People of Turkish heritage make up the second largest population in Germany. Turkey’s approach to environmental protection, though, has and continues to be very different than the expression of environmentalism, both socially and politically, in Germany. “Turkish environmentalism has never transformed from an ecological grassroots movement into an integrated political movement… environmentalism in Turkey exists almost exclusively in the form of a social movement, as distinct from interest groups and political parties, ” writes Laura Wickström in Secular and Religious Environmentalism in Contemporary Turkey. The lack of integration of environmentalism into the national political agenda is likely linked to Turkey’s status as a developing nation where more focus is placed on growing a robust economy than protecting the nation’s natural resources. Consequently, “unregulated industrialization, unplanned urbanization, heavy use of chemicals and pesticides in the agricultural sector, and energy and mega-irrigation projects which pay no regard to environmental vulnerability are all implicated in some of the major environmental problems currently pertaining [to] Turkey,” where “the Turkish state still does not consider protection of the environment to be a high priority and therefore politicians and policy makers are not interested in developing long-term policies” (Wickström 126, 127).
According to Turkey’s statistical institute, the nation released 459.1 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2013, an increase of over 110% compared to the nation’s 1990 emissions. In the same 13 year period, and despite having nearly 5 million more residents, Germany’s emissions fell from 1,248 million tons to 953, a 25.6% decrease.
Despite Turkey’s dismal reputation as environmentally un-friendly, it would be remiss to say there has been no movement, political or social, in the nation that seeks to advance conservationism. It can be agued that Turkey’s environmentalism began in 1955 with the establishment of the Turkish Association for the Conservation of Nature, which paved the way for the Association for the Protection of Wild Life in 1975, Environmental Foundation of Turkey in 1978, and creation of Turkey’s Green Party in 1988. These governmental initiatives have been supplemented by environmental NGOs, 438 of which came into being between 1995 and 2007. In fact, Bariş Baykan, a professor of Environmental Policy at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul, reports that “society has more confidence in [Turkey’s] environmental organizations (56%) than it does in the political parties (35%). Writes Hande Parker in The Involvment of the Green Movement in the Political Space, “In Turkey, the environmental movement is regarded as apolitical. In fact, this understanding is linked with increasing social legitimacy. Even though this perception is still used in a discursive level, all the actors of the movement are, in one way or another, involved in the political sphere, because demands related to nature conservation and prevention of its destruction require changes in the policies of decision-makers. This is why it is situated in the very center of the political sphere.”
Yeşiller, Turkey’s Green Party (Photo: flickr)
“The vast open-cast coal mine and the state-owned coal power stations of Afsin-Elbistan that are planned to be expanded into the biggest coal-fired plant in the world.” (Photo: The Guardian)
Dr. O. Faruk Akyol of the Turkish Cultural Center in Berlin has this to say about environmentalism in Turkey:
Turkey, as a nation, seems to have decided that there are more pressing issues to address than the environment. It’s people, according to Perspectives: The Green Movement in Turkey, are more concerned with the women’s movement and humanitarian aid. Turkey’s government is dragging its feet on divesting from fossil fuels and investing in wind & solar energy due to low coal, oil, and gas prices. Turks in Germany, then, may have a hard time adopting Deutschland’s progressive, aggressive green policies and practices. The ethnically Turkish Germans I spoke to were, by and large, less concerned with environmental protection as a political cause than with social integration and mobility. Ironically, I believe the two are linked; environmentalism is so much a part of a Christianity-born German identity that Turkish migrants, whose country of origin and religion don’t explicitly call for conservationism, find it hard to fully integrate. Stuart Hall writes, “…a nation is not only a political entity but something which produces meanings- a system of cultural representation. People are not only legal citizens of a nation; they participate in the idea of the nation as represented in its national culture.” German culture and Turkish culture, it seems, diverge over the issue of environmentalism.