“Climate change can no longer be stopped”

The University of Barcelona professor is one of the country’s main environmental experts. In his latest book, he says that in the past a decade the efforts to protect of the natural environment has slowed in Catalonia

“Climate change and biodiversity have one thing in common: we can’t solve them” “LOCAL AGRICULTURE IS IMPORTANT, AND NOT JUST ORGANIC PRODUCTS BUT ALL PRODUCTS FROM HERE”
In one of the first chapters of your new book, ’Cal que siguem masovers del món’ (We must be stewards of the world), you recommend Marx and Engels. Are today’s environmental problems due to capitalism?
They are two different issues. On the one hand, we know Marx and Engels as the fathers of communism, but they were also philosophers and wrote about many aspects, one of which was the quality of life of the workers. So some of the things they said are about environmental quality and the unhealthy conditions of workers. I’m not interested in whether they were right or wrong about communism but I note that they took environmental factors into account. On the other hand, many, if not all, of today’s evils are linked to a way of making the world work. From an economic and social point of view, capitalism leaves some people by the wayside. Capitalism is blind to social and environmental problems. We’re told that we need to behave more sustainably towards the environment, both socially and environmentally, but capitalism is not sustainable. Today’s system of making money is based on the more, the better, no matter what happens tomorrow.
It seems that in general the public is more aware of the climate emergency than of another serious crisis. Do you agree?
Yes, and for a fairly clear reason. We’re beginning to notice the effects of climate change: rising temperatures, rising sea levels, more catastrophic weather episodes... Yet we’re not so aware of the disappearance of species, even though these species play an important role in our economy and for our wellbeing. For example, there are species vital for the proper functioning of woodland, and there are some that contain substances needed to solve certain health and medical problems. When we’re told, for example, that some of the species affected may be polar bears or dolphins, it all seems so far off and we don’t see it as a close problem. But both the crises of climate change and biodiversity have one thing in common, which is that we can’t solve them, and that’s what I’m trying to explain in the book.
So there’s no time to do anything about it?
When a species, or hundreds of species, disappear, they will never return. And when it comes to climate change, it seems as if we’re in a situation where something can be done, but it must be made clear that this can no longer be stopped by anyone. It’s a process that is getting worse, and we won’t be able to stop it in any way.
Is there something we can do about it?
All we can do is adapt to climate change, which means, for example, that crops lost in southern Europe due to rising temperatures and drought may move further north. Perhaps in the future we’ll find these crops in places like Denmark or England, or somewhere else. Whatever happens, the adaptation is sure to be complicated and may cause more problems.
So we need to change the way we look to the future?
Exactly. We already do this in our personal lives. What we like as young people later changes and we have to adapt throughout our lives. The same thing is happening now: we cannot continue to do what we have done so far because we will not be able to move forward. Anyone who thinks we can solve the climate emergency in the short term is wrong. Fortunately, some people in the Catalan business world are aware of this. For example, a few years ago, some entrepreneurs in the wine and cava sector bought land at a higher altitude, where vineyards had never been cultivated before but may in the future.
You say that Catalonia has seen a slowdown in the environmental issue over the past 10 years.
We’re going backwards, and the proof is that the agriculture department, which deals with the environment, is actually involved in exploiting it - sometimes sustainably but often unsustainably. I hope I’m wrong and this new Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda strikes the balance needed between exploitation and conservation, but it’s hard to believe.
What are the priorities right now?
Catalonia has taken a long time to achieve a series of legal regulations to protect the environment. It has taken a decade to get a law to protect biodiversity and the timing of its implementation has coincided with a specific political situation and the pandemic. Therefore, the effects of this legislation have not yet been seen. It seems that this year will be the first time that CO2 emission tax money can be spent on safeguarding nature, on improving the management of protected areas, and so on. But it is just the beginning, when we should have been implementing these measures for years or decades.
What about the issue of tourism?
Our tourism industry has always been based on sun and sand, and yet we have huge artistic, heritage and cultural assets that are only now being taken into account. There are many people who visit who may want to enjoy the sun and the beach, but not every day or all day. It’s worth offering other tourist activities, from visits to museums to exploring the heritage of cities. It has started to be done but it needs to be done better, in a more organised way. When it comes to culture, we are a major power. And we should also work on the issue of seasonality, so that there is cultural tourism throughout the year.
And how is agriculture affected?
Right now, what we eat basically comes to us from abroad. In this model of industrial agriculture, they bring us food from the other end of the world, with the environmental costs that this has, both in terms of transport and invasive species. Let’s imagine we buy tomatoes in Chile and in the boxes there is a spider that begins to eat insect species here that are necessary for our ecosystems. That’s why local agriculture is so important. I’m not just talking just about organic products but products from here. The same goes for electronic products. They are cheaper if they are made in China but if we buy everything from abroad, there are environmental costs and we also fail to strengthen our industry or economy.

Interview environment

Stewards of the world

Professor of ecology at Barcelona University since 1986, Joandomènec Ros is an expert in environmental issues. During his long career, he has dedicated himself to research - as part of the European Associated Laboratory of Marine Sciences, teaching and dissemination. He has also worked with the Catalan government within the Nature Protection Council and has coordinated the UNESCO Chair in Environment and Sustainable Development at the University of Barcelona. In 2006, he was awarded the Narcís Monturiol Medal for scientific and technological merit. He has published numerous articles and scientific papers and has written over a dozen books. The latest, published by Empúries, is titled ’Cal que siguem masovers del món’ (We must be stewards of the world).

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