Sunday, April 30, 2023

Should we all be doing our bit?

We’ve heard it all before, but it cannot be over-stated that much more action is needed to protect our planet’s biodiversity from global warming.

Is there much point in us lowly individuals doing our bit to help when the most powerful politicians are clearly not doing nearly enough?

One very simple thing ordinary folk are doing is looking after the flowers in a window box or a corner of the garden that will attract bees and butterflies to feed and pollinate.


Depositing waste household plastic, glass and paper in recycling bins is easy. Groups can continue collecting rubbish, especially plastics, along our shores. Climate activists in Lisbon have done a splendid job of raising awareness by compiling in the centre of the city a massive heap of some 650,000 cigarette butts, none of which are biodegradable. They are part of the estimated 4.5 trillion toxic cigarette butts left polluting the world each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

Growing fresh fruit and vegetables and distributing them locally is so much cheaper than transporting mass-harvested agricultural produce by air or cargo ships from far-flung foreign lands.

Private landowners in Portugal and everywhere else could upgrade barren areas or stop cattle over-grazing so that trees could be planted to lessen CO2 emissions and allow many different species to survive.

A small pond in the garden is a good idea for plants and creatures dependent on fresh water. An even better idea for the Lagoa City Council would be to reverse its decision to allow the Alagoas Brancas wetland to be destroyed and agree to turn it into a wildlife sanctuary as environmental organisations and many local citizens have long been advocating.

milar positive things can be quietly done to benefit our own and future generations in Portugal, one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to global heating problems, such as rising sea levels, raging wildfires and droughts.

We are halfway through a critical period since the landmark Paris Agreement signed by 196 countries in 2015. The agreement’s main goal was to limit global warming to well below 2 C and preferably below 1.5 C. This will mean reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. So far, so good? No! Scientists say humanity needs to double its efforts to save life on our planet from a climate calamity.

This is not doomsday talk. It’s a deeply researched, evidence-based fact. It may  come down to greatly reducing human hatred and aggression and focusing instead on multi-national compassion, as hard as that may be to even imagine nowadays.

President Xi Jinping, leader of the worst of all polluting countries, seems much more determined to continue repressing the entire 1.4 billion population of mainland China and seizing the relatively small island of Taiwan than securing a zero-limit on greenhouse gas emissions.

The focus now in the United States, the world’s number two CO2 polluter, is not the future well-being of the planet, but who will win the presidential election in November 2024 between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. And not only Trump himself, but millions of his republican followers, believe global warming is just fake news.

India, the number three polluter, has border tensions with China, in addition to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is well aware that all eyes of the world’s media will be on India this year when it hosts the G20 summit, one year before the nation’s general election.

President Putin in Russia, the world’s fourth biggest CO2 polluter, just wants to win his war and n0-one is sure how far he is willing to go to achieve that.

The British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is almost submerged in protests and workers’ strike actions associated with the cost of living crisis that followed the less than promising outcome of the COP26 climate change summit overseen by the disgraced former Prime minister Boris Johnson in Glasgow in 2021.

Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa has plenty of internal problems, but remains fully committed to rejecting all fossil fuels and relying entirely on renewable sources of energy.  The European Union as a whole, however, is warming more rapidly than anywhere else. While this is obviously of great concern to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, she is being much distracted by the war in Ukraine and the millions of refugees fleeing both from Ukraine and Africa.

So where does all this leave you and me?


Wednesday, April 26, 2023


Behind this week’s headlines

Revolution celebration

The formal celebration of the 49th anniversary of the 1974 Carnation Revolution was celebrated on Tuesday with the traditional sitting of the Portuguese parliament. It coincided with a special welcome for Brazil’s president at the last leg of his state visit aimed at further improving relations between Portugal and its former colony. The anniversary was covered on the front pages of all of Portugal’s national newspapers.

Praise and  insults

On his visit to Portugal this week, Brazil’s President Lula da Silva has been highly praised by the speaker of Portugal’s parliament as a defender of democratic institutions. The speaker was furious, however, that members of Portugal far-right Chega party raised protest banners ridiculing Lula during a speech to parliamentarians.

Slavery apology needed

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Tuesday that this country should take responsibility and apologise for its past role in the transatlantic slave trade.  Ihe Reuters news agency pointed out that this is the first time a southern European country has suggested such an apology. Between the 15th and 19th century, Portuguese vessels transported six million kidnapped Africans who were then sold into slavery, mainly in Brazil.

Aerospace agreement

A memorandum of understanding was signed on Monday between several Portuguese aerospace companies and Brazil’s Embraer aircraft manufacturer. The partnership deal is expected to strengthen Portugal’s defence technology and to produce aircraft that will meet NATO’ high standards and requirements. 

