A Green Journalist
Who is Özgür Gürbüz? For example, did he study in the university of his own choice and did he major in the branch of his own choice?
My father wanted me to be a pharmacist so I studied business management. My childhood dream was to become a writer. When I became a journalist, writing became more prominent than earning money. Nowadays everyone is taught to earn money, to master and domineer over nature and over those who are weaker than oneself. Politicians’ speeches are full of violence and lying seems to be a natural part of life. I am trying to move in the opposite direction. In 1995 I walked 170 km backwards in Mersin to oppose the nuclear plant plan. That walk is continuing in a sense. I like to work with a plan, to research. You may say I am a workaholic. I don’t want to think in a people oriented way. I try not to forsake my principles. I do try to work as a descent journalist. I guess I am a bit strange. For example if they want me to write or do something I don’t want to do, I just quit the job and leave. It’s not normal.
Business is a long story. Actions against nuclear energy were the cause of my picking up an interest in energy and environmental matters. In 1996 in Marmara University when I chose green marketing as my thesis for my Master’s Degree, they asked me, “What does that even mean?” Mothers don’t like for their children to participate in protests, but in my case these protests led to my awakening. Actually later on I changed my thesis topic and chose one about energy but this preference led to my early familiarity with green economy. I made a start by selling environmental newspapers on the street and collecting signatures. I wanted to improve my English so I saved money when I was working in Yeni Yüzyıl and went to England with it. There I worked in many jobs like washing dishes and ice-cream cone factories. I was working at one factory from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon and in another factory from 6 in the evening to 11 at night. I had to save money so I could study for my Master’s Degree in Oxford Brookes University. My last job in England was as a coordinator in Sony’s distribution department. They even wanted me to be a syndicate representative. During the occupation in Iraq, the experiences I had in that country estranged me from England. In those days Greenpeace was looking for an Energy Campaign Manager for their Mediterranean Office, when I accepted that offer I returned to Turkey within a month. The journalist side of my life is more colored. I worked in many places like Milliyet, Yön Radyo, Yeni Yüzyıl, Liberal Bakış, Yeni Aktüel, Global Enerji, Referans, Sabah, Haberturk and the Chinese International Radio Center in Bejing. I have also worked as an energy consultant for NGOs and companies.
Nowadays many discussions are carried on in the internet. Many of us wonder what these people actually do in real life. What is your professional work at the moment? Does advocating clean energy or ecology earn money for you?
At the present I am working at Heinrich Böll Stiftung Association as project coordinator. I was not so comfortable in the media so I decided to keep away from it for a while. I’m not close to it but I am writing articles regularly for a daily newspaper and a website. My life consists of writing anyway. I am preparing to finish my second book. It would be wrong to say that advocating clean energy earns me money. Probably just the contrary. Knowing only the little I know about energy always got me in trouble at the newspapers. I refused to make directed news. They didn’t believe it even when I made news of the truth because they thought I was biased. When I was working at Referans, I used to say, “If ever there’s going to be an accident, it will be in Japan,” and they would shrug it off saying I was just an anti-nuclear advocate. I used to say that because there were accidents and leakages often in Japan. Whereas I always put my political preferences to one side when I was making news. I am against nuclear energy. I say it is a dangerous, expensive and an anti-democratic preference. Nevertheless I made interviews with tens of people who advocate nuclear energy. Not once did anyone of those people refute what I wrote. Not only on the topic of nuclear energy, never once in my journalism career did I receive a refutation. With your permission I would like to speak of a sample case. On the 20th year of the Chernobyl accident, I was invited to speak about the economy of nuclear energy at the international conference in Kiev. Some editors in Turkey, who didn’t know the difference between kw and kwh, were trying to blue-pencil my news articles which they couldn’t even understand. It is very difficult to be an expert on some subject and be a journalist at the same time in Turkey.
We see that you are writing anti-nuclear articles recently. Why nuclear energy?
