With the Amazon currently burning and hurricane Dorian having left the Bahamas in ruins, international attention and concern is funneled toward these two devastating environmental disasters. However, another equally disastrous yet underreported planetary catastrophe is unfolding in Siberia that encompasses an area larger than India and has been an ongoing months-long crisis requiring the declaration of a state of emergency.
Wildfires have been tearing through Siberia since July, destroying uninhabited forests and cloaking urban areas in thick, toxic smoke. Prior to military intervention, Siberia’s aerial forest protection agency was sadly outmatched with only 3000 firefighters and twenty-four aircraft. The resulting smoke from barely-touched fires disrupted air travel and adversely impacted air quality in much of Siberia. At the end of July, NASA even reported that the Siberian smoke had reached Alaska and the west coast of Canada.
While once reluctant to battle the blaze, governor of Krasnoyarsk, Alexander Uss, has reversed his stance and is now joining the fight to end the destruction of his region. Both Russia and the United States have even proffered assistance via their armies to combat the raging fires. However, with over 17,000,000 acres already destroyed, the damage has been done and the environmental consequences are numerous. Unchecked fires in Uss’ territory are destroying millions of hectares of trees that make up the world’s largest forest which is also a critical carbon sink (a forest, ocean, or other natural environment viewed in terms of its ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere). With the loss of this beneficial resource, the acceleration of global warming could be drastically affected.
Temperatures in June and July of this year set global records for the hottest months yet to be charted, and the Siberian forest fires only served to elevate the already unnaturally high temperatures of the region. Siberian temperatures in the fire’s most concentrated areas reached ten degrees Fahrenheit higher than the thirty-year average taken from 1981-2010. These dry and hot conditions only served to feed the ravenous flames, which, upon investigation, appear to have been mostly started by discarded cigarettes lining logging roads. However, poor governmental practices prevented earlier action and allowed the fires to billow out of control. Chronic underfunding coupled with a 2015 decision to enact “zones of control”—areas where the government would not intervene—were the perfect foundation for unchecked and unstoppable forest fires.
However, there is heartwarming hope.
Russian bass-house duo, VOLAC, and S7 Airlines have stepped up to bring awareness to the environmental tragedy unfolding in their homeland with a campaign to plant 1,000,000 trees in the vast region.
When asked why they felt compelled to get involved with the initiative, VOLAC responded, “There’s nothing complicated about it; we just want to help our homeland of Siberia before it’s too late.” A recent visit home solidified this compelling feeling. “Three weeks ago, we were visiting our hometown of Irkutsk, and at that time the Siberian wildfires reached a peak. The [local] internet and media were posting a lot about the fires and the animals running away from the forests. Then we went to Baykal, one of our favorite places. On our way to the lake, the smog was everywhere. We were shocked to see it because Baykal is where we were born—it’s priceless to us.” After flying S7 Airlines from Irkutsk to Moscow, VOLAC learned of S7’s campaign to support the regeneration of Siberia’s forests. “It inspired us,” VOLAC said, “and we decided to remake one of our demos and dedicate it to Siberia to help highlight the wildfire issues.”
VOLAC recently performed at Alfa Future People, the largest dance music festival in Russia. They hit the Bass Stage—sponsored by Siberian Airlines—along with seventeen other acts including Alison Wonderland, JAUZ, Ookay, and Delta Heavy. VOLAC debuted their new track, “We are Siberia”, which they created to help S7 Airlines raise the necessary funds to replant Siberia’s forests.
S7 Airlines acknowledges the generosity of many Russian brands that contributed resources to their campaign: “Huge Russian brands have supported us, but we were shocked to receive support from a young, popular artist. VOLAC made a track to support their native region, and we think this deserves respect.”
Earlier this month—thanks to the help of its passengers and partners—S7 Airlines achieved their goal and collected enough funds to plant 1,000,000 trees. Through a portion of tickets sold on its website and mobile app for flights to Siberian destinations, S7 Airlines also raised funds for the project. Passengers were able to directly donate or transfer accrued miles to the project, as well.
On September thirteenth—thanks to the help of 200 volunteers—the first tree-planting began, and this fall, more than ninety thousand coniferous seedlings will be planted in the Novosibirsk and Irkutsk regions. The remaining trees will be planted by the end of 2021, and complete tree care for every seedling will be conducted for two years from the date of each planting. The progress of the entire project can be monitored on the s7.ru website which will feature photo reports, details outlining the planting areas, and the agricultural care that is being implemented for the planted trees. Through a partner website, the initiative is also recruiting volunteers who wish to participate in the ongoing planting process.
Though environmental disasters can sometimes carry a feeling of helpless inevitability, our individual and collective indifference is within our control. S7 Airlines, VOLAC, and all their sponsors and donors have proven that together, we can literally regrow what was lost. Every person, every dollar, and every seedling holds power, and the element of hope is renewable, contagious, and desperately necessary. Siberia’s forests have already begun to breathe with new life again, and while the journey ahead is long, the smoke is clearing, and hope is most definitely in the air.