The price of fun and games in Ibiza

If we were to play a game of associations and I gave you the word ¨Ibiza¨ it´d probably immediately lead you to thinking about words like ¨party¨ and ¨chill out¨. I´d be the same, particularly if I rewind some 30 years and bring back those raving and memorable five days we happy eighties adolescents spent in the island, celebrating the end of high school. Even without  recalling the parties and the fun, I´d be hard pressed to establish an immediate link between the rustic beauty and wild party environment of this fine island  with the words ¨conservation¨and ¨biodiversity¨.

But let me tell you why Ibiza is more than sand and fun.

On the 4th of December 1999, Ibiza officially joined UNESCO´s World Heritage collection, an award that recognised the importance the biodiversity and culture of the island have played in the history of the Mediterranean sea and its people.  A number of Ibiza´s sites were included in the UNESCO World Heritage list like:

The acropolis of Dalt Vila (the old town of Eivissa), a treasure of all the cultures that have inhabited the island, from the very first settlers to the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Moors, up to the Christian conquest led by the King of Aragón in the 13th century.

The underwater posidonia meadows, source of the rich marine biodiversity of the Pitiusas Islands. Posidonia are the source of the beauty and transparency of the waters of the Pitiusan Sea and as such the great biodiversity in the waters of Ibiza and Formentera directly depend on their strength and vitality:

The Phoenician settlement of Sa Caleta:

The Punic necropolis Puig des Molins, which contain the vestiges of the first settlements on the islands:

and Las Salinas, in the southern tip of the island, where human-induced activity has formed wetland areas of great beauty and ecological interest:

The threats

This mediterranean island paradise, however, is now paying the consequences of a massive influx of raging tourists and the rapid growth of urbanised areas over the last few decades. The rapid transition from a farming economy capable of comfortably feeding over 100,000 residents to one that relies mainly on the arrival of more than 2 million tourists annually has had a tremendous impact on the island’s environment.

This massive flow of tourists in a short period of time exceeds the capacity of the island’s environment, and has generated a huge demand for land, water and energy, while producing an increasing volume of wastes.

Red Bull Flugtag Ibiza

Water shortage and pollution

With only an average of 46 days of rain each year and  the single river in Ibiza having ceased to flow long ago, the island is far from fresh water rich. Historically, residents have found various ways to compensate for the perpetual lack of water, like building houses with water catchment facilities incorporated into the ground and relying on the use of desalination plants. Water conservation has always been an integral part of their lives.

However, the escalating water demand from mass tourism in the last decades has led to depleted and polluted aquifers and to a growing dependency on desalination plants, that contaminate coastal waters and contribute strongly to Ibiza’s soaring energy demand.

Endangered biodiversity

Most of Ibiza’s important habitats are coastal or marine areas, threatened by mass construction and other activities connected to mass tourism.  Protection programs have not succeeded in natural parks like Ses Salines Park and marine habitats of key international importance like the Posidonia meadows  are currently threatened by navigation and by infrastructure projects.

Increased energy use and waste generation

Energy consumption in Ibiza has risen almost 70% over the last decade. The increased demand for transport along the 571 km 2 of the island has translated into higher  fuel usage and consequent pollution of the environment.  Air traffic has become a main concern and will continue to be a priority for environmentalists as the plans to enlarge the existing airport to expand its capacity are put into action.

A project to expand the facilities of the existing port in the city of Ibiza was also approved in 2009 by the Spanish government even at the serious risk of damaging the World Heritage Posidonia meadows. A UNESCO mission that assessed the potential impact of this development concluded that the scale of the project is “beyond acceptable limits” and recommended “to re-examine alternative options for port development and select those which are more rational and involving limited expansion”.

In the meantime, alternative forms of energy like solar energy remain almost untapped.

Sewage plants are also a serious problem. During the tourist season the existing facilities cannot cope with sewage discharge, which ends up being dumped into the sea.

As expected, the volume of household waste is also increasing. Selective collection and recycling currently represents a small fraction of total waste produced (some 6.6% and 5.4% in 2008). A new separation facility is expected to cut by half the amount of rubbish dumped in the landfill once it comes into operation, but further measures are required to encourage waste reduction and recycling, and to improve collection services.

