Is the Turkish Public Really Leading the European Pack in Concern about Climate Change?

. Industry in Gaziantep, Turkey.

Public concern about global warming is dramatically on the rise in Turkey, increasing from 48 percent in 2010 to 75 percent this year, topping a survey of 10 European countries. At least that's what the latest Low Energy Alternative Future (LEAF) Index compiled by the U.K.-based utility EDF Energy says. But do the numbers really represent the reality?

"When you specifically ask these questions, Turkish people express concern, but in other research, climate change appears as one of the lowest priorities on their list," Hilal Atıcı, the campaigns unit head for Greenpeace Mediterranean, told TreeHugger.

Terrorism, Economy Trump Environment
She pointed to research conducted earlier this year by professors from two well-respected Turkish institutes of higher education, Koç University and Sabancı University. Their "Environment in Turkey" survey of 1,665 households in 64 provinces showed that only 1.3 percent of people see environmental problems as the country's major concern. Terrorism topped the list with 30.8 percent, followed by the economy (20.6 percent) and poverty (19.9 percent). According to a report on the survey by the Hürriyet Daily News:

About 40 percent said they did not believe they have the power to do something [about] climate change. Only 5.6 percent ... see climate change as a vital problem affecting their families. On the other hand, they are anxious about air pollution (24.3 percent), chemicals (9.4 percent), lack of water (9.0 percent), and water pollution (3.4 percent).

Environmental Activism Rare
Survey respondents similarly reported being poorly informed about the causes of environmental problems as well as low levels of participation in environmental activism, including signing petitions or making donations, though a majority supported stronger environmental-protection laws.

. Turkey's food production is threatened by climate change.

Turkish people are increasingly witnessing the impacts of climate change, according to Greenpeace's Atıcı. "One year they suffer from drought, another year from floods or forest fires. They observe agricultural production dropping, the rapid desertification of once-fertile lands. This also reflects in food prices," she told TreeHugger. "Therefore they realize very well that climate change has serious impacts on their health, housing, and food -- in total, their quality of life. The question is how sensitive the government is to these concerns because the actions it has taken so far are very weak."

Less Climate Skepticism
In contrast to the Koç/Sabancı survey, the LEAF Index showed that a large majority of Turkish respondents had either already made "major" (8 percent) or "some" (62 percent) changes to live a greener lifestyle, or would make changes if they knew how or felt able (18 percent). Only 3 percent said they didn't think they should make any changes.

"Attitudes to climate change in Turkey showed a clear improvement [over] last year. In 2011 only 9 percent of Turks had doubts about the veracity of climate change, compared with 22 percent last year," said Professor Nigel Brandon from Imperial College London, who conducted the study for EDF, adding that like their peers in Europe, respondents identified "financial support as something that would help them in making changes to be greener."

Car Travel On The Rise
Professor Brandon also noted, however, that Turkey's overall improvement was tempered by an increase in car travel. "The percentage of Turkish respondents traveling most frequently by car rose from 35 percent last year to 40 percent this year, largely at the expense of public transport (buses, trains, and trams), down to 34 percent from 41 percent last year," he said.

The Koç/Sabancı survey likewise showed reluctance among the Turkish public to give up their cars.

NOTE: This post has been submitted in TckTckTck's Rio Blogger Prize competition. Share it on Twitter and Facebook to help send this TreeHugger writer to cover the Rio +20 Earth Summit in June.

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