A post-Covid future

It is too simplistic to state that the surge in Covid-19 new cases is the unique responsibility of more efficient strains of the virus. The efficient virus was without doubt, for quite some time, assisted by a practically inexistent enforcement. Until last week, substantial gatherings around a number of bar outlets were definitely not monitored with any strain of virus present having a practically free rein. The high Covid infection rate is also a consequence of all this.

The virus is thus not just more efficient, it has also encountered a lax enforcement which together with Covid-19 fatigue have made its proliferation much easier. Matters were also not made easier as a result of over-optimism and back-to-normal-soon messages. These messages together with the denigration of warnings on the potential impact of additional waves of virus infection has led us to the current state of play.

It is only thanks to the hard work of the medical personnel that matters are not much worse. One only hopes that lessons are learnt and that errors of judgement are not repeated. In the prevailing circumstances, the only permissible errors are those made on the side of caution.

The financial support which government has provided to a number of sectors, which support has been increased and extended, has certainly been helpful in the short term. While prioritising the health of all we can also use this down-time to plan for the future, a post-Covid future.

The vaccination programme is a reasonable source of optimism even though the light at the end of the tunnel is not visible yet.

Nobody contests that even as a result of Covid-19, the economy is in tatters, not just the Maltese economy, but possibly the world economy! The national debate should, at this point in time, be focused on how we ought to proceed into the future. Do we rebuild the past or do we take this unique opportunity to reshape the future?

The education of future generations has been dealt a severe blow as at the end of this Covid-phase at least two years of formal education will have been wiped out. Online education has certainly been of considerable help even though it is no substitute to the direct contact between our educators and students. This applies to all levels of education but more importantly at the primary and secondary school levels. It would be indeed unfortunate if anyone of the most vulnerable goes below the educational radar, as a result of Covid.  

Recovery will definitely not be easy.

A positive aspect of the tools utilised to cope with Covid was the increased reliance on digitalisation in general and tele-working in particular. We will definitely need to discuss the implications of this in considerable depth in the debate on the post-Covid future as both rights and duties in this area are not sufficiently clear yet.

Covid, like other major epidemics (AIDS, Ebola, SARS) is a direct result of the mistreatment of nature. It is specifically the consequence of the human assault on biodiversity.

Nature has a habit of calling the shots whenever it deems fit. Viruses follow natural paths and until brought in check by proper behaviour on our part, they will reign supreme.

Tinkering with nature and natural processes always backfires. There is then a price to pay and we ignore this at our peril.

None of us, most probably, has consumed infected meat from bats or chimpanzees. However, we tinker with nature in other ways, which, in the longer term are just as lethal as viruses which jump from bats to man.

Covid has shown that nature runs roughshod over an economy which is disrespectful to the ecology and eco-systems. Nature always has the final word. Can we possibly learn the lesson this time?

In the coming weeks when hopefully matters are clearer it would be opportune if we embark on planning the future, together. Our future requires a green plan which is both fair and sustainable: A Green New Deal. A future which does not repeat past errors but which instead seeks a healthy re-establishment of the links between man and nature. Too much damage has been caused over the years through the rupture of our links with nature in an effort to conquer and domesticate it. The future does not lie in man’s violent control of nature but rather through working in partnership with it.

After all this is what sustainability is all about.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 March 2021

Obliterating the future

Humanity is at war with nature. Isn’t it about time for peace?

This is the basic message of António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, in an address delivered at Columbia University earlier this week.

António Guterres said: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes.”

If humanity keeps the current pace there is the danger that we destroy the future before we have even understood the risks that we are continuously creating.

The past decade has been the hottest in human history. Some are still focusing on short term gains ignoring long term losses. Even if all the commitments made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are honoured completely, we would still have some way to go in order to attain the agreed minimum objectives: limiting the global mean temperature increase to not more than 2 degrees Celsius, hopefully closer to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond the 2-degree limit climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible.

