Ibiza History Culture

Established 1982
Ibiza Artists Anthropology Bibliomania Ecology History Features

Anthropological View

An Anthropological View
by Kirk W Huffman

Burning the Future

Part One



A slight change of topic/tone this week - Gary, our editor, has suggested that the public has probably had enough about pigs on Eivissa/Ibiza, so my article about the masked tricksters/pranksters, es desfressats, that appear (very rarely now) during the last feast held on the day of the matança (pig killing) will have to be held in abeyance until sometime in the future I can slip it in without anyone noticing. Before we launch, however, into another series dealing with sling stone throwing or courting rituals or feuding amongst rural Ibicencos I would like to pause to mull over some thoughts about global warming and its local and worldwide implications.

On the evening of Monday, 26th November, José P Ribas (your Electronic Ibiza History Culture environmental correspondent), friend Trias, my wife and I went over the Hotel Royal Plaza in Vila (Ibiza Town) to attend a lecture on Climate Change and Global Warming organised by Hazel Morgan, the dynamic president of Amics de Sa Terra Eivissa (Friends of the Earth Ibiza). The invited speaker was Dr Antonio Ruiz de Elvira, the climate specialist in the Physics Department of the University of Alcala in Madrid, and a well-known lecturer on the more complex aspects of climate change. After the lecture we were privileged to dine with him and other members of Amics de Sa Terra to continue discussions and we have since been in correspondence with him via e-mail on certain environmental matters. Antonio is the major author and co-ordinator of the recent book "Quemando el Futuro: Clima y Cambio Climatico" ("Burning the Future: Climate and Climate Change"), published by Nivola and available from the bookshop in the Vara del Rey in Ibiza town at 2.995 pesetas. His talk was excellently presented, concise and full of punch. It covered the most recent studies available on world climate change over the last few million years and led scientifically into how (and why) the climate is changing now and what is in store for us within the next century. Although the world's climate has changed many times in the past, Antonio professionally pointed out the evidence indicating that the present climatic changes are/will be probably the most rapid in the earth's history (excepting certain 'disaster' changes such as the possible giant asteroid that hit in the Gulf of Mexico circa 65 million years ago and thought to be responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs). The types of changes that in the past took hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of years will now be compressed into the time span of a few human generations. Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be living in a much more difficult world.

Yes, our future is going up in smoke. Although a certain amount of climate change is only normal in our world's climatic cycles, there seems little doubt that the massive extra amounts of carbon dioxide (and certain other elements) pumped into the earth's atmosphere since the discovery of petrol (and its potential uses) in 1880 have begun to rapidly accelerate this process. One can almost say 'Put the blame on Rockefeller' (but then if he hadn't started it, then someone else would have). Other, normal, cyclical, reasons for the heating of the earth's atmosphere can include normal changes in the earth's axis and possible increased solar activity since circa 1650, but the most important is the very recent rapid increase in 'greenhouse gases' such as CO2. It seems the actual full effect of these heating gases will have kicked in with full force during the period approximately 2040 to 2100.

By then the types of recent hurricane-force storms that hit the Balearic Islands and southern Spain last month will have become a normal occurrence (and future storms could be much stronger) at this time of the year. This ties in almost exactly with the predictions made in 1993 by the British Scientific Institute for this part of the world (and mentioned in my second article about 'Water' for Electronic Ibiza History Culture written in Weekly Edition 026 of Saturday 25th August 2001) and now this prediction is born out by recent detailed scientific data. As predicted in 1993, these islands will have a much longer and dryer 'dry' season, and much more of the rain that does come during the period October-February will come in the form of violent, hurricane-force, storms like (and possibly stronger than) those of November. These kinds of super-storms do not necessarily bring the type of rain that Eivissa/Ibiza needs: the torrential rains flood off the soil too quickly and do not readily soak into the earth to replenish the water table. Many modern houses and apartment buildings built within the last 30 years or so will become untenable - many have been built in areas that a wise pagès eivissenc (Ibicenco peasant) would never build in. No one in their right mind in the old days here would build a house next to or in a 'torrente' (a flash flood draining area) nor in areas that are liable to become swampy after such rains. Some modern coastal buildings will just eventually (or more rapidly!) disappear. Such storms will destroy beaches (as happened already recently in some parts of Eivissa but more particularly Mallorca) and eventually the tourism industry may be forced to construct 'storm proof' beaches (where the sand will not be washed away) or basically forget about the present kind of coastal tourism and develop something different. Sea levels may eventually be up to a metre above present levels - and when one thinks about high tide and 'storm surges' this could be quite a bit more - so mankind's presence on the coast of Eivissa will probably have to be drastically re-thought. These are my own thoughts here, but they follow naturally from the type of evidence presented at the talk. I remember once saying in a lecture here on the island a few years ago that one might have to consider a future 'Ibiza without beaches' and it looks like climate change will probably lead to that. As the hot, dry, period of the year looks like it will be extended and intensified, there will be greater water shortage problems (there is already not enough good water for the present situation) and much greater danger of extensive forest fires. In fact, the present kind of tourism industry on the island may no longer be tenable in, say, 40 years or so. We may all have to spend holidays in the south of England where temperatures and climate may be similar to the south of France today! The south of France itself will probably be too changed to continue as it is today. Eivissa will have to drastically change its approach to water production and distribution and electrical power production, amongst many things. The whole island's electricity is provided by the energy company GESA (Ibiza's Electricity Company), working from the giant generator just outside Vila (and sometimes still called 'sa fabrica de fe llum'- 'the light factory' by rural Ibicencos: the first light production facility was called 'sa fabrica de fe llum de gaz pobre de C'an Matutes' as the first 'modern' lights the peasants remember were yellowish lights - and therefore made from 'poor quality gas' - done at C'an Matutes). GESA provides good quality service to its customers, but it seems the actual technical properties of its massive generator are such that it allegedly produces only circa 30% of the energy it could produce from its fuel input than if it had more advanced equipment.

