Climate Change in Andalucía [Why We Need To Do Something!]
Like much of the rest of Europe and America we have been sweltering, this week, in the heat of an early season heatwave. Some of the time it has been welcome but every day it goes just beyond what people find acceptable or livable. This heat is why many of the British holiday home owners go back home in the summer, "It's just too hot!" they say.
Yes it is too hot, but not because we are not used to it, because the area around here in Andalucía is slowly dying. Following on from unseasonable rainfall a few weeks ago the grass and weeds shot up making the area around our house green and luscious. It is now dry and brown and threatens to engulf us daily with wildfires. There was a fire this week less than a kilometer from our house.
A key indication that things are not normally came during the week with the news that hundreds of baby swifts were found dying on the ground in a number of Andalucían cities. They were found to be suffering from the heat while they were still unable to fly. Swifts nest in small enclosed spaces often located under roof eaves. The early onset of the heatwave forced the baby swifts from their nests. In the summer this is normal behaviour but the early onset forced the swifts out before they could fly, hence they were found helpless on the ground. The onset of heat has been getting earlier year on year, a distinctly worrying trend.
The other sign that things are not well here is the increasing lack of water. Despite the recent rainfall there is a real lack of water for agricultural irrigation. This is essential to service the crops of almonds, olives and fruits such as oranges, lemons and cherries, as well as the greenhouse salad crops that supply northern Europe. These are the lifeblood of this region that keep the economy going.
What is happening?
There are two main reasons, it seems to me. The first is the general increase in global warming across the planet and the second is the way of life here that focuses on enjoying the warm weather without regard for the consequences.
The story of the swifts is a case that highlights the general increase in global warming. The heatwave is not peculiar to this area. It is happening all over western Europe as well as across the United States. This is clearly a global phenomenon, something that is very worrying indeed. As a global issue it is difficult to pin down one particular cause. This makes it difficult for people to see how they can influence what is happening.
While that is true, the story is not the same when you consider the local effects of lifestyle. There are some clear behaviours locally that contribute to a worsening climate, and not many people appear to want to change them.
Some of the particular behaviours that can be seen locally include:
The major fuel supply in this area for heating is wood. All over the area you can see piles of wood, much of it old olive trees, ready for delivery to homes. Many houses have open fires that are their sole source of heating in the cold winters. These make the interiors warm and cosy but, of course, the burning wood pumps harmful gases into the atmosphere. There is no regulation of this and no attempt to do anything about it that the occasional installation of less harmful pellet burners.
Swimming pools are everywhere in the countryside. The dream is to have a lovely villa with a pool, it is a must have. This is despite the fact that they remain mostly unused. They are a status symbol, nothing else. Often the land around the pool is simply paved reducing necessary planting. Urmila was talking to a neighbour this week who admitted that they have virtually never used their pool. They now wish that they had known that this is how it would be so they could have bought a house without a pool.
Buildings throughout Andalucía and beyond are commonly defaced with random installations of air conditioning units. In some cases these are used for heating in the winter but mostly they are for cooling in the summer. The hotter it gets, the more they are used. This insulates people from the effects of the heat and dramatically increases the energy load with all the consequences that come from that. Of course there are times when the heat is unbearable but they are increasingly used when it is just warm.
Lack of Insulation
The issues with heating and cooling inherent in the area stem not just from the outside temperatures but also from the lack of insulation in buildings. Houses are built without much consideration to the need to insulate them against both heat and cold. The old houses have thick stone walls which helped in this regard, but modern houses have thin walls of terracotta block which are next to useless.
Most of the new immigrants (ex-pats) and holiday home owners love to live in the countryside with a sense of remoteness, away from the more Spanish towns and cities. With no public transport it is essential to travel everywhere by care. Walking locally is enjoyable but is useless for shopping, eating out and other daily necessities.
What Can I Do?
In where we live at the moment we have tried to do what we can to reduce these issues. We used to burn wood as the only source of heat although this has been considerably reduced over the past couple of years by the installation of a couple of energy efficient pellet burners. We suffer from a lack of insulation but never use air conditioning to relieve the problem—we have had our units removed. We have no pool and have created a garden on our plot that is blooming and helping to restore the local insect life. We do, however, use a car to go everywhere.
We are moving in a couple of months partly as our response to the need to reduce our climate footprint. We are moving into a town to slash our car use, into an apartment to take greater advantage of the greater insulation properties of units built close together.
The future survival of this area rests on more of this and a reduction in the behaviours that ignore the needs of the area. Our response to the complaint that
There's nothing we can do! is to do what little we can. If everyone did just a little we might start shifting things.