Like clockwork, the calendar flipped to August and suddenly Greece is ablaze. This time however, feels different. Greece has always been susceptible to wildfires, with long, hot, dry summers it is not difficult to see why it is a hotspot for out of control fires. What is most troubling in recent decades, however, is that there is evidence of many fires being set on purpose by arsonists working on behalf of major real estate development companies that wish to develop land not available at that time. With brush and forests cleared away, developers would move in, oftentimes with licenses acquired via bribes to crooked politicians, mostly the rule, not the exception in Greece, and so thousands of acres of critical forest have been lost to greed, indifference, and corruption.
Greeks have seen Athens sprawl into a giant blob of horrifyingly gray monotone colors on a map with ever so slight dots of green denoting sporadic parks in the Greek capital.
When visiting Athens in the dog days of summer, one can quite literally see the heat rising off the concrete slab sidewalks, frequently without a tree in sight. There’s no question that Greece has always had wildfires, but the facts show that they are happening more frequently and they are more catastrophic with each passing year. All around the world, as Germans saw with historic floods earlier this summer, natural phenomena that used to be a once in a century occurrence are becoming annual and even bi-annual events. Greece over the last few days has had 81 fires burning concurrently with temperatures soaring to 117 degrees fahrenheit, 1.4 degrees shy of the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe which took place on July, 10, 1977 in, you guessed it, Athens, Greece. Climate change has been and will increasingly be the great struggle of humanity over the next century. Presently, humanity is behind the eight ball and is losing badly to the elements. Worse, we are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to reduce carbon emissions and to soak up what carbon there is in the air already. What can be done in Greece’s case? Old buildings that are decrepit should be condemned by the Greek government, repossessed and turned into building-lot sized mini forests. With one of those every few blocks, the air quality would improve drastically and the city would cool a bit so that residents don’t die of heat stroke and wildlife can flourish alongside the urban landscape and reconnect Greeks with Mother Nature right in their own neighborhoods.
In the same vein, at every high school graduation, the senior class should plant trees, two per student in their communities. Over time, the result would be hundreds of thousands of trees planted, altering the Greek environmental landscape, for the better, while also giving students something to feel proud about for years to come. Legislatively, it is unconscionable that there is no legislation prohibiting the new construction of buildings that do not come equipped with solar panels or solar tiles. Should legislation be passed requiring newly constructed buildings to have photovoltaic capture systems and older buildings be retroactively refitted with them, Greece could become a net-exporter of energy to the rest of the EU, bringing big economic advantages for the country while also truly securing a stable and renewable power source which is a matter of national security.
These are just some initiatives that can be brought in the coming months that would fundamentally change the game for Greece and protect the country against the increasing perils of climate change which is no longer years away – it is already here and knocking, loudly, on the door.
There are many, many more ideas out there on climate change and what Greece can do to build a competitive green economy, and in doing so, bettering the country’s chances of withstanding climate change. Such proposals will be analyzed and discussed in coming articles. Stay safe and thank you the firefighters and law enforcement officers putting their lives on the line to keep us out of harm’s way.