“We are living in hell and we’re not sure what to do now”
The world has been witnessing a growing number of climate-related events and extreme disasters. The scale and the speed aside, the events were unfortunately known and expected. The experts have warned, and the research and studies conducted in varied areas show that climate change is accelerating. Rural and local communities, notably natural-resource dependent inhabitants who are more vulnerable to climate change, have given a sign for years about the threatening path the humanity is resting on and the different kinds of environmental changes that they have been exposed to.
Today the planet is far from being close to the point of no return on global warming, it has, rather, passed that point already by alarming its state of planetary emergency. None of the news or reports are doomsday scenarios from a movie or a novel which is yet to come, but they are the climate reality of today instead.
Turkey has been hit by the largest wildfires of the country, and by droughts, heatwaves and floods, this summer. A total of 180 wildfires started on July 28th and were brought under control on August 9th, but caused widespread damage along the southwestern coast, and destroyed more than 60,000 hectares of forest land – according to initial estimates announced by the local authorities in the Mediterranean and Aegean regions, which have both been severely affected by the fires.
The government was seriously criticized for being so late, almost appearing careless in their response to the extraordinary rate of the wildfires resulting from human-induced global warming. In the meantime, thousands of hectares of lands including a great amount of olive groves, pine-coated hills and laurel areas were destroyed. The thermal power plants were threatened by the fires, thousands of animals died, villages were evacuated, and villagers lost their homes and livestock. And there was only one question in mind: why were the amphibious firefighting planes in the inventory of Turkish Aeronautical Association deactivated and sitting idle at an airport as if being abandoned to rust?
Residents affected from the wildfires in different ways and to varying degrees united with a growing anger against the poor response of the government to the fires. The worst fires in terms of size and speed were in the Gündoğmuş and Manavgat districts of Antalya and in the Milas and Marmaris districts of Muğla – where we usually meet for a family gathering in summers. This summer the blue sky was blocked out by a thick cloud of smoke. Yet forestry workers, firefighters and locals tried to stop the flames reaching populated areas with an enormous battle, they were sometimes chased by the flames and sometimes trapped under smoke.
Air support was so inadequate to extinguish the wildfires. Thereupon social media in Turkey filled with the hashtag #helpturkey in response to the government’s inadequate response. Officials and government supporters, however, started a counter-narrative campaign with the hashtags #strongturkey and #WeDon’tNeedHelp, and Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council ordered TV networks to restrain their coverage of fires saying that broadcasting is creating chaos and concern among the public. After social media pressure, officials accepted help from Azerbaijan, Croatia, Iran, Spain, Russia, Ukraine and Qatar with water-dropping aircraft – although they were initially unwilling to do so. The police also finally started using water-cannon vehicles, (known also as intervention vehicles), which are more often used against the public at peaceful protests, as for example their massive use at the Gezi Park protests.
On August 9th most of the forest fires had been gotten under control, but the images of the catastrophe had not still left our minds. Everywhere was ash as far as the eye can see. Now black and brown took the place of green. It will take some time to recover, but the forests will be able to renew themselves on their own, that is, if there won´t be any extreme human intervention or unfitting ecological restoration projects proposed by the government as before.