No time to waste

Most people admit that Greece’s only hope for an economic upswing rests with its tourism industry. The country’s physical attractions, combined with its rare cultural legacy, give the tourism industry a comparative advantage that is hard to meet in other sectors of the economy. Moreover, the success of the Summer Olympic Games is seen as a significant boost for the tourism sector in the years to come. Yet the gifts of nature seem to have come with a self-destruct button. During a speech at the Heleco International Exhibition and Conference of Environmental Technology yesterday, the government’s environment, physical planning and public works minister, Giorgos Souflias, acknowledged that Greece tops the European Union list of states as the most frequent violator of the bloc’s environmental legislation. Greece has some 1,300 illegal waste dumps while a series of EU directives has yet to be incorporated into Greek law. For a country that advertises its physical beauties and civilization to woo foreign visitors, Greece has an embarrassing environmental record. The problem goes back many years. Decades of state indifference have cultivated a climate of apathy that is characteristic of everyone from business people to ordinary citizens. EU environment directives are not transferred into national law, laws are not implemented, and as for public awareness campaigns, there simply aren’t any. Many businessmen view protection of the environment as an economic burden – never as an asset. And many citizens consider the preservation of the environment as other people’s business and proceed to construct illegal buildings, fill streams with rubble, pollute lakes, and cover beaches with litter. Thousands of birds were found dead at Lake Koroneia in northern Greece last September, nine years after pollution wiped out the lake’s fish population (a lake that was supposedly under a protection program). Our national apathy could unfortunately be the prologue to a national catastrophe. The fines imposed by the European Court are not that hefty – but that does not mean that they should not be taken seriously. The most serious consequence, however, is the unfettered destruction of national capital that upholds a vital economic sector and an equilibrium that is essential to own survival. Indifference to an issue which has for decades been high on the agenda of all developed nations will eventually boomerang if we don’t act soon. There is no time to waste.

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