The Greenheart Travel’s volunteer program

If Ibiza is in your bucket list but don´t want to be part of the crowds that contribute to the issues we have discussed above, then perhaps the Greenheart travel´s volunteer program is for you. You can visit their website to obtain more information but this unique travel group gathers dedicated activists concerned about the environmental damage heavy tourism has on the island and sends them on their way to La casita verde. Volunteers spend a minimum of two weeks in this working farm supporting Greenheart projects in ecological research, beach cleaning and environmental education programs.

The project is open from March 15 through September 15 and prices vary from $990 for two weeks to $1,930 for 6 weeks and include:

Accommodation in rustic on-site housing
3 vegetarian meals per day
Emergency medical insurance for the duration of your program
Arrival transfer service from Ibiza airport
Project supervisor and emergency staff available 24/7
Orientation pre-departure and upon arrival

Volunteer Activities:

Maintain and improve the farm facilities
Install alternative energy systems
Promote environmental awareness among visitors
Cook for visiting groups
Permaculture farming
Assist with Sunday community visits/meals

If the program is not for you but you still want to visit the island, please be a wise and sympathetic traveller and help us retain the cultural and environmental richness of this Mediterranean paradise.




Catalan independence movement – Restoring not dividing

When I was sixteen I liked dancing. I couldn’t help it. It was the days of Cool and the Gang, Madness, the ELO, Phil Collins,… my tiny youthful body just had to dance. If you were a teenager in the eighties, you probably know what I am talking about – you were somehow dragged into this state of euphoria by this happy little tunes.

But see, the only problem was that while I was out and about shacking it many of my also seventeen year old classmates and friends, were already fighting for a cause the significance of which I could not fully grasp. The same cause that saw nearly two million people take the streets of Catalonia this week- the claim for Independence.

Why independence now?

You, as many others, probably don’t understand why. Why would the people of Catalonia throw away 300 years of history under Spanish rule, and revert to a state so far back in history?. Those who question why catalans insist on going down this road now, neglect the fact that the Catalan language and culture date as far back as thousand years before 1714, the year when Barcelona and its territories were incorporated to the Crown of Castile as provinces, within a centralised Spanish administration under a new Bourbon dynasty. The annexation of Catalonia was merely a political construct, a move in the board of political chess that kings and nobles played that had absolutely nothing to do with the people and the language and culture they were nesting for centuries. Yes, like most moves in history, one could say – the big boys do and undo as they please. Yes, exactly like that. But that doesn’t mean i’t s acceptable and it should remain unquestioned and unchallenged for ever.

In fact, the majority don’t even know where or what Catalonia is, let alone why it should constitute a sovereign state of its own. Why would anyone want to challenge unity and provoke division and possibly violence? For instance, Olga Khazan, from the Washington Post started her report with this comment:

While Americans commemorate Sept. 11 by putting aside differences, Spaniards mark the day by letting divisions flare.

Oh dear Olga, you thought you were opening your article with such a clever statement. But see, firstly, you are comparing apples with pears. The events of September eleven in New York and the way the people of that city have worked towards healing and recovering from such atrocity have absolutely nothing to do with the way a group of people express (very peacefully indeed) their feelings about their future and the future of their language and culture. Secondly, I personally hate this type of empty, tautological vocabulary that gets repeated regardless of the history and particularities of the event. And if you have read my blog, you know that I am all for finding similarities among us and working towards understanding. But, as I explained in my home page, “Why“, I am also all for respecting and promoting cultural and linguistic uniqueness and not allowing something as precious as that, which has taken thousands of years to develop to disappear under the blanket of globalisation.

That’s why more than one and a half million people marched peacefully and euphorically in the streets of the catalan capital city, Barcelona, and many others in surrounding localities – not hundreds of thousands like the Spanish media reported, not a million like other right wing media outlet claimed, over a million and a half –


in the midst of their prime,

and those that have been waiting for this moment for many years now.

And I, now that I should be prevented from dancing :) , I have the obligation to finally get my act together and help my friends and family spread the word and let the world know about the seed that has been planted this week. It is up to us now to broadcast this peaceful movement and explain why it is not about divisions, hatred, secession, rupture – It’s about peacefully restoring what political games and maneuvers once, many centuries ago, stole from a group of hard-working, peace-loving people. Because, now, thanks to the power of technology and social media, we are able to show the other side of the coin.

