Lithium

‘The challenge is to extract what we need without destroying the environment

Lithium (stone in Greek) is a soft, light, silvery-white metal and a key ingredient in batteries for electric cars and mobile phones. Worldwide, Australia has the highest production (40,000 tonnes each year). Portugal is one of Europe’s largest producers of this so-called ‘white gold’ with a modest reserve of about 60,000 tonnes.

Across the country, a battle is going on between companies eager to exploit the mineral and Portuguese locals determined to block exploration as the manufacturing process causes significant environmental hazards, such as water pollution and ecosystem degradation.

Last month the anti-mining movement reacted furiously over the way in which the government – only days after the local elections – launched an ‘international tender’ for the attribution of lithium mining in the Serra d’Arga region, while the Serra is an ‘Area of Protected landscape of Regional Interest’.

Four civic movements from the districts of Viana de Costelo and Braga are joining their forces against a report of the Lithium Prospecting and Research Program for launching tender procedures in eight areas in the north and center of the country, where most lithium can be found.

The current government is keen to develop a new industry, particularly when that can be linked to clean energy. However, on October 28 – on the eve of Parliament being dissolved after the collapse of the state budget – the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action signed in one day 9 new contracts conceding mineral exploration.

The minister of Environment João Pedro Matos Fernandes defended the signing by declaring that lithium is essential for the decarbonization of the economy. ’Portugal should only take out the minimum amount necessary but not suffer by importing lithium it can extract’.
Lithium exploration in Portugal is not viable at all says Oscar Afonso, president of the Fraud Economics and Management Observatory, instead. ‘Reserves are insignificant and explorations could well be abandoned early’.

Quercus, one of Portugal’s oldest environmental NGOs draws attention to the fact that nearly 30% of the regions affected by the threat of lithium prospection are ‘areas the State has promised to protect and safeguard’ and that not all contracts have completed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EAI) processes.

Demand for ‘critical’ minerals – including lithium – will increase sixfold, says the IEA (International Energy Agency) if the world is to reach its target of net-zero carbon emissions. Japan’s National Institute for Environmental studies even estimates a sevenfold increase in demand by 2050.

The question now is if Portugal will stick to the promise of its minister to ’only extract from the earth the minimum amount of lithium necessary’ for its own use.


Enjoy your week                   Aproveite a sua semana        
(Públic/Observad)




Cobblestone

‘Watch out – Art under your feet!

This spring Portuguese pavement (calçada) was presented in Lisbon as a candidate for UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list.  As of last year a total of 1,120 World Heritage Sites – demarcated by UNESCO as protected areas – exist across 167 countries. Portugal has 17 sites, the most recent being the 18th century Palace/Convent of Mafra, listed in 2019.

The traditional-style pavement used for pedestrian areas in Portugal originates from the 19th century. It consists of irregularly shaped stones – usually black basalt and white limestone – forming decorative patterns or mosaics. It can also be encountered in Spain, Gibraltar, South Africa, Malaysia, and throughout former Portuguese colonies like Brazil, Macau, Timor-Leste, Angola, and Mozambique.

Unfortunately, very little new paving is done and the profession of paving masters (mestres calceteiros) at risk. Poor working conditions and low wages have reduced apprenticeships and thus new pavers.

Despite the fact that the City Council founded a vocational school for pavers in 1986, there are only 18 pavers in Lisbon, of which a mere 11 active. ‘And without pavers, there is no pavement’, explains Antonio Prôa, Secretary-General of the Calçada Portuguesa Association.

Moreover, there is declining interest in its investment and construction as the pavement is less safe (providing less traction when wet and loose stones become tripping hazards), costs more (especially through a decline in the extractive stone industry), and wears quicker than asphalt.

The proposal to UNESCO, therefore, contains concrete measures to foster attractiveness and enhancement of the profession. Furthermore, creation of a documentation center/observatory of the Portuguese sidewalk in the world, development of a reference for the formation of artistic pavers, and certification of artistic sidewalk interventions. The municipality has approved the candidacy with a financial support of 110,000 euros.        

Besides emphasizing the advantages of mosaic pavement (use of local materials, sustainability – reuse, ease of restoration, and efficient drainage), the promotors of the candidacy highlight the importance of the Portuguese cobblestone for its ‘distinctive and national identity element and its cultural and touristic value’.


