Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Local vs. Global - Thinking about how environmentalism differs in the US and Turkey

This post is part of the BlogHer April NaBloPoMo - a month of blogging about topics related to spring and the idea of "Fresh".   I hope that you will follow along!

Which environmental cause is closest to your heart and why?

As an environmental scientist, this question should be easy to answer - I should have a favorite topic, right? 

Academically I study the effects of land-use change and climate change on nutrient-related water quality in reservoirs.  Not so alluring…(or maybe it is? )

Global climate change is a hot topic these days (pun intended) and scientists are falling over themselves to publish papers about the possible effects of climate change on crop yield, land cover, biodiversity, water resources, disease vectors and the list goes on - think of a possible topic and most likely it can be related to climate change.  That is mostly due to the fact that climate change will affect everything and everyone - no one can hide from an altered atmosphere.  While I find climate change fascinating from an academic perspective, I am not so impressed with the changes climate change research has made in the actual world.  For most the status quo has remained fossil-fuel burning, waste inducing, material gluttony.  I sadly think that the academic papers have failed to make much progress in the realm of policy and action.

Therefore, if I think about the issues that are truly aligned with my heart and my conscience, the issues are more local and action-based, such as: sustainable and local agriculture, reducing material consumption, and increasing resource efficiency.  These are issues that I can act on in my daily life.  I can buy my produce from local and organic sources, I can buy grass-fed beef and I can limit the amount of food I waste by planning meals and using food creatively.  I can find ways to buy less, or re-use something I already have. These issues are more aligned with small lifestyle changes that overall can add up to a big impact over time.

I am still in the early stages of learning about these issues in Turkey.  In relation to my academic interests - I have downloaded a few papers on water resources in Turkey, and projected impacts from climate change - but I have yet to read them.  Eventually, if I end up teaching in Turkey, I will need to become an expert in this area…but it seems like I have plenty of time for that.

Again, the more everyday issues are the topics I gravitate towards while in Turkey.  On my first trip I was fascinated to learn that every apartment building had rows of water canisters attached to solar panels.  The water was passively heated by running through the coils, the motion generated by gravity and physics.  

This is a basic example of how the water is heated - cold water sinks, is heated in the panel, and then hot water rises.
From www.green-planet-solar-energy.com 

While this passive heating system means that you may not get a hot shower early in the morning, it does save a lot of energy throughout the day when heating water is not needed.  Amazing!  Why don't people use this technique in the States?  Perhaps because it is outrageously expensive to try to outfit your house with any of these passive heating technologies.  I wonder why it cheaper in Turkey than the States?  Couldn't have anything to do with politics. ;-)

Since every apartment has their own water heating system, this is what most Turkish rooftops look like.
I would imagine that the messy appearance has something to do with why these are not more utilized in the States, even though they would save a lot of money and resources in the long run.
Image from Leyla Arsan on Flickr
I was also delighted to learn that the local pazar (fruit and vegetable market) was not just a place where the local hippies and environmentalists bought their weekly produce, but that most everyone - young and old - stopped by the pazar in their local neighborhood or village. 

A young boy posing with his strawberries at the local pazar in Maras - which just happens to be on the street behind H.'s parents' apartment.  Wow those strawberries look so good right about now!
Another big difference - you will not easily find thrift stores and "garage" sales in Turkey.  Used goods are not common.  "Wait" - you might be thinking -" isn't it better for the environment to use used goods?"  In the US it sure is.  Used clothes and furniture and household goods are practically bursting from the doors of thrift stores, consignment boutiques and every garage in suburbia USA.  We are a nation fascinated with stuff.  We buy it, don't like it and then get rid of it.  This creates a lot of lightly used goods.  In the US I buy most of my furniture, clothes and kitchen appliances used.  In Turkey this would not be the case.  Instead, most buy the best quality they can afford and then use it until it doesn't work or wears out, if they need to get rid of something sooner it is typically donated directly to a person who needs the item. 

Another aspect is food waste - it just doesn't happen in Turkey.  A chicken for dinner becomes broth for soup and rice, meat for the meal and skin and bones for the street cats.  Produce is bought in season and frozen for use in later months, or pickles and jams are made to preserve.  Plates are cleaned at meals, and if you can't eat that other piece of baklava - it is saved for later.  Food is not thrown away; it is consumed by someone at some point. 

If you imagine a person buying most of their food from a local market, heating their water with a passive solar heating, keeping the AC off in the summer, using what they buy until it can't be used any longer, and not wasting a speck of food, in the US this person would be labeled as an environmentalist or a liberal - something along those lines.  Yet, in Turkey, this is common.  I imagine that most Turks would not consider themselves environmentally inclined.  This is how they were raised, how their children were raised, and hopefully this cycle will continue.

I still have a lot to learn about environmental issues and attitudes in Turkey.  Yet, from what I have learned so far, environmentalism is perhaps more alive in Turkey than it is here in the States (and they don't even know it!) 

Which environmental issues are you passionate about?  

Or let me know if I am missing something here... I realize that I don't know anything about environmental politics in Turkey - please share any resources that you may know of in the comments below.


  1. Thanks for this post. I agree with you on local-action issues. At our house we try had not to waste (food or energy) and to be deliberate consumers.
    It sounds like, except for the passive solar heating which is super cool (or is it super warm!), the people of Turkey live much the way the people of the United States did prior to WWII before we started promoting and buying convenience foods and disposable items which led to more waste and inferior products with built-in obsolesence, not to mention the unhealthy life styles we have today.
    I hope Turkey is in no hurry to become more like the U.S.

    1. Hi Joanne,
      Thanks for commenting and very interesting comparison- pre-WWII USA was a much different place before the chemical revolution took over. Sadly, I think that Turkey is becoming somewhat like the US, especially in bigger cities and with the younger generation learning what to buy from global media. For now, the high cost of energy in Turkey makes sustainable options more economical and the strong food culture prevents some of the weird ingredients from making it into Turkish food (or so we all hope).

  2. I think Turkey 20 years ago was as you describe it. Now I find a country that is slow to recycle plastic, uses plastic bags without thought, and has the a/c on all the time through summer. The solar water system gives you piping hot water when you don't need it much and not when you do. However the "make do and mend" concept is alive and kicking. My white goods are all over 20 years old. They are easily and cheaply repaired and until they completely breakdown I will continue to use them. The foreigners living in Bodrum have introduced Facebook thrift stores and they have been happily accepted and used by all residents.


    1. Interesting - I wonder if my experiences are perhaps skewed because I've spent most of my time in Southeastern Turkey. From my interactions, it seemed like most people were very conservative with their energy use. Energy sources were diverse as well - in winter some apartments were still burning coal and the new apartments have individual systems running on natural gas to only heat water when it is needed - still more efficient then our systems in the US that heat a large amount of water all the time.

      From what I hear recycling needs improvement in Turkey - I read the post you linked - very interesting! I noticed a similar phenomenon in several countries in South America, where individuals go around collecting recyclables and making money from the scraps. As you mentioned, it would be nice if there was some sort of effort to connect those in need to the proceeds by recycling in organized bins...

      Also glad to hear the thrift store idea is picking up in Bodrum - I'm a huge fan! Buying used makes it so easy to furnish a home without a huge investment. Maybe it'll catch on elsewhere also!


Thanks for joining the conversation!

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