German expert's frosty reply to Putin over climate change

23rd August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin queried Monday whether man was to blame for climate change on a visit to a remote Russian Arctic zone, only to find himself bluntly contradicted by a German scientist.

Putin, known for his tough-guy visits to his country's most far-flung areas, went by helicopter to a Russian-German research station on an island at the mouth of the Lena River in the Far Eastern Yakutia region on the Arctic Ocean.

Wearing a heavy black jacket to protect against the wind on the Samoilovsky Island off the settlement of Tiksi, Putin was shown ice said to be up to 3,000 years old and handled bones from a now extinct mammoth.

"Does climate change happen because the earth is breathing, living, giving off gas, methane, or is it due to the influence of human activity?" mused Putin as he sat down to tea with the scientists in their hut.

He noted that "10,000 years ago, the mammoths started to die out. This was linked to a warming of the climate, a rise in sea levels, a reduction of pastures."

"All this happened without human influence."

Mammoths were huge woolly relatives of today's elephants who lived in areas including present day Siberia until they started to die out in 10,000 BC, a process believed to have been caused by warming and human hunting.

Putin's doubts would put him at odds with mainstream scientific opinion which backs the idea that man-made emissions are the prime driver behind the current warming of the earth.

A German female scientist working at the station however showed no fear in making her opinion clear to the Russian strongman.

"The burning of various kinds of fuel has a far greater effect on climate than these methane emissions," said Inken Preuss quoted by Russian news agencies.

"Climate change has never happened like now and mankind is making a large impact," she added.

Russia has long been criticised by environmentalists for its reluctance to accept radical carbon emissions cuts but Moscow maintains it cannot sacrifice economic development at a crucial moment in the country's history.

Putin told the researchers that this year Russia has understood well the effects of climate change after its worst ever wildfires burned hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest.

"I have seen how the sea eats up the shore. It leaves a big impression," he said.

Putin, a self-proclaimed wild animal lover, has in recent times enjoyed close encounters with a polar bear, a tiger and a leopard throughout Russia's regions as he seeks to burnish his hard-man image.

© 2010 AFP

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