Destroying Nature as a Cultural Phenomenon: the Planet is Fine, Save Yourselves

Humans are a species, just like many other things in the world. As a species, we have the right to destroy some part of nature just like any other animal or plant. Nature has very complicated means to cover for us. Call it ecological, biological, meteorological or evolutionary means. Everything we do has a result, while not necessarily everything we do has a clear purpose. If a group of lions find too much food, their population will rise, but there will not be enough food for all of them after a point. Nature will balance it out. If global warming screws the climate, in the long run, the planet will fix itself. If we wear out natural resources, we will decrease in population sooner or later. So, first of all, the planet is fine. Save yourselves.

All the intellectual and material changes we -as humans- have created on earth, have had its roots in the destruction of nature. Even the computer you are using now to read this article came into existence, because someone dug for steel, produced some plastic, and salvaged precious metals from the soil, or recycled materials. Energy was spent to produce it, and any kind of energy production damages nature. Wind turbines kill birds, solar panels are also “produced” by spending energy and materials. To me, nature has always had more of a cultural meaning, as we ultimately need somewhere to rest, and breathe. As long as we do not do something stupid that could destroy humanity itself (or the values associated with it), anything goes. As long as humanity can gain advancements and come to a point where it can sustain itself, nature shall be our “bitch”, if you would pardon my French. Many environmentalists would disagree with me up to this sentence, and I wow to present you with even more to disagree on. The planet is fine, save YOURSELVES.

Especially after the Gezi Park protests, “saving trees” was a hot subject, and the argument behind it was mostly “they are our lungs, our sources of oxygen”; however, did you know that even if the Sun suddenly died out, and trees were not able to produce oxygen, there would still be significant amount of time we would be able to breathe, and many other problems we would face would kill us before even a small amount of that remaining oxygen would be used? Trees are “mostly” fine in their own way, and I cannot say, of course, that they are not going anywhere soon. They are disappearing quickly especially in more “developing” and “populated” areas, this is no joke, but the problem is not that our sources of oxygen are drying out. Even if we continue to produce paper and other materials in the same rate, and construct buildings by destroying trees, it is very unlikely that the remaining amount of trees will create any significant “oxygen” or “energy/material source” problems in our children’s children’s children’s lifetimes. The previous argument is legitimate, if we are thinking about the long run, but in the long run, we are all dead -as someone much smarter than me once said. It is also true that we are destroying much more than we can replace in the same time interval. I am all for recycling, protecting nature, etc.; however, I am not for those concepts and values because of oxygen. Who knows, with enough technological advancements in the future, maybe we will not even need trees to produce oxygen.

We are not running out on oxygen soon, but we are running out of some kind of a culture. Living in İstanbul, I am witnessing this day by day. I live in Sarıyer, still the greenest place in this city of some 15M population. My university is half-way between the center of the district, and a small fishing village, Rumelifeneri. Between Koç University and Rumelifeneri, there is another small village, Garipçe. From time to time, I go to Rumelifeneri to drink some rakı and eat seafood, and to Garipçe for a lovely breakfast, watching the view just around the intersection of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea (we don’t call it the Black Sea anymore, because it’s racist – ok, bad joke, sorry). For all of the journey up to those destinations, everything -except the road of course- is green. It is “still” the most green you can see in İstanbul in such a short time, but now with one difference: two pairs of bridge foundations, rising into the sky like two giant pairs of ugly, concrete penises, trying to touch each other, but are not able to. Yes, it looks exactly like this, and this makes the situation even sadder. The foundations can be clearly seen from our campus, but it is even worse if one decides to visit those lovely villages during a weekend. They are really huge, and millions of trees were cut down, so they can pass the road connecting the bridge to the other side. Really, really sad. Sad, but not because of the oxygen, but because of the “breathing, resting space”.

Garipçe – doesn’t seem much, but lovely in its own way

Yes, if we think “literally”, we can breathe almost everywhere around us, or we can rest on our couches that have been carefully and thoroughly designed by skilled engineers, but it is not the same as visiting Garipçe, and stopping on the way to have a smoke at the edge of the great cliff on the left side, looking at the Black Sea. The air is not any cleaner (maybe because of the cigarette), but it is, my friends, what I call breathing. Of course, we will economically and scientifically advance, but we will do so at our expense, if we start massacring trees. No, not because of oxygen, I repeat. But I’m afraid my children’s children will not be able to sit at the edge of that cliff and watch the waves dancing on the black rocks at the coast (this is also why it is called the black sea). Maybe there will be a construction site nearby, or an expensive restaurant covering all the view, even a shopping mall… Even many tourists used to stop on the way to watch the view on the road for hours, now they will watch highways and lots and lots of buildings. We are not losing oxygen anytime soon, but we are losing the most beautiful parts of our cities. Of course, buildings will be built, people will be housed, but this is too much. I am practically living in the middle of a forest, but I like living in the middle of a forest. However, day by day, I am starting to live in the middle of more buildings. More construction work is being done everyday, and I am afraid they are going to ruin the last standing tree near my building, and put there another building. One day, it seems, we will lose our silent, green neighbors who never called the police when we made noise, or said anything offensive when we were just being “young people”.