I think that you are asking me why I say no to nuclear energy. I can count tens of reasons but let’s suffice with a few. Nuclear energy says “no” to me. It is an anti-democratic preference. A government that comes to power for 4 years imposes on me a technology that will leave radio-active remains for the next 240 thousand years. I didn’t vote for anybody to stay in power for 240 thousand years?! It is expensive and I’m not the only one that says this. A few days ago, the US based Exelon company’s CEO John Rowe stated that the limits of the nuclear renaissance was not because of technological reasons, that it is because of economic reasons. Exelon has 17 reactors, 93% of the electricity it produces is produced in nuclear power plants. This company’s CEO says nuclear energy is expensive, our ministers say it is cheap! Which one should we believe? The figure given in the agreement made with the Russian company as a purchasing guarantee was 12.35 cents. This incident alone proves that nuclear energy is expensive. I’m not the only person who knows this but I am one of the few people who write about it. This is the reason that has motivated me in the past few years to write more articles about nuclear energy. There are great big sums of money going on in this business, the government is drowning the opposition out and the main stream of the media is silent. That means I have to write more about nuclear energy. That’s what journalists are for. To speak of what isn’t spoken about. I not only write articles, I participate in panels, and I give conferences. I just want what would be in a normal country. I want an authority from the government, preferably the Minister of Energy, to reply to what I have written, to discuss the topic of nuclear energy. I will continue to write articles loaded with radiation until that time. That is my responsibility as a journalist. To create awareness in the people, to ask the authorities those questions that the people are seeking answers for, to question.
It is a new reality in Turkey for private enterprises to undertake endeavors in the energy industry. What do you think of the appearance of this industry which is still under state dominance?
Since I give great importance to ecological problems and because I see capitalism as the number one reason underlying these problems, I am not much in favor of a free market. Nevertheless, I have to evaluate the matter from the viewpoint of an economist and a journalist. First of all, the free market that is being set up in Turkey is loaded with problems. Let’s take the electricity market for example. On one hand, the state-owned thermal power plants are being sold to private enterprises while on the other hand, the state is giving incentives and purchasing guarantees to encourage the building of nuclear power plants. Coal plants do not pay a penny for the carbon emission they release. However, clean energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass, which have cost disadvantages, pay the price for their efforts to prevent pollution of the environment. While the rest of the world uses purchasing guarantees to enable an environment for fair competition, in Turkey, these methods are propagandized in such a way as to convince people that they are incentives given to renewable energy. A governmental decree has been put into force to connect regulation authorities such as EMRA to the ministry. This has just rubbed salt into the wound. There is no medium for fair competition. Big companies have great influence over the decisions made. Gigantic investments such the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline construction works are given to companies without holding tenders. International agreements and governmental decrees create serious violations of rights and environmental problems. Supervision is inadequate. Neither the criterion nor the regulations are sufficient. This being the case, some private enterprises create additional problems with their implementations. Under these circumstances, let me ask you: what is the appearance of the industry?
A big lobby struggle is going on among the different actors of the energy industry throughout the world and the media is also a part of this. A scientist, who was marching for clean energy in the near past, is now writing articles in the newspaper claiming that we are obliged to use nuclear energy. What is the motivation underlying this rapid change?
(image) Some people really don’t read much and they don’t know much either. They confront us with very old information such as, “What will happen if the wind doesn’t blow?” If you wanted to replace the reactors that blew up in Fukushima with new ones, you would need 10 years. Did you ever see a wind plant that didn’t produce electricity for 10 years? Another motivational factor may be money and dreams of high positions. I don’t take this group seriously. You can see their similar counterparts in every field of life. Haven’t you heard of wind farm salesmen? On the other hand there are scientists who really do read. I do enjoy discussions with them. They believe in nuclear energy or they think it’s the only choice. They can’t see the picture as a whole. I think these people are aware that a different type of world needs to be established for us to get rid of the ecological crisis that we are tangled up in. However, despite this, I believe that perhaps from lack of courage or perhaps because they are cautious of advocating this idea which they think is quite unusual, they want to find a compromise with nuclear energy. Of course what I have just said here has become quite meaningless after Fukushima. From this point on it is totally unacceptable for a scientist to advocate nuclear energy. For a scientist, life is of the most primary importance. Energy cannot be produced at the cost of lives. Particularly if we are speaking about electrical energy which we can produce from a thousand different sources and for which we are not dependent on nuclear energy sources.
Could you comment on the relationship between politics and energy from a journalist’s point of view?
