Friday, September 29, 2017

An Environmental Rock And A Hard Place

When it comes to the environment, you just can't win. The current government in the Balearics is probably the most environmentally aware and environmentally determined (in terms of policy) that there has been. This consciousness extends beyond matters of land use. Climate change is of such importance that it has its own government department. The virtues of clean energy are being demonstrated by a conversion to the use of solar for government buildings, by testing electric buses, by subsidising town halls for the installation of electric vehicle charging-points, by investing in more rail electrification, by betting the electricity shop on a scheme for solar to power the Balearics.

The government's environmentalism can at times seem to go too far. It wasn't the government as such which ordered the demolition of the chiringuitos at Es Trenc (it was in fact the national government via the courts). But now they've gone, the local administrations have latched on to regulations like the space that sunloungers have to be from the dunes and those for utility supplies to the demountable chiringuitos (if they actually materialise). When it comes to the next election and to an evaluation of this government's legacy, the Es Trenc Nature Park will be deemed one of the triumphs. This is a government committed to the environment, but it is caught between a rock and a hard place of environmental policies. Whatever it does environmentally, there is traditionalist or environmental opposition.

If the agricultural world ever needs to protest, it typically does so by sending out the tractor boys. Palma has its farming areas but they aren't anywhere near the promenade and the Passeig Sagrera. Tractors will nevertheless appear on Saturday. The farmers are part of a countryside alliance that will be demonstrating outside government HQ.

The farmers and the government (for which read the environment and agriculture ministry) have had an uneasy relationship. The minister Vicenç Vidal has not, to be fair, had the greatest of luck. Mother Nature has done what Mother Nature does, which is to affect the land because of climate and plague. Vidal might argue in a joined-up governmental sense that policies for climate change have in mind drought and floods, but these are not policies for the immediate past. The farmers still feel they weren't compensated sufficiently. The agriculturalists are now seeking tourist tax revenue for replanting trees lost to the xylella plague.

Vidal can't control the weather, he can apply some control over xylella, and he most certainly can potentially control the worst affects of heavy rains and floods. The farmers are not alone in criticising the environment and agriculture ministry for not doing more to keep the torrents clear so that flooding (hopefully) doesn't occur. Town halls have had their say as well.

But what has got the farmers, hunters and owners of rural fincas so agitated that they are protesting is the government's expansion of zones for the special protection of birds (ZEPA). In a nutshell the rural community feels that its rights and interests are being interfered with. The association for the defence of the rural world says that it has done a pretty good job over the years when it comes to bird protection, alluding to hunting for population control purposes, but hunting is far from being the only issue. Larger protection zones could mean, for example, a broadening of restrictions on harvesting, the burning of vegetation and phytosanitary control, i.e. measures to avoid plant disease and pest.

So, there is a traditional agricultural lobby that is opposed to a particular strand of the government's overall environmental policies. While the government insists that there is compatibility, this certainly isn't always clear to those sectors affected, such as the farmers. ZEPA, meanwhile, is lauded by the environmentalist lobby - GOB in particular, as would be expected because of its origins as a bird protection group. And ZEPA features highly in the government's grand energy project for eliminating emissions - the creation of photovoltaic plants.

In Llucmajor there are three separate projects for these plants. Each one raises contentious environmental issues. One, for the finca of Sa Caseta, affects a zone that the town hall considers to be for agricultural, ecological and landscape protection. For a second - S'Águila - there is a ZEPA report pending. The third is the most emotive of all. Sa Marina, says GOB, is a magnificent agroforestry area that has escaped the changes that have occurred in other parts of Mallorca's rural world. The group wants there to be a ZEPA, and if there were to be, it could seriously inhibit any plans for a photovoltaic plant.

GOB is accusing the government of wanting to turn this whole part of Llucmajor into one giant solar farm, but the nub of the issue is that these plants have to go somewhere. And mostly any location that is identified will have some environmental consideration. The government really can't win.

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