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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