Enjoy your week          Aproveite a sua semana          (pic Público/Sapo)









Shortage-nurses

‘Just clapping doesn’t solve anything’

Despite the fact that Catarina Martins – the leader of the Left Bloc (BE) – regards the National Health Service (SNS) ‘a pearl of democracy’ and its workers ‘heroes and heroines’, working conditions are poor and staff shortages in public health threatening.

After having reviewed the shortage of doctors in the SNS, let’s now take a look at the field of nursing.

When Portugal froze nurses’ career progression and salaries during the financial crisis some ten years ago, thousands went abroad in seek of greener pastures. There are currently 20.000 Portuguese nurses working elsewhere – mainly in the UK, France, Spain, and Germany – where salaries are easily 3 times higher.

In Portugal, the ratio of nurses/inhabitants is low (6.9/1000), compared to EU countries (9.3/1000). The Independent Union of Nurses recently highlighted the lack of appreciation of the nurses by the Government, leading to another 1300 professionals leaving the country during the Covid19 pandemic.

According to the Nurses Association (OE), there are approximately 45.500 nurses working in the SNS.
‘A general nurse earns 1200 euros per month at the start of her career and will only be evaluated for upgrading every ten years’, says Guadalupe Simões, head of the Portuguese Nursing Syndicate. ‘After tax, some take home as little as 980 euros, just 315 above the minimum wage. Many have two jobs to make ends meet. Even those who have worked a lifetime can only hope to reach a salary of 1800 euros at the end of 40 years’.

The OE foresees further mass emigrations of nurses after an exhausting and unrewarded fight against the pandemic. ‘The Government must adopt policies to keep nurses in the country and that is impossible with low wages’, the outspoken president of the Association – Ana Rita Cavaco – declared. To back their demands a general strike will be called on November 3rd and 4th.

In order to recover the level of primary care damaged by the epidemic and in view of the EU Recovery Plan – aiming to rebuild a more resilient post-Covid19 Europe – the OE proposes the assignment of a family nurse to each family/patient.

‘There are currently 3000 nurses involved in the coronavirus vaccination campaign, which could be considered for this purpose. Family nurses can play a decisive role in the recovery and consolidation of people with chronic illnesses and dependents at home, who are now in a situation of greater vulnerability.’


Enjoy your weekend      Bom fim de semana      (pic Público/Sapo)








Elections

‘Democracy has no owner’ (Carlos Moedas, new mayor of Lisbon)

The ruling center-left Socialist Party (PS) of prime minister António Costa won the local elections with 34% of the votes. Although less convincing than 4 years ago, when the SP was able to take the lead in 160 of the 308 municipalities. This time the party lost 11 councils.

The center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) gained ground with 24% of the votes. After its worse result ever in 2017 – winning only 98 councils – it recovered 16 municipalities, giving the party the chance to nominate the mayor.

The completely unexpected loss of the Socialists in Lisbon against Novos Tempos (‘New Times’) – a coalition of right-wing parties, including the PSD – meant a sensitive blow to the PS, who had been in power there for 14 consecutive years.

The newly elected mayor in the capital – Carlos Moedas – however, will face a red wall of councillors. The rightist PSD coalition has seven councillors, exactly the same amount as the leftist PS. But there are three more councillors who are likely to team up with the PS. Two communists and one from the Left Bloc, a party with Marxist roots and 19 deputies in Parliament but no mayors at the local level.

The Centre Democratic and Social Popular Party (CDS-PP) – a conservative Christian anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia party – won, in alliance with the PSD, in only 5 councils. One less than four years ago.

The biggest loser was the one-hundred-year-old Communist Party (PCP) – one of the strongest communist parties in Western Europe – who got just over 8% of the votes, losing 5 of their 19 councils. Their worst result since 1976, when Portugal introduced democracy after the Carnation Revolution.


The far-right, xenophobic and nationalist party Chega (‘Enough’) – with one seat in Parliament and taking part in the local elections for the first time – achieved modest success with 4% of the votes, not enough though to conquer a council.

Only 28 councils (9%) were won by a woman, 4 less than in 2017. The Socialists elected most women for mayor – 18 out of 28 – followed by the Social Democrats with 7 women and the Communists with 3 women in the leadership.

The turnout was traditionally poor.
Of the nine million voters, who were able to take part in this election, just over 50% showed up.

