The demand for climate justice encompasses multifaceted demands including but not limited to gender equality, minority rights, refugee rights, labor rights, rights of the poor. In other words, climate justice is a global and urgent call for action to leave no one behind.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, the past 10 years have marked the hottest decade in the history of the world. The global surface temperature is 1.2 degrees warmer than that of the pre-industrial revolution.

Scientific studies demonstrated the threshold to increase the risk for dangerous changes and probable disasters: when the temperature of pre-industrial era increases by 2 degrees. Therefore, it is internationally widely accepted that the warming should be kept below 2 degrees.

We must mobilize and organize our reactions against the floods in the North, the fires in the South, and the heat waves that leave us out of breath in the cities around the struggle against a global climate crisis. The crisis is on a global scale, it’s neither just a concern of faraway lands, nor facing scientific uncertainty. The crisis is at our homes, at the center of our lives. The scientific community has agreed upon the existence of the crisis and what needs to be done a long time ago. If we cannot put an end to it, its effects will turn into a series of disasters very soon. And not in the North or South pole, but right here, at center of our very own lives − in the forests, the streets of Istanbul, on the fields where our food is grown, the coasts…

Instead of searching for arsonist terrorists in the forests or trying to change the agenda by covering up political responsibilities or putting the blame on someone else, we must come up with national policies that facilitate adapting to climate crisis, including but not limited to, preventing forest fires. In other words, the day has come where we need to demand accountability for imperative policies on cutting down greenhouse gas emissions −that are responsible for the climate change− to prepare all life against the destructive effects of the crisis and to put an end to it on a global scale.

Could we say that forest fires, like all other devastating events, served as a social litmus test in relation to political responsibility, accountability, and transparency? Fake news, fake social media accounts, those arguing for an apolitical stand, or blaming individuals for their carbon footprints; they tried everything to divert the public attention to other subjects, which only served to turn a blind eye to climate crisis and to use this crisis to mobilize enmity within society. On the other hand, it is a huge scale crisis that is now beyond and independent of individuals; it’s a globally destructive force − such that, the abovementioned acts in Turkey that tried to integrate the crisis to their petty scheme to instate enmity did not go beyond being seen as pathetic efforts.

Couple of years ago, there was a hailstorm in Istanbul in the middle of the summer. Each hailstone was as big as a person’s fist. When the hailstorm caused serious damage, most people agreed that “nature is taking its revenge from us”. Nature is not taking revenge from anyone; we are facing the consequences of the destruction nature is enduring.

Hailstorms, floods can be observed acutely and physically. The reactions against these acute destructive weather events in Turkey mostly revolved around critiques of construction in localities, and faulty construction projects undertaken. In short, the focus was defining the subject in local terms because it is easier to talk about something we can see. The temporal and spatial distance intrinsic to warnings made by scientists for the past decades on the impact of global climate change is the impediment for why this crisis never became a priority. Now that we are facing the protracted crisis in all its concreteness and destructiveness, it is difficult to fathom how we ended up in a sea of ignorance, where questions like “how can we explain this great number of forest fires with global warming? Who burnt down these forests?” are commonplace as people try to find a perpetrator. Perhaps, according to these people, climate crisis is something about the North and South poles, or about polar bears. Surely, the forest fires might have started due to human contact, but the fact that these fires grew and expanded rapidly to places with high temperatures and spanned out of control −because there was no preparation to respond to a crisis of this scale− is caused by climate change. The terrorist you have dialed cannot be reached at the moment.

It was not until our daily lives were interrupted by extreme weather events in the past couple of years that climate change came to public attention. There are surely several reasons that justify that situation. Let’s not forget that concrete effects of the destruction brought about by climate change are projected to be seen in a not-so-near-future, perhaps around 2030s or 2050s, and that currently there are still no evident or concrete manifestations of climate change in a country where human rights violations are commonplace, women and trans are killed every day, and city life is trapped in a concrete jungle. I believe that a strong and wide-scale public struggle against climate change comes to be obstructed in Turkey because of that. Whatever we can see with our own eyes or hear with our own ears have always been primed as opposed to warnings laid out in scientific studies. So, it is no surprise that Turkey is among the six states, namely Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen, that have not ratified the Paris Climate Agreement since 2015, which aims to keep the global rise in temperature at 1.5 degrees by decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions of states and providing a sound route to fight against climate change.

