In the Environmental Ministry Report released earlier this month, fifty of Spains biggest cities are more than exceeding governments guidelines for limits on air pollution. The worst offenders are Madrid, Seville, Valencia and Barcelona.
In Barcelona, the biggest contribution to these alarming figures are a massive increase in CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions produced from an influx of personal vehicles on the roads.
CO2 levels have more than doubled since the 1990s, when Cataloni's most rapid phase of growth and development occurred. The Catalonian Generalitat's Environment Ministry reports that 98 % of CO2 pollution is directly caused by road transport activity.
In 2006, a report released by the Encuasta de Movilidad indicated that just over 40% of Catalonians use a private vehicle for an average of three trips per day. Three times the figure for those that use public transport. This is despite a high awareness of the damage cars cause the environment as well as the higher costs of using a household vehicle compared to public transport costs.
It wasn't until 2005 that the Spanish government actually passed laws relating to greenhouse gas emissions but these early reports reveal that laws in themselves are not enough.
A spokesman for Pollution Prevention confirms that air pollution is 'one of the biggest problems threatening Spains environment today. Almost all cities in Spain are failing to comply with air quality regulations'.
With the naked eye it's easy enough to observe the thick, dark haze that sits just above Barcelona's skyline. But there are other signs of the damage affecting not only the environment, but also threatening to affect one of the citys biggest growth industries: tourism.
A recent increase in the amount of jellyfish, locally known as medeusas in waters of the Catalan coast have for the last few years been responsible for beach closures in and around Barcelona, preventing visitors access to one of the area's biggest summer attractions- the Mediterranean Sea.
A jellyfish plague was first noticed in Catalonia in 2005. The Oceana Environment Group reported that numbers had tripled and that an average of 10 jellyfish per square meter were counted close to beaches surrounding Barcelona.
In 2006, 30,000 people were treated over the summer for jellyfish stings and a number of beaches were closed to prevent further injuries. Whilst not usually fatal, a jellyfish sting can cause pain and discomfort and in severe cases of allergic reaction, a heart attack may be triggered.
Increasing numbers of jellyfish have been attributed to rising sea temperatures, which are now at least 2 degrees above average for this time of year. Rising sea temperatures are caused when a buildup of greenhouse emissions prevent the dissipation of the suns heat. The smog produced from pollution acts like a layer of insulation, trapping the heat close to the earths surface.
Warmer waters boost the rate at which jellyfish grow and multiply, and their natural predators, larger fish such as tuna and swordfish have been migrating further away from the Mediterranean in favour of cooler currents found in the Atlantic ocean.
Small boats can be seen trawling for jellyfish and their larvae just off the coast in an effort to reduce the amount that make their way close to shore, but if a solution is not found to combat the problem on a long term basis, holiday makers will soon have to find alternative summer leisure activities other than a visit to the beach.
Aside from environmental problems, air pollution has been labeled responsible for an increase in the number of cases of illnesses including heart problems, cancer, asthma, allergies and other cardiovascular complications in patients. It appears that Catalonians are now choking on their own smoke.
On July 12th, the Catalonian Regional Government approved a plan to reduce the permitted traveling speed for cars on major roadways in Catalonia to less than 80 kms per hour in an effort to lower car emission levels.
These new limits will come into effect by this autumn and will affect Barcelona as well as 15 other municipalities in Catalonia, with a target reduction figure of 30%.
The affects of this plan remain to be seen. One can only hope that Catalonians will take action to reduce greenhouse gas emission, for the security of their health and the health of the Spanish coast.
By: Gaizka Pujana
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