Disrespect for nature’s wonders

On the eastern coastline of Santorini, on the beach of Monolithos, nature made a mistake. To be more precise, it has been committing the same error for centuries. Cliff faces carved out of volcanic ash, molded by the action of sand, sea spray and rain over the space of centuries, were shaped into the famous rock formations that have been admired by many generations of visitors as natural sculptures. Nature’s mistake was that these rock sculptures have hampered works to widen and pave the – illegally constructed – coastal road that connects the area to the village of Karterados. Worse, nature did not endow these rock formations with cement-like static strength. As a result, the Municipality of Thera, without any prior consultation and without acquiring permission from any legal authority, sent a team of workers in early December who reduced the rock formations to a rubble of soil and sand. The incident was disclosed, but it was already too late. As the municipal authorities said, only few of the parts which are ready to crumble have not been removed. But the municipality will soon deal with these as well, so that the road will be wide enough and with lots of parking space. It is no part of our remit to deal with questions like how it was possible for the rocky sculptures to be suddenly declared ready to disintegrate, or why the municipal authorities judged that they must reduce them to sand without consulting any other responsible body. Most important was the blatant lack of respect for the natural environment that was evident in the remarks of the mayor: «Some people might look at a glass and think it beautiful, whereas I might think it is ugly and throw it away,» the mayor said. Everything seems to be a matter of subjective taste, even if the glass is, in fact, an ancient cup. This blatant, though by no means isolated, incident was a sign of our uncivilized behavior and highlighted our inability to understand that nature is not merely a resource to be exploited but capital to be preserved. We treat the coastline as potential space for hotel construction, we treat forests as potential areas for residential buildings, we treat rocks and rock sculptures as annoying obstacles that prevent us from having convenient roads. For us, «nature causes serious damage to construction,» even when we acknowledge its beauty. And when we do not, we never pause to think whether its works must be preserved, even if they are «ugly.» The municipal authorities of Santorini personify our disrespect for our natural surroundings – typical of urban development in modern Greece. It is yet another disgraceful chapter in the history of Greece’s environmental disasters. And there is nothing to justify optimism that it will be the last.