Beyond the trees

Trees are in the news, mostly for the wrong reasons. Some of them are being chopped, others are being uprooted and transplanted from areas impacted by road infrastructure projects to elsewhere, generally close by.

At this stage of these projects’ development, their impact on trees along our roads are the most visible outcome. There are various other outcomes that will only become clear in due course.

The symbolic value of trees is powerful. They are the most obvious choice for environmental activists when these need a medium to convey clearly understood messages about what is happening to our environment.

While their symbolic value is spearheading the criticism directed at the road development programme, trees have also inherent value as part of an eco-system that is continuously under siege.

The road development projects currently under way symbolise what is wrong with our planners – they work against nature, continuously failing to factor eco-sensitivity into their plans.

The issue at hand is clearly traffic congestion and the current exercise regarding infrastructure is trying to address this to facilitate mobility. However, in addressing traffic congestion, the main problem is that the authorities are approaching the issue in the wrong manner.

Their approach is based in the short-term and, consequently, the problem is never solved. It is merely postponed to some later date to be picked up again years down the line by future generations. This has been shown to be the case time and again everywhere, and clearly crops up in all major studies on transport planning and management.

Ian Borg, the Minister of Transport, is not the cause of traffic congestion. He has inherited it from his predecessors who failed to act properly on their watch.

Unfortunately, he is following in their footsteps. Borg too will pass the buck to his successor – more roads, more traffic, more bottlenecks, more traffic congestion.

Borg is ignoring the advice that is clearly spelt out in the Transport Master Plan 2015, which clearly identifies car use and ownership as the perennially unaddressed issue.

It would be pertinent to point out the following extract from section 2.2.1 of the Transport Master Plan, saying that: “historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking.”

The section goes on to say: “This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

The real issue is that our society is car dependent. This is reflected not only in all we do but also in the manner we go about doing it.

Unfortunately, governments are only interested in short-term solutions as they will generally not be around for much longer than that. So, they do not bother with implementing a long-term vision.

We need to change tack and focus our energy on the long-term solutions. It this case, it means that we can only solve traffic congestion by shifting from a focus on road capacity to one addressing car dependency. This signifies that we no longer merely act on the effects but that, instead, we start focusing on the real cause of our problem: changing our behaviour by reducing our car dependency.

I agree that this is easier said than done. But it is also fair and realistic to state that further procrastination will only add to our problems. The present state of affairs is precisely the direct consequence of a failure to act over a number of years, spurred by a policy and planning failure that has consistently opted for the short-term stop-gap solutions instead of the long-term ones.

 

Published in The Times of Malta: 9 August 2019 

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In-Natura m’għandhiex vot

Infrastruttura Malta hi insensittiva għal dak kollu li għandu x’jaqsam mal-ekoloġija. Ittrasformat trejqiet fil-widien u madwarhom f’toroq wisgħin bl-użu ta’ volumi kbar ta’ konkos kif għamlet fil-Wied Tal-Isqof u Wied is-Sewda. Dan ser ikollu impatt negattiv konsiderevoli fuq l-ambjent rurali, fuq il-komunitajiet rurali u fuq il-pajsaġġ.
Dawn it-trejqiet li ġew ittrasformati f’toroq, issa, inevitabilment ser ikunu użati minn iktar traffiku: il-problemi tat-traffiku ser ikunu trasferiti miż-żoni urbani għall-kampanja.

Il-widien huma parti integrali mill-eko-sistema tagħna, b’rikkezzi kbar ta’ bijodiversità. In-natura, li timla kull rokna tal-kampanja tagħna hi taħt theddida kontinwa. Mhux Infrastruttura Malta biss hi responsabbli għal dan.

L-eko-sistema taħdem f’sintonia kważi perfetta, b’rabta sħiħa bejn kull fjura u jew insett u l-bqija tal-madwar. L-ekoloġija ma żżidx biss mal-kuluri tal-pajsaġġ tagħna, imma hi l-bażi essenzjali tal-ħajja innifisha. Permezz ta’ diversi organiżmi li jistkennu fil-kampanja u l-widien in-natura tipprovdi servizzi essenzjali għall-agrikultura.

In-natura mhix dekorazzjoni tajba biss għar-ritratti, videos jew pitturi. Mhix qegħda hemm biex niggustawha.

Sfortunatament qed ngħixu f’dinja li ftit li xejn tagħti kaz ta’ dak kollu li m’għandux valur espress fi flus. Din hi r-raġuni ewlenija għan-nuqqas ta’ ħafna li jifhmu u japprezzaw l-importanza tal-ekoloġija fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum. Uħud ma għandhom l-ebda idea li aħna ma ngħixux f’ekonomija imma niffurmaw parti integrali minn eko-sistema!

Fil-passat saru diversi attentati biex tiġi kkoreġuta din l-attitudni permezz ta’ studji li ippruvaw jikkwantifika il-valur ekonomiku tal-bijodiversità. Dan sar kemm fuq livell Ewropew kif ukoll minn pajjiżi individwali. Dawn l-istudji jesploraw u jippruvaw jikkwantifikaw kemm jiswa’ biex ikunu sostitwiti s-servizzi li n-natura tipprovdilna b’xejn għal erbgħa u għoxrin siegħa kuljum. L-ammont jitkejjel bil-biljuni.

Hemm ħtieġa li nifhmu li l-bniedem huwa dipendenti fuq is-servizzi li n-natura tipprovdilna l-ħin kollu bla ebda ħlas. Dawn jinkludu l-ilma, l-ħamrija u l-arja nadifa li qed isofru attakk frontali kontinwu minn dak li nsejħulu żvilupp.

