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Our Andalucian paradise

My husband and I had lived in Mexico City, LA, Paris, Guadalajara, Oslo, Montreal and Vancouver. On a rainy November night we moved to a small town an hour inland from Malaga. 'Our Andalusian paradise' is about the historical town of Ronda, the mountains that surrounds it, the white villages dotted amongst them, of hikes, donkey trails and excursions around Andalucía and journeys further afield.

The Madrid Climate Conference and the ‘no-pasa nada’ rural Andalucía
06 December 2019 @ 15:45

The sun is killing me. Photo © Karethe Linaae

As world leaders meet at the United Nation Climate Change Conference in Madrid these days and a brave young Swede has sailed across the Atlantic to get there, I thought it time to take a look at Spain’s own ecological backyard – more specifically the rural Andalusian environment.


Sunflowers. Photo © Karethe Linaae

It often feels like the urban cites in northern Spain and our small southern town of Ronda are in completely different countries. Occasionally we even seem to live in separate millennia… When looking up at the nearly eternally blue skies, drawing in the fresh mountain air and beholding the spectacular Serranía de Ronda all around, one can almost be tempted to think that we are not affected by the global climate crisis.


Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Indeed, some naysayers insist that there is no problem at all. No pasa nada. But you only need to open your eyes to see the stark reality. Andalucía’s alleged White Villages or Pueblos Blancos are not only affected by the climate crisis. We are also contributing to it.

We are the river reflections. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Greta  - role model or laughing stock? 

Yesterday, I asked a couple of my students what they and their classmates thought about Greta Thunberg. They smirked and said that she had some kind of problem. I know that teenage boys will snicker at almost anything, but I had thought that they would admire someone of their own age who dares to speak up about their future for all the world to hear. Instead, their reaction echoed the ignorant, ill-informed and completely insensitive Donald Trump, who mocked Greta because of her Asperger syndrome. Some people might perceive her as ‘mentally unstable’, but with the desperate state of the current environment, we should all feel mentally unstable. Actually, we should be terrified into action!


Dry earth. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Greta’s ailment hasn’t stopped her more than acne or asthma has limited my students. I hope that they represent a minority of Andalusian youth, and that most young Spaniards are encouraged to protest alongside Greta. For those who make fun of her, she is far braver, more articulate and driven than 99% of the world’s teens and adults, politicians included!


Climate Conference vs. rural Spain

Ciudad soñada. Photo © Karethe Linaae


While the UN Secretary General opened the Climate Conference by saying that we are ‘close to a point of no return’, and the conference aims at promoting civic action and social participation, back to our small town people are still debating whether recycling makes a difference. We do have recycling containers, but many claim that everything ends up in the skip anyhow (possibly true some years back…) or simply don’t give a damn and put all their refuge into to the garbage.


Recycling nightmare. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Of course there are many eco-conscious citizens, but judging from our neighbourhood, I’d say that most rondeños do not recycle. The biggest political issue here is not a cleaner environment, but getting a freeway from the coast so bigger hordes of tourists can invade our town. So, the first rural environmental challenge is to convince people here that the environment matters and civil duties refer to all of us. 


Horses in trashy paddock. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Unlike most developed countries, there is unfortunately no money-back system for empty plastic bottles and metal cans in Spain. People therefore see such envases as worthless and discard them as rubbish. Collecting ‘empties’ is a livelihood for many people in other countries, so why can’t it be done here? Way back in 2012, there was a study done to examine the cost of introducing a bottle deposit refund system in Spain. Nothing has come out of it yet, but can Spain really afford NOT to implement this system?


Beer bottles. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Drive or walk to school?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most carbon monoxide pollution comes from motor vehicles. While emissions per mile driven is significantly less than in the 1970s due to alternative fuels and ‘cleaner’ vehicles, the sheer number of drivers and cars on the road counteract these improvements. Everybody knows that we should limit our car use, but the rural south is, as always, lagging behind the times.


No parking. Photo © Karethe Linaae

In our relatively small town (approx. 34.000 inhabitants), everything is more or less within walking distance. Neither dangerous traffic nor threats of kidnappings prevent children from walking to school, yet most local students are driven door to door. When I asked a neighbour why she drove her teenage daughter the 3.5 blocks to school, she told me that this is what is done, or else other parents might think you don’t have a car.

In a time of increasing childhood obesity, diabetes and ADD, a few minutes daily walk is not only advisable, it should be compulsory. Yet driving your offspring is considered good parenting. Kids won’t protest, of course, or they might have to get up 10 minutes earlier to arrive to school on time. But if a 16-year-old girl can sail across the Atlantic, they can surely stroll the few hundred meters to their colegio?