Climate change is nature fighting back forcefully, without discriminating. The war is on at full speed all over the globe. In some parts it is drought. In others it is floods. Havoc is the result everywhere. The intensity and frequency of storms is on the increase as the cumulative impacts of our actions continuously increase.

There is no possibility to negotiate with nature, her demands are clear and simple: unconditional surrender. We need to change our ways and habits. Nature can be a reliable friend but if transformed into an enemy, it is ruthless as climate change shows unequivocally.

It has been a hectic 48 years since the first ministers for the environment were appointed as a direct result of the deliberations of the international community in the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Some progress has definitely been achieved over the years but it is certainly nowhere close to enough.

It has been realised that there is only one earth which we need to care for. It has been 34 years since the Brundtland report placed sustainable development on the international agenda. Though officially accepted as an important policy objective, it is still subject to mental gymnastics in determining practical every day action to reduce impacts which threaten our future.

The spirit of the 2015 Paris summit is one which recognised the need for urgent action, yet five years down the line procrastination is still the order of the day. As we may have realised by now, half measures are not effective in addressing nature’s revenge.

We cannot keep postponing the decision to determine the cut-off date for the elimination of petrol and diesel run vehicles from our roads. The decision announced in September 2017 is taking too long to implement leading to the reasonable assumption that reluctance is having the upper hand.

The electrification of our roads is one important step which needs to be implemented rapidly if we are to start the path to carbon neutrality in a meaningful way. It must however also be accompanied by a reduction of the number of cars on our roads, an achievable objective, given the small distances which we travel in such a small country. 

It is to be underlined, once more, that the Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands has identified that around 50 per cent of our car journeys are for short distances in respect if which we can definitely use alternative means.  This signifies that the required changes, in our case, are less painful, even in the short term. We need however to address contradictory policy stances: the required reduction of cars from our roads will be more difficult to achieve if the development of large-scale road infrastructure is still the order of the day. Even the proposed Gozo Channel tunnel falls in this category as its feasibility is dependent on maximising car movements, a requirement which is in direct contradiction to the Paris Climate Summit conclusions!

The risk of obliterating the future is still present. Nature will not be fooled. It can distinguish between greenwash and meaningful action. Unfortunately, it is clear that it has not been impressed by our action to date. There is not much time left to change course.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2020

When caves collapse: people may be killed

On the 14 September the Planning Authority approved application PA3487/19 which proposed the   “stabilization of dangerous rock slope; repair to deteriorated concrete wall and construction of wave dissipation slope along the Qui Si Sana coastline”.

In simple language this involves a permit for remedial works after a cave along the Sliema Qui Si Sana coastline collapsed, thereby exposing the MIDI development works immediately behind the cave: the basement level of residential blocks T14 and T17.

We have been told that the cave collapsed as a result of erosion along the coastline. Some readers may tend to forget that way back in 2016, a Maltese geologist had sounded the alarm that a “high-rise had been constructed over a fractured and eroded sea cliff, which could collapse any time soon.” The collapse in fact occurred relatively quite soon, signifying that the geologist was pointing out the obvious which was being ignored or not given due consideration by the developer and his advisors.

The point to be made is why the Planning Authority permitted the development to take place so close to the coastline. As far as I am aware, the EIA relative to the Tigne Development by MIDI does not reveal any detailed studies on the condition of the coast as well as on the impacts of erosion on the Qui Si Sana coastline and its relevance to the development of the MIDI project. The issue is not just one of remedial works but on why the Planning Authority  ignored the state of the coast, as a result permitting development too close to the coastline for comfort. The collapse is adequate proof of all this. The Planning Authority has much to explain in this specific case. Its actions, or lack of them, should be investigated.

The issue is not one relative to the structural stability of the development but of the protection of the coastline.

Erosion as a result of natural elements occurs continuously. It is a natural ongoing phenomenon.

In this respect it may be pertinent to draw attention to a report, authored by a team of geologists, dated October 2007 and entitled : “Report on Coastal Sliema. Geology, geomorphology, sites of scientific interest and coastal protection considerations.” This report was commissioned by the Sliema Local Council.

