“Nature is changing,” the old lady said. “There’s been a plague of squirrels and they ate all the walnuts before we could harvest them. Usually, they’re killed off in the hard winter snows, but now they’re a real problem. And with all the rain, the potatoes and tomatoes got blight and we’ve had to buy them in.”
I never raised the topic of climate change myself, but it came up almost every day when chatting with people in the villages. The complaints varied, with some areas being unseasonally dry, and others having too much rain, or too little snow. Too wet and it led to sickness among the sheep. Too dry and there were worries over enough autumn pasture, or the threat to water supplies. Less snow, and it affected the ski resorts, already hit by the Crisis. Of course, farmers always grumble about the weather, but this was on a different scale, with “changing nature” a hot topic everywhere we went.
We also saw signs of the new low carbon economy. We passed solar farms, and wind turbines lining the mountain ridges. In the small village of Aghia Paraskevi, a noticeboard announced that the 2.5MW village hydro installation had now been completed. In the North, most villagers still depended on local firewood to heat their homes, and elsewhere we saw new biomass boilers advertised. Solar water heating has been popular for years.
Yet here, too, the Crisis affected everything. The Electricity Board was slow to pay small generators, and the lack of payments to the Swiss-owned wind farm on the edge of the Prespa reserve meant it was unlikely that the promised study of impact on bats would ever be completed. There was a growing backlash, too, especially in response to vast hydro schemes, which still languish uncommissioned. “Evritania is not for sale. No to wind and hydro!” proclaimed posters in Karpenisi.
There’s also pressure to invest further in Greece’s reserves of highly polluting brown coal, with the promise of new finance from Germany. We saw the scars of open-cast mining on our way to Florina in Northern Greece, and then again as we walked past Megalopolis in the Peloponnese.
“What can I do?”asked one man out collecting firewood, near the Megalopolis mines. “Like most people around here, I’ve worked in the mines for thirty years. I don’t like the dust and the smell, but I’ve no choice. And now my pension has been cut.”
Is there a choice? Greece is rich in renewable energy – sun, wind and hydro – and investing in them could create many new jobs. I hope so.