Looking like a high-ranking Greenpeace official – glasses, full beard, trekking shoes, cagoule and a clipboard in his hand – Macià Blázquez (44) walks through the concrete labyrinth of Can Pastilla, near the German leisure zone “Ballermann” at Playa de Palma. The president of all regional branches of the independent club for environmental protection, G.O.B. (Catalan for: Balearic Ornithologists’ Association) is checking the building development situation. This work is also part of his responsibility as university professor for geography at Palma´s UIB.
Against whom Mallorca must defend itself?
The aggressor is the property speculator, the gatecrasher, seeking quick profit without respecting flora and fauna. In addition, the G.O.B. has an important social function. We Mallorcans must hold our ground against a numeric superiority of foreigners forcing us into defense.
Is Mallorca not supposed to be a multicultural pilot project in Europe?
Conditionally. The natives are thin-skinned people, who are sensitive to troubles. Some might find our behavior sometimes gruff but, in fact, it´s defensive. Regarding cultural mutuality, I feel closer to Northern Africa than to Central Europe. I travelled to Maghreb countries and, when talking to a person from Morocco, I recognized familiar gestures, similarities.
The official language of G.O.B. is Catalan.
Thus we emphasize our identity. But we also offer information in English and German on our website.
Many Britons and Germans would like to join the G.O.B.
And they are welcome, in principle. We have contact people speaking their language. However, our organization will maintain a Mallorcan core. Foreigners already support our work, such as Gerald Hau with Global Nature, who collects donations in Germany. We are always looking for volunteers to carry out field trips with pupils. Generally we need financial support from private sponsors, to ensure our independence.
Do Mallorcans acknowledge the need for environmental protection?
People from Northern and Central Europe have more ecological awareness. In those countries, industrialization has led to excesses and subsequently a realisation that down-shifting is necessary. We must regain the value of frugality which attracted Northern Europeans to the Balearics over the decades.
Mallorca is said to live ten times beyond its capacity.
Six times, more precisely. One of my Ph.D. students, Iván Murray from Sóller, has developed a new method of valuation of environmental impact – the “Ecological Footprint“. It’s about how much living space a person needs in relation to its energy requirement. The USA have Footprint 10, the Balearics 6.
To what can this overload be attributed?
Mainly, the seasonal fluctuation of population between 1,5 million in summer and one million in winter. At the peak, powerhouses and clarification plants are temporarily overstrained, producing fetidness here and there.
What could be a solution?
We campaign for a system of smaller, decentralized clarification plants. We could also increase the local re-use of cleansed fresh water, which the Balearics lack.
The island gets more and more highways – despite G.O.B. protest.
Mobility is almost a taboo issue, which must be dealt with carefully. Vehicles produce huge gains for municipalities and for private companies. A tighter network of public transport should be an alternative. However, we are not powerless and can hold up or take action against construction projects which might damage the environment.
All developments must be officially announced in print or online media such as the “Boletín Oficial“. It´s mainly published in Catalan and this is our opportunity. We have an entire department concentrating on these releases. So we know what´s coming. Some of our members are lawyers and they take legal action against projects if necessary. Recently we successfully opposed a shopping centre in Arenal, which would have threatened a plot of 32 hectares of endemic Limonium Barceloi plants.
Many golfers and golf course owners consider the G.O.B. an enemy.
We have 23 golf courses here and I think that´s enough. Avoiding new projects is on the one hand related to environmental protection: the maintenance of a golf course can be compared to intensive agriculture, harming soil and water courses with fertilizer, chlorine, herbicides and more. On the other hand we fight against the growing occupation of land by wealthy citizens.
You mean “Gentrification“.
Yes, we fight against social and territorial exclusion of the public. This is also related to hiking tracks running through wealthy landowners´ plots. In Spain it is not illegal for private property owners to obstruct public passage across open countryside. In this, we can learn from Germany.
Are “Ballermann“ and Magaluf the island´s eyesores?
An interesting report from my German colleague Thomas Schmitt from Bochum University says: Ballermann was better for Mallorca. His opinion is based on the fact that such mass tourism is lucrative and limited to defined areas. Contrarily, the quality tourism concept has led us to elevated energy requirements and a loss of natural territory through construction.
The occupation of Dragonera in 1977 founded the G.O.B. legend. How important is bird protection nowadays?
The G.O.B. as an organization has never split. We still have a core association with 8,000 members dealing with several areas of interest – like a tree with strong branches. Social work, environment protection and animal protection are three pillars. The Balearic Islands are an important habitat for migratory birds hibernating in Africa. We defend the areas visited by birds like robins, arriving from Continental Europe. We´re proud of the fact that Dragonera became a flourishing natural park.
How is the G.O.B. financed?
Our annual budget is 600,000 euros – half of which comes from membership fees and private donations. The rest comes from governmental campaigns for which we are commissioned – e.g. garbage avoidance. This co-operation is delicate, because we help the government here, but elsewhere frustrate their plans – like motorway projects. For that, they sometimes take tasks – and thus part of our budget – away from us. But we must never be corruptible.
What are the biggest achievements since the G.O.B. foundation in 1973?
The preservation of large territory from construction and the creation of nature parks. In Mallorca, only 22 per cent of the geographical buffer, an inner ring around the coastline, has been developed for housing. In some parts of the Spanish peninsula, it’s 50 per cent.
What are the challenges of the future?
G.O.B. is trying to improve structures to include foreigners. And we will keep on decelerating and opposing so-called prestige projects like new motorways, the extension of Palma´s airport and harbour, the construction of a garbage incineration plant et cetera.
There are more and more jellyfish plagues around the island.
This is one of the effects of global warming. Transport powered by fossil fuels is responsible for 40 % of hydrocarbon emissions. The climate changes, the sea vegetation changes. We can choose between fighting the symptoms or the roots of the problem. The only long-term solution is to radically reduce use of cars and planes.
Nobody would like to do so.
If not, the system will collapse one day. Kerosine, for example, is exempt from indirect taxes. Public air traffic and transporting goods by ship are excluded from the Kyoto protocol. One litre of kerosine costs 50 Cents, half the price of petrol. A passenger plane burns up 10 litres of kerosine per passenger per 100 kilometres flown. Reducing private air traffic is only possible through voluntary abdication or price increase – and this will surely happen due to the Peak Oil, the end of cheap fuel.