The action plan to avoid climate crisis from evolving into extinction is clear: to decrease carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees. The reference scenario, which happens to be the current scenario where no mitigation measures are taken, shows that the global temperature will rise by 4 degrees. That translates into the glaciers melting, sea levels rising, more frequent hurricanes, tsunamis, extinction of land and marine biodiversity, floods, hailstorms, storms, draught, water crisis, heat waves. Turkey is among states criticized for its uncoordinated efforts against climate crisis. It has not yet ratified the Paris Climate Agreement and its commitments to decrease emissions are substandard.

The forest fires that could not be put out for days showed in a devastating manner that we had no preparation for the disasters that are caused or amplified by the crisis.

Keeping in mind that this is a global crisis, it is important to highlight that industrialist states are responsible for the crisis, and to question the historical responsibility of these states by looking at their emission rates. Floods in Germany and Belgium, fires in the US, and other extreme weather events show us that almost none of the states accomplice to the birth of the crisis is prepared for its consequences.


Denial of climate crisis


The mainstream discussion around climate change historically has evolved between believers and deniers of climate change. Denial of climate change obstructed international legally binding policy making against the crisis. Most of the agreements signed were not ratified or implemented, and the international meetings have not proven useful. The history of negotiations to fight against climate change took decades and is marked with disappointment. States whose development policies are founded on fossil fuels did not give up on them and brought the crisis to our homes.

David Harvey draws our attention to the fact that global meetings on environmental problems yield no results and taking action becomes almost impossible as he investigates who talks about the complicated and interacting global problems and recommends solutions for them. For the most part, we know what needs to be done to against climate change. But capitalists and certain capitalist governments, along with their state apparati, have left these international initiatives ineffective for they want to preserve and to protect their profit shares, place in the competition and economic power.

It’s not surprising that the biggest lobbyist on climate crisis denial is funded by huge fossil fuel companies that are responsible for the crisis. Some of the scientific studies on the causes of climate change, spanning a long period, have been carried out in a way that produces results directly proportional to the interests of these companies. Fossil fuel companies have taken a few actions to undermine the claim that poses the use of fossil fuels as the cause of climate change. One of the most striking examples of this is the campaign known as the “Oregon Petition.” In 1998, allegedly 30,000 signatory scientists declared that human-induced global warming is not real. The campaign was initiated by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, founded by a republican politician. The campaign demanded the United States should not be a party to the Kyoto Protocol. This campaign and the affiliated institute later collaborated with George C. Marshall Institute. Exxon Mobile, one of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world, is one of the founders and financiers of the institute that has been working to promote denial of climate change.

Although 97% of the credible and independent scientific research agree that climate change is real and human induced (fossil fuels), it took a series of disasters to really demonstrate the impact of climate change because of the orchestrated efforts of states and fossil fuel companies.

Despite the wide international agreement that global climate change is the biggest global, the research conducted by a research institution based in London, UK revealed quite striking findings about the activities of the fossil energy industry against the fight against climate change. According to this research, the five largest publicly traded oil and natural gas companies, Exxon Mobil, BP, Dutch Shell, Chevron, and Total, have provided misleading information and manipulated perception of climate change within the three years following the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. It is revealed that they have spent a billion dollars for lobbying activities. Recently, BP Turkey cooperated with a charity and announced that they have donated one million Turkish liras to “heal the wounds of forest fires”. This amount is not even a scrap of the budget they have spent to manipulate scientific facts about climate change while peoples, individuals, communities, and environmental organizations all over the world are opening liability lawsuits against oil companies for their responsibility in climate crisis. These companies will pay for the damage they have caused. However, this payment will be on the scale required by climate justice, not on the scale of what showcase campaigns or ostensible budgets deem adequate.

We have encountered different versions of climate crisis denial during the fires went on for days in Mediterranean region of Turkey. Instead of big oil industry, on the side of deniers were companies that destroyed nature by their aggressive investment and development projects in the past years but now donating saplings; bot accounts on social media, opportunistically piggybacking on racist attacks to identify the arsonists responsible for the fires just by sitting in front of their computers; and people united on the grounds of charity who focused on sapling donations before the fires were put out.

