Russia Seizes Opportunities Created by Climate Change

By Ashira Morris, ODP Contributing Writer

Warmer temperatures are poised to make Russia more hospitable to agriculture, making it a giant in food production and even more of a political force. The latest story in a New York Times Magazine/ProPublic series on climate migration’s winners and losers lays out in vivid detail how much Russia has to gain from the climate crisis, including:

  • More temperatures in the ideal range for human life
  • Increased agricultural production
  • Access to and control of Arctic shipping lanes and 
  • Fewer people and locations vulnerable to sea-level rise

Why this Matters: Where people can live and grow food are tightly linked to political power — and the climate crisis puts the status quo in flux. “No country may be better positioned to capitalize on climate change than Russia,” the Times writes. A more habitable Russia is also a more politically dominant Russia, and its emerging agricultural dominance is seen as a geopolitical threat by former State Department analysts. For the moment, American food exports are a tool of diplomacy and power, but those scales could tip away from U.S. influence as the livability and agricultural capacity of our land shrinks. 

A Size and Numbers Game

The sheer size of Russia is massive: 6.602 million mi², nearly twice the size of the U.S. Right now, much of that land is inhospitably cold. But former places of icy exile like Siberia are already warming up and could become livable and farmable land. Russia sits north of the latitude line analysts have marked delineating growth or decline as the earth warms, effectively giving the country room to expand into former wilderness. 

The United States, meanwhile, is squarely below that line. We are projected to lose a third of our nation’s per capita income as compared to a non-warming world. Russia could see as much as a five-fold increase.

Other stats that demonstrate how Russia’s power around the globe grows relative to warmer countries as temperatures rise:

  • Russian agricultural exports have multiplied 16x since 2000
  • Zero countries worldwide south of Canada and Russia and Scandinavia stand to benefit economically as the climate warms
  • Sea level rise could displace 14 million Americans in the next 30 years; in Russia, fewer than 2 million are at risk
  • 2 million square miles of Russian land could be farmable by 2080.

Meanwhile, we have already seen a preview of what could be in store if Russia’s power and influence grows.  In 2010, because wildfires and drought threatened Russia’s grain crop, President Putin banned wheat exports. The ripple effects were felt all over the world as that sent wheat prices skyrocketing, thereby increased poverty, which upped the ante of Arab Spring geopolitics, ultimately increasing migration to Europe. 

To Go Deeper: Read the entire piece here — it’s worth the time.

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