Thursday, 12 May 2016

Crete, Environment, Sustainability

Sustainability - big word of the century
why is it important?
does size matter? is big going out of fashion? can big be reconciled with small?
can we really be sustainable independently in a highly connected world?

- first 25 years in a highly developed country of the modern world
- second 25 years in a modern but not so developed country in the old world

CRETE: small size, insular nature, strategic location
- A conducive climate and manageable landscape provide the conditions for sustainability
- Globalisation erodes the natural environment, making it less sustainable; for this reason, the environment needs to be protected to a certain extent.
- Climate change is a major factor affecting sustainability; the desertification of Crete raises serious concern.
- Natural disasters like earthquakes also pose issues, but improvements in technology and construction have helped in the mitigation of these disasters - Crete is partly sheltered from their major effects due to the position of the plates (especially true for Hania).

- a containable land size
- adequately populated
- a conducive climate
- a manageable landscape
- strategic location
- people have a close relationship to the land
- island isolation (not easily connected to the mainland)
- short spells of extreme temperatures/climatic conditions: the island is vulnerable to desertification
- the authorities/people are slow to react/adapt to changes
- the mindset is not that of an urban society
Opportunities for further sustainability:
- solar power (300 days of sunshine)
- winter tourism; gastronomic tourism
- Greece is designated a safe destination for tourists
Threats to sustainability:
- earthquakes
- potential terrorist attacks
- low water reserves
- interest in oil drilling

During times of insecurity such as the present, we need to think about essential survival: eg Maslow's needs pyramid:

- Physiological needs are easily met. Employment opportunities are greater here than in other parts of Greece due to the seasonal nature of tourism and agriculture. In many cases, the two sectors are combined, providing an income boost for the locals.
- Olive oil, grapes and wine continue to be important trading commodities on the island just like they were in ancient times
- Gastronomic tourism has become increasingly important in Crete because of the very high quality of fresh local seasonal produce (due to the climate and soil, ie the environment), and the gastronomic culture of the islanders themselves.
* According to some very well-known Greek celebrity chefs, Crete is the bastion of Greek cuisine. Crete is one of a very few places in Greece where both locals and tourists alike are able to enjoy local fresh seasonal food prepared and cooked according to the local culinary culture. Cretan cuisine is now a driver in Crete's tourist industry.

No part of Greece has remained unaffected by the crisis. But it can be said that Crete felt the effects of the crisis more lightly than other parts of Greece. Crete's environment is what has shielded the residents of the island from the worst effects of the crisis. The main reasons for this are the following:
- Crete continues to produce high quality world-renowned agricultural products, helped by the climate and soil properties
- the local population still practices small-scale farming in their back yards (raising a vegetable garden, chickens and rabbits, etc), helped by having access to small plots of land close to their residence
- the tourism packages of Crete are highly developed and very diverse, able to cater for a wide variety of tastes, and often meet the requirements of most leisure holidaymakers.
- Cretans are still very regionalised in their loyalties, which can be seen in all aspects of everyday life - people base their daily choices on local options.
The street market shows the importance of the environment in the sustainability of Cretan society:
- local produce is highly prized by the locals
- the amount of local produce being bought and sold shows the loyalty of locals to local food
- fresh produce requires preparation and cooking time: Crete is an island full of cooks
- the prices are low, hence affordable to all
- the street market is also seen as a leisure-time activity

The owner decided to remain in his ancestors' village, instead of heading to a town. He had to find a way of using his land sustainably, in order to provide for his and his family's needs. He lives in his parents' home, and uses the cafe his father left him as a restaurant. His main problem was location: the mountainous terrain made it difficult to attract customers. So he focused on making his business unique: the meals served in his restaurant are prepared with ingredients that he himself produces, right down to the wheat used in the bread he bakes, and he does not use electricity in the cooking process (he uses tree trimmings from his olive trees instead). He followed the principle of what his parents were doing in the village to raise their family. This included making their own wine, olive oil, cheese, preserves, etc. He has now branched out into growing local heirloom seed varieties (beans and wheat), as well as raising local varieties of animals (cow) from which he produces, in this way preserving the culture and traditions associated with his region. His main aid in this has been the land that he has inherited from his parents. Without direct access to the land, he would not have been able to sustain such an earth-to-table business venture.

The photo was taken in a highly urban area of Hania in mid-March 2013. It shows what looks like a messy garden with a lemon tree in the middle. Look more closely: behind the garden is a chicken coop - the chickens are barely visible, but one is sitting on top of a rabbit pen. The area where the animals are kept will be covered by a shady leafy grapevine by the middle of summer (that's what the dry branches are: a vine about to start growing leaves). Next to the garden on the right are the remains of a wood-chopping session. The house looks unkempt and rather poorly; I believe economic migrants are living here, and not the Greek owner. But that makes no difference to what the photo depicts: it illustrates the frugal urban life in times of adversity.

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