Although the action plan against climate change has been around for decades now, companies and states have not acted on it since they feel that their share of profit, place in the competition, and economic powers are threatened. In Turkey, people were on watch on site and on Twitter as the fires came closer to outdated thermal power plants. People saw sapling donations and condolences messages from companies known for projects destroying the environment. Questioning why there were no firefighter planes was censored.

When we talk about climate crisis and the fires around the Mediterranean, the connection or causality might not be that evident at the first sight. Fortunately, today science and technology provide us opportunities to make these connections more clearly. Science tells us that heat waves are going to be one of the major consequences of climate crisis. Heat waves turn mega cities with little green space into a heat island and the temperatures feel higher than they usually do. Due to the rising temperatures, when there is a fire in the forest, it gets harder to extinguish it and the affected area expands closer to inhabited areas. In short, the crisis shows itself as extreme weather events.

Naomi Klein, in This Changes Everything, draws attention to the reluctance of politicians, world leaders to recognize the threat we are facing and declare a crisis even though climate change could cause a bigger and more widespread destruction and deaths than banks going bankrupt or buildings collapsing. According to Klein, not declaring a crisis only serves as an obstacle to mobilizing.

A branch of international criminology started to look at climate crimes in which states and companies act together. The nature and dynamics of the crimes committed by states and companies are being examined within the framework of climate change justice. In this equation, perpetrators and policy makers that do not recognize climate change are treated equally. As the companies continue to invest in fossil fuels, the states are the ones who turn a blind eye to this destruction.

The criminal nature of the relationship between states and companies manifests itself through not recognizing climate change as a human-driven problem; obstructing the decrease of greenhouse gas emissions; acting in ways against preserving climate change in its safe limits; using a discourse that exclude and criminalize environmentalist groups, scientists who act and recommend policies to mitigate climate change; or responding to social conflicts arising due to climate change by leaving rest of the world outside of the conversation.

From environmental justice to climate justice

Strategies and laws that prioritized privatization and the advancement of free market economy in Turkey, especially since early 2010s, caused environmental destruction at immense scales. Today we are protesting the fact that forest fires coincided with the passing of a law on incentives to stimulate tourism, which defines forests as tourism areas. But, since early 2010s the law on forests allows for forests to be allocated for use as mines, energy, tourism, urban development if they are deemed to serve public interest. For example, Ida Mountains (Kaz Dağları).

The Land Protection Act allows for agricultural land to be used for projects, such as energy or mine projects that fall outside of agricultural use, if they are deemed to serve public interest.

The Ministry of Environment is no longer the evaluator and decision-making body about Environmental Impact Assessments (ÇED) but functions more like a body that approves the projects of other administrations such as the Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

There are at least 10 thermal power plants in Muğla that have already passed their due date for operating safely and should have already been closed. They were under risk of being swallowed by fires and caused great panic that they could explode.

There are no green spaces left in the cities.

As the global climate crisis worsens without a doubt, the natural refuge within Turkey is also gone. The conditions dictate that the issue is no longer limited to singular local struggles, such as protecting the green areas in our cities, or protecting forests against a thermal power plant in another city. Our need for environmental justice turned into a demand for climate justice.

The global movement demanding climate justice draws attention to social, class-related, economic and health effects of climate change on vulnerable groups, and primarily women. The crisis that results from climate change affects all spheres of life and deepens the already existing inequalities.

Women are especially exposed to the effects of climate change. Women around the world are already systematically excluded from political and economic processes, and climate change affects decision making processes and limits access to economic resources; causing women to face multilayered discrimination.

Studies in this field demonstrate that women are more and differently affected from environmental disasters and climate change. Despite that, there is no binding principle that allow for women’s effective representation in policy making process regarding climate change. For example, we can trace gender as a pattern throughout the action plan drafted in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. Out of the 190 states that presented action plans, only 64 of them mentioned gender and almost none of them have put devising a gender sensitive budget on their agenda.

The demand for climate justice encompasses multifaceted demands including but not limited to gender equality, minority rights, refugee rights, labor rights, rights of the poor. In other words, climate justice is a global and urgent call for action to leave no one behind.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: Deniz İnal

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan



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