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Student Dispatch: A Glimpse Into Environmentalism in Spain

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From the age of five I have been passionate about helping solve climate change. At Phillips Exeter I am a Head E-Proctor and active in the Environmental Action Committee. In these roles, and through my position as head of the Student Life Committee, I have worked to make Phillips Exeter more sustainable. This paper is inspired by the exchange program I am currently on in Spain.

One of my first impressions about Madrid was the green space. Unlike cities in the United States, green spaces popped up around every corner. One incredible example of Madrid’s commitment to green space is the Madrid Atocha Train Station, the largest train station in Madrid and home to a 43,000 square-foot indoor garden.

After biking 68 kilometers around Madrid with my friends, I learned that Spain has a very well-developed bike path network. There are over 1,970,000 kilometers of bike paths to explore in Madrid, with more than 32,000 routes.

In order to better understand the Spanish public’s opinions on climate change, I did some research. According to a poll by the European Investment Bank, in 2021, 81 percent of Spaniards felt that climate change impacts their everyday lives, and 70 percent said they would support taxes on products and services that contribute the most to global warming. This sentiment is echoed in an article published in 2023 by euronews.green. According to the article, nine out of ten Spaniards are concerned with drought, and acknowledge that humans are playing a role in climate change. 

Since introducing the first climate law in 2021, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) has set emission reduction targets and has increased development of renewable energy. Spain is even on track to generate half of its energy from renewable sources in 2023. Many Spanish people, however, feel that they have not done enough.

In the run up to the 2023 Spanish election it seemed everyone was predicting that the Spanish extreme right represented by Vox would be part of the governing coalition for the first time since the demise of Franco’s dictatorship in the 1970s. The news organizations Vox, Politico, and Bloomberg predicted, based on Spanish polls, that the unpopular center-left Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez would be replaced by the center-right Partido Popular which, in order to govern, would need the help of Vox. Why would the far-right make gains in such an environmentally-minded population?

Vox promises farmers that, by investing in technology, they will be able to overcome environmental threats. They often bash wetter parts of Spain and are willing to drain the Doñana wetlands for the short term benefit of irrigation for farmers.

The actual result of the 2023 election, however, was that Vox lost half of its seats. This sets Spain apart from many of its European neighbors, including Germany, Sweden, France, Finland, and Italy. Instead, Spain voters have turned back towards the political center, even in the throes of extreme weather events. The level-headed approach of Spain’s populace points to Spain being a bastion of progressive policy in the coming years of worsening environmental crises.

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Colin Maloney
Colin Maloney
Ever since he was five years old, Colin has been passionate about combating climate change. At Phillips Exeter he is a head E-Proctor. In this role he comes up with environmental initiatives for the dorms at Exeter, and is active in the Environmental Action Committee. In these roles, and in his position as head of the Student Life Committee on Student Council, Colin has worked to make Phillips Exeter more sustainable.

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