Net (“No. More. Waste.”), which was formed in Saint-Petersburg in 2004 by an ecologist Denis Stark, now has its branches in 90 cities across Russia and 5 former Soviet countries. Having adopted the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” as their motto and the cornerstone of their ideology, they promote reduction of consumption, reusing of old items, and recycling waste materials. This is a large network involving thousands of people, who share the same values and act toward the common goal. They organize many green initiatives across Russia: large-scale cleaning campaigns, promotion and installation of systems for waste sorting and recycling in the apartment buildings, trees planting initiatives, educational campaigns, and many more.

If you happen to have a Russian acquaintance, then you probably know that for many Russians, the New Year is the most important and an almost zealously observed holiday. Around this time, a lot of families bring home Christmas trees to decorate – and when the holidays are over, normally the trees go to garbage bins. Of course, not every family gets a natural spruce or pine, often opting for a plastic alternative, but a lot of people still go for the real thing. No one knows exactly how many conifers end up in incinerators.

For the third year in a row, green activists from Musora.Bolshe.Net organize a large-scale recycling campaign, aimed at collecting the discarded Christmas trees from people who wish to donate them, in order to chip the trees with the wood shredders and send the chipped wood to wild animal shelters, a local bison nursery, horse training academies, or many other places where the former trees are consumed by our quadruped buddies. The numbers are steadily growing: from mere 250 recycled trees in Saint-Petersburg alone in the 2015, it grew to 2350 recycled conifers in 2017 in the main city and the smaller towns that surround the Venice of the North.

One of the organizers, Damir, with a donated conifer. More on Damir in our later posts!

…My friends live in a place called Vsevolozhsk, a town located approximately 20 miles from Saint-Petersburg. Its night life may not be as vibrant as that of Saint-Petersburg, but its inhabitants are adopting the green way of living at an amazing rate. The local branch of Musora.Bolshe.Net is one of the main facilitators and promoters of green thinking in the town. For the second year in a row, Vsevolozhsk participated in the Christmas tree-collecting initiative that took place on January, 23. Activists from Musora.Bolshe.Net set up four collection stations throughout the town, and received 95 trees in just two hours – it is a lot for a town this size. However, the organizers say they are glad, because the scope of the event keeps on growing. People who donated their trees, mentioned that they especially liked that the green initiative was organized as a family fun, during which they received a lot of useful information on sustainable consumption and the green way of living in their town.

People bring their “yolochkas” – “Christmas Trees” to the the collection station.

Musora.Bolshe.Net organized similar events in other cities in Russia, such as Moscow, Russia’s capital, Yaroslavl, Arkhangelsk. The idea of recycling Christmas trees, originally based on the initiative at a zoo in Czech Republic, is now going across borders again: a similar campaign was just held in Riga, Latvia.

The most important thing, according to the green activists, is that the town administration has finally started to pay attention and show interest in the initiative. The activists from Musora.Bolshe.Net hope that in the next year, the Christmas tree-collecting initiative will fully rely on the support of local administration of the cities and towns. In order to ensure this, they continue to promote and spread the green word throughout the country, tirelessly working on making Russia more sustainable.

Another green activist, Olga Kustova, sends our readers a big warm hello!


Orientation Week and My Thoughts on Sustainability

I have just published a small post in the blog of the Institute of The Environment at the University of Ottawa, where I am currently a student for a M.Sc degree in Environmental Sustainability. It was written upon a request and it is about our first week of the M.Sc program, my reflections on it, and my thoughts on the meaning of sustainability.

You can read it here:

The colors of the fall at the University of Ottawa. (c) Ronnie Safarov.

A call for energy democracy, vision for a better future, and how it is done in Germany

Yesterday saw the publishing of The Leap Manifesto, initiated and implemented by a group of five top-tier Canadian environmental activists, actors and musicians, each one of which barely needs an additional introduction – Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, Leonard Cohen, Donald Sutherland and Ellen Page – and it calls for an immediate shift of Canada’s internal policy towards a more green, sustainable, and democratic future.

According to the Manifesto, Canada’s current direction is way out of line.

“We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the opportunities of this transition are designed to eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher-wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.

Canada is not this place today – but it can be.

The time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer suffice.

So we need to leap.”

(The Leap Manifesto,


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There Will Be No Other Planet

A dying seabird covered in oil. A sea turtle whose body is divided into two halves because of a plastic ring she could not escape from when she was young. A seal whose neck is slowly and painfully being cut in half by a piece of a copper wire that somehow got wrapped around. A sea bay full of toxic waste and a lake filled with dead fish, and other photos that colorfully exhibit what we, humans, are doing to this planet. Our pleasures, convenience, and comfort – the cornerstones of the modern living  – do not come out of thin air, and are taking its toll on the planet. Garbage left after making us pleased does not go anywhere, either.

A dead fish floats in water filled with blue-green algae at the East Lake in Wuhan, Hubei province August 20, 2012. (Photo by Reuters/Stringer)

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Sixth Mass Extinction Of Species – Do We Care At All?

According to the latest findings, the number of animal species that went extinct as a result of a squandering human activity since the rise of industrial society is so enormously high it is possible to speak of a sixth mass extinction of species already underway and running in full speed.

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Remembering Barry Commoner

Barry Commoner, an American biologist, leading ecologist and one of the founders of the modern environmental movement, would’ve turned 98 today.

In his 1971 book, The Closing Circle, he was one of first thinkers to bring the idea of sustainability to a mass audience, suggesting an eco-socialist response to the poverty vs. population growth debate, and in 1990, he published Making Peace With the Planet, an analysis of the ongoing environmental crisis, pointing out that the way human society produces goods needs to be revised.

He formulated the so-called Four Laws of Ecology, which remain relevant even today and will still be relevant for a long time to come. Here they are:

  1. Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.
  2. Everything must go somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.
  3. Nature knows best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is likely to be detrimental to that system. We need to be closer to nature, but we need to learn to co-exist with it, using natural resources sustainably.
  4. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

Read more on Barry Commoner here:

Commoner’s biography on HowStuffWorks:

Jeff Hogan’s review of Michael Egan, “Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival: The Remaking of American Environmentalism” (MIT Press, 2007), online version: