The Strange Animal Called Spain

It seems that the longer I live in Spain, the more oddities I discover and the stranger the country appears. If you’re only here for a few months, it is quite likely that all you take away from Spain is a memory of the ease of life, the sun, the tapas, and beaches. However, if you live here longer you discover and increasing number of oddities among the people and the society that are often difficult to comprehend.

Example 1: no Green movement

For instance, why is it that in a national parliament of 16 parties (as of the Nov 2019 election), the Green party is not represented at all, in a post-Greta world mind you? It just seems odd how Spain seems to operate on a completely different mindset than the rest of (western) Europe, perhaps slightly more similar to an Eastern European country like Poland, for instance, where the Greens also typically feature as an also-ran.

Spain is the only country in Western Europe that has no Green movement to speak of.

Instead, the parliament has a whole range of highly patriotic and mostly obstinate provincialist parties who make the formation of a stable government almost impossible.

I suppose to vote for the Green party requires some level of political maturity, economic stability, and also a society that exhibits a certain degree of altruism and a sense of community; values that are particularly strong among the Northern Europeans but traditionally much less developed in Mediterranean countries where a fending-for-oneself kind of attitude tends to prevail. Also, the State is typically seen as highly corrupt and mismanaged and people therefore see it as legitimate or even called for to cheat at any opportunity (on their tax return, for instance) and to generally exhibit a low level of respect toward public and communal spaces/property (which explains the dismal state they are usually in).

Example 2: no qualms about fascism

Or how about the fact that the moment VOX (a right wing neo-fascist party) got voted into parliament, the PP (Spanish conservative party) did not hesitate one second and announced it would form a coalition with them if necessary. Think about it! This would be as if the German conservatives would be jumping at the first opportunity to form a coalition with some neo-Nazi party. And while Hitler has been dead for nearly 75 years, in Spain Franco only died about 40 years ago. How scary is that?!?

While Germany now also has an ultra-right party in parliament again (AfD), the other parties would not dream of forming a coalition with them, although this appears to become increasingly difficult, especially in the former East-Germany.

In France, the ultra-right consistently gets a scary third of the presidential vote while in the UK the boundaries between the Conservatives and ultra-right UKIP become increasingly blurred; but thanks to different electoral systems in these countries (run-offs and first-past-the-post), the ultra-right is less likely to have any direct say in government affairs any time soon (although they do of course influence the political discourse and policies indirectly). Not so in Spain where we only narrowly escaped a PP-CS-VOX coalition.

Example 3: conservative big cities

Another aspect of Spanish politics that strikes me as odd is how the big cities vote conservative. It has been established that there is a correlation between one’s level of education and political leanings (see image below): the more educated you are the more likely you are to vote for parties that advocate left or liberal policies.

The more educated you are the more likely you are to vote for a liberal party.

Considering that cities offer more professional opportunities for educated people, we can safely assume that cities have a higher proportion of well educated people compared to the countryside, which in turn tends to produce a left or liberal mayor in these cities, even if the remaining country or the city’s immediate surroundings are deeply conservative. For instance, despite the ultra-right national government in Hungary, Budapest has a Green mayor. Or take Bavaria, a state in Germany that has been governed uninterruptedly for nearly 75 years by a hard-right conservative party (CSU), while Munich (its capital) is usually governed by a socialist mayor. Also Berlin, London, and Paris have socialist mayors while the conservatives govern at the national level. In fact, from among the 10 biggest Western European cities, 8 have socialist/left mayors.

Meanwhile, Madrid is governed by a conservative (PP)/neo-liberal (CS) coalition with the support of neo-fascist VOX, and if you look at the results from the past Nov 2019 election, many constituencies in the big Spanish cities were won by the conservative PP, except in Barcelona which has parties that foster their own Catalan flavoured politics of discrimination and exclusion. But overall, the big cities in Spain are fairly conservative while large parts of the mostly rural South (Andalusia), for instance, voted for the Socialist party (see the map in the link above). So again, Spain is completely at odds with the rest of Western Europe here and I am not sure why.

Overall, Spain is still an OK country to live in but the points mentioned above are deeply worrying and make me increasingly uneasy. While democracies all over Europe are (once again) under threat from right wing populists, the Spanish one seems particularly fragile, possibly due to the many corruption scandals and the general lack of a national identity. Most people take refuge in their regional identity and often display almost comical amounts of local patriotism. While I am still waiting for someone to provide me with a single example where nationalism has led to something positive, one can only hope that the disasters from the 20th century will not have been forgotten already and that democracies will know how defend themselves this time round.

Climate change – the sad reality

This will be a short post to share a fact about the politics of climate change which, in my view, renders current efforts in Europe to achieve the 1.5° warming goal moot. With the latest climate summit underway in Katowice, Poland, there is currently a lot of information in the traditional media outlets with various statistics and percentages, but none of them really talk about the numbers that matter. The global climate does not care about indicators like “reductions of CO2 emissions per GDP units in purchasing power parity” which is commonly used to measure “progress” in developing countries. The global climate only cares about absolute emission numbers. So let’s look at those with one simple graph.

Data for panels (a) and (b) was taken from the current IEA Highlights report on CO2 emissions from fuel combustion (2018). Data for panel (c) used the Indian/Chinese government targets of a 33/60% reduction in CO2 emissions per GDP unit (PPP) with regard to 2005 values (which corresponds to a 20/24% reduction with regard to 2016 values) and combined it with an average annual GDP (PPP) growth rate for India/China of 5.4/6.0% p.a. between 2016 and 2030, based on an extrapolation of existing World Bank GDP growth data.

What this figure, and in particular panel (c), tells you is that if all 36 OECD countries would reduce their current (2016) fuel-based CO2 emissions by 50% until 2030 (which is of course unrealistic with people like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro (president-elect of Brazil) in power), then this reduction would be outweighed by the projected increase in Chinese emissions alone (based on an extrapolated economic growth of 6% p.a. between 2016 and 2030 and current government targets on emission reduction per GDP unit of 24% over 2016 levels). Using the same method and an estimated annual growth of 5.4% (GDP, PPP) in combination with a 20% reduction over 2016 emissions per GDP unit (PPP), also India would blow an additional 1500 Mt of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2030 (equivalent to present day Japan and Australia combined). Plus, climate-change deniers like Trump or Bolsonaro do not make it easier or any more likely that their countries will actually strive toward a reduction in CO2 emissions. In addition, countries like Australia, Japan, or Korea continue to increase the burning of coal for electricity generation (increases of 26%, 48%, and 234%, respectively, since 1990 – for comparison: European OECD countries reduced coal burning by 40% on average since 1990) .

What is my point you may ask? Well, I find it increasingly difficult to tell friends or family to reduce car use or air travel if this will have little to no effect on global emissions, especially considering that the main polluters operate with impunity and government targets that will lead to an 80% increase in CO2 emissions by 2030 and would thus outweigh even the most optimistic CO2 savings in the so-called developed world.

How should we proceed? Well, given the current situation of world politics, I do not envy future generations as they will be faced with unprecedented levels of weather extremes and disasters (storms, floods, etc.), shifts in agriculture (failing harvests and traditional crops that no longer grow under changed climatic conditions), as well as increased economic and climate-based migrations (more displaced people and more socio-economic conflicts). We all know what should be done (a significant reduction in CO2 emissions), but as this appears increasingly unlikely in the foreseeable future, we need to:

  1. take appropriate measures to prepare for climate change and mitigate the effects as much as possible, and
  2. introduce mechanisms that hold those financially responsible who are the greatest contributors to global CO2 emissions, who are climate change deniers, or who are planning with further emission increases.

Unfortunately, the powers that be only attribute value to things if that value can be measured in monetary units. Therefore, we must oblige the main polluters  to pay for the damage they cause globally (e.g., the cost of relocating entire populations when their regions become uninhabitable due to rising sea levels or temperatures, the cost of forest fires, flash floods, etc.). This can happen either through existing mechanisms (e.g., an increase of the price for CO2 emission certificates) or through tariffs that penalise products that use a high a mount of CO2 to manufacture and/or transport to the consumer (e.g., do people in the US really need to drink bottled water from the French Alps?). Also, people like Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro who actively sabotage efforts to contain climate change and deny scientific fact should be indicted and jailed as their actions could lead to the biggest loss of human (and animal) life in history.

Of course this would require a consensus of the main economic players which is non-existent at the moment. But even if a block like the EU could throw its economic and political weight behind an idea like this, it could have a significant impact.

It would be immensely helpful if people did not elect right-wing demagogues into office. I understand that this is becoming increasingly difficult given that in many countries people are left to choose between what amounts to pestilence and cholera, but while pestilence is nearly always fatal, cholera is just a temporary and treatable annoyance, so let’s choose the lesser evil.