When coordinated climate demonstrations swept the globe on Sept. 20, 300,000 people rallied at City Hall in New York, 270,000 gathered outside Berlin’s Reichstag, and 90,000 thronged downtown Sydney. In Moscow, a few dozen students assembled with cardboard placards around a statue of Pushkin a mile from Red Square. While the movement got blanket coverage in many countries, in Russia it went largely unnoticed in the press and on social media. “People here don’t understand the gravity of the situation,” says Arshak Makichyan, a 25-year-old violinist who helped organize the protest in Moscow.
Public apathy about climate change mirrors indifference in the Kremlin, where the interests of the energy sector are paramount—the oil and gas industries employ more than a half-million people, and almost 50% of government revenue comes from taxes on carbon fuels. Rather than embrace cleaner energy, Russia is introducing bigger tax breaks for oil exploration and boosting coal production. For President Vladimir Putin, the best low-carbon alternative is nuclear power—provided by Russia’s state-controlled Rosatom Corp.—a technology he pitched at an October meeting with African leaders in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.