Sustainability – Dickinson in Málaga

Biosphere without borders

Journey to the Ocean Floor

April 28, 2017 by malaga-sustainability | 0 comments

El Torcal de Antequera

The sun is beating down as we wind our way through the fantastical maze of rock formations.  Following a trail marked out by strips of paint, we scale boulders, zig zag down gullies, and duck our way under natural arches.  A lizard darts onto the path, pauses, and then scampers behind a stone before we are even sure we’ve seen it.  There is not a tree in sight.  Although we are only 30 kilometers (about 18.5 miles) north of Málaga’s city center, it looks like we are on a whole different planet.

El Torcal de Antequera is a nature reserve that encompasses about 17 square kilometers (approximately 10.5 square miles) of land in the center of Málaga province in Andalucía.  The park offers a unique glimpse into Spain’s geological past; in fact, more than 100 million years ago, this land was at the bottom of the ocean.  During the Jurassic Period, the tectonic plates shifted and the seabed was shoved more than 1300 meters above sea level.  The newly-formed limestone peaks kept their horizontal, layered structure, but were eroded away over time by rain, ice, and wind.  This combination of processes resulted in a forest of limestone towers that almost look like a set from a Disney western movie.

Although the park appears to be barren, it is actually full of life.  There are many wild orchids and other flowers, as well as lizards, small rodents, and birds of prey.  Visitors can also find fossils that reveal the park’s secret aquatic past.  For a look into human history, simply travel about 15 kilometers (around 9 miles) to the Antequera Dolmens site, which contains three megaliths, or underground stone structures built during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages and used as ritual and funeral sites.

El Torcal was declared a Natural Reserve in 1989, which is one of the highest levels of environment protection that can be issued by an autonomous community (the equivalent of a state in the U.S.).  It is also a Special Area for Bird Protection, due to its high level of nesting.  Today, the sight is managed by the Environment and Water Agency of Andalucía, and is owned publicly.  At a time when the future of National Monuments in the U.S. is in jeopardy, a visit to El Torcal serves as a reminder of the value of preserving natural history.

We love parks!

April 25, 2017
by malaga-sustainability
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Earth Day Heard ‘Round the World

What does Earth Day look like in 2017?  In a time where atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are above 400 ppm and the U.S. has a president that has claimed climate change is “nonsense” and a “hoax,” there doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate.  In fact, two days ago, on Earth Day 2017, protesters in major U.S. cities took to the streets in the thousands to bring awareness to the need for science in policy and everyday life.  However, they were not alone in the effort to start conversations about sustainability.  Across the pond, and around the world, people were thinking and talking and advocating for our Earth.

Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, was born in the United States in 1970.  It was a the brain-child of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson who hoped to build on the protest culture of the 1960s and extend that same energy to environmentalism.  At its creation, Earth Day transcended party lines; the event was co-chaired by Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey and garnered support from businessmen to farmers.  It is even credited with spurring the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the three cornerstone acts of U.S. environmental protection: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, all passed under a Republican president.

Years later, the event surpassed not only political affiliation but also national borders.  1990 marked the first globally-celebrated Earth Day, with 141 countries participating.  This set the stage for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.  Today, Earth Day is the most-celebrated secular holiday in the entire world, receiving recognition from more than 192 countries.

One of these countries is Spain!  Málaga had a small, but comprehensive observance, concentrated at its Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC).  The event was called “New Economy & Social Innovation (NESI) Market [x13]” and advertised itself as “a sustainable event… [that] uses Art and Responsible Consumption to create and accessible and singular experimental space.”  It was a global gathering and I was asked to share my country of origen in order to gauge the scope.  In addition to bringing other countries into the conversation, NESI Market [x13] extended the definition of sustainability beyond environmentalism.  The program included workshops on creative recycling, but also sustainable fashion, economic stability, disease prevention, and documentaries about living with disabilities.  It was Earth Day like I have never experienced.  It contained the usual elements of environmentalism and conservation, however it took the dialogue further into to human interactions with the environment.  At times when people speak of preservation and environmental science, it is easy to eliminate the human element.  However, in reality, humans are part of the environment in a very real, undeniable way.  NESI Market [x13] embraced the humanness of Earth Day and forced attendees to see how climate change affects their health and culture in ways they might not anticipate.

Welcome banner for NESI Market [x13]

Sign outside of the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) (1 of 2)

Sign outside of the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) (2 of 2)

Attendees gathered in workshop

I think we need Earth Day now more than ever.  We need to remember a time when politicians were not at odds with the scientific community, a time when bipartisanship was possible.  We also need celebrations like Málaga’s Earth Day, that view the environment for what it is: a global, intersecting system, where culture and nature cannot be separated.  For as much as we deny and ignore it, we are literally all in this together, for better or for worse.

March 29, 2017
by malaga-sustainability
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A Challenge of Extremes: Climate Change in Málaga

Just a few weeks after a severe storm dumped up to 130 mm (5.11 inches) of rain on Málaga in just five hours and flash flooding destroyed roads and numerous buildings in the area, Dickinson students met with Professor José Damián Ruiz of the University of Málaga to chat about climate change.  Ruiz specializes in Physical Geography, which is comparable to Dickinson’s Earth Science department, and is currently working on a research project entitled “Proyecto Indicadores para la Gestión Sostenible del Desarrollo Turístico: Evaluación de la Capacidad de Carga en el Mediterráneo Meridional,” which translates to “Project Indicators for the Sustainable Management of Tourism Development: An Assessment of Carrying Capacity in the Southern Mediterranean.”

