Thursday, April 20, 2017

What's The Environment Anyway?

Please don't shoot the statistical messenger. I'm a mere conduit of numerical glad or bad tidings, especially if there seems as though there's an angle to contemplate. Typically, one's response to the data overload delivered through tablets of percentages from government bodies and surveys or from websites and companies desperately in search of publicity ranges from a shrug of indifference to red-faced fury: how dare they take us for such fools?

While there are those who will insist that statistics exist in some number-crunching fantasy land, divorced from realities or personal perception, occasionally something comes along which makes one (well, me) pause and reflect. And so it is with a survey about attitudes towards the environment.

International "days" are frequently the excuse of a peg on which to hang a survey and its findings. Earth Day is 22 April. There has been such a day since 1970, the year in which the Earth was therefore invented. The day extends to 193 countries, according to Wikipedia, which may or may not mean that there are parts of the Earth excluded: they are not of this Earth.

Be that as it may, this year's Earth Day has inspired a website to address environmental attitudes. The site in question is, which I confess to not having previously been aware of. The credentials for its survey are that it is basically a shopping website. There may well be a touch of the publicity-seeking as a consequence. We are now familiar with Ofertia, whereas before we were not, and it's all thanks to the environment.

What, you may well ask, does shopping have to do with the environment? A great deal when you begin to drill down into the detail of the retail process: land devoted to shops; the logistics demanded to supply them; the ultimate consequence of, for example, landfill; all that plastic floating around in the Med; cars and other vehicles moving hither and thither and polluting the atmosphere; ever more land needed in order to satisfy transport, i.e. roads.

Shopping, as far as the environment is concerned, does not have a great deal to commend itself. And the Balearic government has recognised this. The pro-business, pro-vast commercial centres Partido Popular once advanced (under Bauzá) a tax on commercial centres. The reason was all the pollution caused in the act of shoppers shifting themselves in order to carry away bundles of plastic packaging and domestic electrical goods to later be destined to rot away in the peculiarly monikered "green points".

When the large retailers threatened to take them to court, the PP quietly abandoned this and a couple of other "green taxes". To compensate for the lack of revenue, they instead imposed a massive charge on water use, something which, oddly enough, went below the radar. The current government, both regional and insular, has had its eyes on shopping as well. The Council of Mallorca is currently working on a land plan: the Council's main reason for existence is the drafting of land plans, or so it can seem. This one has to do with shopping; hence, there is at present a moratorium on new large retail sites.

Such concern for the environment, and here we get to the survey, does not appear to be shared by the citizens. Or rather, there is a concern but it is not as great as most of the rest of Spain. The survey suggests that the level of commitment to the environment in the Balearics is the third lowest among regions. Only Galicia and Navarre are less concerned.

Is this finding surprising? I would suggest that it most certainly is. More than statistical overload, we endure environmental overload in Mallorca. The environment can barely move because of eco groups of one sort or another, to say nothing of the eco credentials of political parties such as Més, whose tourist tax is, in case we forget, supposedly for sustainability.

But it is even more surprising if one considers what is meant by the environment. The word tends to presuppose visions of landscape and plastic washed on to virgin beaches. Yet the environment, and this is a stupidly obvious observation, is all around us. Everything is the environment, and everything influences the environment, including shopping.

We may tire of frequent reports that dissect the impact of man on fragile ecosystems in Mallorca, but the environment is greatly more than the habitats of species and coastal erosion because of the harm caused to posidonia sea grass. Perhaps the word - environment - is the issue. It conveys less than the whole, and the whole is the complete island, inclusive of the roughly 80% of land that is available for agricultural purposes. But the complete island is only small. Its environment (and its protection) is vital. Yes, I am surprised by the survey.

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