As Spain heats up – “the average surface temperature in Spain has risen 2.7 degrees compared with about 1.4 degrees globally since 1880,” the New York Times reports – we are seeing the “Africanization” of its climate.
The Sahara, you could say, is spreading north.
[Image: Monica Gumm for The International Herald Tribune].
Previously lush hills are now barren of plantlife; soil is turning to dust; streams have dried up and farms are dying.
But golf courses and casinos are still being built, and hotels, so far, have kept their pools full.
“Grass on golf courses or surrounding villas is sometimes labeled a ‘crop,'” we read in the New York Times, “making owners eligible for water that would not be allocated to keep leisure space green. Foreign investors plant a few trees and call their vacation homes ‘farms’ so they are eligible for irrigation water.”
It’s the hydrology of leisure.
“No one knows if it goes to a swimming pool,” the head of a local water board says.
On a purely bureaucratic level, this is genius: reclassifying your backyard as an agricultural zone so that you can get water rations from the government.
But will this really be the last gasp of southern European civilization, as the dunes roll in, leaving unfinished resorts surrounded by dead olive tree orchards, burying half-drunk British tourists alive beneath surprise evening dust storms? Is well-watered leisure really the only option available to us here – or will a new kind of strategic xeriscaping save us from endemic thirst?
More practically, all of this brings to mind an ongoing interest of mine in a future landscape design project: mapping zones of desertification in southern Europe.
You go around for the summer with a landscape architecture class, a box full of GPS devices, and some graph paper, producing a new cartography of aridity. France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal. Whoever finds the northernmost point of desert – some strange and growing patch of dust outside Berlin – wins something.
But the minute any territory anywhere in Europe is officially named part of the Sahara Desert will be a very surreal moment, indeed.
After all, the Sahara “was once lush and populated” – and so was Europe, future caravans camped out around drained swimming pools will someday say.