Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Size And Space Matter

If I were to take you to a flat area of land and ask you to walk in such a way that you marked out a square the size of a hectare, would you be able to? Would you even know what a hectare is? For the record it is 2.47105 acres. Would you know what that is, or even a solitary acre?

Let's make it easier. How about if the puzzle was to mark out 0.247105 of an acre, i.e. 1,000 square metres? Or easier still, what about an are - 100 square metres?

Knowing your hectares and your square metres is useful. Most of the world now uses the hectare. Most of the real-estate world uses the square metre. Land, living space are valued according to their worth per hectare or square metre. It is useful, but even for comparatively small spaces and distances, being able to conceive these accurately is nigh on impossible. Space and distance do not compute. Both are guesswork. Let's go back to that flat area of land. How far is that nearest tree? Around twenty metres? Around, yes, around. Never - it is twenty metres. Without the aid of a measuring device, one simply cannot say for certain.

There are measures with which there is some familiarity, such as those in sport. The one hundred metres of a sprint, for instance. Or the chain of a cricket pitch, better known as 22 yards or 20.12 metres. But even for those of you who have run one hundred metres or played cricket, could you accurately reproduce the distance? Square measures are even more elusive than those in a straight line. Not all football pitches are the same size but a typical measure is 7,140 square metres. We're all familiar with football pitches, but we still wouldn't be able to mark one out in our heads.

The reason for mentioning all this is the diet we are constantly fed when it comes to size. Palma town hall, for instance, has very kindly informed us that its new set of four rubbish containers (mobile variety) occupy eleven square metres. Great, but so what? How does such information translate into the brain? With difficulty. Such enumeration when written is all but meaningless. There may be a rough idea what it constitutes, but for all the value of the information, it may as well just say that it occupies a small space.

But because small, medium, large, very large are more meaningless, a value has to be given, whether we can appreciate it or not. Therefore, we get all of this stuff. Such and such town hall is building a new facility of x square metres. Wonderful. The more square metres the better, is this the idea - to impress us? Not necessarily, because using limited space is virtuous when land is at a premium. It's only x square metres. Even more wonderful, even more impressive.

Fires are something else for which size matters. There was a recent report about how many hectares of forest, scrub and whatever had been affected by fires in 2016. If memory serves, it was something like 101. This was either more or less than the previous year - as you may realise, I didn't digest the information fully - and was therefore either negative or positive. But again, what does it mean? When we learn that a fire has consumed 30 hectares, that sounds like a lot. Doesn't it? Certainly more than if it were 0.3 hectares. In neither instance, though, can we conceive what it represents. If in the case of the 30 hectares, we were told that it roughly equated to 42 football pitches, then maybe. Or maybe not.

The Balearic government has a minister for land, Marc Pons. He is also the energy minister. Two of these portfolios have coincided in respect of plans to eliminate CO2 emissions by 2050. Out will go all fossil fuel energy sources, and in will come photovoltaic energy, which means all manner of plants dedicated to tapping into the sun's energy dotted around the Balearics.

This is a highly laudable plan, but photovoltaic energy, as in supplying more or less all energy needs for the islands, its residents, its businesses and its tourists, does have a land implication. It's not the same as just sticking a solar panel on your roof to get hot water or anything like it. So Pons reliably (one assumes) informed us that these plants will require 1.5% of land. Really? Well, erm, blimey, one point five per cent.

The land surface of the Balearic Islands is 4,997.71 square kilometres. It will therefore require 74.97 square kilometres of land to fit all these plants in. Is that a lot? You tell me. For what it's worth, you could stick them all on Formentera and more or less cover the island. Maybe that's it. A Formentera of photovoltaic. We can all understand that.

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