published on August 15, 2009
by Carmel Cacopardo
Being Green entails a fundamentally different approach to politics from that of mainstream political parties. The point of departure being recognition of the fact that man does not form part of an economy but of an eco-system. Ecology establishes natural limits for our actions. However, it also provides solutions for a number of the problems we encounter.
Our society can be organised in a much better way than it is at present.
The building industry continues to produce residential units while a substantial number estimated at around 70,000 currently lie vacant.
Around 300,000 cars glut our roads. Given the small size of the Maltese islands, mobility can be more easily ensured through an efficient public transport system supplemented by other means including cycling. Yet continuously our society defies reason and without fail selects the worse option.
During the past two years in Mexico City, in the densely populated neighbourhood of Iztapalapa, a “nature roof” was created at the Belisario Dominguez Hospital. The project director Tania Müller when interviewed stated that “having direct and visual contact with a green area helps a great deal in patient recovery”. This “nature roof” in an intensely developed urban area is also proving beneficial to the medical staff who, like their colleagues around the globe, are constantly subject to stressful situations.
Nature has a therapeutic effect. Man is constantly searching for ways of re-establishing a lasting link in particular in situations where the “natural” link with nature has been eradicated. A “nature roof” may be a measure of last resort in a densely urbanised area but it is no substitute for the real thing.
A study published in May 2008 by the University of Exeter on behalf of the UK Charity LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) concluded that a two hour visit to a farm can be more beneficial than the same time spent in a gym. The study entitled Feed Your Senses: The Effects Of Visiting A LEAF Farm concludes that nature has a calming effect in that it assists in stress reduction. This is beneficial not only to those in a good state of health but more so to those whose mental health is an issue. In some cases it can also be an addition or maybe even a substitute to conventional therapy, doing away with dependence on anti-depression treatment through the use of prescription drugs. MIND, a leading mental health charity in the UK, launching its report entitled Eco-therapy: A Green Agenda For Mental Health considers eco-therapy as an important part of the future of mental health. Eco-therapy is a developing branch of psychotherapy and involves the utilisation of nature for “people’s psychological and spiritual health and well-being”. Now this can take various forms: walks in the countryside, cycling tours, visits to farms, taking up residence periodically within a farming or fishing community. All seek to re-establish our “lost links” with nature and have been found to reduce stress, anger, anxiety, mental fatigue and various problems of mental health.
Agri-tourism offers such an experience too. Unfortunately, agri-tourism and its twin eco-tourism are not given much importance in the Tourism Master Plan For The Maltese Islands, which is more of a business plan for the hotel industry than a tourism master plan. Agri-tourism is not only a sustainable alternative to the building of farmhouses for urban dwellers fleeing from the stress of work but also a welcome reinforcement of the economy of the agricultural community.
Developing a healthy agri-touristic industry is not just beneficial for tourism and agriculture; if properly managed it could in the long term reduce part of the costs of the National Health Service in the sense that the agri-touristic infrastructure can also be utilised for medical purposes, rehabilitating patients with problems of mental health. This however requires an holistic view of policy.
The National Commission for Sustainable Development, which (to put it mildly) is known not to have met in the recent past, provides the framework within which policy can be viewed in an holistic manner. It also provides for a beneficial interaction between the different areas of policy which could lead to initiatives enhancing the quality of life for all. The Commission has the potential of being a laboratory of ideas to develop sustainable development policies. Such a useful tool is not being put to use at the present time.
The closer we get to the end of the current recession the more important it is that the National Commission for Sustainable Development develops the role of a “critical friend” of the Public Administration, developing ideas and subjecting the ideas and proposals of others to a sustainability benchmark. It is the only way to re-establish the links with our roots.