Spain’s addiction to Concrete

    LAST UPDATED: 30 Nov, -0001 @ 00:00
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    Scientist Azzam Qasrawi
    explains how Spain’s love for building – far from exempt in the Serrania de
    Ronda – is helping to cause global warming and how real sustainable development
    might be able to ward it off

    WE
    are living a global climate crisis caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. It
    is entirely man-made and manifests itself in increasing temperatures of both
    the atmosphere and ocean. This rise in temperature is in turn melting glaciers,
    raising sea levels and increasing the frequency and density of hurricanes. It
    is bad news, and is affecting every corner of the globe, even, and
    particularly,
    Spain.

    Today
    there can be little doubt about these facts. Scientists worldwide are now
    generally in agreement that temperatures will rise by between two and six
    degrees by the end of the century. If true, this will have very damaging
    consequences to the world’s economy, estimated the Stern Report late last year.

    Indeed,
    even if we assume a small rise of two to three degrees conservative estimates
    suggest a loss of between five and twenty per cent of the global economy, which
    would inevitably cause untold human suffering and leave no part of the world
    untouched.

    To
    remedy the problem a large number of countries signed the 1997
    Kyoto protocol in which it
    was agreed to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases, principally Carbon
    Dioxide, by 5.2 per cent by 2007 based on levels in 1990.
    Europe, in particular, agreed
    to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 15% by 2012.

    It
    is now clear however, that our continent will not meet its objectives. Indeed,
    by 2004
    Europe had only managed to keep its emissions at the same level
    as in 1990.

    And
    surprise, surprise,
    Spain is the worst offender,
    after
    Turkey, having INCREASED its
    emissions by a shocking 49% in the same period!

    With
    so little written about this, it seems pertinent to investigate how
    Spain made such a huge increase, and what is being done locally in the Serrania de
    Ronda to remedy it?

    There
    are two indisputable factors, first being the country’s love affair with cement.
    Often called the ‘Tsunami Urbanizador in the
    Spanish media, it struck the peninsula in the 1980s and is still ferociously
    sprinkling its apartment blocks, golf courses and car parks in its wake.

    It
    is an alarming fact that in the name of modernity and progress,
    Spain has been consuming in
    the last few years more concrete than
    Germany, France and Britain put together.

    The
    other factor is the rapidly-spreading intensive agricultural practices of plasticulture

    (forced crop growing in giant plastic greenhouses) that has now swamped large
    swathes of coastline and produces millions of tons of decomposed vegetation and
    hence methane, a major greenhouse gas.

    One
    does not have to go far to see the damaging effects of uncontrolled
    construction and intensive agriculture on the environment. Desertification is already
    a major problem in Almería, where plasticulture is at its most rampant.

    The
    recent report by Nicolas Stern, the ex-Chief Economist at the World Bank,
    predicts an increase of this desertification in
    Spain, as a result of a
    decrease of 20% in rainfall. Other scientists in
    Spain predict an increase in
    average summer temperatures of seven degrees by 2050, and a rise in sea level
    resulting in beaches progressing inland by 15 metres. A report from the
    European Commission that came out last week, suggests that in 50 years the
    Mediterranean coast will no longer be the desirable holiday destination that it
    is today. Estimates of annual loss are around 100 billion euros, with
    Spain suffering a major part
    of this loss.

    But
    despite the warnings, urban development continues at an alarming pace, with 82
    per cent of Andaluz questioned believing that illegal buildings exist in
    many towns.

    Environmental
    degradation is often the result, with much of the
    Costa del Sol, already ruined by
    urban speculation.

    How
    does Ronda, our ‘city of dreams’ fit in? Well, it seems that the elite of the
    city and politicians (with a few honourable exceptions) have decided that they should
    not have to worry. The historic mountain city written about by Rilke, Hemingway and Orson Welles,
    can go on developing and does not have to worry.

    What
    this means is the passing of a series of huge and unsustainable urban projects
    that will have lasting damage on the city’s environment.

    You
    can see it clearly from the minute your eyes are cast on the city from the
    lofty arrival on either the
    Algeciras or San Pedro roads.

    There
    are currently schemes on the table for no less than five golf courses, half a
    dozen hotels and many thousands of new homes, plus their necessary
    infrastructure; roads, sewerage, schools, etc. This can only lead to
    substantial environmental degradation and depletion of already scarce water
    resources.

    The
    short-term employment and prosperity which these projects would undoubtedly
    bring to Ronda cannot justify the unacceptable degradation caused.

    It
    is not enough to claim that such projects are ‘sustainable’, for people to
    believe you.

    It
    is simply not acceptable to offset the felling of thousands of ancient oak
    trees to make space for golf courses and "pueblos Andaluz" by
    claiming that you will plant thousands more. Where, after all, will the water
    come from to sustain these new trees?

    Moreover
    figures from the Andalucían water board this week show a continuing decline in
    the reservoir water levels in the region despite the heavy rainfall in the
    autumn. This decline is due to diminished rainfall over the last few years, as
    well as the rapid increase in consumption due to rampant construction.

    It
    is no surprise that the lowest reservoir levels of all are in the provinces of
    Malaga and Almería.

    While
    the Serrania de Ronda may have more rainfall than parts of Almería, the
    aquifers which are already being over exploited are the vital reserves for an
    uncertain future.

    It
    is the long term future of our children and grandchildren which we must
    safeguard, not the short-term interests of a minority.

    The
    last thing Ronda needs is golf courses, with their intensive use of water and
    with the potential of the chemicals used polluting underground aquifers.

    Our
    region needs jobs and the careful, decentralized development of its precious
    resources; its historical heritage and the natural unspoilt beauty of its
    Serrania, plus all its famous white villages.

    We
    don’t need half a dozen golf courses and the white-elephant fantasist schemes
    of high-speed railway lines, brand new motorways and, dare I say it, an airport.

    Ronda
    needs improvements in the knowledge and skill levels of its students and
    workers and improvement of its chaotic roads (better signs, filling in
    potholes, etc).

    It
    needs better Internet access outside of the city and above all it needs
    investments in renewable energy resources. It is incomprehensible that it is
    rare to see solar panels for heating water or generating electricity in such a
    sunny region.

    Ronda
    needs to develop its organically grown wines, its Iberian pigs, vegetables,
    olives and fruits. Rond
    a and its region need
    hundreds of small projects to create thousands of permanent jobs in all these
    sectors; not a few mega projects creating short term jobs away from where
    people live.

    It
    is the role of regional, provincial and local governments to develop these
    ideas, to provide the incentives and to facilitate the finance and expertise
    needed by hundreds of entrepreneurs

    It
    is time that the ordinary people of the ‘city of dreams’ told their politicians
    to stop dreaming and start working on a model of development that is really
    sustainable, respects the environment and saves the scarce water in preparation
    for the inevitable consequences of climate change.

    It
    is possible to reduce and limit the damaging effects of climate change. But it
    requires a major rethink of the planned activities for the future. Conserving
    energy and water resources, reforestation and intensive development of all
    possible non-carbon-based energy sources are high on the list.

    Above
    all, it requires thought and an end to the unacceptable practices of modern
    Spanish style urban development. If not, how are we to conserve the precious
    resources needed to save the earth?

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