School children. Photo © Karethe Linaae

It is not only local children who are over-chauffeured in rural Andalucía. Even if it means circling around for 15 minutes to find parking near their destination, some locals will still drive a few blocks to get to work, go shopping or meet buddies at the bar. The second set of rural environmental challenges are therefore to advocate for frequent, subsidized, round-the-clock public transportation, traffic-safety lessons for school children, city cycles, car-free zones and reserved bike lanes, and a massive walk-to-work campaign starting with the mayor and every civil servant in town. 


Renewable energy in sunny Spain

Scalding sun. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Spain has the most hours of sunshine in Europe, yet only 5.2% of its renewable energy comes from solar power. Actually, Germany, Italy, France and even rainy UK produce more solar power than Spain! Between the financial crisis and the debilitating “sun tax” of 2015 (only eased last year), the solar power revolution ground to a halt, leaving endless work to be done. On the other hand, wind power accounts for over 20% of the national power production and might soon overtake the biggest Spanish power source, nuclear energy. On a positive note, only 4.5% of Spanish power production comes from fossil fuels.


What the future will bring. Photo © Karethe Linaae


A rural eco-challenge many towns in Andalucía have to deal with is how to protect historical areas while still allowing the use of solar panels and other renewable power-sources. The technologies are there.  Surely there are alternatives that will neither endanger nor blemish Andalucía’s historic town centres.


Cadiz. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Water wasting fiesta in the 21 Century

Water is a resource that soon will become extremely scarce, particularly in southern Europe. Every year the temperature rises and draughts last longer. Yet, Ronda is the only place we have ever lived which does not have a compulsory public water-rationing program every summer, which is my next rural eco challenge.  


Saintly water fountain. Photo © Karethe Linaae


In 2004, around the time of the Kyoto accord, a new fiesta was introduced in our neighbourhood – la fiesta del agua. While the Sahara desert is threatening to move north and masses of people worldwide are living without drinking water, our town brings in the local fire trucks to hose down the people in our neighbourhood square every August.


Water fountains. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Of course, it is a very popular party. Kids love playing with water and teenagers get a chance to participate in an impromptu wet T-shirt contest. But this is not the time to be wasteful with resources, so how about saving that water for the next time a forest fire rages through the sierra?


Forest fire warning sign. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Sewer waste vs. geothermal solutions

One of our gravest rural environmental challenges is the lack of water processing plants in Andalucía’s White Villages. Several of these towns are situated within Natural Parks and some are declared European Places of Cultural Interest. Yet many have no sewer processing facilities, so human waste goes directly into the local river systems.


Pueblos Blancos. Photo © Karethe Linaae


This includes favoured eco-tourist destinations such as Montejaque, Jimera de Libar, Cortes de la Frontera, Atajate, Benarrabá, Algatocín, Benadalid, Alpandeire, Júzcar, Farajan, Pujerra, Cartajima, Parauta and Benaoján. The latter village is a hob for the meat processing industry and all their dirty slaughterhouse water also gets flushed into the Guadiaro river!


Water pipe lead to the Guadiario river by Estación de  Benaoján. Photo © Karethe Linaae


The general excuse from the Spanish government, be it local, provincial or national, is always that there is no money. But in a country that receives more than 60 million tourists per year, surely there must be enough money to clean up our ‘shit’, so to speak? 


Trash bins in our hood. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Ronda only got its water processing plant in the early 2000s. Better late than never one could say, though when a sewer pipe broke in October of last year, it took the town nearly a year to fix the crack. Meanwhile, the leak polluted the tributary creek Arroyo de las Culebras that feeds into the Guadalevín River, the very same river that goes through Ronda’s much-photographed Tajo gorge. And, we are still waiting for the local government to clean up the spillage…


The Guadalevin river. Photo © Karethe Linaae


On several occasions, Ronda town hall has had to send out warnings about swimming in the local rivers due to ‘accidental’ leaks. Meanwhile, the local government recently proposed to make a public beach on the banks where these two rivers meet. If it happens, perhaps we will have to share the space with sewer rats?


Polluted dog after entering into Arroyo de las Culebras. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Saving trees?

Lonesome. Photo © Karethe Linaae


At a time when forest fires destroy millions of trees every year and the natural environment should be protected at all costs, Ronda is cutting down trees. The multinational electrical company ENDESA was given virtually free range to chop down the trees along the before-mentioned creek so their branches would not interfere with their electrical lines. These same trees were planted and cared for by Ronda’s school children almost 30 years ago. Protestors managed to stop the company’s first attempts at buzz-cutting the trees, but it is only a question of time before they come back with the chainsaws.