Enjoy your week                   Approveite sua semana      (pic Sapo/Ptres)


Shortage-doctors

Lack of doctors, just when reinforcement is needed after Covid19

Despite the fact that Catarina Martins – the leader of the Left Bloc (BE) – regards the National Health Service (SNS) as ‘a pearl of democracy’ and its workers ‘heroes and heroines’, working conditions are poor and staff shortages in public health-threatening. Let’s first take a look at the situation at the doctor level.

More than 1 million users of the SNS do not have a family doctor, most of them living in the region of Lisbon and the Tagus Valley. A situation that hasn’t occurred since 2015.

The Minister of Health – Marta Temido – acknowledges that the number of general practitioners has sharply regressed but justified the shortage by the substantial number of retirements and an increase of 60.000 subscribers to the SNS – due to the demand for vaccinations.

In the first half of this year, more than 230 doctors retired from the SNS – 131 of whom were practitioners in general and family medicine – the minister revealed, whereas last year 653 doctors departed from public health service.

To counter this departure, she wants to open up an extra 400 vacancies for general and family medicine to provide some 650.000 Portuguese with a general practitioner. But whether these vacancies will be filled is the question.

About one-third of all vacancies for newly trained doctors in both hospital and primary care were left open last year. Some doctors preferred to wait for more lucrative positions in the private sector or even abroad, after finishing their internship.

Unfortunately, this has become the trend in recent years. ‘What confuses me is that everyone knows it but doesn’t do anything about it’, states Jorge da Cunha, secretary-general of the Independent Trade Union of Doctors. ‘The SNS isn’t attractive enough to keep young doctors in service as long as there are profitable possibilities in private practice’.

The tragedy is that there are fewer doctors at a time when significant reinforcement is needed to recover what is left undone during the pandemic. In the first year of Covid19, there were 46% fewer physical consultations in primary care, 30% fewer in hospital, and 25% fewer surgeries realized.

The Portuguese League Against Cancer estimates that over 1000 cancer cases (breast, colorectal, cervix) have been missed due to a halt in screening services during the pandemic. ‘The last 1½ year have been spent on counting fatalities from a virus that barely claimed the lives of half the number of people dying from cancer every year’, its spokesman complained.

Stay healthy                                    Fique saudável                     (pic Público)








Displaced

Portuguese institutions are better prepared now’ – Ghalia Taki, Syrian refugee

When Mustafa decided to flee Iraq five years ago and reached Portugal – via Syria, Turkey, and Greece – he was convinced to get asylum quickly. What he didn’t know was that the country was – at that time – ill-prepared in taking care of refugees, especially from the Middle East. Living conditions were poor, asylum procedures slow, and recognition of diplomas problematic. Most refugees felt utterly lost and fled the country in search of greener pastures up north.


Since then a lot has changed for the better. Portugal has positioned itself at the forefront of welcoming refugees and already hosted – under various international programs – nearly 3000 refugees, living in 26 municipalities across the country.

The government of António Costa repeatedly states that ‘the welcoming and integration of refugees is a priority, to which a continuous effort is dedicated, involving national and local authorities, private entities and civil society.’

Now, five years later, Samir – who arrived at the same time as Mustafa under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Resettlement program – no longer wants to leave the country, where his children are integrated and show excellent grades in school.

Besides via the UNHCR, the country also receives refugees under EU Relocation programs. One of them is aimed at the more than 5,000 unaccompanied minors stuck in refugee camps in Greece of which already 121 have been accepted by Portugal.

The country is currently the 4th EU member state that takes in the most unaccompanied minors, after France, Germany, and Finland. These adolescents – mostly boys between 14 and 17 years old – are initially being housed in temporary shelters in Lisbon and the northern and central regions.

Cláudia Sabença, director of the Specialized Reception Centre at the Red Cross – which coordinates the unaccompanied minors program – emphasizes that these youngsters have serious emotional problems (nightmares, anxiety) and that insufficient mastery of the Portuguese language complicates a smooth integration.

The Government also provides support in the event of Emergency Rescue operations at sea and has hosted so far 243 people saved from the Mediterranean.

The fact that the country is willing to receive over 400 Afghan refugees – above all women, children, activists, and journalists – is one more sign of its hospitality.

‘Portuguese institutions are better prepared now and have more information about culture and people’s needs”, says Ghalia Taki, a Syrian refugee, who works as an interpreter and recently obtained the Portuguese nationality, albeit six years and ten months after arriving in the country.

