Monday, July 22, 2013

The Russians are Coming

The setting sun blasted a triumphal arc of colour into the early evening sky beyond the Toros Mountains. I watched from the terrace as a shimmering halo spread across the western heavens in a dance of time with the rugged peaks and shadowy valleys. The warmth of the sun’s auburn glow barely receded as slowly the mountains devoured the fiery disc. A tiny green lizard scampered into a recess in the rocks below watched by a bored cat sheltering under the shade of a flowering bush. I could sense the movement of the tide as the moon pulled away to the other side of the blue earth, and wistfully wished for a perceptible breeze to cool the sultry night.

I sat back with a refreshing drink and began to think about all the reasons to discover more about the world we live in, and by extension ourselves. I thought about the power of the earth and how we utilise its resources, the minerals locked in rock, the plants and animals, the water, the sun and the wind. I considered how our personal relationship with the world in environmental and cultural terms is multifaceted and complex, and though uniquely individual, shared through tacit agreement and compromise with everyone else on the planet.

How we interact will determine the course of our shared future; a future that depends on creating clean energy solutions to the environmental issues we face.

Without doubt, solutions are needed to address concerns over shifting weather patterns, pollution and the uncompromising energy demands of today’s technologically driven world. We interact with everyone else on the planet through various governments, corporations, associations and institutions, art and culture exchanges and academic conferences as well as media sources, not to mention the simple friendly hello to the neighbours and being decent in dealing with the people we regularly encounter in our daily lives. And then, of course, there is travel.

Tourism is a huge industry in today’s modern global economy. In Turkey alone there are 31.5 million annual visitor arrivals, contributing over 23 billion dollars to the marketplace. Over 20 million tourists arrive in the 'high season' between June and October, with 3 million coming from Germany and 2.7 million of those summer visitors coming from Russia, whereas only 1.7 million arrive from the UK. More than 1.7 million tourists arrive in Antalya in August alone, and most of them are Russian. Beyond the financial benefit opening passage between countries engenders good relations between people of different cultures. So many Russians spend their summer here that the council built a park, complete with the ubiquitous Antalyan fountain and lovely monumental clichés of Russian culture.

The travel industry, and the people who utilise the resources dedicated to this sector, puts its own strain on the energy consumption of the host nation. So many of the ‘eco-tourists’ today anticipate visiting beautiful, maintained, environmentally friendly historic sites and resort areas, yet expect that energy supplies to achieve access to splendid scenery will not unnecessarily damage the environment. To achieve the stated goals of reducing toxic emissions, managing waste and exploring cleaner energy methods we need to become more involved with our community. We will require a concerted effort to consider the effect of our actions on the general welfare of humanity, and knowledge of the systems around us to partake in the awakening consciousness toward healthier and renewed earth.

Turkey's energy consumption has almost doubled in the past decade - from 130 billion kilowatt hours to 240 billion kwh, meaning the speed of its increasing rate of demand for natural gas and electricity is topped only by China. Because of the ever-growing need for more power, Turkey has begun to build nuclear power plants. The construction of the first was to be built in the north in 2010 by the Russian company Rosatom, and the second station, currently under construction, will be near Mersin on the Mediterranean coast by Akkuyu, a subsidiary of Rosatom.

Meanwhile, only a month or so ago, Turkey's largest wind farm was opened in the northwestern province of Balikesir. One hundred countries worldwide now produce electricity with wind power. Last year, more wind turbines were erected than ever before, according to statistics released on 16 May 2013 by the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA) in Bonn, Germany. According to the organization's World Wind Energy Report 2012, last year wind turbines with a total energy potential of 45 gigawatts were constructed internationally. Worldwide, in 2012, some 60 billion euros ($77 billion) was invested in wind farms and turbines.

China and the USA are the biggest investors in the industry, both adding 13 gigawatts to their capacity. Together they are the top two producers of wind-powered energy while Germany is third, with a mandate to eliminate nuclear power from their nation within the decade.

Yet, Turkey is now starting down this dangerous path. "Renewable resources like wind, sun, and geothermal energy are part of Turkey's basic energy strategy," said Energy Minister Taner Yildiz. “But there is not yet enough investment - Turkish growth is,” he claimed, “quicker than investment in this sector. Turkey must diversify its energy sector. We have to produce double the amount of electricity we are producing now. That's why the planned nuclear power stations are so important." Of course, with the necessary long-term investment solar and wind energy strategies would succeed over nuclear.

