‘Ecological constitution at least as important as solving Kurdish issue’

Mahmut Boynudelik (PHOTO SUNDAY’S ZAMAN, Bünyamin Köseli)

January 08, 2012, Sunday/ 13:22:00

The Kurdish issue is a divisive, deep-seated subject that headlines most dailies on any given day and leads most discussions on the preparation of a new constitution in Turkey.

But Mahmut Boynudelik, editor of the book “Ecological Constitution,” in comments to Sunday’s Zaman, stressed that there is another equally critical issue facing the republic that does not garner nearly the same level of attention -- the environment. “Another subject that is at least as important as the Kurdish issue is an ecological constitution. We are all affected by natural disasters, regardless of ethnicity,” the environmental journalist explained.

Environmental activists and experts agree that the widely applauded boom in industrialization and urbanization in Turkey has dark implications for the health of the environment. And environmental pollution and the related spike in natural disasters around the world will be on the agenda for many years to come, warned Boynudelik. “Still we have yet to take the necessary measures to correct the ecological imbalance,” he criticized.

Boynudelik's work, a compilation of notes from various conferences organized in recent months by Turkey's Green Party-led Initiative for an Ecological Constitution (IEC), is a proposal for just that -- an ecologically based set of fundamental principles to guide Turkey's environmental laws. The IEC, made up of activists, scientists and politicians from all over Turkey, presented to the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission last Wednesday a series of articles it demands be included in the new constitution.

Green Party member and Green Gazette columnist Boynudelik joined the IEC delegation, which also included Buğday (Wheat) Association for Supporting Ecological Living Member Oya Ayman, environmental rights lawyer Mehmet Horuş and Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Melda Onur, last week in proposing that the following clause be added to the text of the new constitution: “The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular, ecological and social constitutional state that is based on human rights, which are a part of Nature.”

Eco-constitution: Granting Mother Nature rights

The concept of an “ecological constitution” may sound strange. And that is understandable, as the idea is a rather new one.

Neither the European states nor the United States have been able to fully address the issue, though there are some examples like France, which has a Green Charter, and some states in the US that have adopted ecologically sensitive laws.

It was two small Latin American states -- Bolivia and Ecuador -- that boldly pioneered the legislation of Mother Nature's rights. Ecuador's is the first constitution in the world to recognize legally enforceable rights of nature. Although a small country, ecologically and geologically diverse Ecuador is home to the Galapagos Islands, the Andean Mountains and the Amazon rainforest. Ecuador boldly added rights for nature to its new constitution in 2008, laying the foundation for a system of environmental protection based on law.

The examples of these Latin pioneers have reached Turkey's doorstep, where they inspired the IEC and other environmental groups as the country readies to fashion an altogether new constitution.

“As Turkey has been talking about making a new constitution that is supposed to value the individual, we should also be talking about an ecological approach to it,” Turkey's Green Party spokesperson and IEC member Ümit Şahin told Sunday's Zaman last May when the group launched its campaign.

“Nature has always been considered a ‘pool of resources in the service of humanity.' This perception leads societies to place humans at the center of the universe by ignoring the very fact that we're just a part of the ‘whole,' without which we simply cannot exist,” explained Durukan Dudu, environmental policy coordinator for the Protection of Natural Habitats and Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA) Foundation.

An ecological constitution, therefore, he continued, will brush away this dated perception and embrace nature, which includes all living creatures and ecosystems, as the center of humans' actions and mentality.

Thus he explains the proposal from the IEC and other environmental groups to treat the environment as a “subject,” complete with its own legal rights, independent of those of humans.

Dudu offered the example of the construction of a dam to elaborate. “At the moment, you can legally object to a plan to build a dam by referring to human rights, including the right to live in a healthy environment,” he explained. But in an ecological constitution, “life besides just human life has its own right to exist, independent from humans' rights and needs.” So the dam could also be opposed by referring to the rights of nature.

For Boynudelik, the connection between humanity and nature is clear and so a constitution that affirms the individual should do the same for nature. “We would like a constitution that recognizes people as a part of nature. We are the custodians, not the masters of nature. We owe this to future generations. We want the Turkish Republic to be both a democratic and ecological state,” Boynudelik added.

Barış Gençer Baykan, a research fellow at the Bahçeşehir University Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM), listed many green rights that he argued must be guaranteed in the new constitution if Turkey truly cares about protecting the environment: “The protection of natural resources, the right to life of future generations, the participation of citizens in decisions that may harm the environment and access to healthy food and clean water.”

Will the republic go green?

Though its proposal was only presented last week, Baykan argued the IEC has already made a great contribution. “The Initiative for an Ecological Constitution has already been successful in that it adds to the shaping of the constitution and expresses a social demand.”

But will Turkey adopt its own eco-constitution?

Dudu told Sunday's Zaman that the reaction thus far has been promising. TEMA, like the IEC, presented a draft eco-constitution to Parliament last month. “TEMA's presentation to Parliament received many positive reactions, and we've heard similar things from our friends with the Initiative for an Ecological Constitution. We have many reasons to believe that together we can create a strong impact,” he said.

While it is important that the ecological demands are heard by the commission, it is also necessary that all of the political parties in Parliament understand the importance of the initiative to ensure its place in the constitution, Baykan and other environmental experts urged.

“The more democratic and participatory the process, the more successful it will be,” Baykan told Sunday's Zaman.

But Baykan and others also acknowledged that the IEC will not be a “silver bullet” or “golden key” for the assurance of Turkey's future environmental health. Public support is also important for the introduction and implementation of environmental legislation, experts stressed.

As the groundswell in public support continues to grow, environmentalists said they are optimistic but added that it is too soon to tell whether Turkey's new constitution will indeed go green.

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