Stay healthy                Fique saudável            (pic Público/Lusolobo)











Greenhouse

July was the world’s hottest month on record.

The planet has reached +1.1°C above pre-industrial levels and is already starting to suffer the consequences with wildfires ravaging the US, Siberia, Greece, and Turkey, floods in Germany, Japan, and China, and thermometers hitting 50°C in Canada.

CO2 concentrations continue to rise and global warming is happening faster, warned United Nations, climate experts. In 2030 the limit of the Paris agreement (+1,5°C) could already be reached, 10 years earlier than estimated!

Temperatures are expected to rise even quicker around the Mediterranean. In Lisbon, average summer temperatures are predicted to rise from 28 to 34 degrees and the number of extremely hot days ( > 35°C) from 5 to 50 per year. Sea levels in the Algarve will rise by 20-30 cm.

However, hope gives life. Portugal is at the forefront of the European energy transition, according to the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyden.

There has been a significant rise in the consumption of renewable energy thanks to a reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels and the closure of the country’s biggest coal-fired power plant in Sines. Renewable energy production now supplies 68% of the electric consumption in Portugal.

Compared to other European countries, the country consumes less energy – about half of the EU average – and produces less waste. On the other hand, the country has one of the lowest rates of recycling materials, only one-fifth of the EU average.

The country rose eight places last year on the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) – a comparative analysis of climate protection in 57 countries led by Sweden – currently occupying place 17. Although greenhouse gases are decreasing in half of the countries analyzed, none of the countries is on a path compatible with the objectives of the Paris Agreement of 2015.

This summer two hydrogen-powered buses started circulating in the seaside resort of Cascais. It is the first municipality in the country to have electric buses powered by the energy generated onboard using a fuel cell.

The buses will serve two routes closely linked to nature. One along the sea, serving Guincho beach, and the other serving the Sintra-Cascais Natural park.

Contrary to popular belief, the Portuguese do not seem to be overly concerned about increases in fuel or heating prices as long as this contributes to the EU target of reducing emissions by at least 55% until 2030. A recent survey by the European Federation of Transport and Environment showed that more than 70% of the Portuguese want their government to increase efforts to slow down greenhouse emissions.

That climate change can also lead to unexpected side effects, shows the arrival of a colony of about 3000 flamingos – for the first time successfully nesting in the Algarve and the return of dolphins in the Lisbon Tagus.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável            (pic Público/Ptnews)










Census21

‘It’s not right. One turns his back and, suddenly, there are 214,286 Portuguese missing’
(Miguel Cardoso, Portuguese journalist)

In the last 10 years, Portugal has lost 214,286 citizens (-2%) according to preliminary data from the 2021 Census, released on 28 July by the National Institute of Statistics (INE).
It is the second time that something like this has happened.

Since 1864, the Portuguese population has always grown. Except between 1960 and 1970, when – in the grip of a brutal dictatorship – a huge emigration wave swept a quarter of a million people out of the country. After the 70s, the numbers kept going up again, until now.

The main reason for the current decline is the tumbling fertility rate.
In the first six months of this year, 4500 fewer babies were born than in the same period last year. It is the lowest number in over 30 years.

Despite the fact that a record of almost 150.000 foreigners – mainly from Brazil and Israel – obtained Portuguese nationality in 2020, the positive migration balance of the last years proved not to be enough to compensate for the decline.

Only the Algarve (+3.7%) and the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon (+1.7%) are showing growth. Albeit at the expense of the interior parts of the country (Alentejo province – 6,9%), that continue to lose inhabitants in favor of coastal grounds.

Reduction in the asymmetry between the coast and the interior has been part of the political discourse for a long time. Census21 shows that that has been in vain.

The inner cities of Lisbon (-1,4%) and Porto (-2,4%) also show population decline. Exorbitant housing prices and dwellings being transformed into tourist accommodation, force an increasing number of residents to the outskirts.

Half of the country’s population (currently 10,3 million) is nowadays concentrated in municipalities located in the Metropolitan Areas of Lisbon and Porto; 28% in the Extended Lisbon Area (2,871,133) alone.

The rise in foreign residents (in particular from the UK) and expansion of the tourism industry, together with an increase in the intensive agricultural sector – and the considerable influx of migrant (mainly Asian) labor associated with this activity – probably explains the population boost in the Algarve.

‘If there is no reversal of the natural balance – particularly in births –  we will become increasingly dependent on migration from abroad to save our population’, concludes Francisco Lima, CEO of INE.