Cigarette pollution

Climate activists collected about 650,00o cigarette butts and placed them in a huge pile in central Lisbon with the aim of making people more aware of this often overlooked kind of pollution. Cigarette butts are not biodegradable. According to the World Health Organisation, 4.5 trillion cigarette ends are dumped worldwide each year.

Books are selling well

More than 31,000 books wre sold in Portugal each day in the first three month of this year. This is a year-on-year increase of 8.3%, according to APEL, the Portuguese publishers and booksellers association. 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The electric vehicle transition

The future of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) is speeding ahead and before too long petrol and diesel vehicles may seem as ancient as donkeys and carts.

The European Commission has ordered that from 2025 all new motor vehicles must be electrically operated. A major objective is to help environmental sustainability by reducing CO2 emissions from internal combustion engines.

To accelerate the transition, governments are offering tax incentivises on the price of vehicles and charging costs, as well as increasing the number of charging stations.   

The number of electric vehicles produced in Europe has risen dramatically from three-quarters of a million in 2019. Germany is ahead of the race with 1.3 million EVs on its roads in 2021.  It’s followed in the fast lane one way or another by the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Sweden.  Among the millions expected to come on to the market this year will be 50 new models of various types. The most popular car so far is said to be the Tesla Model Y (pictured here).

In Portugal, thousands of euros are on offer as an incentive to each individual or company purchasing single or multiple vehicles. The money is coming from a special EU fund. It seems to be working well. In the first two months of this year there was an increase of nearly 140% in new electric cars registered (total 4,850) compared to the number registered in January and February last year.  

In the Algarve, Ian Fitzpatrick, the well-known ceramic artist, has happily upgraded to a practical multi-purpose EV, a Citroën e-Belingo, which is basically a van with extra seats.

“My previous car was 21 years old and was becoming unreliable and so I needed to replace it. As I have a solar panel system at home, I liked the idea of doing away with harmful fossil fuels and driving around on the sunshine!”

EVs are considerably more expensive to buy than conventional vehicles, but running costs are a lot cheaper, he explained. “My solar panels produce more electricity than we need for our house and car. If you have a smart charger you can set it in ‘ecomode’ to only take power from the panels and not the grid. But even if you were charging from the grid, as many urban dwellers would have to do, it is considerably cheaper per kilometre than petrol.”

Ian added: “Being automatic it is easier to drive. Also, over the life of the car, repair and maintenance costs should be less as EVs have far fewer moving parts that can deteriorate or malfunction.”

Extra planning is necessary for long trips, although more charging stations are being introduced all over the country all the time. Driving at relatively high speed on motorways uses more battery power per kilometre than local journeys.

As an indication of how vehicles are changing across the world, by the middle of last year China had 10 million EV units representing 46% of the global total. The stock includes everything from cars and light commercial vehicles to heavy trucks and buses.

In the United States, as in Portugal but on a vaster scale, the federal government has this year set aside billions of dollars to encourage customers and manufacturers to “hitch a ride,” as one commentator put it.

The environmental benefits of this transport transition are said to be in the worst case scenario that an electric car with a battery produced in China and driven in Poland emits 37% less CO2 than a petrol car. In the best case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced in Sweden and driven in Sweden emits 83% less CO2 less than petrol. It is expected that electric cars bought in 2030 will reduce CO2 emissions fourfold because of the EU grid will rely much more on renewables than fossil fuels.

The downside to all this, however, is that EVs use lithium-ion batteries. Much more efficient ways have yet to be found to recycle and discard ever-increasing quantities of lithium-ion batteries. According to a recent report: “The need for battery recycling in Europe will demand a fundamental shift from today’s position, where just a very small percentage of lithium-ion battery recycling occurs, and only a limited volume of materials are recovered for reuse.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2023


Behind this week’s headlines

COVID mask use finished

The wearing of COVID facemasks is no longer mandatory in health centres, including hospitals, clinics and homes for the elderly. The end of this necessity came into affect on Tuesday this week with an official announcement from the government.  The wearing of masks came into force in the early days of the pandemic and ended on public transport and community pharmacies last August.  


Counterfeit currency

It has just been reported that the Bank of Portugal withdrew more than 10,700 counterfeit euro banknotes with a face value of nearly €470,00o last year. It also withdrew well over 2,000 fake euro coins. These are only tiny fractions of the true money in circulation. Euro banknotes and coins incorporate sophisticated safety features making them among the most difficult currency to counterfeit in the world.


