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.
Today, Ankara is not Wuhan. Wuhan is a good example compared to our capital city. Today, Ankara is a construction site. Ankara residents have to remind the city again that they do not want a municipal administration that works for contractors — alongside a presidential system that works for contractors.
This good news about the discovery of natural gas reserves in the Black Sea at the same time means a disaster for the environment. Turkey is a country in which environmental protection standards are very low, and it cannot control even this. This project will be the end of the Black Sea.
As Turkish politics have been reduced to a binary dichotomy between the government bloc and the opposition, İYİ Party plays a somewhat unifying and dampening effect in that regard. But while the government is out of touch with the people, the opposition is not tuned in with it either.
In the past four months, none of our municipalities prepared the infrastructure for washing our hands. They were not able to meet the sidewalk conditions of 1.5 meters width for the social distancing of pedestrians. Almost all of our 1,397 municipalities have failed according to these criteria, including opposition ones.
Even though there are now 163,000 cases detected in Turkey and even more cases that are undetected, the malls are opening. At what cost and for whose sake they are opening? It is quite apparent that they are not opening for our sake; the data is clear. When you review the equation from the point of view of the novel coronavirus, then you have five huge reasons not to step inside these malls.
In Turkey, the pandemic seems to have also opened asphalt season for some local administrations. Municipalities regarded this period as a huge opportunity to pave asphalt.
The Energy Ministry’s 2019-2023 Strategic Plan tells us a lot about the government's intentions. It is obviously a plan that still insists on coal and hydroelectric power policies, and that has solar and wind energy only as an accessory. The climate crisis is not even mentioned.
The first coronavirus month in Turkey will be recorded in history as the month of opportunism, the month of abusing a pandemic. It kept some of its people at home and others at mines and factories, turning the country into a labor camp. Only the local administrations were left, but there were policies to curb their powers as well.
As a host to 85 percent of all international travels, Istanbul has become an attraction center for coronavirus. And as a host to 38 percent of Turkey’s domestic travels, Istanbul spread the virus to the rest of the country.
The Turkish government has not taken steps related to the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak. They actually took steps in the opposite direction asking people to do their own homework and resisting a total lockdown in the country. Meanwhile, the opposition self-quarantined itself politically.
In 2019, the number of issues broke the record with 935 extreme meteorological issues recorded in Turkey. That's 9 times the overall number recorded for the second half of the 20th century. Last year, floods occurred in cities including Ordu, Düzce, Trabzon, Antalya and Mersin that cost the lives of many people.
While Russia needs to sell its energy to Turkey, the US must stay within the Middle East to get its oil. That is why they are both seeking Turkey on their side.At the moment, Turkey is paying for the Syrian war with its loved ones and poverty. It is only by achieving peace with its neighbors that we can attain a win-win situation.
Thanks to a Special Communication Tax that was introduced after the 1999 earthquake, some 67.5 billion Turkish Liras have been collected up to now for earthquake relief. But rather than on earthquake preparedness, the money was largely spent on construction projects.
Kanal Istanbul is a project based on unjust profit-earning that is well-known first to Turkish companies, followed by Arab, European, and even Pakistani capital owners. But we still don’t know the full truth of what is going on with the project. Good that we do not know, because if we did, the Kanal Istanbul project would end immediately.
According to OECD data, Turkey allocated 289 million dollars for waste management in 2008. Ever since, the country has developed and grown, right? Despite this, the money allocated for waste management fell to 147 million dollars in 2015. We have a government that does not want to manage waste and spend money on it. Burying trash is easy; the soil is free.
President Erdoğan's government recently suffered two fiascos, one involved thermal power plants while the other had to do with a plan to rescue the private company “Simit Sarayı”. So why would it press forward with the Kanal Istanbul project?
It is possible for us to close down all coal mines! The way to this has been paved with the veto on the proposed bill. But if we leave public policy unattended and representatives continue to leave parliament seats empty, the opposite will happen. I should point out as a warning that, just like the Environment and City Planning Minister could actually be referring to the business schedule when he says “we installed a filter in 6 months,” a similar wordplay could be at hand with the veto. We will go after the answer together, I promise.
We know how much the ministry earned from shopping bags in the first nine months of the year. At 25 kuruş (cents) for each nylon bag, 15 kuruş were deposited to the ministry and the total was 188 million lira. You heard it right, 18.8 billion kuruş.
The Ministry of Forestry routinely opens up forest ecosystems for economic exploitation. It distributes permits to use forests for mineral exploitation, mining, construction and even for oil drilling. In 2012, 2,810 permits were granted for those purposes. Between 2012 and 2018, that number rose to 18,515.
The government has found a way to take back the Bosphorus after losing İstanbul elections. The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization has drafted a 28 point legislative proposal called the Boshporus Law. With the new law, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and four provinces no longer have any authority in the Bosphorus.
Volkswagen's investment plan in Turkey is a scandal. It is no less than an attempt to rescue a drowning company ensnared in corruption. While the Turkish public will bear the economic costs of this plan, environmental damage will also be caused.
Erdoğan changed the climate of the UN Climate Action Summit. He talked about how he multiplied fossil fuels and how not recycling waste is a good thing, and he put concrete as a policy on the world stage.
Turkey wants to be a party to the Paris Agreement as the structure of the deal allows countries to increase emissions. Turkey, which is among the 12 countries that have not yet joined the agreement, had added 193.5 million tons to climate changing greenhouse gases in last 20 years before 2010.