Free Air, Free Clouds?

Pınar Ergenekon
4 minutes

For some time now, I have been thinking about the definition of sustainability and how much this definition can be adopted and transformed into behaviors in our culture, so I have been paying special attention to the stories about the human-nature relationship around me. 

When a friend’s mother used to divide the hazelnuts she collected from her hazelnut orchard to distribute to her friends and relatives in addition to the ones to be sold, she would also allocate a share for the poor because the hazelnut orchard grew with the rain even though they did not irrigate the hazelnut orchard: “We need to give them their due, that is the most important thing. We need to distribute some of the hazelnuts to the poor as the share of the rain since we get these products with the rain of Allah.” My friend, who was young at the time, couldn’t understand it; I probably would have found it strange too if I had heard these sentences in the past. God’s rain will fall everywhere anyway, who would think of a price for it, who would think like that? Here, people who know that everything in this land should be shared, they think. In Orhan Veli’s famous poem, the poet speaks of the gratuitousness of the air, the clouds and the bitter water, and in a sense, he is right. But a truly sustainable view is perhaps hidden in the realization that nothing is free. And this delusion that it is free leads to consuming more, more irresponsibly, making it more difficult to achieve the fundamental goals of sustainability, such as reducing inequalities and ending hunger and poverty. 

What a noble and responsible act to allocate the poor’s share of the rain that falls on the hazelnut orchard. I’m sure the delicacy of this act touches all of our hearts. But it is as if we have lost the climate for such subtle thoughts. This view was ingrained in the minds and behavior of our elders, but we have been living unaware of it. We are in a hurry to conform to an understanding of environment/life protection that has been put forward under the existing worldviews of industrial societies that have experienced before us that the environment can only survive through sustainable development. 

When we look at the concept of sustainability, we see that it first came to the agenda in the 1980s. It is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The definition then expands to include economic and social as well as environmental dimensions. It aims for a development centered on combating and adapting to climate change, ending poverty and sharing prosperity equitably. In terms of both ending poverty and sharing prosperity equitably, could giving to the poor the share of the rainwater that is used at no cost be a way to achieve these goals? 

Mentioning the share of rain, it reminded me of the air we use for free. For years, I have been explaining the air/fuel ratio in class; in the combustion process there is about 14 times as much air as fuel that we use without paying anything. For every 1 kg of fuel we burn, we release about 14 kg of polluted air into the atmosphere. We use the air to generate energy for almost all of our life activities, primarily for heating, cooking and transportation. So how can we pay for this supposedly free air? Inspired by the price paid for free rain through hazelnuts, perhaps we should think about transporting more people in our cars or paying for the transportation costs of others; warming more people in our heated homes or heating other homes; eating the food we cook with more people or putting hot food on the tables of others. It seems that we can facilitate the achievement of sustainability goals with this understanding that we inherit from our own culture. 

Listening, observing, understanding, being surprised and appreciating nature in order to learn how our culture relates to nature and to preserve and pass it on to future generations…

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