Steven Linares, minister of housing, technical services, infrastructure, youth and sport for Gibraltar, spoke about the urgent need to address the issue of climate change on a global scale, and how first world countries can contribute to climate reform, Wednesday during a lecture hosted by the University’s International Studies Institute.
Linares is a founding member of the Friends of the Earth organization chapter in Gibraltar, the British overseas territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. He is also a teacher, trade unionist, barrister, and a politician who advocates for climate change reform.
Linares said in order to improve the current state of the planet and its resources, people must first realize and accept the harm that has already been done and continues to occur.
“It’s a question of believing that climate change is real and how it affects poor communities the most in our society,” Linares said.
In order to prevent further climate change disasters, there must be an international rule-based framework involving economic progress, physical progress and social progress, Linares said. The main culprits of the poor state our planet is in are developed Western countries and their methods of economic growth, said Linares.
“The liberalist view on climate change is that wealth has to be created with respect to our finite planet, therefore avoiding disastrous planet changes,” Linares said.
As minister of utilities in Gibraltar from 2012 to 2015, Linares said his priority was the well-being of the environment. Before he became minister, the previous government signed a contract to buy a new power station fueled by diesel to be used for the next 30 years. Realizing the damage it would cost to the environment, Linares ended the contract and replaced the power station with one that ran on liquified natural gas.
“We had to pay a lot of money to end that contract and buy a new power station but just imagine the consequences to the environment with diesel,” Linares said. “Although LNG is not 100% environmentally friendly, at least it is not emitting large amounts of carbon.”
Linares also became minister of sports in 2012 for Gibraltar, for which he led projects building carbon-neutral sports facilities for the International Natwest Island Games in 2019.
“We upgraded our sporting facilities and built new swimming pools, a running track, gyms, all which run on solar panels,” Linares said. “In Gibraltar, we get a lot of sun and are producing more electricity than we are consuming.”
As a youth minister and teacher, Linares said he conducts two way discussions between him and his students about ways they can improve the planet. Linares said he also implements these discussions at home with his children.
“As a father of three, I feel it is grossly unfair to leave the planet in a state of irreversible repair,” Linares said.
Hugo Villanueva, junior international studies major, said that although countries would like to work together to fix the issue of climate change, it is not an easy task to complete due to the unique conflicts within their countries.
“How will the world work together with so many challenges and divisions among powerful countries?” Villanueva asked.
Linares said the key is to make countries believe at the very least in the environment, including authoritarian countries like China who prioritize economic growth. Investing in the right technology that has long-lasting impacts is also a critical step these countries can take, added Linares.
“It’s not just a liberal philosophy, it has to be a world philosophy, a climate philosophy,” Linares said.
“Have you seen any changes in the dynamics of climate change being approached now compared to before the pandemic?” asked Brianna Torres, sophomore international studies major.
Linares said many economies have ceased due to COVID-19 restrictions, including that of Gibraltar which relies hugely on tourism. In reviving these economies, however, businesses and governments cannot ignore the well-being of the planet.
“In many countries, carbon emissions have gone down because of closed businesses due to COVID-19,” Linares said. “I believe in economic growth but we’ve only got one planet. We have to remind politicians that this is also their planet and of the younger generations to come.”
Linares said the environment has no borders, and similar to COVID-19, climate change affects everyone unless people begin to unite and act fast to save the planet.
“What are your concerns about studies that showcase dangers of alternative sources of energy?,” asked Victor Gonzalez, senior political science major.
The radioactive waste produced from nuclear power is one of Linares’ major concerns regarding alternative sources of energy.
“The management of radioactive waste is key to the efficiency of nuclear power since it could potentially kill us as well as harm the environment more,” Linares said. “I have seen many scenarios where radioactive waste has not been managed fully and that’s where my skepticism comes from.”
Linares provided the country of Finland as an example of the improper management of radioactive waste. Finland has an abundance of nuclear power and tries to sell it to other European countries. However, it stores all its radioactive waste underground, similarly to sweeping dust under a carpet, Linares said. This eliminates the usefulness of alternative energy sources such as nuclear power because of the high risks that come along with it.
“Bill Gates stated that ‘it is hard to perceive a future where we decarbonize our power grid affordably without using more nuclear power,’ so what would it take to convince you that we can’t confront this issue reasonably without nuclear power given that all sources of energy come with risks?” Kenneth Marcus, professor of history, asked Linares.
Linares said that although every form of energy has a risk, big or small, he still takes caution in using different sources of energy due to the negative consequences that derive from common sources of energy today.
“We started with coal, now coal is dirty, horrible and pollutes a lot,” Linares siad. “Then we went to fuel and diesel and even though we tried to refine diesel, it was still a big pollutant. Then we went to unleaded petrol for engines and then hybrids. If at any time nuclear power is good for us and the environment, then I’m all for it.”
Juli Minoves-Triquell, associate professor of political science, said his generation shares the same concerns as Linares due to significant events regarding nuclear energy.
“I’m part of the generation that remembers 1986 and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, so I guess people like me have concerns about not only the harmful waste of nuclear energy but the dangers of it not working well,” Minoves said. “I think a lot of us would like to see nuclear working and are ready to be convinced.”
Linares will attend this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 26, where he will propose solutions and reforms to address ongoing climate change issues.
“We need to act fast and we need to act now because the planet cannot wait any longer,” Linares said.
Alondra Campos can be reached at email@example.com.