The 50-page report, which makes interesting reading, emphasises that a number of sites along the Sliema coast “are undergoing rapid coastal erosion that will increase with climate change, resulting in instability or failure in coastal infrastructure.”

Of particular interest is that the report, authored in 2007, goes on to state that “The faulted coast along Għar id-Dud is retreating rapidly by dislodgement of boulders along joints and faults. Public structures that may be affected include Tower Road promenade. The Għar id-Dud cave may also partially or totally collapse, leading to the caving-in of the overlying pedestrian promenade. If collapse is sudden and during daytime/early night time, injury and loss of lives may result.”

I have personally drawn attention of the Transport Minister to the above some time ago, however to date I am not aware that any action has been taken.

The matter was already very worrying way back in 2007 and most probably it is even worse now, after thirteen years, given that no coastal protection works have been taken in hand in the area in the intervening period.

The Għar id-Dud cave is the result of natural erosion and collapse accelerated by wave action. This is a natural process that cannot be halted unless adequate coastal protection works are initiated. If nature is left on its own, the end result is quite predictable: a complete collapse of Għar id-Dud, a caving in of the overlying pedestrian promenade and a number of dead or injured pedestrians, depending on the time of day when a collapse possibly occurs.

Will Transport Malta and the other authorities wake up from their slumber and act immediately please?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 September 2020

L-ekoterapja: in-natura tista’ tfejjaq

Il-bniedem hu parti integrali mill-eko-sistema. Li jkun f’kuntatt dirett mad-dinja naturali hi parti intrinsika mill-imġieba normali tiegħu. Hu għaldaqstant meħtieġ li nagħtu iktar attenzjoni lil kuntatti tagħna man-natura u dan, fost affarijiet oħra, biex nieħdu ħsieb saħħitna stess.

In-natura hi bosta drabi nieqsa minn ħajjitna. Richard Louv, awtur u ġurnalista Amerikan, fil-ktieb tiegħu The Last Child in the Woods jitkellem dwar diżordni kkawżat min-nuqqas ta’ kuntatt man-natura (Nature-Deficit Disorder) li fil-fehma tiegħu iwassal għal problema fl-imġieba ta’ tfal li tilfu jew qatt ma żviluppaw il-kuntatt tagħhom man-natura. Sfortunatament, mhux biss it-tfal qegħdin f’din is-sitwazzjoni. Hemm riskju kbir li aħna lkoll xi ftit jew wisq inkunu effettwati.

Riċentement bosta qed jitkellmu dwar l-importanza li niżviluppaw ġonna fuq il-bjut tagħna b’mod li noħolqu spazji żgħar naturali fiż-żoni urbani. Din hi idea tajba u tagħmel il-ġid, imma għandu jkun ċar li mhiex sostitut għal kuntatt dirett u reali man-natura.

Xi kultant din il-ħeġġa għal ġonna fuq il-bjut hi mod kif uħud jaħsbu li jistgħu jissodisfaw it-tniggiż tal-kuxjenza li żviluppat fil-konfront tal-ħerba fl-ambjent naturali u li qed tkompli tiżviluppa madwarna ħtija ta’ l-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp bla rażan. Hi ukoll reazzjoni ta’ dawk li qed iħossu l-effett ta’ nuqqas ta’ kuntatt dirett mad-dinja naturali fuq tul ta’ żmien.

Il-kuntatt kontinwu tagħna man-natura hi ta’ għajnuna kbira biex inħarsu saħħitna. Dan ifisser ukoll li min hu marid, b’mod partikolari jekk soġġett għal mard mentali, jista’ jkun mgħejjun jikseb saħħtu lura permezz ta’ kuntatt dirett man-natura: f’numru ta’ każi jista’ jikseb fejqan b’mod naturali. Din hi l-ekoterapija.