‘Typical.’ Scottish visitors

Former leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell are just "typical Scottish tourists" when they visit their idyllic holiday home in the Algarve, according to neighbours. The couple have spent their summers here for several years, but the villa near Albufeira has been thrust into the media spotlight in recent weeks due to police investigations into the SNP's finances. The two-bedroom property in an exclusive gated complex is co-owned by Mr Murrell and his sister, Lynn. It previously belonged to their parents.


Inflation still dropping

Portugal’s finance minister said on Monday that inflation should drop significantly from this month onwards. He anticipated an inflation rate below 5.1% in the second half of this year. The government believes the main risks to the economy are of an external nature, but points to internal forces that could mitigate possible negative impacts.


High pollination level

Those with an allergy problem have been warned of the high level of pollination in the air this week. While much pollen is happily spread by insects, birds or mammals, wind and no rain cause sneezing, runny noses and sore throats for a lot oF people. Best advice: stay indoors until late afternoon and keep windows closed.


World Youth Day

The mayor of Lisbon has given his assurance that the local authorities will be well prepared for the needs that may arise during the World Youth Day event in August. Pope Francis is scheduled to join tens of thousands of young people from around the world for the celebrations between 1 and 6 August. There will be massive demand for accommodation in the capital’s 2,700 hotels. There is plenty of online information about hotel availability and costs.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

The 1974 Revolution: a look back

 Jubilation on revolution day – Getty image.#

So much has changed in Portugal since the revolution 49 years ago, and even the revolution itself will be better understood with a special study to be published as part of next year’s historic 50th anniversary.

Here we glance at events before and since the coup d'état that have brought about profound political, economic and social changes beyond all possible pre-revolution recognition. The Portuguese now live in a decolonised, democratised and developed nation. Long gone is the African empire that made Portugal a world leader.

The dictatorships of António de Oliveira Salazar (1932 -68) and Marcello Caetano (1968-74), who had insisted on continuing many years of colonial wars in Africa while turning their backs on Europe, are but distant memories. No longer is Portugal going it alone globally.

In a way, the dramatic event in April 1974 was sparked by a book: Portugal and the Future by General António de Spinola, the Portuguese army’s second in command. He strongly criticised the government’s African policies. The book was quickly banned, but for the authoritarian politicians it was too late. Modern times were on their way.

The imperial legacy that eventually emerged some months after the military coup on the morning of April 24 meant a pluralistic liberal democracy and a socialist state. Elected officials, not the armed forces, were to take control.

They did, but there were years of confusion and inept governance involving the far left, far right and centrist parties. The centrist-socialists, who eventually prevailed, are still the main parties today.

Once Portugal had a majority government in the 1980s it was able to forge ahead with focus on economic growth and attracting foreign investment as it was then within the European Economic Community. Major improvements were made to such things as neglected infrastructures, medical facilities and rail networks.

The 1990’s brought a period of declining growth, a slump in foreign investment and a sharp drop in employment. Redundancies and wage freezes were further complicated by tourists spending less money during their visits. Strikes and worse - allegations of political and business corruption – were other serious setbacks.

The political turmoil of the 70s and 80s, together with the economic problems of the 90s, are almost forgotten history. Of course, various problems persist. They always will in Portugal and everywhere else, but the sense of social security and stability is strong, as is the crucial relationship with the European Union.

The journal Lusotopie is asking researchers to contribute to a special 2024 issue on aspects of the revolution that have been understudied. Preparations have already started to produce this 2024 in-depth review. The journal wants abstracts to be submitted for proposed articles by September this year.  The abstracts may be in Portuguese, French or English.

Meanwhile, at least one thing is crystal clear from the pre-revolution era:  Portugal is no longer a war mongering state. It is on good terms with its former colonial territories. Taking its lead from the way members of the public placed carnation flowers in the barrels of soldiers’ guns on the 25th April, 1974, this is one of the most peaceful nations on the planet.


Wednesday, April 12, 2023


Behind this week’s headlines


Portugal and Ireland

The Portuguese foreign ministry will be expressing firm support for the efforts of President Joe Biden, the European Commission and the British Government to consolidate Northern Ireland’s 25-year-old Good Friday Agreement and restore the power sharing assembly long interrupted by DUP ‘loyalist’ politicians.   

AIr pollution

Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in Lisbon’s Avenida da Liberdade have  this year remained above the limits determined by European legislation, reports Luca News. Today is marked as Portugal’s National Day of Clean Air. The United Nations International Clean Air Day will be observed around the world on September 7.

Energy dependence

The development of hydrogen and offshore wind power will allow Portugal’s energy dependence to be lowered, the minister for the environment and climate action said with confidence today, Wednesday. The renewable energy association (APREN) released data today that showed that 74% of electricity generated in Portugal in March came from renewables.

