Culture and Climate Change – Architecture and Urbanism

Angelina Davydova: "Our Environmental Consciousness is in Good Shape!"

Angelina Davydova, journalist and president of the Russian-German Bureau for Environmental Information, talks about her "Schools for the Environment" projects, new trends in environmentalism and her own eco habits.

Angelina Dawydowa; © Photo: private

Angelina, please tell us what makes the "Schools for the Environment" project so interesting.

It's a remarkable initiative. Personally, I think it's particularly important and fitting that not only children from all over Russia participated in this project, but also from other countries such as Kazakhstan, the Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. I rarely get to work with children because I'm mainly involved in programmes for adults. So when the students presented the projects they had implemented, I was very surprised to see how professional and highly relevant these projects were and how many young people were trying to do something and change the reality around them. I think initiatives like this are very important and deserve our unconditional support.

Which school projects particularly stood out to you?

I was a jury member for the working group on "air", so I feel best positioned to talk about the projects from this group. There were two particularly outstanding projects, and they did indeed make it to the final. One of them was called "Engines off outside our school!" and came from Perm; the other one was a project by schoolgirls from Moscow who did research on our air. The first group achieved very real changes to the rules applying to parking at their school, the second group also managed to change the surroundings of their school and wasn't afraid to approach a whole range of authorities and research centres to do so. I was also impressed by how creatively the students presented their projects – they wrote poems or sang songs. That was very touching.

Which positive tendencies have you noticed in the development of environmentalism in Russia recently?

I've been engaged in environmental issues since 2008. When I compare today's activities and the degree of interest in this topic with back then, there's a massive difference. These days, many young people are enthusiastic about environmentalism, express their interest in it, do something – set up initiatives, for example with the goal of greening or waste sorting. I notice this development and I think it's very important to support it. In addition, the number of protests about the environment is increasing – particularly in regional areas. There are distinctly more environmental initiatives based on the do-it-yourself concept than there used to be, which means that rather than the government or the responsible authorities suggesting a solution or a specific infrastructure, the activists themselves try to take action.

Which environmental topics are currently in vogue?

If we talk about public perception and what kind of projects people participate in, it's mainly waste and waste processing. Another popular topic in Russia is greening: protecting existing parks and planting new trees. In general, you could say that it's mainly topics that deal with the urban environment, the functioning of cities as large megacities and the ecological issues involved. People are trying to tackle and solve the problems they encounter within their own environments.

Topics like air and water pollution are extremely important, as are the elimination of green spaces and the logging of forests or the attempt to enforce the build-up of lake and river embankments. That's also why we're seeing an increase in protest movements in the environmental sphere (especially at the regional level) as well as of movements with a "hands on" approach.

In Europe, for example in Germany, young people worry about different issues. Many of the problems we have here in Russia have already been at least partly solved in Europe. That's why young people in European countries tend to be concerned with solutions for global issues. I'm referring to topics like climate change and the development of an energy industry based on renewable energies, environmentally conscious and ethical consumer behaviour or scrutiny whether and to what extent German companies also adhere to environmental and social norms in their dealings abroad.

In your opinion, what is missing in Russia for people to become more environmentally conscious?

There's never an ideal situation anywhere. I'm happy that an environmental consciousness is developing in Russia now, that the issue is playing an important role for more and more people and that they are also prepared to get involved in environmental initiatives.

In answer to your question, I wouldn't so much emphasise measures promoting environmental protection rather than point out obstacles and limitations that still exist. Unfortunately the situation has somewhat deteriorated in recent years. A few dozen environmental organisations, in particular regional ones who are working on solving very specific issues, have been declared "foreign agents". Many organisations regularly receive threats and activists are being attacked. Some of them have been forced to leave the country; others have even been subjected to criminal prosecution, which ultimately led to many ecologists (such as Yevgeny Vitishko) being imprisoned. In such an atmosphere of oppressing (not all, but certain) protests, it's not easy to develop an environmental consciousness.

It would certainly be wrong to just talk about the positive side and think that caring about the environment only extends to planting new trees and protecting animals but doesn't include the fight for certain environmental rights. It's very sad that many environmental initiatives are currently facing serious problems, regardless of the fact that the issue itself is becoming more and more popular and important to people.

Could you name a few interesting ways of increasing people's interest in environmental issues further? In my view, it would be important for the media to report much more on ecological issues. I myself feel particularly drawn to events like the ECOCUP environmental film festival; it's possible to spark people's interest with festivals like that, or with exhibitions like the one on environmental photography.

Angelina, would you mind telling us how you try to do your bit for the environment?

I try to limit my consumption, namely to buy very little. Instead of throwing out old clothes, I pass them on to someone else or donate them to charity shops. I'm a fan of eating simple foods and I always buy small amounts to keep my waste in this area to a minimum. I try to use fewer plastic bottles and bags.

I take paper and glass with me to work – we have a number of offices and sort our waste into paper, metal, batteries and glass. This gets collected once a month. I would like to set up an eco composter at home. And I prefer to use organic household products – for example organic soap, organic dishwashing liquid and organic cleaners. I constantly read up on the ingredients of all kinds of products and encourage my friends to do the same. As for negative aspects, I fly a lot for my job and have no way of changing that. On the other hand, I don't have a car.

Is there a future for these school projects?

When I was a jury member for the "Schools for the Environment" project, I was surprised that the students achieved tangible results in a number of projects, such as in the working group on "air". For example, they managed to get the parking sign at their school moved. This isn't just important in relation to the environment but also with respect to their active participation as citizens in a civil society. It's vital that children understand that things aren't just the way they are – they themselves are capable of effecting change. They work directly with the population and the authorities, hanging up notices in building entrances. On the one hand, this nurtures their own environmental consciousness and that of their friends and families, and on the other hand, they're making an active contribution to our civil society.
That's fantastic.

Text: Anna Andriewskaja
Translation: Elisabeth Meister

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
May 2015

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