Birdlife Malta u l-Fondazzjoni Richmond, flimkien, daħlu f’dan il-qasam madwar sentejn ilu. B’għotja ta’ €17,000 mingħand il-Malta Social Impact Awards fasslu programm ta’ ekoterapija li sejħulu Blooming Minds, intenzjonat biex itejjeb il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ persuni bi problema ta’ saħħa mentali. Żviluppaw programm impenjattiv li kien imsejjes fuq taħriġ fl-apert b’mod li jkun hemm użu tan-natura bħala għodda terrapewtika, kif ukoll bl-apprezzament tal-istess natura u tal-ġonna. Il-professjonisti inkarigati mill-programm identifikaw li dan wassal biex assista lil dawk li ipparteċipaw fi żvilupp ta’ fiduċja ikbar fihom infushom kif ukoll sensazzjoni ta’ kalma meta jkunu fil-kumpanija ta’ natura li ssaħħrek.

Waħda mill-professjonisti nkarigati mill-programm ikkummentat li dawk li ipparteċipaw fis-sessjonijiet ta’ ekoterapija ħadu pjaċir bil-parteċipazzjoni tagħhom. Irrilassaw permezz ta’ dan il-kuntatt tagħhom man-natura. L-ambjent naturali irnexxielu jħalli impatt pożittiv fuqhom.

Imma l-fondi spiċċaw u dan il-programm ta’ ekoterapija waqaf, għalissa.

Qabel din l-inizjattiva ta’ Birdlife u l-Fondazzjoni Richmond kien hemm inizjattivi simili kemm mill-għaqda ambjentali Friends of the Earth Malta f’Villa Chelsea kif ukoll minn oħrajn.

L-ekoterapija hi ta’ benefiċċju għal kulħadd imma l-iktar għal dawk bi problema ta’ mard mentali inkella li qegħdin f’riskju ta’ dan il-mard. L-ekoterapija toffri attenzjoni personalizzata, m’għandhiex impatti negattivi u tgħin lil dawk li jirċievuha jrabbu iktar fiduċja fihom infushom.

Mhux biss it-tfal jeħtieġu li jkunu mħarsa milli jiżviluppaw sintomi kkawżati min-nuqqas ta’ kuntatt man-natura. Ilkoll kemm aħna qed inqattgħu iktar ħin ġewwa! Għandna l-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu mill-ġdid il-kuntatti tagħna mal-egħruq tagħna: egħruq tagħna fin-natura, u mhux fuq il-bejt.

L-ekoterapija hi għodda li tagħtina n-natura biex nieħdu ħsieb is-saħħa mentali tagħna. In-natura tagħtina s-soluzzjonijiet għall-benefiċċju tagħna.

Il-Birdlife u l-Fondazzjoni Richmond ħadu inizjattiva tajba u li tagħmel il-ġid. Imma sfortunatament din l-inizjattiva waqfgħet għax spiċċaw il-fondi. Hu fl-interess ta’ kulħadd li nassiguraw li din l-inizjattiva terġa’ tibda mill-ġdid malajr kemm jista’ jkun u li din ma tibqax temporanja iżda issir inizjattiva permanenti. Dan ikun għall-benefiċċju ta’ kulħadd.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Mejju 2020

Ecotherapy: nature can cure

Human beings are part of the eco-system. Being in direct contact with the natural world is an integral part of our normal basic behaviour. We need to pay more attention to our natural ties in order to maintain and reinvigorate our health.

Nature is many times absent in our daily lives. Richard Louv, an American journalist and author, in his publication The Last Child in the Woods coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder through which he points at the consequences of alienating children from the natural world causing a wide range of behavioural problems. Unfortunately, it is not only children that are developing a Nature-Deficit Disorder. There is a serious risk that this can, and most probably is, infecting most of us.

Recently there is much talk going on relative to the importance of roof gardens, transforming our roofs into small gardens as a result creating small natural spots within our urban areas. This is an idea worth pursuing, but it is no substitute for the real thing: an interaction with an unspoilt countryside.