Is-siġar qed jitqaċċtu biex jagħmlu l-wisgħa għall-kostruzzjoni bla rażan li għaddejja bħalissa. Dan jinkludi l-proġetti mhux meħtieġa ta’ toroq li qed iseħħu f’dan il-ħin.

Is-siġar huma rigal li tagħtina n-natura. Jagħtuna l-ossiġnu li mingħajru ma nieħdux nifs. Dan l-ossignu jipproduċuh billi jassorbu id-dijossidju tal-carbonju mill-atmosfera, u jżommu l-karbonju depositat fiz-zokk u l-friegħi tas-siġra. B’dan il-mod is-siġar jagħtuna żewġ servizzi essenzjali bla ħlas: l-ossiġnu biex nieħdu n-nifs u depożitu naturali għall-karbonju. Dawn is-servizzi huma l-alternattivi naturali għat-teknoloġija magħrufa bħala “carbon capture technology” li tiswa’ l-miljuni. In-natura tipprovdilna alternattiva u aħna din ninjorawha. Huwa servizz bla ħlas u allura mhuwiex apprezzat. It-tibdil fil-klima huwa (in-parti) riżultat ta’ diforestazzjoni fuq skala kbira, akkumulata tul is-snin.

Aħna niddependu fuq in-natura ferm iktar milli niddependu fuq l-ekonomija. Imma fil-waqt li ninkwetaw meta pajjiżna jiffaċċja żbilanċ finanzjarju, ħafna jinjoraw l-iżbilanċ ambjentali li qiegħed isir dejjem iktar agħar milli qatt kien. Li nindirizzaw dan l-iżbilanċ ambjentali huwa essenzjali qabel ma jkun tard wisq. Mhux kulħadd hu konxju li ħadd ma hu ser jagħmlilna tajjeb għal dan l-iżbilanċ. Ma hemm l-ebda bale-out għal dan l-iżbilanċ!

Għandna Ministru tal-Kabinet li hu responsabbli mill-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli. Sfortunatament, kif ngħidu, lanqas jaf x’laqtu! Bħala riżultat ta’ dan hu ovvju li hawn nuqqas ta’ strateġija ta’ sostenibilità fis-settur pubbliku kollu.

L-impatt ta’ dan kollu jinħass fit-tul. Ma jidher li hemm l-ebda għaġla, għax in-natura m’għandiex vot. Imma dawk minna li għandhom vot għandna responsabbiltà etika li naġixxu f’isimha. Dak li tagħmel Alternattiva Demokratika.

ippubblikat fuq Illum Il-Ħadd 10 ta’ Marzu 2019

Nature has no vote

Infrastructure Malta is insensitive to all sorts of ecological issues. It has transformed country lanes in and around valleys into quasi-highways through the indiscriminate use of large volumes of concrete, which will have a considerable negative impact on the rural environment, the rural communities and on the rural landscape.

These former country lanes will inevitably now be used by more traffic, moving traffic- related problems from the urban areas into our countryside.

Valleys are an integral part of our eco-system: so rich in biodiversity. Wildlife, so abundant in our valleys and countryside, is continuously under threat as a result of this insensitivity. But Infrastructure Malta is not the only culprit.

There is an intricate inter-relationship between the different constituent parts forming our eco-system. Ecology does not just add colour to our landscapes but it is the very foundation of life itself. Nature is not just a desirable decoration to be captured on photographs, videos or paintings. Through a multitude of organisms sheltering in our valleys and the countryside, nature provides essential services to our agriculture through the provision of shelter to pollinators.

Unfortunately, we live in a world which tends to ignore non-monetary value. This is the underlying reason for the general failure to appreciate the importance of ecology in our daily lives. In fact, to some it is incomprehensible that we live in an eco-system and not in an economy! In the past, in an effort to try and remedy this myopic approach, there has been an attempt to quantify the economic value of biodiversity. Various studies have been undertaken to quantify this value on both a European level as well as an individual country basis. These studies explore and try to quantify what it would cost to replace the services that nature provides free on a 24/7 basis. This cost is measured in billions of euros.

We need to understand that humankind is dependent on the eco-system services that is freely provided by nature. These include water, fertile soil and clean air – all of which are being meticulously ruined as a result of so-called “development”.

Trees are being chopped down to make way for the current building spree, including the large scale road infrastructural overhaul currently in hand.

Trees are a gift of nature. They give us oxygen, without which we cannot breathe. They produce this oxygen by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, retaining the carbon in the process. By doing this, trees give us two essential services free: oxygen to breathe and a natural deposit for carbon – what we refer to as a “carbon sink”. Trees are the natural alternative to carbon capture technology. Carbon capture technology – used as part of the technological response to climate change – costs millions to produce and operate. Yet we have a natural alternative which we continuously discard. It is a free service and hence it is not appreciated. Climate change is partly the result of large-scale deforestation accumulated over the years.

We are significantly more dependent on nature than on the size of our country’s GDP and yet while we worry when our country is faced with a financial deficit, many ignore the ever-increasing environmental deficit. Addressing this deficit is essential before it is too late. Not everyone is aware that no one will bale-us out.

We have a Cabinet Minister responsible for Sustainable Development who, unfortunately, he has no idea of his brief. As a result, a focused sustainability driven strategy is very obviously missing right through the Maltese public sector.

The resulting impacts from all this are long-term. There seems to be no hurry to act, because nature has no vote. Yet those of us who do have a vote also have an ethical responsibility to act on its behalf. It is what we do at Alternattiva Demokratika-the Green Party.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 10 March 2019