Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Turkish government has issued 100 arrest warrants for building contractors suspected of erecting structures that did not meet building code standards in the 10 provinces most affected by last week’s massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which has left at least 32,000 dead and perhaps twice that. Some of the contractors were caught at the airport, attempting to flee the country.
After the 1999 earthquake, which killed 17,000 in Turkey, the then government enacted building codes intended to make residences and office buildings more resilient. Many builders, however, have ignored those codes, for which they now face possible prosecution. The government has announced that 12,141 buildings were razed by the earthquake on February 6.
BBC Monitoring points to a story in the Turkish daily Sözcü that puts some of the blame back on the government. The article says that in the ten affected provinces from 2018 the ruling Justice and Development Party granted 294,000 building amnesties. These building certificates regularized illegal structures that were not built according to code, but the process did not require owners or builders actually to fix the irregularities if a fee was paid. The government collected $1.38 billion from the amnesty program over all.
The problem for the government, however, lies not with the millions of such certificates granted but with the 294,000 given to illegal buildings in the earthquake-struck provinces.
In this way, observed Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Deputy Secretary General Dr. Buğra Gökçe, problematic residences were protected from inspectors thereafter.
The unprecedented general amnesty for illegal buildings and additions was offered by the Justice and Development Party just before the 2018 elections.
The President of the Building Inspection Organizations Union, Tekin Saraçoğlu, warned that the floors illegally added on above residences and crumbling buildings protected by the zoning amnesty pose a great risk. He said that the government just took the money to issue an amnesty and did not undertake technical inspections, so that the dangers posed by each of these structures are now impossible to know.
When I read all this, it occurred to me that we may be looking at the future fate of Big Oil and Big Coal executives. We have already seen large climate-related disasters unfold in the United States, in the sense that extreme-weather phenomena were exacerbated by climate change. Sooner or later, however, something bad will happen that is so freakish and destructive that it will be absolutely clear that it was a climate effect.
Such a disaster will anger the public because they will know that this weird thing would not have happened if we had not put billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year since the Industrial Revolution. Moreover, the culprits will be perfectly visible. They are the executives at ExxonMobile who covered up the findings of their own scientists in the 1970s that their products were causing dangerous changes in the climate.
Just as shoddy construction was responsible for many of the earthquake deaths, carbon dioxide emissions will be understood to have provoked the climate-related disaster. At that point the government may well be under enormous pressure from the public to issue arrest warrants for officials at Big Carbon corporations.
Remember that Hollywood Mogul Harvey Weinstein, a serial abuser of women, was untouchable until he wasn’t. Likewise, judges used to throw out suits against Big Tobacco by surviving relatives of lung cancer victims, but then in 2000 Philip Morris lost such a case and had to pay out $51.4 million to a single family.
The carbon polluters day is coming, too.