Saturday, August 2, 2008

Turkey vs Chicago

On a recent trip to Turkey, I saw many incredible and astounding sights, but their remarkably high level of energy conservation impressed me most. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Izmir, I noticed that the escalators in the airport and subway had motion sensors that would kick on only when someone approached-- the hallway lights in our hotels had sensors as well. Once in the rooms, we had to insert our key card into a slot in the wall to turn on the lights and A/C, which powered off the second the key card was removed to ensure that the hotel wouldn't be paying to light or cool an empty room.

The dolmuş, or shuttle bus, was all the rage in Selçuk and Şirinçe, and the overnight buses were packed-- not with tourists, but with local residents. In Cappadocia, shop owners throughout the region operated their businesses with the lights off when the natural lighting was sufficient, and many sat outside in the fresh mountain air to avoid running fans when no customers were present. Even the cave hotel we stayed in was lit with CFL bulbs!

In Istanbul, the efficiency of their waste management system was truly a sight to behold. The city is roughly four times the size of Chicago, and trash is collected several times a week. I asked a waiter about some guys I saw methodically going through trash bags on the curb one night, thinking they were like our bag ladies or scrap metal guys, and was told that they were in fact employed by the city to separate out any recyclables before the trash was picked up. The ones I saw were even pulling out scraps of food to feed the overwhelming stray population! Apparently theirs is a respected profession; "yes please, my friends" the waiter told me, nodding at the men.

So how is it that Turkey-- a country whose people still conduct business over a water pipe and cup of tea-- is light years (light years!) ahead of us when it comes to recycling and conservation? Perhaps it is their location-- Turkey is bordered by (and a fraction of it is even in) Europe on the west, and most countries in the EU have been battling outrageous gasoline prices for years now. Maybe the Turks have adopted (among other things) a conservationist mentality from their European neighbors. However, Turkey is bordered by the "axis of evil" on the east, and its proximity to these oil-rich countries keeps gasoline prices relatively low (compared to Europe anyway!)-- roughly $2.00/liter where I was. It seems to me that they could easily afford to use much more energy than they do, but they choose not to.

While not all of these strategies would work in Chicago, many of them could! It's not hard to imagine our city with smart escalators in department stores and el stations, or motion-sensor lights in public restrooms. I'm sure we can (and will) come up with ideas like these (and many others), but although we've made great strides in greening our city, we still have a long way to go.

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