Russian environmentalists pay visit
September 26, 2006
A group of Russian environmental activists are in Aspen this week, soaking up as much as they can about U.S. attitudes toward nature, environmental conservation and preservation before heading back to Moscow.Since Sept. 22, the four “delegates” and one “facilitator” have been squired around town by different guides, engaging in different activities every day, eating at a variety of Aspen restaurants and staying in local host homes arranged by the Aspen Rotary Club.The group leaves town Sept. 30 after seeing how Aspen handles a variety of societal and environmental issues.”I am an ecologist and a biologist,” municipal engineer Yuliya Guz declared in clear but heavily accented English. She lives in the seaside resort region of Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea, and works on everything from preservation of the urban forest to making sure the local waste-disposal system is functioning properly.Asked how Aspen compares to her hometown, she said through an interpreter, “You’re struggling with the snow that is melting, and we’re struggling with the sea … that is eating up our land.” Many believe global warming, which she viewed as a link between Aspen and Kaliningrad, causes the melting snow and the rising seas.The group is here with the Open World exchange program, which the U.S. Congress started in 1999 at the urging of Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. The program reportedly has brought more than 10,000 delegates to the States from Russia and other former Soviet republics, including Lithuania, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
While here, according to the Open World website, the delegates “experience American democracy and civil society in action.”The group’s daytime activities have ranged from hiking to Crater Lake and touring the Aspen water treatment plant, to attending an Aspen Chamber Resort Association talk on “sustainable tourism” and having an Aspen Center for Environmental Studies guide lead the group around the Hallam Lake Nature Preserve.
The visitors have also sampled Aspen’s cultural offerings, from watching a Filmfest movie and a Shakespeare seminar at the Aspen Institute to taking in the Aspen Highlands art fair and a concert at the Belly Up nightclub.While at ACES, when Russian environmental researcher Aleksandr Minin, 47, heard that there is a bald eagle living in close proximity to an owl on the premises, he chuckled and said through his interpreter, “I’m sure the owl is very nervous knowing that there is an eagle close by.”Meandering around the nature center behind naturalist Lindsy Stinnett, the group’s members asked questions that ranged from curiosity about the kinds of animals and plants that live in the area, to specific inquiries about how local fisheries handle the intermingling of wild and farmed fish species. Kristina Tikhonova, at 20 the youngest of the group, said they came to learn at the invitation of Rotary International, but noted that they did not choose their destination. That was done by the organizers of the delegation, she indicated.Guz, 28, who also is a businesswoman building homes with geothermal heat sources and other green building technologies, said the trip has taught her that attitudes can change.”I really like the attitude that the people here have toward nature and your resources,” she said, explaining that in Russia her generation is trying to heighten awareness for, and concern about, the environment and preservation.
Grigoriy Poskrebyshev, 21, is a university student and the head of the nascent Green Party organization in his home city of Kirov in central Russia.Among other things, he said that what he has learned on this trip is that the radical objectives and techniques of his youth are not the best way to promote a change of public attitudes toward environmental preservation.Speaking through facilitator Maria Shtilmark, 29, an English teacher from Moscow State University and the group’s companion from the Open World organization, Poskrebyshev said, “I was very radical in college.”But after this trip, he said, he realizes there are “all kinds of peaceful and liberal actions” that can help turn public attitudes toward preservationist ideals and a better understanding of nature.
He said he is not working right now, but is putting all his efforts into establishing the Green Party as a viable force in regional affairs, work that he hopes will lead to a paying position with the Greens.Still on the group’s agenda is a tour of the Pitkin County Landfill and Recycling Center, a presentation by the City of Aspen’s Parks Department on urban forestry and stormwater management, a tour of Ruedi Reservoir and Dam with its electric generation facilities, and meetings with teachers and scientists – oh, and a stop at the Aspen Cocktail Classic at the Sky Hotel on Thursday night.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org