La Ricarda has become popular in recent days. It is a lagoon located in the middle of the wetland of the Llobregat River delta, although it would be more accurate to say what the delta has survived, sandwiched between the two enormous infrastructures that are the port and the Barcelona airport. It seems almost a miracle that in the midst of those cement mastodons and next to one of the most densely populated urban areas in the country, a wetland with these characteristics has been maintained. Experts tell us that it is quite degraded due to the eutrophication generated by the fertilizers of the neighboring intensive agriculture, and that it is also harassed by the tourist pressure of proximity. But that, despite everything, continues to fulfill essential environmental functions as a biodiversity space and as a barrier against salinization of what remains of the delta. Now some are proposing to build an airstrip above the Ricarda which, if realized, would be the finishing touch for the wetland and the lagoon.
It would be very naive to think that the expansion of the El Prat airport constitutes just an environmental problem. On that field, economic, political and territorial interests of such magnitude are being settled that the playing field has become rather a minefield in which some explosions are already taking place. It is very desirable that these outbreaks do not end up bruising, once again, the citizens of Barcelona and, in general, of Catalonia. But, although the problem is very complex, observing it from the environmental angle is interesting because it puts black on white some flagrant contradictions that should make us reflect.
According to the Paris protocol and according to the recently approved climate change law, Spain has committed to reducing net CO2 emissions to zero by 2050, but projects such as the expansion of El Prat collide head-on with that commitment . The action on the Ricarda would generate, to begin with, emissions derived from changes in land use and the large earth movements necessary for the work, which would also be associated with irreparable losses of biodiversity and landscape. The emissions generated by heavy machinery and by the thousands and thousands of tons of concrete that would have to be used should not be underestimated either, since the production of this material is one of the main sources of atmospheric pollution.
Beyond the work itself, the expansion would obviously increase the emissions produced by the added flights. It is estimated that an aircraft consumes an average of 300 liters of fuel in each takeoff or landing operation and emits one ton of CO2. To this should be added the atmospheric emissions produced by all ground operations associated with air traffic. In 2019, before the pandemic, 344,000 operations were carried out at the El Prat airport. How many more would be produced with enlargement? A good environmental impact study would have to realistically quantify, without tricks or deception, all these impacts and assess their consequences.
On the other hand, betting on projects that increase emissions in such an obvious way is contradictory to other reduction measures that are going to have to be adopted. How do we explain to farmers and fishermen that the diesel subsidies they use are going to be eliminated, while promoting an expansion of highly polluting flights? Considering that air transport does not currently have an energy alternative other than fossil fuel, the most coherent thing would be to take measures to reduce the demand for flights as much as possible, avoiding avoidable ones and promoting the use of alternative transport that uses energy. clean. And that is in Barcelona, in Madrid and in the rest of the airports.
The staunch defenders of the expansion promise more tourism, more business, more profits and more work, but they avoid talking about the environmental consequences and also about the other problems that mass tourism generates. The emergence of tourist flats that skyrocket rental prices, harming neighbors; uninhabitable neighborhoods for being turned into theme parks for tourists; population saturation in summer that triggers water consumption and waste generation; drunken tourism with its derivative of fights and police charges. Not to mention the job insecurity associated with a not inconsiderable part of tourist activity. Does the expansion of El Prat contribute to solving these problems?
But the most striking thing about this case are those 1,700 million euros to be spent in 10 years that at the moment are used as a decoy, but which apparently are there, available to be invested in Catalonia. Certainly some bureaucratic rule requires spending those millions on public works to the greater glory of the large private construction companies that tender it, but one cannot stop thinking about the amount of things that could be done with that money to really improve the life of Catalan citizens. Investments in energy efficiency, promotion of quality green employment, improvement of sustainable transport networks, social housing, reduction of student-teacher ratios, strengthening of public health …
La Ricarda is becoming a symbol, but at the moment its future is so uncertain that we still do not know exactly what it will symbolize. If it disappears, it will be a symbol of the incoherence of environmental policy, a glaring example that the commitment to fight climate change is more propaganda than reality and that there is no political or business courage to tackle the problem rigorously. If it survives, it can be a symbol of hope, a sign that alternative policies can be deployed that improve people’s well-being while respecting the environment, which is itself an essential element of that well-being. So, what has been said, long live Ricarda!