Europe intends to give up Russian gas in favor of coal. This will cause great damage to human health and the environment, scientists say. What other changes awaits the environment, says Olga Konovalova, Deputy Head of the Department of Research and Development at the Center for Marine Research of Moscow State University.
“The abandonment of Russian gas in favor of coal”
– How do current events affect the environment and what consequences are already visible?
– In my opinion, the most negative consequence is that all over the world, against the background of politics, people have stopped thinking about ecology.
Much less attention is paid to major environmental issues, where activism, public reaction, public outcry are important – from volunteering to attracting scientists. The entire international community has forgotten that we have global warming, the need for green energy, and is fully focused.
In terms of the environment, ecosystems in the territory of Ukraine, so far, nothing monstrous has happened. Local problems can be easily remedied within a year, but changes at the international level are playing into the future and it is not very pleasant. For example, European countries are ready to give up Russian coal gas.
– What are the disadvantages of coal energy?
– Carbon in all stages has a more negative impact and is much worse in terms of its parameters. It provides less energy, so it needs to burn more, plus from carbon we get soot, soot, suspended solids and huge greenhouse gas emissions. Transporting this fuel is also not so easy, it always creates clouds of dust.
Coal-heated cities are especially different in winter, because there is black snow everywhere. People breathe soot, it settles in the lungs.
I was recently at Korsakov in Sakhalin, they have a company called Sakhalin Energy that ships liquefied natural gas, mainly for export. This is a huge amount of energy! At the same time, there is a giant cloud 20 km away – the city itself is heated by coal, simply because the infrastructure there is old. In general, coal is a very bad way to get energy, people have been trying to get rid of it for a long time. But now the opposite is happening.
“Anything can happen”
– What are the consequences for a person of fires, including oil depots and factories – coke, metallurgy, chemicals, oil refineries?
– Fires are in any case very bad, and man-made – especially. When oil refineries burn, crude oil releases combustion products into the environment – for example, sulfur dioxide, sulfur gases and more. Greenhouse gases are emitted in huge quantities.
But all this does not spread too far, the action is rather local. At most, if there is a strong wind, it can carry combustion products to 100 kilometers. Beyond that radius, most likely, will not go. For comparison, let’s take the forest fires in Siberia, where giant clouds form, which are then transported hundreds of kilometers. But in this case, no – unless, of course, there are extreme hurricanes.
The most important thing here is that no man-made disasters should happen during the special operation, then monstrous consequences can be expected. And everything can happen: release of chemicals, damage to hydraulic structures and so on.
A hydrotechnical disaster could affect the entire Black Sea. If there is a release of pollutants, it will affect the surrounding countries – this, of course, will also depend on the strength and direction of the wind. And the most dangerous is if something related to nuclear energy happens.
So far, fortunately, there is no such thing. In my opinion, all the parties show that they are trying to prevent it at all costs. It is clear that due to the bombardment of artificial objects on the territory of Ukraine there will be a lot of pollution. But if there are no huge emissions, they can be completely eliminated in about three to five years.
– The media wrote that in the territory of Ukraine, heavy metals are released into the soil and water. How does this happen and what is the danger to the people here?
“During a special operation, a lot of equipment is used and this equipment is just thrown on the battlefield. It is clear that it rusts and collapses over time. On the one hand, when they are destroyed, all this really goes into the soil and water, on the other hand, the question is how long the special operation will last and what measures will be taken afterwards.
Now we are talking about the horizon of the last four months. The shorter the special operation, the fewer consequences there will be.
I would like to believe that after all the soils will be actively cleaned. But for now, it’s just hope.
A tank that has been in a swamp for three months can peel off the paint, but nothing terrible will happen because of it. Ammunition, which contains not only heavy metals but also other harmful substances, will also be left few in the short term.
But in general, from technology, a large amount of iron enters the water and soil, which leads to some kind of local pollution. All these heavy metals come out gradually – the first years of equipment destruction are short. If, for example, our reservoir is in a swamp, and a river flows out of the swamp, on which the village is located, then there is a danger to people.
