Climate, not culture wars, should be the paramount concern in the Spanish elections

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Fortunately, the scorching heat that plagued Spain during the previous heatwave had subsided by the time of the recent Spanish elections. Temperatures in the hottest regions, although still hot at around 39C, were significantly lower than the previous low 40s. However, the act of voting itself was challenging. Polling stations in the sweltering La Rambla, near Córdoba in the south, provided traditional earthenware jugs for drinking. In other areas, voting booths were moved to air-conditioned spaces.

The election resulted in a deadlock between the right and the left. More importantly, it shed light on how voting behavior is unaffected by the urgency of climate change. The conclusion: it remains unaddressed.

During my time in Madrid last year, I had a wonderful experience but couldn’t help but notice that Spain’s greatest challenge was clearly climate change, not trivial matters like the language used in Catalan schools. As a hot and arid country, Spain continues to get hotter and drier. Some parts are experiencing the driest conditions in over a thousand years.

The climate crisis in Spain not only poses an existential threat but also impacts the country’s low-productivity economy that heavily relies on agriculture and tourism. Take olive oil, for example, a long-standing Spanish export. Spain typically produces half of the world’s supply, but this year’s harvest is expected to be halved. The strawberry and raspberry exports now depend on farmers illegally digging wells in places like the Doñana wetlands, which are rapidly becoming drylands. Some farmers even chose not to sow this spring, which was the hottest on record. Approximately one-fifth of Spain has already experienced desertification, and this number could rise to three-quarters.

In addition, beach tourism in Spain, once the second-most visited country, is facing an uncertain future. People who have attempted a beach holiday in scorching 40C temperatures would think twice about doing it again. In business terms, Spain’s current model is no longer effective and requires drastic changes.

Despite the severity of the climate crisis, the election hardly focused on the issue, except for the far-right Vox party’s performative denial. In a pre-election poll, economic concerns were the top priority for 31% of respondents, while only 1% considered climate change to be urgent. Immigration was another low-ranking concern at 2%.

The campaign was primarily dominated by two culture wars: the historic divide between unitary Spain and rebellious regions, and the gender, feminism, and LGBTQ+ rights movements. Although there was initial attention on Vox potentially joining the government, the party’s loss of seats rendered it irrelevant with just 12% of the vote. Even if it had become a minor coalition partner, its focus would have been on symbolic gestures rather than policy change, such as removing Catalan-language children’s magazines from libraries.

This election could be dubbed the “Don’t Look Up” election, reminiscent of the 2021 film that highlights the ignorance towards climate change. Spanish voters are not alone in missing the point, as elections around the world tend to revolve more around personal identity and animosity than solving country-wide issues. However, if the election is rerun, as expected, it is crucial that the second question of “How should we change our country?” receives due attention. Voters need to decide how Spain can address its permanent climate emergency. While advocating for climate action in international forums is necessary, Spain’s impact is limited compared to countries like China, the US, and Saudi Arabia. Spain can only change itself.

The urgency lies in the need for a plan to save the southern regions of Spain, which will suffer the most from the declining tourism and agriculture industries. To cool down its cities, Spain must prioritize the plantation of trees. However, even with this action, regions like Andalucía may become too hot for human habitation during summers. With an average annual income of €10,703, most Andalucíans cannot afford to adapt. Spain must prepare for internal migration to the cooler northern regions. Entrepreneurs could seize the opportunity by opening hotels along Spain’s beautiful northern coast.

Spain’s most promising future lies in becoming a renewables superpower. The country’s sunlit, windy, and sparsely populated interior, often referred to as “empty Spain” or “España vacía,” is embracing solar panels and wind turbines. In the long run, these energy sources could even generate green hydrogen for export.

Furthermore, Spain needs to brace itself for climate refugees from North and West Africa. However, it is already experiencing its own climate refugees, as fish abandon their warming habitats for cooler waters. Humans may eventually follow suit.

Follow Simon on Twitter @KuperSimon and reach out to him via email at [email protected].

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Climate Capital


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