Friday, November 04, 2016

The Missing Numbers Among The Two Million

So, we learn that 9 August was this summer's M-Day when the maximum population of the Balearics was reached. Biel Barceló will feel slightly aggrieved. It was 10 August when he roped in unions and the business confederation to make his statement - "welcome sustainable tourism". The day had been chosen because 10 August in 2015 was last year's M-Day. Then the max was 2,010,520. On 9 August this year it was 2,036,132.

Much was made of the fact that the two million mark was exceeded for the first time in 2015. A socio-psychological threshold was crossed. The number was thus unsustainable for no better reason than it was more than two million. This year there has been rather more justification for concern with this size of population. Water has been the principal one.

The declaration of M-Day has in the past been around the start of the following year. The number-crunchers at the Balearic statistics institute must have been putting in overtime in order to get out the M-Day declaration to more or less coincide with the official end of summer. One detects a degree of political expedience in the manner in which this has been expedited.

Confirmation of human pressure can thus be latched onto more rapidly by those with human pressure agendas, among them Biel Barceló, whose legislative agenda includes holiday rentals, the apparent cause of this increased pressure. Curiously enough, Barceló had said that the draft legislation would be presented before the end of October. Does one conclude that it has been delayed so that the M-Day declaration can provide more grounds for whatever legislation he has in mind? One can't help but feel that there is some convenience in the earlier than usual declaration. Or maybe they've just got more efficient.

Intuitively, if only because of that socio-psychological threshold, one might feel that here is evidence of too high a level of human pressure. But it is largely intuitive. Exactness in scientific terms is thin on the ground. We therefore rely almost exclusively on anecdote and on "sensation". When opinion surveys ask about "saturation", they couch the question in terms of its feeling, of its perception. Responses are therefore given on the basis of subjective observation, itself made less objective by the constant resort by agenda-setters to wave the banner of saturation. In addition, we are bombarded with the Palma-centric obsession with cruise passenger numbers. While these can be proved, there is less proof (if any) that all those numbers actually "invade" Palma at any given time.

The real proof lies with what can be observed in the reservoirs. There again, low levels of water and low capacities are only indirectly the consequence of added human pressure. The direct consequence is Mother Nature. Populations have always struggled to combat her capriciousness.

But what precisely is this population, the one that exists on M-Day? The number is precise: 2,036,132. How is it arrived at, though? The answer, as always, lies with statistics. It has to because there is no possible way that the number can physically be verified. Elements of comparative exactness can be thrown into the statistical pot, such as the total number of hotel places and airport arrivals, but these cannot simply be added together because of the massive degree of overlap. The most certain element is the resident population, though even that is questionable, given that there are those who are resident but who mysteriously go unaccounted. Countering this are the numbers of the resident population who have evacuated. Strange though it may sound but a fair number of people go elsewhere in August.

On the basis of the official resident population and the official number of registered accommodation places, it is possible to arrive at some fairly conclusive figure, albeit that there is never any such thing as 100% occupancy of all accommodation places. But simple calculations which draw on these numbers will always fall well short of what M-Day indicates. There is anything between 150,000 and 300,000 people unaccounted for, and this "missing" population factors in the number of apparently illegal accommodation places and a stab at estimating the size of the seasonal working population.

The figure that is arrived at will be a statistical calculation, yet scholars of population studies have long recognised the difficulty of precision. One learned paper acknowledges that there is a drawback in terms of a lack of solid data regarding the temporary population. The de facto population, which is what M-Day seeks to prove, is therefore - one assumes - the product of multiple data sets, the reliability of which is only as good as the methodology. And inevitably, scholars disagree.

How reliable is the 2,036,132 figure? Indeed, how transparent is it? A precise breakdown of the figure should be given, but it never is.

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