Heavy metals have, for example, hepatotoxic effects, ie they affect the liver. But they accumulate in the body for a long time, so I say that everything is a matter of time. Generally, in the body of a person living in a big city, there are several heavy metals.
– Experts attribute the increase in radiation background in the territory of Ukraine to the movement of heavy military equipment, which raised contaminated dust in the air – the radiation has been retained in it since 1986. Should we be afraid?
– It’s a local thing. I do not know how stable the increase is, but in general, a temporary increase in radiation background even ten times the usual does not have a very strong effect on an individual – this is also an accumulation, a long term cumulative effect.
For example, when a person flies on a plane, it is also affected by a lot of radiation, so making more than 50 flights a year may not be very useful, but less than 50 is not noticeable at all. And it’s probably the same story here.
“Sewage is discharged into the sea without treatment”
– What damage does the current situation cause to the seas and rivers?
– From what can be observed – a remarkable mortality of dolphins, several thousand of them were found on the shores of the Black Sea. Of course, many associate this with a special operation. But, as far as I understand, there is not yet a single point of view on this issue.
Dolphins may be disoriented by the noise, but the activity of the ships does not seem to be higher than usual.
Maybe it has to do with mines or, indeed, because of local activity, shipping could become more chaotic – and dolphins now do not have some kind of quiet haven.
The dumping of marine life on land occurs for various reasons and so far there are no reliable versions.
– The sewage treatment plant in the village of Verkhnyaya Krinitsa and the building of the sewage pumping station in Vasilievka were destroyed. They write that now the sewage enters the Dnieper without any treatment. What can this lead to?
– Anything that merges with man-made objects and not only ends up in rivers, and the Black Sea is already quite polluted and very navigable.
But in our country, for example, wastewater is discharged into the sea without any treatment – very rarely it is actually treated. In general, they try, but there is no legislation on this issue, so in Russia this is a voluntary issue. In St. Petersburg, for example, sewage was dumped in the Gulf of Finland – they just tried to keep it as far away as possible so as not to contaminate the city’s water area. And all over Russia, it’s pretty much the same; in the Black Sea, it’s almost the same story everywhere.
If sewage from Ukraine ends up in a river, it goes into the stream. But the situation here also depends on the quality of water treatment in each particular city. Let’s say we have a water intake, the water goes through two or three stages of purification. Then everything that is drained now will go away. Again, it depends on the timing of the report.
Three or four months of pollution for a river is not much, because everything is transported to the sea and there the ecosystem is stable enough to assimilate everything during the year. If it goes on longer and really affects water intake, then yes, it is dangerous. In the short term, the water will be bad, the residents will have to clean it themselves. In any case, time works.
– Is it possible to say that the restoration of Ukrainian territories will cause additional damage to the environment? Complete construction ultimately requires natural resources.
“Construction on ruined lands no longer causes much damage. It mainly harms by destroying natural areas. Environmentalists, when calculating the damage, look, for example: “Well, we had a forest, plants and animals in the forest. How many forests will we destroy to build a road and for auxiliary lands that will be used in the construction process? In fact, part of the ecosystem is completely or partially destroyed.
Due to the special operation, our ecosystem has already been destroyed and the construction will not cause additional damage, the emissions will remain at about the same level – they are less during construction than during the operation of industrial facilities.
Of course, large landfills are likely to form and the situation will depend on how effectively they are disposed of.
Up to a year, all consequences can be rectified – except for major man-made disasters. Of course, we hope that active actions that do not harm the environment will not happen and will be replaced by soil restoration.
I would like to note that the most far-reaching consequences are now being seen precisely because of the change of direction, the annulment of previous international agreements and the major fluctuations in world politics. Environmental protection is a common cause, which is already moving rather slowly due to political differences and various diplomatic tasks. And in the current situation, when the trading system has essentially collapsed, the environment may be on the margins of the global community’s priorities.
Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine, spiegel.de, shutterstock.com