Category Archives: La Palma

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Oil Protests in the Canary Islands

Saturday, June 7th, was, without doubt, a triumph for the environmental groups who organized protests throughout the islands, against the exploration of the ocean bed between the archipelago and the continent of Africa by oil giant, Repsol, at the behest of the Spanish central government.

Reported estimates by organizers claim between 150,000 and 200, 000 turned out to show their opposition to the plans. Central government representatives, and local members of the ruling PP claim the numbers to be more like 45,000 to 50,000. You can’t be everywhere at once, and I can only tell you that the numbers at the rally I attended in tiny La Gomera were definitely closer to the 1,000 estimated by organizers than the 500 claimed by officials.

Oil Protests in the Canary Islands

The biggest protest was in Tenerife where either 16,000 or 80,000 attended, depending on whom you believe, but of course it isn’t the numbers themselves so much as the proportion of the population which is significant. The spokesman for environmental group Ben Magec told me that he was delighted with the La Gomera turnout as a per centage of the population.

There isn’t the slightest doubt in my own mind, traveling around the islands as I have been doing of late, as to the depth of opposition to the drilling, though for obvious reasons it’s a hotter topic in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. President of the Canary Islands autonomous government, Paulino Rivero chose to make his position clear on the tiniest inhabited island, La Graciosa, saying; “ Our petroleum is tourism, the landscape, the environment and our rich biodiversity.”

La Graciosa, possibly, has more to lose than any island in the event of an oil spill reaching its shores. A true “desert island” with long, white beaches, it has nothing but fishing and tourism. An oil spill affecting those industries would be fatal to the island economy.

La Graciosa

The image of the sort of oil damage we’ve seen from Galicia, Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico over recent years on those pristine sands is powerful, but the issue is about more than just the possibility of an oil spill, as various speakers pointed out. It’s about the safety of drilling into the sea bed of an area which is less than stable; it’s about the image oil platforms present to tourists; it is about our reliance on fossil fuels over all, not just on this archipelago. It’s also about the callousness of central government which in imposing this on the islands without proper consultation of the population. As Canarian Socialist spokesman, Manuel Fajaardo Palarea said: “Refusing to consult the population confirms the contempt the government has been showing towards the islands.”

Whatever individual reasons for protesting were, there was no question of the unity this has brought about. At all the rallies, the cries were; “Una sola Voz” (One voice only) and “Canarias no se vende, Canarias se defiende” (The Canaries is not for sale, the Canaries will defend itself).

Meanwhile, the president of the ruling PP in Fuerteventura claimed that the Socialists and the Coalition Canaria were politicising the question. I observed no overt party politics going on in La Gomera, it has to be said. Though the crowd was chanting slogans aimed at Jose Manuel Sória, Spanish minister of Tourism and Industry, who is, unbelievably, Canarian, one speaker asked not to blame him alone, but to understand that there is shared responsibility, pointing out that Caixa Bank was one of Repsol’s largest shareholders.

Oil Protests in Lanzarote

Speaker after speaker in La Gomera pointed out that not only do we need to protest oil exploration, but at the same time it is vital that we demand more investigation and investment in alternative energies. Elsewhere, spokeswoman for Ben Magec, Rita López called on the Canarian government to commit to sustainable energy, and pointed out that whilst it was a great thing to be united against big oil, her organization was still against Canarian investment in gas.

Remarkably, whatever the turnout, it’s a triumph that out of 8 marches no serious incidents were reported, in fact, scarcely any incidents at all. This came as no surprise to me because the most impressive thing about the event was that this really was a united front of ordinary people. At protests in the past I’ve observed a majority of the attendees to be, well, people who prefer “an alternative lifestyle,” not to criticize that, but they are not the main stream. Last evening’s rally was made up for the most part of ordinary citizens, grandparents with walking sticks, young mums pushing prams, families, in other words, your neighbors.

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La Palma on track for sustainable power

The smaller Canary Islands really are leading the way when it comes to embracing alternative forms of energy. La Palma is committed to becoming self sustainable by 2015 and has a range of projects under way, working towards that objective.

La Palma - Los Tilos

There are 2 hydroelectric projects in Los Sauces and barlovento, both making good use of natural valleys to force water through generating stations. Solar power is one of the big boom areas, well the sun is reliable and plentiful in La Palma. Projects are gearing up at Tijarfe, Puntagorda, Fuencaliente, and Valle de Aridane.

Wind power will also be utilised with installations at key points such as Mazo, Fuencaliente and Garaffa. It’s true that La Palma, like its ambitious neighbour, El Hierro is a small canvas to work on, but the main factor in its favour is a political will to adopt these new power sources and to make them work for the good of the island.

La Palma brings volcanoes indoors

Living in the Canary Islands it’s hard to ignore the volcanic history around us but how much do we really know about how the islands were formed. During the month of June, people in La Palma can increase their knowledge by visiting an exhibition called “Canaries – volcanoes in the sea”.

Teide

The venue is the Rafael Daranas cultural centre in Santa Cruz, the island capital, and entry is free, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Caja Canarias banks, social and cultural unit. From Monday to Friday, doors are open at 9.30 am till 1.30 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm. There is Saturday opening, but just from 10 am till 1.30 pm.

The exhibition brings together the investigative work of Juan Carlos Carracedo and the impressive photography of Juan Sergio Socorro, both highly regarded for previous work in their chosen field. The images and data are brought together to give vast panoramic views of various volcanic scenes from the formation of the Canary Islands. It should be well worth seeing, but hurry as the event closes on June 28.

La Palma sees the light

Galileo

Back in 1994, La Palma led the way when the Canary Islands were introducing the law of the sky, that limits light polution. That’s why astronomers chose the island for the observatory at Roque de Los Munchachos, 2,400 metres above sea level.

Things are about to become even clearer with a investment of just over one million euros to update lighting across the island and reduce sky polution by a further 35 per cent. The money is coming jointly from the La Palma Cabildo (government) and the Spanish ministry of education and science, and 2,976 street lights will be replaced with softer lighting in the process.

The law of the sky affects all of the Canary Islamds, but La Palma takes particular pride in the way it has implemented the law and educated people to respect it. There are 14 large telescopes at the La Palma observatory, including Galileo (pic) the Italian national telescope.

Keeping La Palma skies clear

GRANTECAN

The island of La Palma has just marked a year since it introduced it’s Starlight initiative to protect the night skies from light polution. The Canary Islands government has a sky law that makes sure that only a certain softer version of street lighting is used and generally protects it from harsh intrusions. This continues a long tradition of astronomy based on the Canary Islands, where the night sky is noted for it’s clearness.

Looking forward

It all goes back 150 years ago, when an astronomer, Charles Piazzi Smyth visited Tenerife and wrote a book praising the trade winds and layered air streams that made the Canary Islands perfect for star gazing. La Palma is now at the centre of the astronony world with a 189 hectare observatory 2,400 metres above sea level at Roque de los Muchachos, the islands highest point.

The project was started in 1982 and the site now boasts 14 working telescopes supplying information to countries around the world. Pride of place goes to GRANTECAN, Gran Telescopio de Canarias, the biggest segmented primary mirror in the world. It took it’s first look into space in January 2007, and is being tuned to perfection in 2008 before it undertakes it’s full work load.

The telescope has captured the imagination of the scientific world and even Queen guitarist Brian May was been a frequent visitor as he completed his PHD in astronomy. Keeping the skies clear is another challenge that faces the Canary Islands if they are to stay at the forefront of the ecology movement.