Our ‘green’ expert compares the bridge between Asia and Europe to the U.S.
Whenever you go to a foreign country, you inevitably make comparisons. After all, the U.S. is exceptional, right? Superiority verification is needed. For this column, searching for how others measure up on environmental, ecosystem, and energy issues is required. Since I’m just back from Turkey, I’ll present my observations/comparisons in these areas.
First, Turkey sightings not seen in Tennessee: Minarets everywhere. We dubbed them “singing rockets,” sending out daily musical prayer calls. Also, Italian cypress trees, marble mountains, volcanoes, 3,000-year-old ruins in cities amid houses and stores, sheep and goat herds, farm fields without fences, storks, ancient Roman and Greek statues, sultans’ palaces, groves of olive, pomegranate and fig trees, white poppy fields, underground cities, a pink bacteria lake, and seas. Did you know that tulips are native to Turkey, not Holland?
Geologically speaking, in Turkey, tectonic plates still cause earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and recrystallized limestone. Water and wind contribute to rugged terrain, and erosion. In Cappadocia’s lunar-like landscape, early inhabitants carved villages from volcanic ash.
This young democratic republic, formed in 1923 by the revered Ataturk, is still developing, but removing religious control from government has helped Turkey thrive. Istanbul bustles with numerous small shop owners, but urban sprawl and deforestation are environmental problems. In 15 years, Istanbul’s population doubled to 20 million. Consequently, high-rise home construction is extensive. Mass transit exists, but cars and manufacturing contribute to air and water pollution.
Turkey has diverse ecosystems. Rugged mountains, windswept grasslands, and coastal habitats support trout, sea bass, lynx, jackal, brown bear, boar, fox, ibex, and goats as well as shore, field, and upland bird species. Lizards and feral cats frequent old ruins. The Taurus Frog is endangered. The hoopoe bird is stunningly beautiful. A mammoth reforestation project is underway preserving habitat and curbing erosion and degradation. Although most Turkish citizens are seemingly indifferent about climate change, tree planting helps. Also, your hotel key card, when removed from a room slot, turns all the electricity off. There are motion lights in all the hallways, too, which are real energy savers.
Much land is very fertile. Pesticide use is rising, but it is still lower than in most countries. Of course, the Mediterranean diet, which Turkey epouses, is known to be the healthiest. Fresh fruits and vegetables are mainstays, along with hot tea ready at every meal. Intriguing spices, toppings, eggplant dishes, cheeses, olives, and yogurts are usual offerings. Lentil soup, lamb kebobs and fresh fish are tasty. Colorful food markets line city streets. Most food is locally produced, helping prevent air pollution from transportation fuel use. Speaking of transportation, roads are good. If you stop to refuel, you’ll find fast healthy cafeteria food—unlike ours.
For electricity, Turkey still relies on fossil fuels. Hydroelectric dams are being built, altering habitat, but this is better than other choices. Construction of a first nuclear plant is underway. Fortunately, Turkish citizens living along coastlines have added on to new construction with solar batch water heaters perched on every roof. Mountainous areas sport windmills, while volcanoes support geothermal plants. Electricity costs about $.08/kilowatt hour to our $.10.
In many ways, Turkey feels like the U.S.—only better. It appears we are behind in alternative energy use. Infant mortality is lower in Turkey. There is too much over-consumerism—but unemployment is lower. Cottage industries allow workers to stay home, producing beautiful textiles, rugs, crafts, and agricultural products such as pine nuts. I saw no beggars or homeless. There is health care and education for all. Healthy food for the poor is available. Litter is hard to find. Recycling receptacles are numerous.
Conclusion: The U.S. clearly lacks green superiority with more work required. However, there’s nothing as good as a Tennessee homegrown tomato! In that, we are exceptional!
Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. Visit her website at enviroedu.net