It is obvious that Spanish media works its hardest at concealing the significance and magnitude of events like this one. For instance, the day after the demonstration took place, my husband and I sat to watch the Spanish TV1 news shown in SBS Australia every morning and waited patiently for news of the demonstration to be shown. We eventually had to pause and see if we had got the news for another date because it was not until minute 22 that the newsreader mentioned a demonstration of hundreds of thousands that took place in the streets of Barcelona. But before that we had to endure 22 minutes of glorification of Mariano Rajoy (President of the Spanish Government), an  3 or 4 minute long presentation of an interview he had with the Finish Prime Minister as well as many of his speeches and self-praise.

But this biased coverage has not gone unnoticed internationally. French newspapers implicitly mentioned the same lack of reporting by Spanish TV and have accused some of the more conservative newspapers like La Razón and Abc of hiding the massive numbers that marched in the streets and the impact of the demonstration, only to refer to it briefly and to accuse it in these kind of terms: ‘Catalan nationalism, hand in hand with socialism, have carried out a show of sovereign strength in Barcelona, a proof of the politics of division that the catalan government promotes ‘. In the same line, reading some of the newspapers in the traditionally anti-catalan region of Andalucia, one would not have even known this event had ever occurred.

This silence contrasts with the coverage by international media publications like al-Jazeera, the Financial Times and the BBC, which highlighted the significance and reach of these demonstrations.

The eyes are now on Catalonia regardless of the level of coverage it gets from the rest of Spain. But it is very important for the world to know and understand that this is not about creating borders, boundaries, promoting divisions and rifts, like many in the Spanish governing Popular Party would have you believe. The movement for Catalan independence is about restoring what was a group of people lost in 1714 to the whims of kings, queens and nobles and giving them the much deserved opportunity to drive their own future.

Eight ways the Spanish government uses language and the media to “manufacture consent”

Interesting article over last weekend in the Spanish daily El País reminiscent of the thesis and arguments put forward by many illustrious postmodernist authors and activists about the blatant manipulation of the cultural and linguistic discourse carried out by the Partido Popular (ironically – “Popular party”, PP), Spanish current right-wing government.

The three authors argued that the PP’s neoliberal, rightist mentality accounts for an immense political and financial power that not only imposes its radical economic and political model onto the people, but it also seeks to impose a change of thought and ultimately to achieve cultural hegemony.  This project, they claim, is based on a systematic campaign of self-legitimation and discredit of progressive arguments by using the media which, is mostly dominated or at least influenced by the government.

How is this consent achieved?

Using the following, and other, manipulation strategies, already referred to by Noam Chomsky in many of his lectures and publications:

1. Creation (or borrowing) and diffusion of concepts and terms –  competitivenesswage moderationcreation of market confidenceprivilegesco-payments, etc .These new notions draw a map of public life, the actors and their conflicts and are presented as unquestionable truths. And yet, their meaning and scope are never made ​​explicit. The more imprinted in public life and in government policy they become, the lower their semantic precision. For example, “freedom” takes on a meaning related to “security”. BESCAM (the local Madrid police force)’s slogan is “Investing in security ensures your freedom.” As in Orwell’s “Newspeak” new ideas become “doublethink” or simultaneously accepted contradictory beliefs – The “Plan of Assurance of Basic Social Services” is the name given to the Castilla-La Mancha government’s cutbacks program. The “process of regularisation of hidden assets” promulgated by Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro is, in fact, a tax amnesty.

These “reconfiguration” of the language by right-wing leaders is a common phenomenon (think of Nazi slogans or the constantly repeated hackneyed phrases by Australia’s opposition leader Tony Abbott’s to make us believe that “boat people”are here to invade Australia). The Spanish right-wing party is manufacturing a set of convincing terms which oppose logic – “we cannot spend what we don’t have”, “free health services are unsustainable“, “only we have “common sense“. In fact, capitalism is based on credit and spending more than what one owns; public health services is not free but financed collectively by the public and therefore, common to all. But the simplicity of these slogans and their seemingly non-ideological nature make it easy for these tautologies to adhere to people’s minds and become unquestionable truths.

