Oh No, not another sunny day… Living with Global Warming in the Spanish south
I don’t care what El Traam, as they call the American president here in Andalucía, says. Global Warming is a scary fact. Anyone who isn’t living inside an air-conditioned bubble of denial knows so. And this is just the beginning.
When I was a child, I used to love the sun. We all did. Having survived the long Scandinavia winter, we could not wait to peel off our layers of clothing to expose our pale skin to the warming rays. At the time, and I am only talking forty years back, you could stay outside all day without getting burned, without sunscreen, recently arrived on the market. We had never experienced what we today call a heat wave, a phenomenon that has become common even in the northern hemisphere. The rising temperatures means that people in my native Norway can now grow lavender and other Mediterranean plants in their gardens and have olive trees on their terraces. If predictions are right, ‘thanks’ to Global Warming, they will soon be able to produce fine wine, allegedly of the Champagne variety on the British Isles.
People in the north might welcome shorter and milder winters, but what about life here in the south? Living on the southernmost tip of Europe, Global Warming is certainly no joke. This summer alone, red heat-wave alerts have been noted throughout Andalucía, with Jaén reaching a record high 46.9 °C – in the shade! The Mediterranean waters off the Spanish coast has been registered as the hottest ever, at 27 °C, a two and a half degree increase in water temperature in a mere decade. This might be good news to temperate bathers, but it will have catastrophic effects on marine life. Let alone if it escalates, but If this trend continues, imagine when the Mediterranean reaches 37 °C just four decades into the future.
As Andalucía is separated from Africa by a mere narrow straight of water, it is probably only a question of time before the Spanish south will be an extension of the Sahara desert. This year, our tomatoes in our community garden have gotten sunburned on the vine! People who have lived for almost a century in our town will tell you that they have never experienced such heat. Ronda used to be a cold and relatively rainy place. Now we often won’t see precipitation from April to mid November. Not a single drop of rain, other than a few measly dribbles mixed with thick red Sahara sand. Last year, the winter rain did not start until January. The old farmers up our street told us that they had never seen such dry spells. The forest fire crews have never been busier, sharing helicopters between the various Andalucian provinces that are ravaged by almost uncontrollable bush-fires.
The other day my husband and I had to leave our car in an open car park in Jerez de la Frontera. When we came back a couple of hours later, the inside temperature of our car was 47.5°C. After airing the vehicle, we managed to get it down to an almost liveable 41 °C before driving off with the air conditioner blasting. Such temperatures cannot be healthy for anyone. In this type of heat seasoned athletes keel over and die from kidney failure and you get dizzy merely moving your head. We were told that a friend got second degree burns on his legs merely from wearing shorts while working on tarmac, as the reflected heat from the asphalt was even hotter than that coming from above.
Though sun-hungry visitors will lie down to fry at high noon in the Spanish summer heat, most locals will wisely avoid the damaging rays. The best policy for surviving in this climate is to do any physical activity before breakfast or after sunset and complete errands as soon as the stores open, ideally to be back inside by 11 am. From late morning until late evening it is advisable to stay inside, closing windows and doors, stripping off all clothing and placing oneself in front of a fan. As heat goes up, the cellar is the most comfortable place to be, which is why many locals have a second summer bedroom in their basement. I carry a spritzer bottle with me at all times, having one on each floor of our house, while keeping an abanico, or Spanish fan in my handbag like any self respecting Andaluza, using it with abandon. Thankfully, living in the mountains, our nightly temperatures in Ronda are about ten degrees lower than those in Andalucia’s cauldrons, including Sevilla and Cordoba. Yet, you may burn your feet on a stone terrace even several hours after the sun has gone down.
Though sceptics will say that temperatures go up and down and that there has been warming periods in the past as well, the planet has never had more people living on it, nor as much pollution to deal with, so one cannot say that this is something that has happened before. There is no precedent for our present situation. Heat records are broken every year, not only here in Spain, but all over the globe. The standard conditions for measuring temperatures are a meter and a half above the ground in the air, shielded from direct sunlight. The highest confirmed temperature recorded according to these measures was 54 °C, as recorded broken in Kuwait in 2016. The hottest single month ever (based on average monthly temperature) as reliably measured anywhere on Earth since records began in 1911, was 41.80 °C. This record was broken just last month. The location is appropriately called Furnace Creek in the Death Valley, in the United States of America. (They might need more than God Bless America to help them out of this one…)
Finally having fallen asleep last night, in spite of barking dogs, a revolving door of hot flashes and not a whisper of breeze, I was woken abruptly by a screeching mini-chainsaw right in my left ear. Though we rarely have mosquitos in Ronda, one had managed to Houdini her way through an invisible gap in our mosquito netting. It was impossible to fall asleep again, the hot night feeling like a sauna without an exit. I told my husband that come hell or high water, next July and August I will volunteer us some place above the Arctic Circle, polishing icicles, herding reindeer or simply holding back the polar ice. So, if you happen to know someone up north who needs a mitten-ed hand in the summer of 2018, please keep us in mind.