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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 July 2004, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Southern Spain 'dust bowl' threat
By Kate Forbes
BBC, Marbella

Thud! The car pops out of one pothole, crashing down into the next.

Aloe vera farm
Farmers in southern Spain say the summers are getting longer

We skirt sheer drops on the road up to a farm in the Andalucian hills, hang on to our lunches and head towards the fields of aloe vera plants that welcome you to Roberto Viega's farm.

We are in southern Spain on the trail of climate change - something climatologist Dr David Viner thinks could cause resorts like Marbella, and the surrounding farmland, to turn to dust bowls.

Mr Viega cuts open an aloe vera plant he is growing, the thick wet jelly inside a stark contrast to the dusty ground.

Here we find the start of the trail - he is already experiencing climate change, he says, throwing his arms wide to express alarm as he talks.

"I can say that the summers are definitely getting longer and dryer," he says, kicking at the soil with his boot.

"The rains, when they come, they are heavier and shorter - it's a disaster as erosion is very, very bad."

Where's the harm?

Dr Viner nods as Roberto explains. His predictions are based on a model for the future climate of southern Europe prepared for a Nato conference on climate change.

It shows that by 2020, temperatures could have increased by 2.5C. And by 2050, the increase could be nearly 5C, with a quarter of the already sparse rainfall they have now.

So sunny Spain may get sunnier. Where is the harm in that?

As we heard, farmland will be affected. But many people sold their land long ago - it is now tourists that are farmed here. Real estate banners advertising "a place in the sun" line 60km of motorway between Malaga airport and Marbella.

Dr Viner explained why for some people investing in southern Spain, their last mortgage payment may come at a time when they can no longer use their holiday homes in the hottest summer months.

"The close heat here, rather than what attracts tourists, may well become something that drives them away.

"The 2.5C increase by 2020 may not sound much, but remember it was only a three degree increase last year in the heat wave that killed many thousands of people across Europe."


Although Dr Viner's predictions are just that - predictions based on a climatic model, it is rather alarming. But will it put people off?
Beach, Marbella
Some holidaymakers are sceptical about the climate threat

We spoke to interior designer Sharon Shonn, on holiday here hunting for a house on the coast. She does not seem convinced.

"To be honest, I'm sceptical," she says.

"Spain is beautiful, and so popular - if the heat does increase, we'll just get used to it.

"I'm not worried, and global warming is not something that will make me think twice about changing my life.

"There is no summer in Britain - how noticeable is a couple of degrees going to be? Would you rather be in rainy Manchester or sunny Spain?"

So it is people like Sharon that this kind of research needs to convince, before the British colony on the Costa starts taking any threat of climate change seriously.

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