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Letter From Madrid - A City Ravaged By The Crisis

Despair in Madrid
Despair in Madrid
Juan Carlos Algañaraz

MADRID – Anyone who has ever been to Madrid knows the Plaza de España. But today, you might not recognize it.

The whole area, formerly prosperous and energetic, is a window on the crisis raging throughout Spain. Along the sides of the Plaza and in the side streets, there are entire rows of closed storefronts, some with broken windows, already filled with dust. The main building in the Plaza, which was once the tallest in Europe, used to house a hotel. It has closed, too.

The most striking detail is that along one side of the Plaza there are three modern office buildings in a row, each ten stories tall. They are all abandoned. At one point they were ‘occupied’ by homeless families and young people. The police evicted the squatters and bricked up the entrance. Where have these homeless people gone – are the children and the elderly living on the street?

There are tourists, both Spanish and foreigners, walking along Gran Via, Madrid’s main avenue. Here too are many examples of how the middle class is losing its identity and heritage.

Clara Isabel Rueda Garcia, 26, has a Spanish university degree. “I have done several continuing education courses to try to find work, but with no luck. I tried to find work as a waitress, and they told me that I didn’t have experience.” Like 970,000 other young Spanish people, about half of all the young people in Spain, she is still unemployed.

Her brother, Gonzalo, 22, has been looking for work for two years and has found nothing either. The siblings say that they have many friends who are also out of work, and, even worse, have homes with mortgages. If they cannot pay the bank, they will be evicted and will lose everything.

Santiago del Rio, 44, is an electrician who lives in Malaga. He has a 20-year-old daughter who is in school. He has only a couple more months of unemployment benefits, then he will have no income whatsoever. “I live from odd jobs, and the only thing I am sure about is that the future is dark.”

Carmen San Segundo Cordero, 56, was a French teacher at a private school. She was let go four years ago and all of her unemployment benefits have run out. Now she survives through barter. “We need another social model. The government is against us, it doesn’t represent us.”

Slightly more than eight million Spaniards are poor, and of those, two million are already below the poverty line.

Foreclosures and debts

The gates of the former headquarters of the Caja de Ahorros de Madrid (Madrid Savings Bank), with 10 million accounts, are covered with signs denouncing the tragedy of the evicted, a phenomenon of extraordinary social importance. In front of the symbolic building, a group tells the story of what has happened to so many people. They borrowed money to buy a home, then lost their jobs and could not pay, then lost their homes. In addition, they discovered that, in spite of the foreclosure of their home, they still owed an enormous amount of money to the bank, which itself, after almost failing, is now called Bankia.

Mariano Caminos has lived through this all-too-common scenario, and now there are nights when he sleeps in doorways, joining the many families who are demanding that the seizure of their homes be considered the end of their mortgage, without having to pay additional fees.

These are the dramatic accounts that complete the human picture of the Spanish crisis, which is totally different from others. There is an extraordinary number of unemployed people - one in every four workers has no job - as a result of the bursting of the real estate bubble. 

At the same time, the enormous mortgage debt many families have has created another bruising social condition, with more and more victims as time goes by. Spain used to have a suicide rate so low that it barely registered on European statistics. Now depression is on the rise, as is suicide.

Groups of neighbors and youth organizations fight the police to prevent evictions. The heart-breaking scenes are often shown on television. Jose Miguel Domingo was waiting for the police to come and evict him from his home in Granada. The 53-year-old newspaper vendor hanged himself in his home six days ago.

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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