In a land blessed with so many days of uninterrupted sunshine, surrounded on three sides by bodies of water, exposed to the wind from these seas, as well as having trapped energy in the form of volcanic seams, one would think that there would be many opportunities to advance production of these primary power sources.

Yet, money talks and deals are made and nations collaborate with corporations to invest in financially rewarding, yet dubiously safe enterprises that will determine the fate of all inhabitants of the earth.

Wind power energy plants have been increasing by up to 40% in some Eastern European countries, such as Ukraine and Poland, as well as in Brazil and Mexico.

However, there are those who oppose wind farms due to the intrusion on their view (such as Donald Trump’s recent foray into golf course resort hotels in Scotland) or because of the noise created by the whirring blades of the wind turbines.

US researchers claim that ‘infranoise’ at 60 decibels is debilitating, with symptoms reported being dizziness and sleeplessness. With the sound of normal conversation notching 60 decibels it’s surprising we ever sleep at all.

At Vensys, a wind turbine manufacturer in southwest Germany, CEO Jürgen Rinck says he's read the studies and believes that the amount of infrasound generated by wind turbines is too low to cause problems for human beings. Germany's Environment Minister, Peter Altmaier, says, “so far, it has only been proven to be damaging to humans at very high levels, around 170 decibels.” In Germany, the authorities have laid out strict regulations for the levels of allowable low frequency noise from industrial machinery. For sounds of 10 Hz for instance, the volume needs to reach 95 decibels before it is deemed problematic.

There are still those who find the sight of a tall, slender windmill on the horizon an eyesore, though no doubt they enjoy having electricity and wouldn’t want a potentially deadly nuclear plant on their doorstep either.

Away from government and business, life is a treat in these summer months, and I’ve begun to be spoilt by good weather, interesting places to visit and friends who keep me involved in various activities, from nights in the old town to days in the sun to student / teacher events.

We frequently go to relax and swim at the site of the ancient Lycian city of Phaselis, now a recreational beach from where one can sail along the coast stopping at inlets and magical bays scattered with the remains of various civilisations. The rocks are mainly limestone and the shoreline is covered in peanut pines and small clusters of laurel, willow, fig, wild rose, tamarisk and spruce and at higher elevations, cedar.

As well as many species of bird and fish there are bears and boars, wolves and wild goats living in the dense wooded areas. The water is blue and warm and inviting as reprieve from the blazing sun, and all only a short distance from the front door of my solar powered house.

Visiting nearby Kurşunlu Waterfall this past Sunday was an especially serene experience. Made a National Park in 1991, the intervention has created an oasis within the city, occasionally busy with tourists yet still offering a tranquil break from the rush of the surrounding metropolis.

This spectacular natural formation conceals a grotto of tunnels behind the falls that offers a cooling respite from the stifling heat, and simply walking through the rocky chasm created by these thunderous falls provides a cool fillip of mist.

Often, at night, we take a picnic of drinks and snacks and walk to the seashore, a blue flag pebble beach where everyone swims till the wee hours; the water is so invigorating in the sweat of darkness. Friends gather and enjoy the evening air, food, drink and good conversation, sharing hope for a more peaceful and ecologically balanced world.

It is possible, and even cheaper in the long run to keep our planet clean and our air free of contaminants. When honest people belief in a better way of life get together anything is possible, even helping to create a future free from the taint of the nuclear monster, the disaster waiting to happen, the terror of meltdown.

Since the Cold War era people in the West have worried about the threat of Russian nuclear power. That fear seemed to subside following the break up of the Soviet Union, though without consideration of loose cannons getting hold of missing weapons grade material. Nations such as Japan (a sad irony) and Russia are assisting in the development of this now unleashed atomic wave, and there is reason to suspect that the spread of this awesome power will continue as long as it is economical yet financially profitable, regardless of the inherent danger.

We must do what we can to spread a positive message of liberation from these corporate energy suppliers, buy into the cleaner and safer alternatives wherever possible and work for solutions to our energy needs. For our children and their children, so that tomorrow everyone can swim with a spirit of concord in the freedom of a clear blue sea, reliant only on the power of mother nature to provide the energy we use.

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