Renowned Turkish Photographer Asks: Will My Country Lock-In a 'Smoky Future' or Break Free?
“I am well aware that every new coal investment is stealing from my children’s future. Not being able to assure our future feels so sad. Coal power plants are spreading out slowly and sneakily, penetrating into our cells—just like smoke and fume. They poison us without our notice and the worst is, not being aware of the threat. With the Smoky Future project, I wanted to say stop to all this. I aim to reach people with photographs before the smoke from coal power plants reaches them. I want them to be aware—before it is too late.” — Kerem Yücel, photographer
In 2015, Turkish photographer Kerem Yücel collaborated with Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe for the Smoky Future photo-story project to document the life stories of local communities who are stuck right beside coal power plants and are under the threat of new coal infrastructures that are planned. Smoky Future, which opened as an exhibition in Istanbul in 2015 and nowadays on tour in different coal towns in Turkey, has recently been awarded the third place for the best photo-journalism prize of Photo Journalist Association of Turkey.
As of 2016, there are 21 coal power plants in operation in Turkey and there are around 80 new coal power plants planned in line with the country’s 2023 energy vision. Local communities, national NGOs, environmental lawyers, photographers, medical associates, archaeological experts in Turkey collaborate and resist to shelf the devastating coal infrastructures projects that are planned. Thanks to the resistance, almost half of the first round projects have been cancelled and some of the planned projects face serious risks.
After China and India, Turkey is the third country in the world with the highest number of new coal projects in the pipeline. Having around 80 new coal power plants by 2023 would add at least 200 million tons of CO2 emissions, on top of 68.7 million tons in 2012, which would make Turkey one of the world’s major emitters and a climate bomb. This ticking climate bomb is also about to explode inside the country, as the drastic health and pollution impacts of coal power plants on humans and their surrounding ecosystem becomes more and more significant. According to Health and Environment Alliance’s 2015 report, the total health impacts from coal combustion plants in Turkey amount to 86,393 life years lost or 2,876 premature deaths per year.
The photo-stories reflect the Smoky Future that awaits Turkey if the policy makers choose to continue on the current pathway towards a complete lock-in to coal. However, people in Turkey choose to break free from coal instead, for rather a bright future.
Yirca is a small village in Soma district of Manisa. Manisa is famous with its grape production whereas Soma is famous with its lignite coal. Due to global climate change related weather abnormalities in 2015, grape farmers had a big loss in their crops. Meanwhile, the feasibility studies for the second coal power plant in Soma is concluded, awaiting its license, on the second year of the Soma coal mine explosion where 301 miners have lost their lives.
The royalty agreement signed with Kolin, the investor, gave the company the initiative to start constructing the coal infrastructure in Yırca village of Soma, in 2014. While the environmental impact assessment process in addition to the court cases opened against the company (by Greenpeace and Yirca villagers) and the “emergency expropriation” of the olive groves carried on, Kolin workers violently took out 6,666 olive trees.
The coal power plant project Kolin planned in Yırca did not come through thanks to massive resistance, but the company is now trying to realize the project in Kayrakaltı village, neighboring Yırca.
In the Soma district of Manisa, which was originally famous for its grapes and agricultural production, clean rivers feel like surreal street decoration as Soma is now one of the coal-towns of Turkey.
Gülnaz Kıllı and her 9-year-old grandson, Hasan Hüseyin, represent only one of the households in Sarıseki where the inhabitants suffer from chronic respiratory diseases. She said: “My 9-year-old grandson has asthma, so as the children of most of our neighbors. It’s their right to live and grow up in a healthy, sustainable environment. I have been active in our struggle since 1999 and now our community in Sarıseki is facing displacement due to the interests of the coal industry.”
Iskenderun Bay has one of the most diverse terrestrial and marine ecosystems in Turkey. Twenty percent of citrus production comes from this area and a majority of local people earn their lives from fishing, production of vegetables, fruit, olives and olive oil.
With increasing number of planned new coal power plants in addition to fast pace industrialization, İskenderun Bay is becoming the most polluted region of Turkey where it is getting more and more difficult for local communities to sustain their lives.
Currently there are three coal power plants in the area and there are 29 more in either licensing, impact assessment or constructions phases.
The open air coal storage area that got established just next to Kurtpınarı village of Adana, renders local communities bound to live in coal dust as the sea breeze comes from behind the coal storage area. Fifty-six-year-old Dürdane Erdoğuk, an inhabitant of Kurtpınarı, said, “We live in coal dust for the last three years, since there’s a big, open-air coal storage area next to our village. We breathe coal, we eat coal, we drink coal. I don’t want to move away because of it; I want to live on my land free of coal.”
While the open-pit lignite mine, that provides coal to Afşin-Elbistan A-B power plants in Kahramanmaraş, destroys the arable land, kids from Çoğulhan, spend their summer holidays under the shadow of Afşin-Elbistan a power plant.
Located in inner Anatolia; Afşin-Elbistan is one of the most polluted regions of Turkey. There are two existing coal power plants in the region with total installed capacity of 2435 MW and there are three new units (Afşin Elbistan, C D E) planned to add an additional capacity of 8200 MW.
Çoğulhan is the only arable land left, in this area. The air pollution, water and soil contamination caused by coal power plants, coal mine and coal dust has significantly started to disrupt small scale, family farming.
The blue-flag-beach of Karabiga, Çanakkale, is threatened to lose its blue-flag and tourism potential once the construction of Cenal power plant is finalized and its chimney starts pumping dust and emissions.
İzdemir coal power plant in Foça, which is in operation despite the open court cases against its license, has caused many people to migrate to urban parts of the region. Currently, only two households are left near the coal power plant.
Auntie Sabriye came as a bride to a 28-people household who lived on this land back then; she now lives alone as her family and relatives have already left Foça as the only available employment opportunities left have to do with the coal power plant, ash pond or then constructions of new industrial infrastructures. Auntie Sabriye talks about her vision of the region and says,“I wish people would visit here to see Kyme archaeological site, do wind surfing in this region. I wish we were busy with agriculture, fishing and tourism instead of the smoke coming out of that coal power plant. Then, everything would have been in place.”
Wherever there is a coal threat in Turkey, there is also resistance asking for the right to live and a smoke-free future. For that reason, the Break Free 2016 escalation in Turkey will mobilize different resistance groups to Foça/Aliağa as it is an iconic place with its cultural heritage sites, its history of community mobilization against coal power plants and the irreversible threats to both the region and the country if all coal infrastructure projects come to realize on top of existing ones.
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By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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