Antonio Ruiz de Elvira is not completely pessimistic for the future, though. Placing faith in human ingenuity, he hopes that (forced and rapid) developments and advances in solar power energy production can help provide a solution. But it will need a drastic change in government attitudes worldwide to enable such progress to take place. At the moment most governments assume that part of a normal governmental duty is to provide funds for road and transport infrastructure, but energy production is still mostly in the hands of private industry. Governments will in the future need to take over the energy industry, phase out the use of forms of petroleum for energy production, and greatly sponsor and subsidize the use and spread of solar power. As I see things, legislation may eventually have to be brought in to restrict the number of petrol automobiles and forced legislation enacted to support urgent and effective research into 'petrol-less' forms of transport (both topics that my late father spoke about nearly 50 years ago). It has been rumoured, of course, for many years, that the (particularly US) petrol and automobile industries have 'bought up the rights to and hidden away' any promising new inventions that might interfere with their dominant positions and have not really seriously looked into alternatives, although there has been a certain amount of half-hearted publicity about particular projects that are all 'too expensive for now but are seriously being looked at'. This has been going on for decades and the lack of real progress indicates that neither the big companies nor the 'big' governments are at the moment really that interested in them. Their publicised concerns for the environment and the little that is actually being done indicate that few really seriously think all the talk of future disasters is actually real: 'If we talk about it and show enough concern, then maybe it will just go away'. It seems to be almost a habit now that governments in Europe and the US are becoming increasingly used to handing out emergency money to help areas devastated by increasingly powerful natural phenomena such as storms and hurricanes. Insurance companies - always the first to catch on to forthcoming trends as ignorance can lead to massive financial losses - have already begun to seriously consider restructuring their policies for areas susceptible to stronger and more frequent devastating storms. In the US, insurance company policy is already beginning to come in to conflict with government policy, the insurance companies thinking of increasing payment rates for potentially endangered areas (e.g. coastal areas of Florida threatened with rising sea levels and increasingly frequent and stronger hurricanes) whilst, in general, US government policy (particularly amongst this present administration) pursues a 'gung-ho', business as usual, policy. The two recent freak storms (the latest within the last 48 hours as I write - with winds up to 175 kilometres per hour) that hit Sydney, Australia, within the last couple of weeks, will make Australian insurance companies race to contact climate consultants to help them minimize future losses from more frequent similar events in the future.

Millions of words have been and continue to be written on these topics, but unfortunately the world's 'only superpower', which also happens to be the world's major producer of the 'items' most damaging to earth's atmosphere, continues to hide its head in the sand. Once governments realize that they can actually save money in the long run by planned preparation for global warming, rather than just regularly handing out emergency funds to affected areas, will the needed official changes in policy actually take place. As usual, it all boils down to money (and greed, as I pointed out in one of my 'Water' articles): money (etc) brought us in to this problem and with a lot of luck it might, if not get us out of it, at least help to minimise the more deleterious side of climate change. But there is great urgency: even if all CO2 - producing fuels were rapidly fazed out now, it would take the atmosphere 40 years to revert to relative normality. You have probably all heard this a thousand times before, but as this is something that will definitely affect everyone in the world in varying degrees within the next 40 years or more, then it is worthwhile hearing thousands of times more until everyone finally sits up and says to governments and certain big businesses "OK, enough bullshit and shifty 'spin-doctoring' from you people: get down to proper planning and work or we will take you all to court and fine you for stupidity". Well, that is maybe not the kind of thing that modern governments in the West would allow to be done to them, but at least in a 'democracy' one should be able to vote them out of power. Unfortunately the public worldwide haven't really been doing enough of that lately. We should take an example from the traditional societies in Vanuatu in the Southwest Pacific; there, a 'chief' and his advisors have a traditional sacred duty to protect their environment, as they know that by doing so one also protects ones people (I am simplifying this, there are many different cultures in Vanuatu, and there are many traditional approaches to this). Many modern governments in the West do not seem as advanced as this - and the EU may not be any better (as last weeks criticisms of the EU by the Prime Minister of Belgium, currently the President of the EU, show). Maybe those in Vanuatu are right, that White People just do not really understand Nature. And therein lies our predicament: as the Kaggaba/Kogi Indians of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia put it in as polite a way as possible, we 'modern white democracies' are basically the ones that have brought the world to this stage, with all its good and bad, but unless we grow up and begin using our intelligence for saving the whole world rather than just for greed, it may all be too late. Our children, grandchildren and future generations will rightfully blame us if we do nothing.

And more on these themes, including Global Warming Refugees, next week.

Kirk W Huffman