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The transition begins inside me

At the beginning of the summer, ECO123 organised a seminar on the theme “Monchique 2030 – What lies ahead?” Many of the participants were aware of the goal they wanted to achieve, “Zero CO2 Emissions“, but the path leading to the goal was, in most cases, unknown. The place chosen for the meeting was Café Al-faris, in Alferce. More people came who were interested in the debate after the seminar than could fit in the cafe…

Greenhouse gas emissions, caused by agriculture, transport and industry, disturb the balance of the climate, and ultimately Earth’s entire atmospheric system. The destruction caused by forest fires, which are practically impossible to extinguish and aggravated by strong winds, is enormous. Torrential rainfall, the result of climate change, destroys roads and bridges, costing taxpayers millions. Hail, drought and fires destroy the agricultural products of a country …

Example 1

A forest of eucalyptus trees that are cut down every eight years by their owner to sell the wood and then allowed to grow again, is an investment that is neither ecological, viable, nor sustainable. The soil is saturated by eucalyptus, and monoculture destroys the sensitive equilibrium, which maintains an adequate pH value of the soil, nutrients and water retention capacity, a combination that is guaranteed by native forest plants. In addition, eucalyptus is a highly hydrophobic plant. The oil in the leaves prevents them from absorbing water and therefore they do not decompose like the leaves of ordinary forests. In Portugal, one million hectares of eucalyptus have been planted for industry. Twice the amount that has been planted in neighbouring Spain, which is five times bigger. The risk of a catastrophic fire is aggravated by eucalyptus monocultures, which also increase the risk of climate change. With the fires of 2017, Portugal has the worst climate figures of all the 28 countries of Europe. Faced with this, it is also unacceptable to give the FSC environmental certification to paper made from eucalyptus.

The first working group is devoted to the study of alternatives to monocultures in agriculture and forestry. The main objective is to reduce CO₂ emissions by applying diversity and cyclical processes. Investments in diversity farming ensure stable long-term income. The key words are olive oil, nuts, cherries, potatoes, honey and the strawberry tree (arbutus unedo /medronho).

Example 2

It should be possible to work in a climate-neutral way, in a region which has more than 70 places registered as providing local tourist accomodation and also: a.) offers a wide variety of agricultural products for self-consumption and for sale, b.) craftsmanship plays an important role in local and traditional business and c.) nature, with its plants, herbs and wild fruits and mountain streams, all the local habitats of flora and fauna offer something unique.

The second working group is studying a concept for the gradual reduction of CO₂ emissions in Nature Tourism. A bed and breakfast (or hotel) should do its shopping locally, for example for breakfast: bread, cheese, cakes, honey, fruit, yoghurt and it should have a garden with vegetables, animals and their own compost.

The goal is to balance the four elements: water, earth, air and fire. Each of the 30 participants was challenged to name a measure they could take in their private life which would lead to a reduction in CO₂ emissions.

Four guests were present, experts in various subjects. André Sousa of www.enat.pt, speaking on the production of climatically neutral energy, proposed that electricity only be purchased from companies that produce it from renewable sources: from the sun, wind and water. With liberalisation today, all households and companies are free to choose their suppliers. The production of clean energy is one of the goals and the basis for a reduction in CO₂ emissions. Professor Gil Penha-Lopes of CE3c of the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon conducted the afternoon debate, motivating the participants to draw on their imagination. Vera Fernandes, from the company www.sementesvivas.bio, explained that for a healthy diet of products from organic farming, organic seeds are necessary. Alfredo Sendim Cunhal of www.herdadefreixodomeio.com, from Montemor-o-Novo, who joined the debate later in the afternoon, reminded us that diversity in agricultural production is the basis for a healthy Earth.

Participants in the seminar recognised that for a climate-neutral life, we must also rethink our eating and drinking habits by changing them. Food should be, wherever possible, self-produced or local, and should include little meat. Walking should be at the centre of tourist packages and old traditions should be revitalised – also in gastronomy.

Pollution causes disease. In Portugal, the limits stipulated by European legislation are constantly exceeded, not only in large cities. In Monchique, there are also no effective and quick solutions for when the air is heavily polluted, because there are hundreds of vehicles, among them buses, going to the highest point in the Algarve, the summit of Fóia. In order to reduce air pollution, Monchique needs to work on a new concept for traffic in the city, which reduces the number of vehicles in the centre. Public institutions, such as the Town Hall, the Tax Authority, Social Security and the police, should ride in electric cars, and have car parks where they can charge their batteries. They also need to create better connections to public transport. And now, why aren’t the buses that take tourists to the highest point in the Algarve electric? And, why are heavy lorries loaded with wood still allowed to pass through the centre?

At the end of the seminar, participants saw that the goal “CO₂ Emissions Zero” can be achieved by taking a series of small steps. So there will be new meetings to discuss the path to climate neutrality. The next meeting will be on Saturday, 27 October, at 2 pm, at Al-faris cafe, in Alferce. This meeting will also add the question: What is the solution to the eucalyptus problem? to the focus of the debate.

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