Climate change claims its first government?

Reuters Photo: Reuters

The fires that tore omnivorously through scores of villages and olive groves here may now also be changing the Greek political landscape: The government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, facing national elections next month, is under increasing criticism, not only over its handling of the fires but over whether it stoked Greeks’ fears about who might be to blame.

It is unclear whether the criticism will be enough to alter the outcome of the national elections, on Sept. 16. But a new national poll published here Tuesday showed the gap narrowing to less than one percent between Karamanlis’s New Democracy party and the socialist opposition party Pasok.

And the opposition leader, George Papandreou, is seizing on the anger, in an effort to sway the many undecided voters in a close race.

“Unfortunately the government has proven ineffective,” he said Tuesday. “It continues to act irresponsibly. It is busy fabricating conspiracy terror theories. The result: Greeks are being ridiculed abroad.”

More …

Meanwhile the tourists keep coming despite the devastation.

Flames that at times rose 100 meters, or 330 feet, into the air, burning trees and shrubs surrounding Olympia, the ancient birthplace of the Olympic Games, forced tour operators to shut down scores of hotels and travel facilities in the area.

But by midweek, three days after fire-fighters saved the sprawling ancient site from destruction, tourists began trickling in again. Among them was a group of 45 Germans who were covering their nostrils with wet cloths or masks.


Olive harvest affected

The fires may have destroyed as many as five million olive trees, cutting production in the world’s third-largest olive oil supplier and threatening to reduce output for years, Bloomberg News reported, quoting an industry group.

As much as 5 percent of the harvest this year may be lost, according to Sevitel, an association of producers and processors.

More …

Update (17/09/07): The government did end up back in power. What has changed this time around with voter behaviour is that more voters chose smaller parties on the so-called extreme right and left, apparently for a variety of reasons including the government’s poor handling of the fire crisis’s over the summer.

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This entry was posted in Climate change, Extreme weather, Food & Agriculture, Nature & Conservation, Politics, Protest, Rural communities, Tourism, War & security. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Climate change claims its first government?

  1. Pete Smith says:

    AS far as the olive industry goes, I’m surprised the locals are so despondent. In the short term farmers will need support, and this is on the way from the Greek government and other sources.

    IHT article 30th August

    However, olive trees recover very quickly after a fire. Farmers should know this, perhaps they’re bigging up the problem to screw more money out of the government.
    “Thanks to its remarkable ability to regenerate, the olive has become a symbol of longevity. If after a fire even just a small part of an olive tree (not including leaves) remains, then within a few days the tree will sprout new growth. And if a tree is not disturbed, it may live as long as a few thousand years.”

    http://www.itlv.com/encyclopedia/botany/tree/

  2. matt says:

    Yes, possibly the problem is the lack of a bountiful harvest for a couple of years.

  3. Pete Smith says:

    As for the politics, if a similar disaster were to happen in the UK the main parties have a tradition of reining in their party political differences and presenting a united front for the sake of the nation. This doesn’t seem to be the case elsewhere. It’s a moot point who will lose the most points in the Greek election, the government for alleged incompetence, or the opposition for cynically exploiting the situation.

  4. Dave On Fire says:

    in the UK the main parties have a tradition of reining in their party political differences

    Differences?

  5. Pete Smith says:

    Dave,
    If you’re manoeuvering to make the point that all the parties are exactly the same, that wasn’t what I meant. For “differences” read “disagreements”.
    Anyway, if New Labour and New Conservative really were exactly the same, they’d never argue.

  6. matt says:

    > … or the opposition for cynically exploiting the situation.

    The IHT article points out that voters are annoyed with the government for impressing upon them that the fires may be part of a terrorism plot! Now that’s cynical.

  7. Pete Smith says:

    Pot, kettle, chicken, egg. It seems pretty clear that these fires weren’t entirely natural. One man’s arsonist is another man’s terrorist. The Greeks seem so worked up at the moment they’ll get annoyed with the government about anything.

  8. matt says:

    The Greeks are their own worst enemy. My experiences of working out there showed me that many small businesses avoid paying tax at all cost. The tax base is therefore quite low for the Greek government to use to invest in infrastructure such as better fire equipment, stations and systems.

