[Case] Climate denialism in Turkey: Who are these people, what are they denying and why? -1

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Fotoğraf: RapidEye

Since the early 2000s, there has been a discourse circulated by right-wing populist politicians that the climate crisis is a hoax, a lie invented to “restrict the freedoms” of ordinary people. This trend, which has spread to dictatorships in South America, including former US President Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the far-right AfP in Germany, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister of the Conservative government in the UK, and even to Europe, has begun to have an impact in Turkey with the introduction of the Climate Law.

After the draft Climate Law, which was frequently criticized by climate scientists and activists, was released on the website of various chambers of commerce in October 2023, we started to observe the climate science-denialist discourse fueled by conspiracy theories.

On the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), a campaign against the draft climate law was also launched. The petition demanding ‘one million signatures‘ included a number of highly incoherent statements ranging from climate denialism to the rights of future generations, and called on MPs.

Kaynak: Twitter - Fotoğraf, iklim kanununa karşı iklim inkarcılığı söyleminde bulunan grubun düzenlediği bir eylemden.

Source: X (formerly Twitter) – Photo from a demonstration organized by a climate denialist group against climate legislation.

The denial was not only on social media but also on the streets. Some said that human beings are already made out of carbon and that limiting the carbon footprint is against ‘nature’, while others said that they would be put on a quota and therefore would not even be able to go to weddings.

The petition stated that the term “Climate Change” should be removed from the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change. In addition to opposition to vaccination, behind this denial, which is fueled by many conspiracy theories, there were clearly far-right, homophobic, science-denying discourses and groups and names such as Plandemi Büyük Buluşma Platformu and Abdurrahman Dilipak who produced these rhetoric. We will discuss the content of the draft climate law, which has been widely debated by experts and activists, and the profiles of people who deny the climate in the next articles of the series, but first we went after the reasons for this climate denialism. We asked this question to Yaşar University Psychology Department Faculty Member Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sinan Alper, Sociologist Koray Doğan Urbarlı and Climate Scientist Dr. Ümit Şahin.

First of all, let’s take a look at the motives and the rhetoric coming out of the mouths of those who deny climate change themselves:

  • “This law will lay the groundwork for quotas on what you eat and drink.”
  • “A play is currently being staged over the climate. With the perception of global warming, we are experiencing a process of perception and manipulation that human activities and living species harm the nature, that these movements are restricted and that they increase global warming, that they increase carbon gas and carbon emissions.”
  • “Genderless society will come into play, digital identities will come into play”
  • “Carbon reductions will be done in your lives, in what you eat, in everything you do together”
  • “The climate crisis is a perception for these people”
  • “Social scoring to be introduced”
  • Foreign powers are striking”

‘Their arguments are utterly meaningless’

Ümit Şahin, IPM Climate Change Studies Coordinator, said: “First of all, their criticisms have nothing to do with this climate law. Using the agenda created by the Climate Law coming to the Parliament as an excuse, they launched a climate denialist campaign on a scale never seen before in Turkey. One can criticize the content of the climate law, but their concern is not the content of the climate law. Those arguments they say are utterly meaningless. It’s all rubbish,” he says.

‘Different kinds of conspiracy beliefs are always interrelated’

We ask psychologist Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sinan Alper what triggered this denial package that combines conspiracy theories and climate denialism, and what kind of psychological state this points to in society:

“There are many conspiracy theories about the climate crisis, and we can expect them to increase in number and diversity in the near future. The social psychology literature on conspiracy theories is very clear: Different types of conspiracy beliefs are always interrelated and mutually reinforcing. You can more easily convince someone who believes in conspiracy theories about COVID-19 to believe in conspiracy theories about the climate crisis or some other unrelated issue. These beliefs often come as a package because they are based on similar ways of thinking.”

“There are many conspiracy theories about the climate crisis, and we can expect them to increase in number and diversity in the near future. The social psychology literature on conspiracy theories is very clear: Different types of conspiracy beliefs are always interrelated and mutually reinforcing. InAlper, who has studied conspiracy theories about COVID-19, notes that there are two different psychological dimensions to supporting such conspiracy theories:

“One is related to cognitive processes. Factors such as education, science literacy, analytical thinking skills. There is a large amount of data showing that people who believe in conspiracy theories are weaker in these areas compared to non-believers. The second dimension is the social context. People are more alarmed in countries where corruption, inequality and poverty are widespread, and conspiracy theories seem to be more plausible and realistic explanations.” You can more easily convince someone who believes in conspiracy theories about the climate crisis or some other unrelated issue. These beliefs often come as a package because they are based on similar ways of thinking.”

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A bottomless pit: Globalists

Sociologist Koray Doğan Urbarlı states that this group believes that there is a structure called “globalists” and says, “By the way, it is not clear who this structure called globalists is.”

