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From the Bosphorus: Straight - Misplaced pride, misplaced political debate

HDN | 8/9/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Based on three recent pieces of news, a broader, deeper and certainly more intense discussion on Turkey's 'energy intensity' is clearly in order.

A broader, deeper and certainly more intense discussion on Turkey’s “energy intensity” is clearly in order. Our reason for arguing this derives from three elements of yesterday’s newspaper: the comments on energy consumption by Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, the lack of comments related to this topic in the ongoing war of words between political leaders and the reports of epic natural disasters worldwide.

Let’s work backwards from the list of worries resulting from yesterday’s newspaper.

First, if anyone has a lingering doubt that the horrific impact of climate change is upon us, Monday’s Page 6 is worth a review. The worst flooding ever recorded in India and Pakistan. The worst flooding in at least a decade in northwestern China. And meanwhile, thousands of kilometers way, some of the worst flooding in memory in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

While some parts of the world are too wet, others are too dry. Russia has banned grain exports in the wake of record drought; the bizarre weather has contributed to forest fires whose smoke around Moscow is grounding flights and darkening the capital in the middle of summer. Thousands have died in the floods and up to 5 million people have been made homeless as food prices skyrocket out of reach of some of the world’s poorest people.

As horrific as this is, it is but a dress rehearsal for the scenarios climate experts have been warning about for years. And the culprit, of course, is runaway energy consumption. Which brings us to our second point.

On Friday, Turkey reached a historical record in its energy consumption: 700 million kilowatts per hour. We won’t attempt to parse per-capita consumption here. But we find it troubling that Minister Taner saw in this only a point of pride: “I can say that these energy-consumption figures [are] symbolizing that Turkey’s growth will improve more.”

We see instead in these figures the symbolism of underdevelopment and poor planning. The optimal pattern of energy consumption in a modernizing society is an inverted “U-curve”: Energy intensity rises in basic stages of economic development and then declines as an economy matures, becomes more sophisticated and moves into higher production values. This has been the experience of Sweden, Spain and Italy, for example.

Yes, Turkey’s energy needs will grow. But what are we getting for that expenditure of energy? And how are we squaring this consumption with the consequences?

Lastly, there is the wearisome tone of debate between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Yes, we have a looming referendum. Yes, there are many serious differences between the two. But nowhere do we hear a single word from either man on this critical issue of looming environmental catastrophe wrought by spiraling energy consumption.

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