Galicia as a climate change haven

There are plenty of good ‘human society’ reasons for buying in Galicia; low property prices, euro area economic and political stability, transport connections and so on. You can read more about these in this site’s Why Buy in Galicia article.

…but over the last couple of years I’ve met an increasing number of people considering moving to Galicia for environmental reasons, and there really is a compelling case for this.

Climate change scenarios

Watching the BBC’s excellent Planet Earth 2 a few months back I was struck by one sequence showing the northern hemisphere in winter as seen from space. Above a certain latitude all the land was white with ice and snow except for western Europe where it remained green. This is due to the Gulf stream, a giant Atlantic Ocean current that brings warm water north to Europe’s west coast that warms the entire western half of the continent by up to 5 degrees C compared to latitudinal norms.

However the Gulf Stream is being affected by man-made climate change, most notably the melting of Greenland’s glaciers.

I’ve met a lot of people who have surprised me with their unconcern towards climate change, and to be honest I think it’s because these were mostly in the UK and they had at the back of their minds the thought that a couple of degrees warmer might be quite nice actually, thankyou! I guess it’s a valid perspective, but the changes in the Gulf Stream raise the very real possibility that in a global warming scenario the future of Western Europe might actually be colder; significantly colder.

So what are we talking, put on an extra layer or two? Yes, but also so much more. All of the farming infrastructure (fields, orchards, vineyards, the machines used in farming, etc.) is planted/constructed according to our current climate. If the climate were to become dramatically colder that would all be in the wrong places and therefore food would become more expensive and often more scarce.

In addition to this Europe’s housing stock and transport infrastructure is built according to the current climate. Imagine the UK’s massive stock of poorly insulated Victorian housing trying to cope with regular winter temperatures of -15C; they could only get near this with a vast energy cost that, as you may already be guessing, the UK infrastructure can’t supply because it’s geared towards current climactic conditions.

Am I being overly dramatic with the numbers here? The answer is that no-one really knows because climate change effects are not predictable with current models for the Gulf Stream, but here are the average (note average over day and night, not minimum) temperatures for Newfoundland and Labrador on the other side of the Atlantic for January. The latitudes here are almost identical to the UK.

If there were a significant Gulf Stream reduction then Galicia would also be affected, but it would move to a climate more like the UK has now rather than the extremes that might occur in Northern Europe.

On the other hand what if global warming does mean exactly that for Europe? Already the Mediterranean regions of Europe, especially the south of Spain and south of Italy in Western Europe, are facing regular drought conditions and often dangerous temperature highs.

In a significantly warmer climate many of the same problems already mentioned for farming and energy use (except for cooling rather than heating) would occur and water shortages would also be a major issue for farming.

Whilst this wouldn’t have zero effect on Galicia, a several degrees C average temperature rise would arguably make for a nicer climate, certainly in northern and coastal Galicia where the moderating influence of the Atlantic prevents extremes.

So if you’re worried about a future with a significantly altered climate and want a place to live that’s a fairly safe bet either way (and pretty nice right now) Galicia is a good option.


Soil impoverishment and ecosystem degradation

Evidence is also starting to emerge that the farming methods that stock our supermarket shelves are also inherently short-termist in two primary ways.

Firstly large scale, mechanised farming that creates huge areas of land growing chemically fertilised plants of only the one, desired type is draining the life from the soil. That this is happening to the extent that even Michael Gove is concerned about it must surely constitute a major worry.

Secondly, the same type of farming, for the same reasons (use of insecticides and pesticides and loss of biodiversity) is severely impacting ecosystems without which agriculture as we know it would not be possible, most notably the insect population.

This equation only ends one way: if the same number of people (or greater if rising demand for Western food products and also the food we currently import such as coffee and  chocolate in newly affluent countries such as China is factored in) want the same quantity of food but less food is able to be grown then in the first instance prices rise until demand and supply balance, and further down the line this causes societal instability.

Where does Galicia fit into this? There is a lot of farming here, and Galician farmers are, for the most part, even fonder of pesticides than their more northern peers, BUT whereas 60 years ago Galicia was extensively cultivated and extremely fertile and productive (using traditional labour based farming methods) today a large percentage of the land lies fallow and yet more is given over to growing eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is a plague really, a non-native crop that impoverishes the soil and has no natural predators to check it (apart from the paper mill in Pontevedra and associated loggers) …but at least no chemicals are used in growing it and the 15-25 year spans between harvests allow some level of biodiversity to remain.
In other words, if (and when, really) crisis point gets near in EU farming the relatively uncorrupted and potentially extremely fertile and productive Galician farmland is likely to become much more valued.

At this point in time you can buy large areas of land that haven’t been drenched in pesticides for low prices, and even with a typically sized house plot of ½ to 1 acre you can be almost self-sufficient if you try hard. If food price and availability were to change radically then you could adapt to that much more easily in Galicia than, say, a three bed semi on a 100m2 plot on the outskirts of Basingstoke.

Of course climate change, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity may not turn into quite the problems I’m indicating above, but if you regard these things as a serious risk and want to secure a future for you and your family that faces a lower risk, Galicia is surely a good choice.