- -  Day # 96  + +

EU > Portugal > Beja

Caring about the future

Beja, PT (View on map)

Global warming is a controversial issue. Some say it exists, others say that climate changes are only natural and have nothing to do with human activity heating the atmosphere. One thing is sure: weather patterns throughout the European continent are changing. Portugal is starting to become more and more aware that it needs to care about the environment if it doesn`t want the Sahara to cross over from Africa.

Ana (23) and Ricardo (22):

`2007 was a year without a proper summer. It has been spring all year, just over 20 degrees and dry`
While most of countries in the North of Europe are fearing heavy rainfall and floods, Portugal has more reasons to be afraid of the opposite. Scientists have predicted that higher temperatures and less rain will make large territories useless for agriculture. Nevertheless, 2007 was cold rather than hot, and the drought was not as bad as in previous years. Forest fires are an ongoing problem in Portugal, but they have not been as widespread in 2007 as they were in 2006 and 2005. Possibly because major parts of the forest did not survive previous fires, alternatively thanks to the increased surveillance by forest brigades.

Ana (23) and Ricardo (22, both in photo) tell me that 2007 was a year without a proper summer. `It has been spring all year, just over 20 degrees and dry. Even during thunderstorms, we hardly got any rain`, says Ana. She explains that most Portuguese don`t think summer has started before the 30 degrees mark has been passed. Little imagination is needed to conclude that Portugal did not consider the 2007 beach season a big success.

Twenty degrees in November is not considered normal either. It should be raining now and about 10 degrees, but instead, the weather does not differ from March or April. Natural water reservoirs are not being refilled by fresh water, which is no good news to farmers. Rainfall on dehydrated soils produces a risk of flooding; no rain at all would imply that farmers have too little water available to irrigate their lands during the coming year. Severe drought could even jeopardise the supply of water for consumptions.

Ricardo tells that the government is pushing hard to increase people`s awareness about environmental issues. Car-free Sundays have been organised in 2007 and they will continue in 2008. The initiative should motivate people to leave the car at home when traveling to work, but that ideal will be difficult to pursue. Adriano (23) is convinced that the car will be the last thing Portuguese people are prepared to give up to protect the environment.

Recycling, on the other hand, is gaining popularity. Many public garbage containers have multiple compartments for different types of garbage. TV commercials showing a monkey that separated waste aimed to convince people that recycling really doesn`t take that much effort. More recycling means that less garbage ends up getting burnt, leading in turn to lower emission of carbon-dioxides.

Beside car owners, major industries are also having difficulties to adjust their behaviour to new environmental standards. Heavy tourist activity in the Algarve makes it impossible for water treatment companies to process all waste water during summer. They are obliged to dump unprocessed water directly into the river. In earlier days, chemical factories also used to get rid of polluted water, but strict regulation has reduced such incidents to a minimum.

Water shortages
Portuguese is well equipped to deal with heat. Houses in the south of Portugal are painted white to reflect the heat rather than absorb it. Blinds are used to keep the sun out and to relieve air conditioning systems. Long holidays allow people to move to the beach and leave house and work behind.

Drought is another problem. At present, the lack of water is translating into rising food prices. Farmers emigrate to Spain and even the ones who stay behind need to find innovative solutions to prevent their crops and cattle from drying up. It is a matter of time before the alimentary chain starts getting affected by the seemingly endless periods without rain. And what will happen then?

Enlarge photo | Link to this article