2. Appropriation of opponents’terminology

Admittedly, no one owns a language, but it could legitimately claimed that certain expressions are associated with specific traditions, stories and political identities. By usurping the terms of the left, the right wing simultaneously neutralises its opposition and attains a rebellious feel of sorts. Esperanza Aguirre, the current right wing mayor of Madrid,  claims that the policies of the syndicates “are outdated, reactionary and anti-social.” Words like “change” or “reform” rather linked to progressive projects, are used in disguise to refer to what are actually counter-reforms. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said at the official commemoration of the 1812 Constitution: “The people from Cadiz taught us that in times of crisis not only is it necessary to make reforms, but one also has to have  the courage to carry them through.” He used the symbolism of earlier reforms and reformist movements to justify and legitimate current cutbacks and dress them up as reforms.

3. Stigmatisation of certain groups

The government’s discourse refers to the unemployed as the beneficiaries of the labor reform, a lazy cast that needs to redeem its uselessness repaying the employed population with social work. For instance, Victor Grifols, president of a pharmaceutical company in Spain, proposes that “in times of crisis we could pay the unemployed 60 euros per week to donate life, earnings which could be added to their pensions.” With this proposal, the jobless body becomes a commodity, human waste that can be bought at a (minimum) price.

Some of the earlier government cutbacks also reveal a new type of paria – the sick person, now blamed for the country’s deficit and forced to pay for his/her weaknesses.

And this is the beginning, surely many other groups are bound to be falsely blamed, stigmatised and outcast.

4. Arguments based on simplicity and immediate understanding

“It is not a matter of right or left, but simply a matter of common sense,” said Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, President since 2008 of the PP in Catalonia. Mariano Rajoy’s well known appeal to “common sense” helps the party sustain a mental framework that makes people accept all imposed ideas as if they were their own conclusions, irrefutable expressions of pragmatism and the collective interest.

Euphemisms, attenuations, exaggerations, the defense of contradicting premises – all of these figures have been normalised in the right-wing rhetorical repertoire. For instance, Rajoy says it will do “whatever is necessary, even if I do not like it and even if I had previously said I was not going to do it.” The reduction of temporary teachers “should not be understood in terms of layoffs“, claims Education Minister José Ignacio Wert, “but in terms of renewal of contracts.”

5. Constructing frameworks of meaning

It’s easier for those in the public arena to enjoy more power when they control the framework of what can be said and debated. As it is, and after a protracted degeneration of public life, the PP owns a consensual logic of the system – there is only one reality and no option to interpret it.

6. Orchestration tactics

The insistent repetition of a slogan by different voices, in different times and places is now commonplace:  ”unions survive on subsidies“,” teachers don’t work much at all“etc.. As the bellman in Lewis Carroll’s The hunting of the shark said “whatever I tell you three times is the true“. The right takes advantage of that “performativity” governing public statements and whenever a particular type of behavior is repeatedly normally, it tends to become normalised, or to become stigmatised if it has been repeatedly been labeled as an anomaly.

7. Using the power of the media to reinforce these mechanisms

The media helps the Popular Party spread new expressions and slogans while government consultants continue manufacturing statements and translate them immediately into a headline. Inversely proportional to the impact of these messages is the ability to answer them: any possible critical analysis by opposition forces are dissolved in a flurry of articles and editorial columns which achieve a much lower diffusion and influence than the government’s own propaganda.

Noam Chomsky has been warning us for decades now about this active (but subtle) use of the media to manufacture consent and achieve  popular control. Chomsky has argued that editorial distortion is aggravated by the media’s dependence upon private and governmental news sources. If a given newspaper, television station, magazine, etc., incurs governmental disfavor, it is subtly excluded from access to information. Consequently, it loses readers or viewers, and ultimately, advertisers. To minimise such financial danger, news media businesses editorially distort their reporting to favor government and corporate policies in order to stay in business.

8. Moralising public discourse

Good or badnormal or abnormal – these morally charged adjectives are attributed categorically and without room for discussions, appropriating the universality of the concept in dispute. The “normal, sensible people of Spain” to whom Rajoy tries to appeal to belong, undoubtedly, to the right. But by concealing its moral fundamentalism, the PP incurs a political paradox and so, PP advocates like former Mayor of Madrid, Ruiz Gallardón, attempt to assume the defense of women’s rights and the fight against the ingrained domestic violence in Spanish society with a counter-reform of the abortion law which, still limits abortion rights and reinforces legal violence further.

Let’s start by being aware of what is being said and done to us. And then, let’s show our indignation about the use of our own language, our own words,  to treat us as brainless commodities with no capacity to analyse and counter-argue.