Same ol’ Mr. Soufli
Everyone’s favorite Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias was all talk, partial to listening (see video) and short on action in November, which sums up Parliament’s effectiveness in general.
He’s still blaming local municipalities for not monitoring installations and rooting out violators of environmental legislation. But it’s hard to take him seriously when he and Karamanlis ignore a 75 percent majority of Greeks who want a proper environment ministry now, instead of the three-year delay that the government claims is necessary for all EU-funded projects to be complete. Based on past history, it’s safe to say that EU-funded projects will take a lot longer than three years to complete, and an environment ministry by that time will be irrelevant since measures are already a decade overdue.
With the present and future covered, Soufli also defended environmental inaction of past governments.
More environmental fines were imposed, but no real action. So far, violators include two quarries, the Public Power Corporation (DEH), the S&B firm on the island of Milos, Thessaly Steelworks, Athens International Airport, Hellenic Petroleum and Larco. Most had their fines reduced on appeal.
Delicate ecosystems are affected by the smallest change — anything from amoeba to plankton.
The urbanization of rural and coastal areas catering to increased tourism, and residents from abroad seeking a second home, continue to infringe on nature and put a strain on resources (petrol, electricity, water) and food supplies (overfishing, imports of meat and produce, as crops wither in the face of climate change).
Humans and wildlife also don’t live in harmony. This month, an endangered brown bear was found mutilated and Egyptian fruit bats were shot “for fun” on Cyprus.
Animals are helpless gentle creatures on this Earth, and it is we who are intruding on their territory. Can we at least leave them alone and find some healthy hobbies?
There were more fines imposed on polluters of the Asopos River and threats by Mr. Soufli that violators could be temporarily or permanently shut down. But as I reported last month, the real problem isn’t solved — the government has no plan in place for disposing of 200,000 metric tons of industrial waste per year.
Sink on you crazy Sea Diamond
Eight months after Louis Cruise Lines’ Sea Diamond sank off the shore of Santorini, nothing has been done. On November 21, bidding was opened to companies wishing to handle the extraction of 450 tons of fuel, harmful substances from air conditioning units, rotting computer equipment and hydraulic fluid.
There’s been plenty of blame spread amongst various parties already, so whoever wins the open tender should have expertise, immaculate PR and lawyers standing by.
Forest — where’s the damn register?
Anyone following environmental issues or drawn by the wildfires back in August know that Greece is the only EU country without a forest registry. Without a forest registry, it cannot enforce laws or prosecute anyone involved in illegal construction. Not to mention, the EU is quite unhappy and still warning Greece to not redraw its forest maps.
Speaking of land grabbing, Soufli has sternly warned that any new illegal homes will be demolished without hesitation. But those with established illegal homes shouldn’t worry since nothing is being done.
Volunteers from local schools, environmental groups and municipalities, with the support of SKAI, began a mass replantation of up to 15,000 trees in the eastern Athens area of Kalyvia. Reforestation of Mount Pendeli and Rafina started November 23 by the Boy Scout Association, though Parnitha — a badly needed forest in Athens that was devastated this summer — was not included.
Instead, the foothills of Parnitha struggle with the illegal dumping of rubble containing hazardous material. Up to 100,000 tons of rubble is generated in Attica daily and 5 million tons annually in the whole of Greece.
A last-ditch proposal by five architects to clean up Kifissos River and regenerate the area around it was embraced by local authorities and promoted by SKAI.
Thanks to illegal over-irrigation, experts have determined that Lake Koroneia is on the verge of drying up again (it happened previously in 2002). Fines have been imposed, but EU funds in the amount of 24 million to permanently remedy this issue haven’t been utilized.
Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis, who claimed to be a man of few words during pre-election campaigns, has been talking big about making plastic bags a thing of the past as part of his recycling initiative, even quoting stats I previously presented. But so far, it’s only talk and his past actions haunt him. We know him as the ‘tree eater,’ as he notoriously ordered that all trees be cut down before the Athens 2004 Olympics, then tried to right his wrong by having new ones planted, which died because it was summer.
And while the mayor continues his obsession with making Athens more like Paris — which I pray doesn’t include race riots and public transport strikes (oh wait, we already have those) — consumers are still ignorant about how to sort recyclables into existing blue bins, though claim more are needed.
It must be said that ‘recycling’ is more PR than a real practice since Greece sends 90 percent of garbage to landfills (only Poland ranked lower).
And no matter how much is recycled in Greece, manufacturers stubbornly opt to use new materials so the glass, cardboard and aluminum processed for reuse is still going into landfills. Why? They see it as too much trouble and costly to change processes, and many consumers see recycled materials as “dirty” and therefore don’t back companies into a corner to reform and become green. i.e. Do you think about what brand to buy based on green practices, or do you just buy the one you want or whatever is cheapest? If I taught you what to look for, would you do it? The consumer speaks his mind with his purchase.
Greece’s inhabitants may support the environment in theory, but not in conscious daily living.
*City of Athens is a daily visitor to this website.
Uh oh, EU
The month started with news that Greece lags behind the rest of the EU in environmental issues, which was quickly countered by Karamanlis. This was followed by being ranked 6th worse developed country worldwide for CO2 emissions (yes, even worse than the USA with its 265 million people).
And while Mr. Soufli says EU-funded projects need to be completed before an environment ministry can be established, his public works ministry refuses to account for how those funds are being spent.
Back in Belgium, the European Commission (EC) got its 500,000-euro refund for a greening project it supported in Perama, upon discovering that 90 percent of 70,000 trees were dead from negligence in 2005. An appeal by the municipality was denied.
Rehabilitate rural areas
The plan to rehabilitate fire-stricken areas was unveiled by the Ministry of Agriculture. It includes 650 million euros for:
– Leaving burnt trees for two years
– Replanting in Arcadia, Achaia, Ileia, Corinth, Laconia and Messinia in southern Greece and the island of Evia
– Attention to 223,000 hectares that remain at serious risk of erosion
– Employing the unemployed to assist in these programs
– Revitalizing local rural economies that see 110 dairy producers and 177 olive oil plants reducing production and suffering financially
Too much dumping
This is a beautiful country, and the government needs to revamp, reform, recycle, reuse and retain an effective waste program to protect its legacy or illegal dumping/polluting will continue.
In addition to the dumping of toxic rubble near Parnitha, there are manufacturers dumping in olive groves, gold mines producing toxic waste and rogue quarries operating in a number of places that include the forestland of Mt. Imittos in eastern Athens.
There’s been talk of additional fines and 24-hour surveillance to clean up Greece, specifically Athens, but we shouldn’t need babysitting if in fact the majority of residents in Greece are as concerned about the environment as polls suggest.
Talk is cheap, it’s time to walk the talk.
Photos from recycle-more.co.uk (EU’s RRR), marietta.edu (bat), abcnews.com (ship), euroleague.net (kaklamanis), ekathimerini.com (rubble on Parnitha; Kifissos)