Professor José Damián Ruiz of the University of Málaga lecturing at the Centro Internacional de Español in Málaga

Ruiz’s talk was entitled “Indicadores de cambio climático y sus implicaciones para el desarrollo sostenible,” or “Indications of Climate Change and It’s Implications for Sustainable Development.”  He split the presentation into two parts, first explaining how climate change is manifesting in southern Spain through extreme droughts followed by extreme rains, like the one that occurred a few weeks prior.  He described how greenhouse gases trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, which increases the temperature, and in turn the rate of evaporation.  This leads to more extreme droughts, followed by severe storms, as the clouds expel the water droplets that have condensed.

The second part of Ruiz’s talk explored how Málaga might react to climate change as the city continues to develop.  As part of the Costa del Sol, Málaga’s economy is made up primarily of agriculture and tourism.  As droughts become more severe and sea levels rise, both of these industries will see negative effects.  Ruiz cautioned the audience that Málaga’s economy will take a hit if changes are not made to make the city more sustainable now.  As with many global issues, both the causes and effects of climate change are multifaceted and interconnected.  However, hopefully with leaders like Ruiz at the forefront, Málaga will be able to address these implications.

Ruiz and Professor Mark Aldrich of Dickinson College

Ecoluciona: A Permaculture Oasis

March 8, 2017 by malaga-sustainability | 0 comments

When I drive through the Málagan countryside I am often struck with the feeling that I have been transported to the American southwest.  Not to the red-rock deserts of Arizona but to the brushy dry landscape of New Mexico.  Málaga province, which contains Málaga city, sits in the central-southern part of Andalusia, one of the sixteen autonomous communities in Spain.  Once you get away from the sprawling coastal capital the landscape quickly becomes agrarian.  There are almost no trees, and those that do exist are very small.  The land is heavily irrigated and terraced all the way up the mountainsides.  The primary crops in Málaga are citrus fruits, olives, almonds, and grapes, however blights and droughts in recent years have put some of these industries in jeopardy.  Still, the roads are lined with row after row of fruit-bearing trees.

It was through such a landscape that we drove on Saturday, February 18, 2017 on our way to Ecoluciona, a local permaculture-based farm.  Ecoluciona is run in part by Dickinson alumna Nedra Sandiford, ’10, who met our bus at the top of a windy hill and led us down a dirt road for about 20 minutes on foot until we suddenly turned and entered into Ecoluciona.

To say there was an immediate difference would be misleading.  However, the path to the farm’s center did seem more lush and hydrated, if only gradually.  When we reached the main farmhouse, we were greeted by a delicious breakfast of homemade bread and fresh orange juice and a gaggle of farm dogs.  As we refreshed ourselves with food and puppy love, Nedra and her cohorts introduced themselves and explained a bit about permaculture.

The concept of permaculture was developed by Australian ecologists Dr. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1975.  It is based off of the natural agriculture philosophy of Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, which encourages minimal intervention in natural processes.  The name “permaculture” comes from the terms “permanence” and “culture,” suggesting that natural processes have staying power, if they are allowed to proceed on their own.  According to David Holmgren’s 2002 book Permaculture – Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, there are twelve guiding principles in permaculture which are as follows:

  1. Observe and interact with natural processes
  2. Capture and store energy
  3. Plan for profits in order to boost motivation
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Do not produce waste
  7. Begin designs by first observing patterns
  8. Integrate rather than segregate natural processes
  9. Keep solutions slow and small
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use the edges and boundaries between systems
  12. Respond creatively to change

These twelve principles were certainly present as we toured Ecoluciona.  Our guide explained how instead of keeping the livestock separate from the vegetable gardens, they keep them close together so there is no need expend unnecessary energy transferring the animal waste which is used as a fertilizer.  Similarly, the gardens themselves looked nothing like traditional gardens or the neat rows of olive trees in the surrounding farms.  They were a wild tangle of herbs, vegetables, and yes, weeds.  As our guide put it, it is better to give the pests something else to eat than expect them to just leave your crops alone.

After touring the gardens we returned to the farm house to give permaculture a try for ourselves.  In his works, Fukuoka developed a method of repopulated forests in a natural, noninvasive way.  Instead of planting trees based on their own judgement, farmers create a mixture of seeds and clay which they then roll into apricot-sized balls.  When these dry they are thrown at random.  Then, when there is sufficient rain to cultivate the small seeds, the clay will soften and allow them to take root.  It is an easy, nonintrusive way of rebuilding lost habitats.  Also, it was pretty fun.

Ecoluciona is currently just a small project, however Nedra and her associates believe it is an important one.  Málaga’s history and reliance on monoculture. which strips the soil of its nutrients, will become increasingly problematic as climate change brings more droughts and stronger rains.  Ecoluciona hopes to demonstrate that there is a different method of farming that can still be productive, while returning the management of the land to nature’s own processes.

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