European Diary

Bulldozing Arcadia

Thirteen years ago I marched in one of the largest demonstrations in Britain’s history.  The Countryside March had brought together environmental activists and critics of transnational business, dyed-in-the-wool Tories and leftover beatniks, peers and paupers.  Today, if the ongoing Coalition versus the Countryside debate is any indication, it’s time to march again.

In Greece, Megalopoli is a byword for environmental blight.  What puts apocalyptic spin on this news is that Megalopoli is in Arcadia literally, not by way of a classicist’s longing for a lost paradise.  The largest province in the Peloponnese, modern Arcadia has been devastated by the effluvium from the Megalopoli power plant into the Alfeios river.

The ancients believed that the Alfeios ran under the sea and came to the surface in Sicily, where it sprang up as the Arethusa, the modern Fonte Aretusa, near Syracuse.  This completes the apocalyptic trope, as visitors to the province of Syracuse soon learn that it too, like its Greek cousin in ancient mythology, has been polluted by a power plant.  Here in Sicily, the byword for environmental blight is Augusta.

Whether technological or industrial in origin, rooted in politicians’ opportunism or in developers’ greed, few places in the cradle of Western civilization have escaped such disfigurement.  It is preposterous to think of the Mediterranean as a holiday...

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