It would be more correct to say the relationships among politics, energy and the media. This trio is interwoven now. Let me write about an experience I had, it will be better understood. We received some not so clear information saying that a new thermal plant was going to be made in Yatağan. We set out on the road immediately. A photographer and I went to the said village. We went around all the coffee houses all day long, we toured around the archeological sites in the area. We called the officials, we spoke with the authorities, yet the name of the company who was supposed to build the plant was still not clear. After several days of work the news article was ready. There was a rumor in those days that the newspaper I was working for was going to be sold to a company from the energy industry. Another rumor had it that the same company was seeking to get the job of constructing the plant in Yatağan. Although the information I had showed that this was a very slight possibility, my managers at the newspaper decided not to publish the article because of this possibility. This is an example of capital-energy-media relationships. However, due to the fact that the said company was close to the government, the incident had a political aspect as well. Politics and energy relationships are not much different. News or an article about energy that may disturb politicians may not be published because media enterprises are not independent. Even though the editor gave approval, I know of journalists who had to leave their jobs or who got warnings after phone calls from politicians who were not happy with the news. It is not new for lobbies in the energy industry to try and influence politicians. Lobbying in the west and in Turkey are totally two different things. Lobbying is carried on in other countries in a slightly more polite manner. It is carried on via unions and associations. Ali Babacan stated that he consulted Shell, the American Energy Agency and BP regarding giving approval to clean energy. This is another example to politics-energy relationship.
You are careful to show your references in your anti-nuclear articles. Your diligence is not observed in famous journalists in the Turkish press who write on the subject of energy. What is your opinion on media members who don’t know the difference between kw and kwh? How are news articles concerning energy made?
Journalism is finished in Turkey. You need to lay it on the line. Journalism is not something limited to a fat telephone notebook. Journalists are not “walking tapes” but nowadays that’s what’s popular. A tape doesn’t ask questions, it just records. People in this country like those journalists who write what they hear without questioning whether or not it is correct. Whereas a journalist should know, in fact, must know about the topic he/she is writing about. Journalism on economics is particularly problematic in Turkey. News articles are set up on the basis of not offending the advertisement customers. The media boss’ commercial relationships determine who you can or cannot touch. Then there is the problem of insufficient information. There is no last storage place in the world for nuclear wastes but if you don’t know this, somebody may say “we don’t see nuclear wastes so there’s no problem” and you may print this statement just as it is. At one meeting Fatih Birol stated that China had not signed the KYOTO protocol. I had to get up and ask a question to correct his mistake. I am sure if I hadn’t interfered, the next day all the newspapers would be writing things like “China didn’t sign Kyoto protocol, why should we?” Let’s not get into the subject of climate at all. The system should work like this. You should have editors each of whom are experts on different subjects like energy and environment. These editors should correct the news that the reporters bring, should enhance the richness of the news article and should prevent manipulation. They should also write commentaries on the news when it is necessary. This person should continually educate himself. This is how it is done in dignified media enterprises. However, in our country, it’s done like this: they phone a professor that they know or some representative of some industry field, then write whatever they say.
Does Özgür Gürbüz practice what he preaches? What does he do or not do on this subject?
I can say that I have conducted a successful campaign in my home to decrease the electricity consumption. Before I went to China, we installed panels behind the radiators, we had insulation mounted on some of the outside walls, and we stabilized the interior temperature to 21°C. Thus we managed to keep the natural gas invoices around or below 100 TL a month. This is not a bad result at all for a flat of size 75 meters squared without insulation on the front or back sides. I believe my electricity and water invoices are admirably low. Domestic appliances that use electricity efficiently, consumption efficient light bulbs, and most important of all less consumption helps to reach the goal. I try to live simply. I separate paper and plastic garbage, I refrain from buying plastic bags, and I prefer to use public transportation. I owned a car for only one week in my life and I couldn’t even drive it for 1 meter. It was stolen and I couldn’t learn how to use it. I didn’t like it anyway. If it has to be a motor vehicle, it should be a motorcycle. A bicycle has been my dream since childhood. There are certain brands that I do not consume. I don’t go to circuses; I don’t buy or sell gold. I totally dislike luxurious restaurants, I eat to live and I don’t live to eat. My biggest problem nowadays is that I can’t cut down on my plane trips. Working in China doesn’t help on this matter. My dream is to live in a house that has its own energy supply but I don’t know if I will ever have that much money.
What kind of Turkey or what kind of world in 2023 would make you happy?
I would be happy in a country where the energy density has been lowered to at least half of its present value, where the renewable energy capacity has been increased to serious levels, where they have begun installing the smart grid network, where there is no nuclear energy, where the carbon emission has been decreased, where people work 30 hours a week, where there is no war, where individual freedom is not limited.
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