An economic crisis and high gas prices: it’s not a good combination in winter. Because, what do people do when their income goes down and the gas prices are higher than the price of coal? Exactly: they stop using gas and throw the dirty black stuff in the heater. Optimist that I am, I always tell myself that living very close to the Bosporus, as I do, protects me from too much air pollution because the sea wind blows the filthy air away. But I really can’t deny it any longer: the air in Istanbul is suffocating sometimes. Many Turkish cities are having the same experience now that the cold season has started again, and even in the countryside the thick smell of burning coal sometimes affects your breathing.
What to do? You can’t blame people on a (very) low income for finding and using the cheapest way to keep warm, can you? I guess it’s up to the government now, for example by financially encouraging home owners to install gas, and by developing policies to give the poorest a financial hand in paying the gas bill. I don’t really see that happening: last year, the government even decided to hand out coal to poor people to show its commitment to the concept of the ‘social state’.
This weekend, the coal emissions are particularly bad because there is no wind at all to disperse them. Add to that the thickest fog you have ever seen in Istanbul, and the picture is complete: Istanbul is jammed under a layer of clouds and smoke that blocks both sight and breath. You can look at this positively too. The fog gives the city a mysterious glow. And the smell of coal? Since I can’t do anything about it (I already use gas) it’s best to tell myself the city smells very ‘authentic’. Cough cough.