As we grapple with the sudden outbreak of the coronavirus, the reluctance of governments to tackle social matters raises our fears. While it would be wrongheaded to establish a cause and effect relationship between the Covid-19 and climate change, it appears that global warming has increased the number of diseases that are transmitted to humans from animals.
One important fact to bear in mind is that a pathogen can now travel from a remote village to major cities across all continents in less than 36 hours. A second fact to consider, which the World Health Organization (WHO) put forward during the Ebola crisis was the following: “changes in the way humanity inhabits the planet renders the emergence of more new diseases inevitable. Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of the microbial world. These microscopic agents, some of which copy themselves more than a million times a day will always find a way to exploit any weaknesses in the systems that have been set up for protection or defense.”
In other words, not only can an epidemic spread now spread faster than ever, our lifestyles, based on excessive consumption and a rapid pace, can themselves bring about new diseases. Transportation in the globalized age, affect both climate and the speed at which epidemics spread.
Though originating from a remote location, airline traffic spread the virus across the entire planet. As a reminder, here are some figures regarding the development of air transport: while there were 310 million passengers in 1970 and 641 million in 1980, in 1990, that figure had exceeded 1 billion. In 2000, the number of passengers was 1.64 billion. In 2010, it was 2.6 billion. In 2018, that figure exceeded 4.2 billion passengers.
Turkey has invested massively in air transport in recent years. While Turkey largely followed worldwide trends in the past century, it has recently increased slightly more than the world average. In 1970, the number of airlines passengers stood at 1 million. By 1990, that figure exceeded 4 million. In 2000, the number reached 12.1 million. Still, by 2010, due to the fall in public transport, the weakening of railroad transport, the number of airline passengers exceeded 45 million. In 2018, that figure reached a whopping 115 million passengers.
Overall, the total number of airline passengers amounts to about half of the world population. But Turkey now has more passengers than its population. In short, air transport likely played a larger role in spreading the disease in Turkey than elsewhere. In contrast to other countries, Turkey has also based its transportation policy on air travel.
Thus, while global trends already increase the pace at which pandemics spread across the world, Turkey’s usually high air transport amplifies that effect.
Relationship with climate
As for its relationship to climate change, the spread pandemic is also caused by the endless construction of airports and highways. In Turkey, in 2003, the area of terminals, amounted to 541,000 square meters. In 2018, it had risen to 3,678,000 square meters. Moreover, the length of airport runways increased from 44.5 km to 71 kilometers during that same period.
Air transport also releases much carbon dioxide. In 2003, our international flights emitted 2.7 million tons, domestic flights 2.7 million tons. In 2017, this figure had reached 14.8 million tons, with 11 million in international flights and 3.8 million from domestic flights.
First, I need not comment on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s announcement that “For three months, the VAT rate will be decreased from 18 percent to 1 percent for domestic flights.” In the light of the facts highlighted above, we can conclude this will harmful both with regards to the coronavirus and to climate change.
The issue of transferring Istanbul into an international transportation hub is a very serious public health issue. In general, rather than relying on air transport, Turkey should channel resources to other means of transport such as trains. Of course, trains also spread the virus yet planes are a lot more contagious as they as more packed and travel at high speeds. Besides, the building of ever more highways should be halted while public transport should be improved.
As for more short-term responses, hospitals that were closed down because brand new hospitals were to replace them should be re-opened. Rather than the paltry 2 percent of the overall coronavirus package Erdoğan announced, the entire health system ought to be nationalized. Basic food and cleaning supplies should be made free. This is today’s issue, not tomorrow’s.
Both the stage that the capitalism has reached globally and Turkey’s implementation of it, cannot be neglected while discussing the underlying factors which tie the climate crisis and the COVID-19 outbreak to each other.