When Greenpeace brought out a book showing famous Spanish landscapes submerged in water, they said they "wanted to create alarm and launch a call for action". Those words were truer than they knew. Now the digitally altered pictures are at the centre of a looming legal action.
A group of property developers and owners in the popular Mediterranean resort of La Manga have threatened to sue Greenpeace for millions of euros, over their dramatic predictions of the effects of global warming, which they say have caused house prices in the area to plunge.
The threatened legal action comes eight months after La Manga del Mar Menor, a sandy spit at the heart of Murcia's tourist region, featured prominently in the Photoclima book published by the ecological organisation to jolt Spain into action on climate change.
Greenpeace's initiative "has provoked the collapse of the property market and the services of the affected area", a group of developers say in letters to the organisation, quoted in the Spanish press. They will "take legal action" if Greenpeace refuses to accept an out-of-court settlement amounting to €27m (£21m) in damages.
Photoclima, published last November, showed aerial shots of La Manga alongside digitally modified photographs of the same scenes submerged in water, with only the tops of high-rise hotels, apartment blocks and palm trees visible above the sea.
"Greenpeace manipulated the expected rise in sea levels of half a metre to cause alarm. Their action has sunk the real estate market: no one is buying and everyone has put their flats up for sale," Jose Angel Abad, a lawyer championing the cause of the area's aggrieved developers, told reporters. He said prices had plunged by 50 per cent in recent months and that his clients were seeking €27m to cover the drop in value of their properties.
Greenpeace said its book accurately portrays the conclusions reached by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), which predicted that global warming would cause sea levels to rise worldwide in coming decades. The book also shows modified images of a dried-up river Ebro in Zaragoza and Valencian orange and lemon groves shrivelled to a desert.
Spain is currently suffering a housing slump after enjoying a 12-year building boom. Greenpeace said the developers and owners were trying to "blackmail" the organisation into footing the bill for their own speculation in real estate and it would not settle out of court. The matter was in the hands of its lawyers. "They're trying to blame Greenpeace and its campaign for the urban destruction of La Manga and problems they've encountered in a market saturated by real estate speculation," said Juan Lopez de Uralde, Greenpeace's director in Spain. "We will not be intimidated. The photos correspond to scientists' predictions."
The IPCC met in Valencia in November to present its report. With this information, Greenpeace used photomontage techniques on images of six sites in Spain, showing the devastating impact of climate change unless urgent measures were taken.
"We will continue to campaign against climate change, because time is running out for taking measures to prevent La Manga from becoming submerged," said Mario Rodríguez, Greenpeace's campaigns director in Spain. "To try to solve specific problems by attacking the messenger, whose only aim is to defend the environment, is a wrong strategy, as well as being unworthy and unfair."