Our failure to learn from experience

Every summer networks of conspirators pay foreigners, and Greeks affiliated with the political opposition, to burn our forestland. In many people’s minds, forest fires are set by arsonists. But the real culprit is our inertia. Since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, we have experienced at least two catastrophic summers – one in 1997 and one in 2000, when more than 130,000 hectares of land was reduced to ash. What did the experience teach us? A lot. What did we do about it? Almost nothing. And so every summer we end up counting the number of forest fires, measuring the extent of ravaged land, pondering who should be blamed for mistakes which continue to be repeated. We have not implemented any special programs or drafted a national action plan to avert such tragedies. Were steps taken to clean up the area around some 700 makeshift landfills next to forestland or fields? No. The fatal fire at Aigion was triggered by the spontaneous combustion of flammable material at a landfill. Was action taken to remove the dry grass at the base of electricity pylons in Attica? No. The fire on Parnitha was triggered by sparks emitted by an electricity pylon. Were steps taken to clear the green belts that run alongside our national highways? No, and this is doubtlessly the cause of the Mount Hymettus blaze. Evidently we have not realized how to tackle «a difficult summer.» It is not enough to have means of extinguishing forest fires; we need methods of prevention too (prevention is the first and foremost policy of organized countries). In Greece, we predict, we warn, we criticize, we condemn. But we don’t take any action. Surely we’ve had enough of theory. As if paralyzed, we wait for the good Lord, who has saved us from the brink of disaster so many times, to don his magic cloak and help us once more. But this tactic does not always work. Because of our passivity, we have allowed extreme weather conditions to wreak widespread destruction. To some extent, we have little control over nature. On the other hand, we can mitigate the damage caused by extreme conditions. But measures must be taken – both before and after. Experts tell us not to interfere with the regrowth of a forest after a fire. We do the opposite, often planting the wrong type of trees. Meanwhile, opportunistic citizens swarm across Parnitha to gather firewood for winter. And where are the inspections? If authorities do not want to take action, why don’t they allow volunteers to protect what is left of our forests?

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