Growth and inflation

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday upgraded its forecast for growth in Portugal’s gross domestic product this year to 1.o%, but was more pessimistic about the rate of inflation, which it expects to average 5.8%. The IMF is usually more pessimistic than reality required, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said today, Wednesday. The finance minister has said he expects a significant decrease in the rate of consumer price inflation from next month.

The rich and poor

Almost 60,000 families in Portugal declared a yearly income of €100,000 or more in 2021, 14% higher than in 2020.  Those earning less than €10,000 fell by 10.7% over the same period, according to the income tax authority. Minimum wages increased to €887 a month in the first quarter of 2023.


Saturday, April 8, 2023

Crucial foreign affairs issues

Portugal continues to keep a close eye on foreign affairs all over the world, even though it has greatly downsized and is now just a small country on the sidelines of major power politics.

Starting from the early 16th century, Portugal controlled an empire that stretched from Asia across Africa to South America. After granting independence to occupied territories in the 19th and 20th centuries, it still has close ties with the lusophone nations.

This past couple of  weeks it has been quietly involved with other foreign relationships of even more critical importance globally. As one of the 12 founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949, Portugal has welcomed Finland as the 31st member. Since Finland showed interest in joining the alliance and formally applied in May last year, Portugal has fully supported it as a way of strengthening NATO and consolidating the European Union. It amounts to a major change in Europe’s security landscape, all the more so as the war in Ukraine shows no sign of abating.

While Portugal is the most distant country from Russia in mainland Europe, Finland shares a 1,340 km border with the Russian Federation. It is roughly four times the size of Portugal with half the population. Finland’s accession to the alliance ended its history of military non-alignment. “A new era has begun,” the Finnish presidency said in a formal statement.

It continued: “Each country maximises its own security. So does Finland. At the same time, NATO membership strengthens our international position and room for manoeuvre. As a partner, we have long participated in NATO activities. In the future, Finland will make a contribution to NATO’s collective deterrence and defence.”

Another Nordic EU nation – Sweden – has applied to join NATO. Its population is almost the same as Portugal’s, yet it has five times the landmass. Nearly all NATO members, including Portugal, would welcome Sweden to the alliance. Hungary and Turkey are the only exceptions and they have been blocking entry. Turkey has taken issue with Sweden’s criticism of Turkey’s Muslim attitude to human rights. Even though Hungary, unlike Turkey, is a member of the EU, it is ruled by the far-right in contrast to Sweden’s government, which is made up of the Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party. Hungary’s autocratic president, Viktor Orban, is pro-Putin, contemptuous of EU bureaucrats and firmly opposed to Muslim immigration.

Portugal’s Socialist government wants nothing to do with the far-right, including the Chega party that has been gaining momentum in its own country.

China has become another ever-present danger for the Western world. There have been rising concerns here even though Portugal and China have been on good terms since Portugal’s Age of Discovery. The reasons behind this modern friendship include Portugal’s return of the colony of Macau in 1999 and China’s keenness to expand trade with both Portugal itself and its former colonies. Thousands of wealthy Chinese - more than any other nationality - have invested in luxurious Portuguese property and gained residency here under the Golden Visa scheme.

The concerns now are that China has seriously fallen out with the United States and NATO, while it has close ties with Russia.  President Xi Jinping has recently had cordial talks with Vladimir Putin and, although China may not be directly helping Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, it has certainly not condemned it.

The EU’s President Ursula von der Leyen accompanied France’s President Emmanuel Macron on a visit to Beijing just before Easter to discuss bringing peace to Ukraine as soon as possible. Macron said the West must engage with Beijing to help end the crisis and prevent things spiralling out of control, perhaps even sparking Putin’s threats to go nuclear. That, of course, would push global warming even further into the background.

Brexit has soured relations between the whole of EU bloc, including Portugal despite it sharing the world’s oldest alliance, the Treaty of Windsor, signed in 1386. The EU fallout is crippling Northern Ireland because of a disagreement over the Windsor Framework that replaced Northern Ireland’s devolved government protocol.

At a much happier regional level, Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa, went to Lanzarote recently to meet with his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, and preside over the 34th Luso-Spanish summit. The theme was "Portugal and Spain: Europe in the Atlantic". It was regarded as a landmark in bilateral relations. In addition to the meetings to analyse several areas for cooperation, legal agreements on new lines of joint action were signed.