    You can’t even go into a toilet throughout the country without finding a little notice asking you politely not to flush your toilet paper down the loo! Their sewage system can’t cope with it. 🙂

  9. Pete Smith says:

    Came across signs like that in Hungary last month. At least I think it was Hungary. I was never quite clear what to do with the offending tissue. Stuff it in my pocket?

  10. Pete Smith says:

    “The tax base is therefore quite low for the Greek government to use to invest in infrastructure such as better fire equipment, stations and systems”

    This from the New York Times:

    “The situation is unbelievable,” said Yiannis Stamoulis, a spokesman for the Greek Fire Brigade. “We’re dealing with savage forces of nature and it’s humanly impossible to effectively take them on, however strong and well prepared we may be.” He added, “We’re fighting an asymmetrical war.”

  11. matt says:

    > “We’re fighting an asymmetrical war.”

    Yes, that’s the strange term I was trying to remember from the Times (or IHT) article, apparently quoted from the Greek interior minister. It seems to refer to … well, nothing in particular. Maybe it refers to the fires, arsonists, jihadists, communists, Turks. The gripe that the general public have is the government’s vague reference to an ‘asymmetrical’ threat. Iow, deflecting from the real threat, which is their useless ability to collect taxes from their own people and as I said before, invest in infrastructure.

    Governments will (I think) from now on fall or survive on their foresight and abiltity to pay for large scale climate change protection measures. It’s for very good reason that the UK government is finally waking up to the idea that London may need a new Thames Barrier … for the tidy sum of £20 billions.

  12. Pete Smith says:

    “The gripe that the general public have is the government’s vague reference to an ‘asymmetrical’ threat”

    That was a quote from a fireman. Full of admiration though I am for the fire brigade, they aren’t in government. Well not yet anyway. I can see what the guy was getting at though. Forces of nature v men in shiny helmets with hoses.

  13. matt says:

    Yes, but the fireman is only parrotting the minister’s general excuse, phrased as it is, imho.

  14. Pete Smith says:

    Matt,

    You have the advantage of me. I’ve only read it as a direct quote from the fire guy.

    The trouble is we’re only viewing this from afar, filtered through the editorial team of the IHT or NYT. UK papers aren’t any different. I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t making it past the rewrites.

  15. matt says:

    From the first article I linked to within this post;

    Then his public order minister, Vyron Polydoras, said Greece faced an “asymetrical threat” – a term that usually refers to small terrorist groups attacking a far larger target.

    So, public order minister, not interior minister as I first said. 🙂

  16. Pete Smith says:

    I know, but there’s nothing there to suggest that the government minister said it first, later “parroted” by the fire guy. “Asymmetrical threat” sounds a bit odd to our ears, but it may be a common phrase in Greece. It may be a case of misreporting, or wrong attribution, or mistranslation (my favourite). If both people had been reported as saying “It’s an uneven contest” no-one would have batted an eyelid. As it is, we have a conspiracy theory.

  17. matt says:

    Asymmetrical threat is a military term and one that the Bush government have been using a lot. It’s a vague term, as pointed out by the US study below;

    http://www.nipp.org/Adobe/Asymmetry%20%20final%2002.pdf

    Currently it’s used by governments to describe jihad-type threats to government and citizen security and it seems everything else that appears to threaten a government.

  18. Pete Smith says:

    Yes, I’m aware of the term. To quote from your linked document:

    “The concept of asymmetric approaches in warfare is hardly new; it reflects any non-linear response to the employment of mainstream force and the search for asymmetries, as a fundamental element of military strategy, can be traced back to David’s defeat of Goliath with a sling and a pebble.”

    Source: Nicholas J. Newman, Asymmetric Threats to British Military Intervention Operations, Whitehall Paper No. 49 (London: Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, 2000), p. 1.

    It’s very much a general concept, applied by military analysts with a fair degree of freedom to conflicts across history, from Agincourt to Vietnam to 21st Century suicide bombers. Its use by non-military spokesmen during a Greek civil emergency does not necessarily mean they’re talking about terrorism. Suggesting that on the basis of a couple of one-liners is a spin too far in my book.

  19. matt says:

    > Its use by non-military spokesmen during a Greek civil emergency does not necessarily mean they’re talking about terrorism. Suggesting that on the basis of a couple of one-liners is a spin too far in my book.

    Then you can take that up with IHT.

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