Urbarlı points out that the so-called globalists communicate through the covers of certain magazines such as Newsweek, that they want to reduce the human population, and that they want to desexualize life as a method of reducing the population:

“On the one hand, they believe that they will play with people’s lives by saying ‘we will reduce carbon, we will create a carbon-free society’, and on the other hand, they believe that they will control people both through population control and through chips through vaccination. There is such a structure. They believe in a global theory and they believe that there is a power called the globalists, which is not clear what it is.”

iklim inkarcılığı, Washington DC, 15 Haziran 2015. -Fotoğraf: Shawn Thew/EPA

Washington DC, June 15, 2015. -Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA

‘People are looking for something; a force that compels them to live this life…’

Stating that there are various reasons for the search for this unknown power, Urbarlı explains the importance of approaching these people with examples from Turkey as follows:

“If we only look at them as people whose numbers are increasing and who are detached from reality, after a while there will be more and more people who are detached from reality, because ten years ago, if we had this conversation with you, we could have talked about how the sex writings on the back of Disney cartoons push children towards sexuality, because those were the theories in vogue at the time. Now this is becoming more and more popular, and the parties that the people who say this vote for – and in Turkey, in fact, the Yeniden Refah Partisi (New Welfare Party) getting 2.7 percent of the vote shows this. One of the most important theses of the Yeniden Refah Partisi was that there was a queue of people who got vaccinated. It got 2.7 percent of the vote. Much more than one and a half million votes, if it had gotten a little more votes, it would have received electoral aid with our taxes.

First of all, we need to note the collapse of classical center politics at this point. Whether it is the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats or Socialists in Europe, the collapse of this center politics and people being left without politics is an important point. On top of that, the economic crisis, the fact that the industrial society has been replaced by the precarity economy and precarious jobs, where people go to the factories and live off their labor…

People are looking for something; they are looking for a great power that they cannot see that compels them to live this life. On the one hand, they look at politics; the center-left or center-right party that their mothers and fathers followed is nowhere to be seen. They cannot say anything about their lives. But on the other hand, life is getting harder and harder. Their economic situation, their living conditions are declining. There are other people in the media; they see them; they are rich. On the one hand, immigrants are coming. I wonder if immigrants are stealing their jobs, if they should be hostile to them or something else… Finally, there is this as a reason; it is very easy to believe in conspiracies. You can use conspiracies more easily, like painkillers.”

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Illustration: Piotr Szyhalski

Beyond the excuse: The fabrication of anti-science conspiracy theorists

Beyond the excuse: The fabrication of anti-science conspiracy theorists

Ümit Şahin says that these people are using the Climate Law as an excuse to launch a campaign. Stating that this is not very surprising, Şahin says that it is understood that the content published by climate deniers in Europe and the US is also followed by those in Turkey:

“This ‘they are taking away our sovereignty’ Trump had a campaign of protectionism and protecting the American industry, coal mine workers, before he was elected in 2016, and he opposed the climate agenda based on that. A national rhetoric that said ‘we will put America forward against the Chinese’ had already been carried out through protectionist economic discourse and China-hostility. Their argument was, ‘the climate crisis discourse is actually invented to take our jobs away from us; the Chinese are taking our jobs away from us so…’. In fact, they are probably replicating this in Turkey by spreading various speeches. The 5G, the chip in the vaccine and the carbon report card conspiracy theories are all mixed together. These are actually the fabrications of anti-science conspiracy theorists.”

Illustration: Yevgenia Nayberg

How does climate denialism affect Turkey?

At this point, pointing to examples of climate denialism around the world, we ask Sinan Alper how the emergence of such a climate denialist group will affect other people in Turkey. His answer is as follows:

“In the West, especially in the US, climate change is a highly politicized issue. Studies show that one of the most important factors determining people’s attitudes on this issue is their political orientation. While people closer to the right-wing ideology do not accept the climate crisis or see it as an important problem, people closer to the left-wing ideology care more. I foresee that climate crisis denialism will spread in our country in the future. At the moment, we are not very aware of the economic and social transformation brought about by the climate crisis, as the agenda of our country is very different. When these issues start to touch our lives in a more concrete way, I predict that the issue will become politicized in Turkey.”

So how do people believe in these conspiracy theories?

Şahin, stating that mostly uninformed people fall for these conspiracy theories, says the following:

“First of all, of course, people who are uninformed fall for these conspiracy theories to a great extent, or some people like such things. It has become a form of behavior to claim superiority in order to contradict, to contradict common sense; to say ‘you know wrong, I know the right thing’ when everyone else knows right. People like this. That’s one reason, but I think another reason is that now, beyond the United States, this kind of anti-climate, anti-climate policy or climate denialism used to be absent in Europe, but today, both in the UK and Germany and in different countries, the populist far-right parties there have started to use and feed this climate denialist agenda.”

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Copy-paste as a form of denial

Lastly, Şahin also stated that the fact that the current governments have started to implement climate policies in a serious way is also effective in this, giving the example of the AfD [far-right Alternative for Germany Party] in Germany, which criticized the heat pump transition policies very harshly and cornered the government by taking the public behind it, and added:

“The far right, which is getting stronger in Europe, especially the far right, which uses the masses who actually react to the government due to the energy issue, the increase in energy prices, the increase in inflation, especially with the effect of the Ukraine war, has started to use anti-climate as a policy because xenophobia alone is not enough. I think our far right is also adopting, using and copying the discourses they produce. Because Ümit Özdağ said similar things. It seems to me that not only the Yeniden Refah Partisi, but all these far-right parties, secularists and Islamists, are being fed from a similar source. It is such a chaotic situation.”

To be continued…

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