Today is the last day of the 9th International Conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics, which was held in Istanbul this year. A recurring theme at the conference was the true cost of economic growth. Per capita, Turks consume approximately two-thirds as many resources as the average European, yet the standard of living in Turkey compares favorably with some European societies that are more economically developed.
Which begs the question: Should Turkey be modeling its economic development on Europe so closely?
Actually, European countries should use Turkey as a model for “degrowth”, said ecological economists Blake Alcott and Özlem Yazlik at a panel on Wednesday. Economic growth only improves social welfare up to a certain point — after that, it has been shown to bring down the overall wellbeing of a society.
In Turkey, for instance, salaries have increased substantially over the past century. But Turks work more hours now as a result, and take vacations more rarely. In most Turkish jobs, it is normal for entry-level workers to receive just one week of vacation per year for their first five years on the job. Setting up a job guarantee system in Turkey could help this situation, some panelists posited.
Alongside the social studies, some panelists presented research showing that in almost every country, economic growth has led to resource depletion and increased carbon dioxide emissions.
This is certainly evident in Turkey, where the government’s ambitious plans to construct thousands of new hydropower dams threaten to destroy ancient ecosystems and societies within and beyond Turkey’s borders, and the prime minister hopes to build a man-made canal through Istanbul, destroying forest watersheds to open up space for new building developments and increased ship traffic.
Not all of the conference was so gloomy. Many attendees presented papers on market-based solutions to ecological problems around the world, and ways of integrating environmentally friendly living into a modern economy. Hopefully, Turkey’s policy makers will one day take note.
:: Yeşil Gazete
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