Wednesday, April 5, 2023


Behind the latest headlines


Easter disruptions

The Portuguese Foreign Office has warned that travellers arriving in Portugal in the next few days may face delays due to strike action by immigration officers. The strike will last from this Thursday to next Monday. The Foreign Office suggests travellers should “follow the guidelines provided by your airline or operator”.  Luca News is reporting the immigration service has closed about 90% of its offices nationwide today.

Clean energy high

In the first quarter of this year, renewable sources provided 72% of Portugal’s electricity consumption even though the weather conditions were unfavourable in March. Two months earlier, after heavy rains, plus good wind and solar conditions, renewables provided 88% of the nation’s electricity.

Dams up and down

Reservoirs across the country currently average 81% capacity. Some in northern and central areas are virtually full, but some in the south are low, according to official sources. The situation in the Algarve and Alentejo is all the more serious as a very dry summer is anticipated, due largely to global warming.  

Ukrainian Refugees

Portugal’s Immigration aand Border Service (SEF) has announced that 59,000 temporary protection orders have so far been issued to people who have fled from Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion. The number of arrivals has significantly slowed. By the end of March last year the number of Ukrainians here made up the second largest foreign community. It had risen from 27, 200 to 52,00 in just one month.  

International art fair

A total of 84 galleries from 22 countries wiil be taking part in this year’s international contemporary art fair in Lisbon from 25 to 28 May. It will include works from 26 Portuguese galleries.

Julia is not Madeleine

The DNA test results on Julia Wendell have shown that the 21-year-old Polish woman is not Madeleine McCann as she claimed. Julia has returned to her father in Poland from California where she was taken by an American private investigator, Dra Fia Johannson, who also describes herself as a psychic medium.

Feliz Páscoa  - Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 2, 2023

The answer is blowin' in the wind

What is the best way forward to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions in the battle to limit global warming? Now you know the answer - well, one of the most important answers.

Portugal is using wind turbines to eliminate fossil fuels and create electricity to a greater extent than any other efficient method, such as solar or hydro.

Wind technology has a very long history. Windmills were busy grinding wheat in the Mediterranean region many centuries ago. By the mid-1800s to mid-1900s millions of small windmills were used to pump water in the United States. The first large wind machine to generate electricity was installed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1888. Further development of wind generators in the USA was inspired by the design of airplane propellers and monoplane wings. Subsequent efforts in Denmark, France, Germany and the UK showed that large-scale wind turbines could work well to produce energy. The first really large-scale installations came about in California where over 16,000 machines, ranging from 20 to 350 kW (a total of 1.7 GW), were opened between 1981 and 1990. This was a result of incentives given by the USA government.

In northern Europe, wind farm installations increased steadily through the 80s and the 90s with the higher cost of electricity and the excellent available wind resources leading to the creation of a small but stable market. The last twenty years have brought wind energy to the forefront in Europe and all over the world.

Portugal was a relatively late starter, but in 2001 the government launched a programme aimed at promoting a consistent, integrated approach to energy supply and demand. It established its first onshore wind farm in 2016 and since then has rushed ahead with gale-force enthusiasm. By 2020 wind power was a major source of electricity generated in this country. By the end of 2021, it had 265 wind farms and a total of 2,836 turbines meeting 26% of the country’s energy needs.

A pioneering offshore wind farm – WindFloat Atlantic, the world’s first semi-submersable floating wind farm (pictured here) - started adding electricity to the grid in 2020. New high- capacity offshore projects will be commencing this year. 

The government aims to cover 80% of the country’s electricity consumption with renewables by 2030 and to be climate neutral by 2050.

Five years ago the government committed to close all of the country's coal producing facilities by the end of this decade, making it almost completely reliant on renewable energy. Four years ago coal still provided 40% of Portugal's electricity. The two last coal power plants in the country closed in 2021, nearly ten years earlier than initially forecast. The first plant had been responsible for 12% of all greenhouse emissions in Portugal. Its closure meant the biggest decrease in polluting emissions in the country's history. The second plant was the only coal-fired facility functioning until 19 November 2021 when it too was shut down.

It was estimated that around 20,000 jobs would be created until 2030 in the solar-photovoltaic industry alone, with EDP having announced an investment of €24 billion in the renewable industry until 2026, most of it directed at wind, solar and green hydrogen production.

Back in 2017, a drought that severely affected the production of hydro electricity reduced the total from all renewables from 55.5% the previous year to 41.8%. Wind power that year accounted for 21.6% of the total, hydro 5.1%, solar just over 1% and geothermal 0.4%. Wave power made up 24% of the energy produced in the Azores.

While all other renewables are very important, wind remains the major source of electricity in Portugal. Its evolution does indeed provide an answer to this country’s commitment to avoiding a global warming catastrophe.