Rumelifeneri Castle Ruins
Rumelifeneri Castle Ruins

In deed, the Gezi Park issue is just like this. What if they carried all the trees to a nice neighborhood, and let them live? It still wouldn’t cut it. Aside from the political side of the things regarding the Gezi Park, some people were really hardcore environmentalists and focused on the oxygen, and the “lives” of the trees there. I cho(o)se to focus on the culture. Well, if all we care about is “trees only”, someone coming up and carrying the trees to another neighborhood without causing any harm to them would be alright, but it isn’t. The Gezi Park is the only park available to people living or visiting Taksim in a walking distance. It is the only place where there are no shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, etc. It is practically the only place one could have a nice time without paying a penny in Taksim, and it belongs to the public. Try reading a book, or enjoying some “alone-time” by yourself at a cafe in Taksim, without ordering anything. Especially during the busy times. There are still a few places you can do this, among thousands of others, but they are not doing so well in business, and they will be eaten by wilder ones soon.

By talking “money”, I am not really focusing on “money” either. I am talking about what you can and cannot have. For now, I can have quality city time in the last green, not commercialized place in Taksim, except for the times the police forces close it down for a post-modern form of torture -mostly on a weekly basis in case there are not any protests, and there usually are protests. If there was a shopping mall in place of that park, I wouldn’t enjoy that time even a little bit. If you know Taksim, you would know that there are two-tree shopping malls on the same street already. The thing is, shopping malls are convenient, one can find what they need in a rather confined space, but there is no need for “another” one. Actually, there was never really a need for “any” one “in Taksim”. Think about shopping malls and what you can find in them. For decades now, everything you would find in a shopping mall already “was” there, in many different formats and options. First they ruined a historical building to build the “ugliest motherfucking” shopping mall there: Demirören AVM (pardon my French, again). Last year, they tried to build the Military Barracks which has always been the symbol of bigotry and sharia oppression in our close history, in the form of a shopping mall. This attempt was not only weird, but also one of their biggest attempts to fuck with us. It has been a few years since I accepted that, they are doing most of the things they do just to irritate us, because they have no counterparts in real world, no logic, no apparent purpose. They just like to see us pissed. We almost lost the last “park” in Taksim, just because someone wanted to force a point down our throats, and of course, some bribing gentleman should be made rich.

Gezi Parkı - It's really a small piece of green space, but it's "our" green space; and it is the last place remaining in Taksim.
Gezi Parkı – It’s really a small piece of green space, but it’s “our” green space; and it is the last place remaining in Taksim among all concrete mayhem. It can’t even be called beautiful or elegant, but it’s ours.

Now they will complete the third bridge over the Bosphorus, which according to calculations of experts, will carry 2% of the traffic across the continents with the existing setting, so, is also irrelevant, pointless and “unnecessary”. But I know what will happen next. As we Turks say, “I have seen this movie before”. The connection roads will be supported by other roads connecting deep into the Northern Forests, and those areas will be largely populated. In the meantime, the bridge will cover heavy traffic, but not the traffic of other bridges, but the traffic created by the newly populated areas. In a few decades, we will have a few things in hand like more traffic, more people rushing to İstanbul, more “bribing gentlemen” fighting everyday to get construction permits, and no more forests. This is what I mean about “culture”.  And this is what my friends mean by saying: “seeing one average European city would change your mind about the idea that İstanbul is the greatest city”. I have seen a few, and I agree. In fact, I already had agreed much before seeing those other cities.

Cities are really cities when there is everything for everyone. Now we can’t drink by sitting in front of bars, on the sides of the streets in the largest entertainment/nightlife/tourism center of the city, because the conservative mayor wanted to make it a “family place”.  To make the whole town a “family place”, he banned tables in the streets, how convenient! There are a few movie theaters left in İstanbul, except for, yes, you guessed it right, the ones in shopping malls! Almost every month, an art/history-related piece of architecture is destroyed to create space for new shopping malls, office spaces and other ugly things. Why? Someone must get richer. Last year, “Emek Sineması”, a historically important movie theater was demolished. Today, there are still theater organizations, exhibition sites and many other things that are facing destruction. Sooner or later, every single piece of construction in İstanbul will either be a hotel, or a shopping mall, or an ugly housing complex. They are destroying everything anyone holds dear, and they are not doing a good job in that either. They have no vision, no understanding of aesthetics, architecture or culture. They just demolish, sell, and build the ugliest thing possible. Maybe those things are the most beautiful things they can think of, with their limited vision.

Yes, İstanbul isn’t the “best” city in the world, and I have known it even before seeing much “better” cities, because sooner or later, everyone coming to İstanbul will have a place to stay, a place to shop, but not a place to actually see or visit. Think about it. The most beautiful piece of history and architecture in this “old” city was built by the city’s previous owners about a thousand years ago. This piece is Hagia Sophia, and you might try to travel around the city for days, even months. I promise, you won’t find anything as beautiful. This is what “this culture” has thought such a city would deserve. Think about it. Any remaining spectacular pieces of cultural heritage was either “again” built by the Romans, or was inspired by the previous ones. The whole idea of architecture of mosques through Anatolia is based on the form of Hagia Sophia. Most beautiful mosques built after the invasion of Constantinople? Yes, compare the pictures, etc. They either look like Hagia Sophia, or it is a miracle that they are still standing. Most of them were left abandoned, became homes for wild animals and cattle. There is no point in making this article any longer, so, I am going to finish now. You can actually run the big city even if you are from a small village, but you should constantly remind yourself that you are not in your village anymore. “The big city” will eat you, and I hope it will, before you make it the big village.

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