Arroyo de las Culebras, Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae


The irony is that a few years ago, Ronda’s town hall had money allocated to put these unsightly electrical cables under-ground. Furthermore, there are pipes in the ground alongside the creek installed just last year to lead electrical cables to the town’s new hospital. So the pipes are there, the money should be there (though they were likely misspent…), and the electrical company on their ever so green web page speaks about their grand mission of sustainability. But ‘no pasa nada’…


"We are keeping our river clean". From Setenil de las Bodegas.  Photo © Karethe Linaae


Spain has the natural resources and the know-how to become a leading nation for the environment. But are people willing to sacrifice some of their present comfort and convenience to make the future of their children and their children’s children more liveable?

Ronda's young - our future. Photo © Karethe Linaae

I hope that the Madrid Climate Conference and the acts of a brave young Swede will have a positive impact not only on the world at large, but even bring positive change to Spain’s rural communities. Despite the existing challenges of tackling climate change, the risk of doing nothing is much greater. Ronda, our beloved city of dreams will not be la ciudad soñada for long if we do not do something fast.  


 Where to go? Lost baby turtle on the road to Benaoján. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Like 2


ChristineB said:
06 December 2019 @ 21:55

Everything you say about Andalusia is true and you have done quite good research about things that could be changed for the better. If everything was done to perfection and money paid to fix the things that are broken, Andalusia would probably not hold the charm that you found so attractive when you came. It would be Norway with sunshine. And nobody wants that! A good cleanup has always been necessary and would be very beneficial. But the draughts will come no matter what they do and the water will do what it is always done. A young person to admire would be Boyan Slat, who invented the Pacific Ocean Cleanup Project. He didn’t refuse to go to school, instead of protesting and blaming, he researched and worked towards a solution. Greta is being manipulated and exploited by others for their mainly economic agenda. She knows little about meteorology and a lot about refusals and blame, according to her mother’s book. I would be careful about echoing the biased media about Trump. His tweet was obviously about her childish anger and nasty, unhappy demeanor. The media loves to twist these things into looking like an insult to a handicap and a level-headed person can see they never are. I do hope someone takes note and cleans up the water and sewage there. I lived there several times in my life and with fewer people perhaps things were not so challenging.

observing said:
07 December 2019 @ 06:57

Norway with sunshine and Mediterranean cuisine would be perfect for me :).

macsco said:
07 December 2019 @ 09:10

Interesting read but mixes up climate change with some lazy, some corrupt, some stupid people.
Greta Thunberg (and the World's) real problem is her generation will preside over a doubling of World population in her lifetime. (Based on current population growth).
If no one has the stomach to put that problem on the agenda (and they don't), it's all academic anyway. We are on course for an unsustainable planet with or without climate accords.

marelison said:
07 December 2019 @ 13:47

Excellent and good article Karate, and tells me again and again how pleased we (me and you) can be to be Icelanders and Norwegian born and started to recicle and sort out tras and bottles.
In Iceland we put "homie rubbish", "paper box", "papers/as newspapers", "pastic" (all kinds), "glass and plastic bottles" (beer/wine...) - All in diferent containers, and get paid for every bottles or soda cans.
Thank you again, Karate for your always faboulus articles..!

gerrynag said:
08 December 2019 @ 13:40

I must say I completely agree with the article.
We all need to look after the environment better than we have in the past, before it's too late.
We need to put pressure on governments to do something about global climate change.
I also have a lot of admiration for Greta Thunberg, as for Trump's tweet about childish anger and nasty, unhappy demeanor.....sounds more like he was talking about himself.

roberto123 said:
10 December 2019 @ 17:57

Comments about Trump sound typically left wing.

cowiz said:
13 December 2019 @ 23:35

Dear Karethe, thank you for such a great article that I must say I agree with! As Americans who live in the Murcia Region for several months a year, I can say that people smoking and the litter that is just discarded are about the only two things that we really don't like at all about Spain. To your point about deposits on bottles and cans, there was a lot of resistance to that in the States many years ago but after it went into affect, the streets were cleaner and we stopped seeing so many of them just discarded. Also, there are hefty fines for littering and they are enforced so people became more aware and a bit more responsible. It isn't perfect but it is better. As for Trump's comments and demeanor towards Greta and anyone else who disagrees with him, he is a man baby that we all hope will either be impeached and gone or voted out. He is an embarrassment that has taken the USA out of the Global Climate Agreement and has done everything he can to promote fossil fuels. Greta has her head on straight and is now and will be a leader. It is so important to listen to our young people. They are the future for the world!

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