Crete is a very beautiful island, but all is not well here.
- Scarce resources are wasted.
- The countryside is spoiled by the dumping of rubbish.
- Trees lost in forest fires are not replanted.
- There is no attempt to recycle paper, glass or aluminium.
- Rare habitats are in danger.
Water is a scarce resource in Crete. It does not rain from May until September or October. Some years it does not rain very much during the winter. Every year over one million tourists come to the island during the summer months when there is no rainfall. The population of Crete is only 500,000. But water is not treated as a scarce resource. One of the most obvious abuses is to see shopkeepers washing away with hosepipes the dust and rubbish which has accumulated in front of their shops. A broom would do the job just as well and not waste any water. The authorities in Crete need to increase public awareness of the need to treat water as a scarce resource and to use it sparingly.
All too often you arrive at a beautiful spot on the island, only to see plastic bags of rubbish, old mattresses, even old cars tipped into a ravine. Although this is illegal, nobody is ever caught or prosecuted. It will continue to happen until the authorities introduce a proper system of waste disposal, including, if necessary, the collection of rubble, old vehicles, etc. Immediately, the authorities need to create sites where people can take such rubbish, so that those who would prefer not to throw it in the local ravine do at least have an alternative. At the same time, people must be made aware that dumping rubbish in the countryside is bad for the environment and bad for tourism. Who wants to smell decaying rubbish at that beauty spot you have driven many kilometres to visit?
Every year, thousands of acres of forests are destroyed in forest fires throughout Greece. Crete has very few forests left, but even those few that remain are being lost as each year, fire takes its toll. On a barren island like Crete, forests are a particularly welcome sight. An urgent programme of tree planting is required to put the forests back on the island. Tourists spend a lot of money on Crete. Some of that money should be used to plant trees. The army, the scouts, the schools and the communities should all be mobilised to go out and plant trees. It is not enough to plant a few trees in the school playground or in the village square. Whole areas of countryside need to be replanted with trees.
In the summer of 1996 I found myself in the village of Metsovo in the Pindus range of mountains in Epirus, northern Greece. At the highest point of the mountain pass there was a large restaurant. It was a stopping place for lorries, for long distance buses and so on. In front of the restaurant there were three bins -- one for paper, one for glass and one for aluminium to be recycled.
If the people of the remote village of Metsovo can organise the recycling of these materials, why can't we, here in Crete? Children learn at school about the need to recycle materials. Sometimes they even organise the recycling of paper or tin cans as part of their lessons. But these efforts are always temporary. There is nowhere in Rethymno where we can take newspapers, tin cans or glass bottles for recycling.
The island produces vast amounts of rubbish, especially during the tourist season. Large quantities of paper, cans and bottles could be recycled instead of being used once and thrown away. A lot of rubbish is burned in Crete, adding to the warming of the atmosphere and the Greenhouse Effect. The local authorities on Crete really need to follow the example of Metsovo and organise the recycling of our rubbish.
The threat to natural habitats
Crete is a series of mountains rising from the sea, and the great difference in altitude between the highest mountains and the coastal regions has led to the emergence of five distinct habitats. Nearly all of these habitats face problems from humans, whether it is hunters killing off wildlife, or building development encroaching on wetlands, or tourist development threatening the few remaining sea-turtles that lay their eggs on beaches. The tragedy is that once a habitat is lost or ruined, it is gone forever.
It is not enough to sit back and say that the authorities must do something about all these problems. Those of us who live on the island must do something, too. We must organise
to put pressure on the authorities to take the necessary steps to protect the environment of this beautiful island.
Other environmental sites
Greenpeace, in my opinion, tends to substitute itself for mass action by organising publicity stunts around various issues which involve a small core of activists. This may draw attention to the issues but is no real substitute for mass action. However, its site is well worth visiting as are the sites of other organisations mentioned below.
TheRainforest Action Network, based in California, is extremely active in fighting to protect the world's rainforests. You can join online or make a donation to protect an acre of rainforest.
Tribal Links lists links to dozens of environmental organisations around the world including other rainforest campaigns, sustainable technology, marine life, human rights groups fighting to protect the rights of indigenous people, etc.
Friends of the Earth have a lot of campaigns going and you can get information on these from this link.