The desertification of southern Europe may be under way

With 2003’s deadly European heat wave still lingering in memory, this summer’s spiking temperatures, rampant forest fires, and record droughts along the Mediterranean are increasingly being seen not as freaky aberrations, but signs of global warming. Dozens of fires have burned from Greece to Portugal. Some Spanish water reservoirs are 80 percent below capacity, and provincial governments are sparring over alleged water theft and illegal wells. The whole of Portugal is gripped by a major drought. In France, this year’s extreme aridity spawned an invasion of rapacious locusts in the southern Aveyron region. The European Space Agency’s Desert Watch project estimates that about 116,000 square miles of Europe’s historically verdant Mediterranean coast, home to 16.5 million people, is threatened by desertification — becoming so hot and dry that it could be useless for agriculture and, needless to say, less appealing to tourists. Says a U.N. sustainable development expert, “Everything is linked to the changing climate.”