Environmental concerns and preservation
The need to preserve the natural environment is not equally recognized by all people. In some countries, tall chimneys belching choking black smoke are regarded as symbols of progress, rather than contributors to environmental degradation. Economic well-being is important to every country and its people. Simply stated, people need to feed families on a dayto-day basis, rather than concerning themselves with their impact on future generations by damaging the environment.
Only when a society becomes economically well-off does the idea of environmental preservation begin to gain widespread acceptance. During the Soviet era, the notion of becoming an industrial powerhouse was widespread, as was the resulting negative impact on the natural environment. Governmentcontrolled factories polluted the atmosphere, soils, and water. Clear-cutting of forests occurred throughout the country. One must not rush to judgment and assume that only Communist governments create large environmental damage. The United States and most European countries share a similar history of industrial development. Russians tend to view their land as having infinite natural resources and, because of its tremendous size, possessing an ability to heal man-made wounds. Today, a great need exists to clean up previous environmental mistakes.
Unfortunately, few funds are available to support this vital task. Industrial, urban, and agricultural water pollution has created a very serious health hazard at many sites in Russia. Large numbers of urban centers and industrial complexes do not have water treatment plants. Raw sewage is pumped into rivers, lakes, ponds, and seas. State-owned and -managed public utilities account for 50 percent of all untreated sewage. The legacy of the Chernobyl catastrophe still haunts Russians. Even though it happened in Ukraine, many Russian settlements were affected. The Chernobyl accident was one of the world's worst industrial disasters. It killed more than 30 people who were working in the plant. Nuclear fallout contaminated prime agricultural land in southwestern Russia. Health officials report that at least 2.65 million Russians today live in contaminated areas. They also report that 185,000 Russians were exposed to radiation during the cleanup operation in 1986.
Although Russia's current environmental condition calls for serious attention, it should not imply that Russians do not care about conditions where they live. In fact, the idea of environmental protection has officially existed there for many decades. For instance, nature conservation programs were started during tsarist times. The country's protected area is measured in tens of millions of acres. Because of Russia's size and climatic diversity, conservation areas include lands that are home to nearly all ecosystems. Reserves are present throughout Russia, from the Pacific coast to Europe and from the Arctic Ocean to the Caucasus Mountain ranges. They are home to fascinating plant and animal species of which many are endemic (exist only at that location). The first conservation area was formed around Lake Baikal where, for example, more than half of the animal species are endemic. The management system of protected areas is structured through several levels. It also includes national parks and specially protected reserves.