Stay healthy                                    Fique saudável              (pic Público)






Foodprint

Portugal is importing nearly 75% of its food and the Mediterranean country with the heaviest per capita food footprint, meaning that if everyone in the world consumes resources like the Portuguese, 2.5 planets earth are needed.

The biggest culprit is the country’s exceptional appetite for fish. Portugal is – after Japan and Iceland – the third biggest consumer of fish in the world engulfing every year around 62 kg per person, most of it –especially tuna, swordfish, and cod –imported.

But dependence doesn’t stop there. The country also relies heavily on the biocapacity of foreign nations – like Spain, France, Brazil, and China – for cereals, honey, jams, chocolate, and fats. Any short-term improvement isn’t expected, due to the fragile structure of public policies to reverse this trend.  

The Associação Natureza Portugal (ANP) – partner of the World Wildlife Fund – also recalls, that the ecological footprint has increased much more than the global average of 1,6 planets a year.


‘This ecological footprint in our country has mainly increased in the last three years. Portugal now appears in 46th place worldwide, whereas in 2018 it ranked 66th. This is due to the massive growth in tourism after the economic crisis and before the arrival of the coronavirus’, explains Catarina Grilo, conservation director of the ANP.

Besides an excessive consumption pattern, about one million tons of food is thrown away every year. Especially fruits and vegetables are wasted when they lose their expiration date or appearance, although often still suitable for consumption. In the whole EU, it is estimated that annually nearly 90 million tons are wasted.


‘Some supermarkets and department stores have strategies to combat food waste at the same time helping those in need. With the current pandemic, food aid requests increased more than 60%’, explains Filomena Pinto da Costa, coordinator of the youth support organization Casa Pia.

In a country that presided over the EU in the first half of 2021, Portugal had an important role in setting goals to reduce the ecological footprint at the European level. The Minister for the Environment and Climate Action, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, recently declared that 1.2 billion euros of funds are reserved to restore habitats and ecosystems between 2021 and 2027.


Stay Healthy      Fique Saudável                             (pic Público/Sapo)









Weiwei

‘China is very powerful, with a clear vision. But it’s a secret state’ – Ai Weiwei

The Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei (1957, Beijing) is one of the most influential and creative names in contemporary art.
In 2020 he was elected as the most famous artist by the international journal The Art Newspaper.

His father, Ai Quing (1910-1996) – writer and well-known poet – was in the 60s the object of purges against intellectuals and artists, that Mao declared counter-revolutionaries and enemies of the Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution. 

Weiwei grew up in the far north-west of China, where he lived under harsh conditions, due to his father’s exile to a work camp in the Gobi desert. ‘The farthest place you can find on the map of China’, as he describes it himself.
Upon Mao’s death in 1976 the family returned to Beijing.

  


As an activist, he openly criticizes the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights.
He was arrested several times and detained in 2011 for 81 days without charge and had his passport confiscated.


After being allowed to leave China in 2015, he subsequently lived in Berlin, Cambridge (UK), and since this year in Portugal.
In Montemor-o-Novo to be precise, in the Alentejo province.


This year he opened his first solo exhibition in Portugal.
Rapture (meaning ecstasy but also abduction) – with 85 pieces his biggest ever – reveals work from the different phases in his life.

For example, photographs taken during the 80’s – when he still lived as an unknown artist in New York. A serpent made of backpacks, symbolizing the more than 5000 children killed in the 2008 earthquake in the Chinese province of Sichuan.


A set of boxes with three-dimensional scenes from the days the artist spent in prison in 2011 and his video film Coronation, about the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the city of Wuhan.


But also works created last year in Portugal with local craftsmen and materials. Such as Pendente, a 10-ton marble toilet paper roll – produced at B Stone – which the artist sees as a symbol of a world struggling to free itself from the pandemic.



Odisseia – the massive tile panel made at the Viúva Lamengo factory – representing the odyssey of refugees around the world and last but not least a statue of the artist himself – brainless and sitting on a chair to which he is handcuffed – made of cork in collaboration with the Corticeira Amorim company.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Weiwei declared that “The one-party system controls the army and the police, there is no freedom of expression and no independent judicial system. The CCP will rule China for a long time, even beyond our imagination.”

Rapture is to be seen until the 28th of November in the Cordoaria Nacional in Lisbon.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável            (pic Lusolobo)