The Beginning of an Environmental Conscience

The country may currently be making news headlines across the world for all the wrong reasons, but as Morgan Pettersson reports, whilst Greece may be economically falling apart, the citizens are embracing their environmental spirit.

Three months of living in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, allowed me an inside view into life behind the facade of the economic crisis.

Amidst all of the chaos and uncertainty of present conditions, locals are embracing a green way of living and a greener lifestyle.

Greece has some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world and is a hot spot for tourists, especially the islands and coast surrounded by the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean.

Yet what many visitors to Greece would agree with is the lack of care taken towards the environment, which the tourism industry relies on to make its money.

Picture white sandy beaches, beautiful calm turquoise water, and as you move closer there is also dozens of plastic bottles, ropes and other rubbish scattered across the idyllic setting, and this is not uncommon.

After seeing this blatant disregard for the environment on a visit to Crete, I began to wonder why the locals were not more concerned. Yes the economy was falling apart and the country on the verge of bankruptcy, yet if the people did not begin to look after their environment the tourists will start to disappear and then the biggest industry that Greece relies on will ground to a halt.

Amongst these feelings of hopelessness which seem to be the pervading mentality in the country I returned to Thessaloniki unsure of the fate of this beautiful and passionate nation, environmentally that is, economically I think we all know the answer.

In spending time in Thessaloniki I began to become aware that there was a silent uprising occurring, and one that was not being publicised.

The youth of Greece were beginning to care about the environment and were taking small tentative steps towards changing people’s views and daily habits into more green ways of living.

In Thessaloniki a group called Bike Respect had formed with the aim to encourage more people to ride their bikes as a form of cleaner living in a country known for city congestion and pollution from vehicles.

The group stages regular events to showcase the diversity of people riding bikes and the fun and healthy lifestyle that is associated with cycling.

They also aim to reverse the stereotype that people who ride bicycles are poor and do so because they can’t afford a car.

Kostas Simelidis the founder of the group said that the group was growing strong and slowly gaining support and more rights on the road, in a city where cars have right of way and pedestrians and cyclists have to beware.

“The bike culture is growing both in amount of cyclers but also in facilities. Today the cyclers are getting more rights but also understanding their responsibilities” he says.

The group were instrumental in the staging of the 4th Annual Greek National Bike Ride on May 8th this year in Thessaloniki, with hundreds of thousands of people all over Greece taking over the roads to show strength in numbers.

The group were also involved in the first ever fashion show on bicycles, with the models raising further awareness for cycling and also for the local fashion designers, including eye catching wheel hair pieces.

Yet the group Bike Respect are not the only group or NGOs raising awareness about environmental issues in Greece, with up cycling, the art of turning junk or un used materials into new objects, becoming popular.

In March this year the exhibition ‘The Planet Needs You’ came to Thessaloniki in an attempt to encourage the younger generations to become active about recycling and green living through interactive activities and features.

The organiser of the event Noredin Mokassabi, the president of the NGO Act Now who have brought the event to Greece, believes that whilst the Greek people do genuinly care about the environment there is not enough education at schools.

“I believe that the Greeks truly care about the environment in their soul especially as it is our main asset as a county.”

“It is especially difficult to put the idea of recycling and other green actions into the thinking of young children, as it is a topic that is unfortunately not prioritized in the Greek schools” he says.

The options for Thessalonikians to recycle and live a greener lifestyle are not many, with only two recycling stations present in the city of over two million, with the option to carry all of your recyclable goods to the city square to publicly recycle or to not recycle and save the time and  inconvenience is just another example of the lack of interest and thought put into green living options.

Greece is a country firmly set in its ways, but if the current economic climate and uprising is any indication, there will soon be moves towards greener living and a more environmentally friendly mindset in the country.

Once they have sorted out the countries economic future first.

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