Morro Jable, Fuerteventura: Paradise soon to be lost?
Tomaso Clavarino

LANZAROTE - The photograph looks like something out of a glossy tourist campaign: a surfer, board under his arms, coming out of the turquoise waters that lap against the fine, white sand.

Nothing out of the ordinary, seeing as the shot was taken on the island of Fuerteventura, famous around Europe for its natural beauty and great surfing. But if you look closer at the image, you begin to notice that the dude's skin isn’t brown because of the sun, but rather black from oil.

This is just one of the deliberately shocking images that the activists of Clean Ocean Project have been distributing over the last few weeks on the beaches of the Canary Islands. This oil is a new nightmare for the Canarians since last March, when the Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy, through the Minister for Industry José Manuel Soria López, gave free reign to Repsol, one of the world's biggest oil companies, for a series of tests that should make way for the biggest oil field in Spain.

“This is a project that puts in serious danger the ecosystem of an area that, for its natural bounty, has been labeled as a Biosphere Reserve,” explains Wim Geirnaer of Clean Ocean Project. “The tests will be done with air guns through the soundwave technique which will inevitably disturb and compromise the lives of the dolphins and whales that flock to these protected areas of the sea."

It’s not only wildlife associations (WWF and Greenpeace) lining up for battle against the Spanish government's decision, but almost the entire population of the Canary Islands, who have taken to town squares in protests rarely ever seen in this archipelago.

Local institutions have also expressed their opposition to the drilling project. From Cabildos (a type of council that exists only on these islands) on the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, to the regional governments of the Canaries, the “No” to drilling has been unanimous.

“We’re against this project for two principal reasons” explained the Cabildo of Fuerteventura. “The environmental risks, firstly, but then also the possibility of the reduction in tourism. These islands live exclusively on the tourism industry and a project of this nature, with the elevated risk of accidents that it brings with it, could threaten the main income to these islands."

Oil for jobs?

Locals note the "anomaly" of having one of the rare top national leaders born in the Canaries, Industry Minister Minister for Industry José Manuel Soria López, being the man who gave the green light for this project.

The energy giant counters that the local economy is bound to benefit from the drilling project. “We think that the installation could create between 3,000 and 5,000 new jobs,” affirms Kristian Rix, a Repsol spokeswoman.

But Wim Geirnaer isn't buying it. “Everybody knows that the new jobs created require highly trained specialists who, in Fuerteventura, like in Lanzarote, just don’t exist," he said. "This is clearly an operation in favour of a private business and against the interests of an entire community.”

If, like Repsol hopes, the oil can be found, in the space of a few years the multinational will have carte blanche for drilling in an area twice the size of the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote put together. The 20 authorized oil platforms, that have the capacity to extract 144,000 barrels of crude oil per day, could be constructed quite close to the coast, for a simple reason: 60 kilometers from shore, in the middle of the Atlantic, is the border that separates Spanish waters from Moroccan.

Morocco's government has already expressed its aversion to the project and a border violation could create problems for Repsol, as well as the Spanish government.

Twenty-five kilometers from the black sandy beaches of Lanzarote, and 10 km from those in Fuerteventura. Such should be the minimum distance that the drilling can reach a depth of 5,000 meters -- the same maximum depth as the BP platform of the Deepwater Horizon, which exploded in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

And so the mobilization continues: A petition has already gathered 30,000 signatures and the Canarian government has appealed to the United Nations as well as the European Union to stop the project.

Still, the government in Madrid has announced that Repsol can begin drilling in the space of a few weeks. While the battle heats up, the Spanish government has cut incentives for the desalinisation of water (the only source of potable water for the islanders) and blocked the project for a windmill park on Gran Canaria. The islanders consider the moves from Madrid as a clear warning: oil or nothing.

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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