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Spain is unsustainable

by Migeru Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 11:37:56 AM EST

A few weeks ago while I was visiting Madrid I saw the following news in the "Madrid" section of El País. I suspect the only reason it was not ignored altogether is the "doom porn" angle to it: Madrid's ecological footprint exceeds its carrying capacity by a factor of 20.

La región que más contamina de España · ELPAÍS.com The most polluting region in Spain
Madrid consume y genera una contaminación 20 veces superior a su capacidad de regenerar sus recursos naturales (lo que los técnicos llaman biocapacidad). Es la región que más contamina de toda España, si se exceptúan Ceuta y Melilla. Son los resultados del primer estudio sobre la denominada huella ecológica hecho en España por la Fundación Biodiversidad, dependiente del Ministerio de Medio Ambiente. La huella ecológica es un indicador que fija la superficie en hectáreas necesarias para volver a producir los recursos que se han utilizado y para asimilar los residuos que genera una población. Los puntos negros corresponden a comunidades con fuertes procesos de urbanización. Como Madrid (con un indicador de contaminar 19,9 veces su capacidad de regenerar), seguido de Canarias (10,4) y la Comunidad Valenciana (7,2). La media nacional es de 2,6. Madrid consumes and pollutes 20 times more than its ability to regenerate its natural resources (what is technically known as biocapacity). It is the region that pollutes the most in the whole of Spain, excluding [the north-African enclave towns] Ceuta and Melilla. These are the results of the first study on the so-called ecological footprint made in Spain by the Biodiversity Foundation, subsidiary to the Environment Ministry. The ecological footprint is an indicator that fixes [sic] the area in hectares needed to reproduce the resources used and to assimilate the waste generated by a population. The black spots correspond to [Autonomous] Communities [i.e., regions] with strong urbanization processes. Such as Madrid (with a pollution indicator 19.9 times higher than its regeneration capacity), followed by the Canary Islands (10.4) and the Valencian Community (7.2). The national average is 2.6
Update [2007-11-20 16:37:17 by Migeru]: The journalistic incompetence of El País never ceases to amaze me. The report was not, as they say, made by the Fundación Biodiversidad, but by the Environment Ministry. The report is dated July 2, but the news reflects a seminar that the Foundation organised at the end of October. I am told that the report is "sensitive" and is not being published or circulated, so none of the methodological questions raised in the comments can easily be answered at this point. <tinfoil>Personally, I think the report is being suppressed because it calls into question Spain's economic model.</tinfoil>


After much digging, I managed to find a PDF version of a 37-page preliminary analysis of Spain's ecological footprint. In it we learn that the footprint of consumption and waste has been evaluated, but the following has not been taken into account (yet?):

  • "qualitative" impacts such as soil and water pollution, erosion, atmospheric pollution (excluding CO2), loss of biodiversity or impact on the landscape
  • it is assumed that agriculture, husbandry and forestry are sustainable, that is, that soil productivity is not degraded by erosion, pollution, etc
  • the impact associated to water use is not taken into account
So the conclusions of the report are an understatement of ecological footprint.

The report observes that ecological footprint for most categories has stayed essentially constant and that energy use "presents a clear growth tendency" except in periods of economic crisis.

Note that the sustainable level is around 2.6 ha/person, which was exceeded around 1965. Later on in the report the planetary biocapacity is quoted at 1.8 ha/person. Considering that most footprints have stayed essentially constant it's energy use that's responsible for unsustainability. The legend on the right is "artificialised" (?), "forestry", "energy", "fishing", "husbandry", "agriculture".

Now, where does the energy footprint come from?

The lion's share (currently 48%) comes from consumer goods, mostly imported. That is, Spain is exporting its global share of ecological footprint (1.8 ha/person, remember, times 45 million people) to the countries where our cheap junk is manufactured. The impact of transport is the second most important.

Spain's biocapacity hasn't started to erode until around 2000

which means in 2000 Spain was exporting 50% of its ecological footprint.

The report ends with three scenarios for the period to 2020:

  • Scenario A: assumes that the main variables influencing the ecological footprint continue on the current trends.
  • Scenario B: assumes that sustainability targets are substantially met and variables without set targets improve.
  • Scenario C: assumes that targets are exceeded and variables without set targets experience a remarkable improvement.
The results are not encouraging.
  • Scenario A: predicts an economic slowdown in 2010-2015 and a final footprint of 8 ha/person with a deficit of nearly 6 ha/person (capacity would have eroded by 20%, then)
  • Scenario B: manages to keep the 2020 footprint at the 2005 values,
  • Scenario C: the footprint is reduced to 5 ha/person with a deficit of 2.6 ha/person (and a reduction of the biocapacity by about 10%)
Assuming no economic growth, scenario C achieved a reduction to 4.5 ha/person.

In other words, we're screwed, and promising "growth" is positively irresponsible.

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Have a nice Sunday.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 11:39:08 AM EST
Ahhhh, fadgetaboutid!  I'll have more wine.

This is the very real feeling I live with everyday, but somehow the numbers and figures make it more doomful and threatening.  Makes me want to start running, but I have already run my hectears, so ETopia keeps getting closer.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 12:13:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting! Did the report take account of the effects of global warming by 2020? It can be expected that Spain will already have drier summers by then.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 12:47:18 PM EST
I'm not sure. I only gave the report a summary reading, and the description of the model (190 variables) and the scenarios was very, very brief.

But I doubt it.

I found the mention of a projection of sagging economic growth in Scenario A interesting. I couldn't find where it came from.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 12:58:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Spain's overall economic growth will depend upon developments worldwide, so I don't know how you could model this in terms of domestic scenarios.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 01:17:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As long as the level of crop yield remains constant.... we will adapt.. or so said the borg :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 01:24:48 PM EST
promising "growth" is positively irresponsible.

unless it's growth in sustainable policies...

the any-is-good kind is crazy, and covers a multitude of eco-sins.

the media is trying to make starving look sexy, perhaps next we can look forward to models posing as they hang out the laundry, or bike to work!

he's kewl, he's handsome, well-connected, and best of all, he's green!!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 01:34:46 PM EST
You missed this bit...

  • Scenario C: assumes that [footprint reduction] targets are exceeded and variables without set targets experience a remarkable improvement.
  • Scenario C: the footprint is reduced to 5 ha/person with a deficit of 2.6 ha/person (and a reduction of the biocapacity by about 10%)

Assuming no economic growth, scenario C achieved a reduction to 4.5 ha/person.


We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 11th, 2007 at 02:08:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]

As unsustainable as the US. How cool is that?

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 13th, 2007 at 04:19:39 PM EST
Why does it not surprise me that Kuwait is dead last?
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Nov 13th, 2007 at 04:20:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And that four of the last five include the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iraq?

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 13th, 2007 at 04:23:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Nov 13th, 2007 at 04:34:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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