Revenge of the pigs

Revenge of the pigs
Wild boards swimming in the Sea of Marmara across the Bosporus.

Possibly the cutest and at the same time saddest image in newspapers last week was that of a family of wild boars swimming in the Sea of Marmara across the Bosporus.

The animals, which appeared in Sarıyer and were photographed by fishermen in their boats, were relocating from the European side to what they hoped would be friendlier skies on the Anatolian side. They were victims of human encroachment, and judging by the location from which they had disembarked, they were specifically victims of the newest construction of a highway and a third bridge over İstanbul’s Bosporus, which is causing large-scale destruction of İstanbul’s northern forests.

News stories about the boars, not surprisingly, given the Turkish media’s dutifully servile support for the Turkish government, did not mention the highway or the bridge. Almost all papers reported the news as if it was just a surprising occurrence, a rare phenomenon, an interesting thing to witness in one’s lifetime. Most readers’ comments, though, lamented the ongoing deforestation; many also criticized the blatant dismissal of the environmental factor by the media.

Media stories on the boars also matter-of-factly reported that the village head of the Rumeli Kavağı neighborhood, from which the boars had taken off, had found a solution to this problem: Kill the pigs! The boars in the photo successfully made it to the Anatolian side — whose forests are also rapidly shrinking in size — according to what the fishermen said, but the village head’s commentary does not bode well for others that might follow.

That the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is wreaking havoc in İstanbul’s last remaining forests — although well documented by aerial images of the city of İstanbul and the increasing levels of air pollution over the past few years as well as by countless academics and articles, or as can be observed by simply taking a car ride through the concrete jungle of her ugliness — was not mentioned in much of the mainstream media. This is not surprising. Anybody who speaks of sustainable and environmentally friendly development is publicly shamed and accused of treason, labeled a traitor who does not want Turkey to move forward.

And the swimming boars are only the start. To the horror of environmentalists, and in fact to anyone who is concerned about the relentless urbanization in the already-too-gray city, the government is planning a new waterway to connect the Marmara to the Black Sea through the European part of the city west of the Bosporus; a third airport that will be built atop the city’s only remaining and extensive forestland; and the third bridge with a new highway connecting the bridge to the inner roads of the city. These are collectively called the Northern Marmara Projects, and a few brave souls, such as Zaman’s Gürhan Savgı and Radikal’s Serkan Ocak, have written extensively about the scale of destruction they will bring according to environmental scientists and urban planners.

The ominous swim of the wild boars is only an immediate result of the catastrophe in store for the city over the long haul. Every construction project will be followed by newer and larger projects around it, causing a rapid decline in the number of trees in İstanbul’s last remaining forestlands. The airport alone will cause 70 lakes and ponds to dry out (in violation of Turkey’s wetlands directives) and will also be the end of dozens of migratory bird species’ and other animals. (But it is a $30 billion project.) The result will be an unlivable city; arid, covered in heavy smog and ugly as hell. Or, to put it in clearer terms for the less environmentally conscious among us, it will be a city with no chance of hosting the Olympic Games. Ever.

And this is only what we know will happen.

What about the part we don’t know? In an article titled “The Beautiful Law of Unintended Consequences,” published in John Brockman’s “This Explains Everything,” Robert Kurzban, an associate professor of evolutionary psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, explains, “The idea is that when people intervene in systems with a lot of moving parts — especially ecologies and economies — the intervention, because of the complex interrelationships among the system’s parts, will have effects beyond those intended, including many that were unforeseen or unforeseeable.” Elsewhere in the same article, he reminds us, “Intervention in any sufficiently complicated system is bound to produce unintended effects.” He concludes his article: “People will find substitutes for banned or taxed products; removing one species in an ecology typically penalizes populations that prey on them and aids species that compete with them; and so on. So whereas there will probably always be unintended consequences, they needn’t be completely unanticipated.”

The ongoing destruction of İstanbul’s last forests is clearly a case in which we have had our warnings about what to anticipate in terms of consequences and how disastrous they are likely to be. The tragedy is that although these likely consequences certainly are not the target of these projects, it is hard to say they are “unintended” in any sense of the word. Deforestation at such a scale cannot possibly be carried out without intent.

Ultimately, though, “The Beautiful Law of Unintended Consequences” also tells us that the revenge of the pigs will not be small or merciful. And an entire nation will have to suffer its results, all because of the greed, corruption and complacency of a few.

This post was originally posted as a blog post on Today’s Zaman

Author: E Baris Altintas

I am a journalist and a civil society professional. I can be reached at

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