At times the clamouring for roof gardens is more the result of pangs of conscience seeking to somehow make good for the large-scale havoc on the natural environment resulting from unbridled development. It is also a call of those who feel the impact of being deprived of contacts with nature over a long time.

Our continuous contact with nature in its authentic unspoilt form helps us stay healthy. Conversely nature can help those of us who are sick, in particular the mentally sick, to regain their health, in a natural way. This is ecotherapy, a developing area of practice and study.

Birdlife Malta and the Richmond Foundation have together ventured into this area some two years ago. With a grant of €17,000 from the Malta Social Impact Awards they designed an ecotherapy programme called Blooming Minds aimed at improving the lives of persons with mental health problems. They developed an engaging and inclusive programme of outdoor sessions making use of nature as a therapeutic tool through nature art, gardening and a general appreciation of nature. This, as evidenced by the professionals guiding the programme, assisted confidence building, and the enjoyment of the calming effect of being in green spaces in the exclusive company of nature.

One of the programme managers commented thus: “Our clients have thoroughly enjoyed the ecotherapy sessions they have attended so far. They were relaxing and a really efficient way for them to get in touch with nature and wind down at the same time. It is clear that they were impacted by the environment in a positive way.”

The funds dried up and this particular ecotherapy programme was discontinued, for the time being.

Prior to this initiative by Birdlife and Richmond Foundation similar initiatives were taken by Friends of the Earth Malta at Villa Chelsea as well as by other environmental NGOs.

Ecotherapy is beneficial for everyone – but especially for those with a mental health problem or those at risk of developing one, offering focus and care that is person-centred, non-intrusive and empowering.

It is not only children that need to be saved from a nature-deficit disorder. All of us are spending less time outdoors. We need to re-establish contact with our roots, in the countryside not on our roofs!

Ecotherapy is a green tool to improve mental health. Nature offers solutions which we should tap and use for our benefit.

NGOs Birdlife and Richmond Foundation have taken a worthwhile initiative and have shown us the way forward. Due to a lack of funds this initiative is unfortunately not active anymore. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that this initiative is reactivated the soonest and to lay the foundations to transform it into a permanent activity. Everyone stands to gain.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 May 2020

In-natura dejjem tiddeċiedi

Bħala riżultat tal-coronavirus il-pajjiż kważi wieqaf. Ġie kkonfermat għal darba oħra li m’aħniex iżolati min-natura u l-forzi naturali ta’ madwarna. Ma għandna l-ebda immunità la mill-virus u l-anqas mill-forzi tan-natura.

Illum hawn il-pandemija tal-coronavirus li għaddejja tkaxkar minn quddiema lil min ma jkunx moħħu hemm. Għada, mhux ‘il-bogħod, irridu niffaċċjaw il-qilla tat-tibdil fil-klima.

In-natura ma tiddiskriminax u tibqa’ għaddejja minn fuq kulħadd.

Il-pandemija tal-coronavirus hu maħsub li oriġinat f’Wuhan iċ-Ċina, fis-suq tal-annimali maqbuda mis-selvaġġ, permezz tal-bejgħ ta’ laħam tagħhom, ewlieni fosthom laħam tal-friefet il-lejl.

Din ġrat drabi oħra. Il-marda respiratorja magħrufa bħala SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), li tfaċċat madwar għoxrin sena ilu imma li kellha firxa limitata, ukoll oriġinat minn virus ġej mill-istess familja tal-coronavirus. Ġie identifikat li anke is-SARS toriġina minn annimali fis-selvaġġ. Jidher li fiż-żewġ każi l-virus joriġina prinċipalment mill-friefet il-lejl.

Fi żmien ieħor, kien skopert li l-HIV (Human Immune-deficiency Virus) li jattakka u jeqred id-difiża interna ta’ ġisimna toriġina minn l-ikel ta’ laħam tax-xadini infettat. Anke l-virus Ebola, kawża ta’ infezzjonijiet fatali, hi trasmessa minn annimali infettati bħall-friefet il-lejl u x-xadini, ġeneralment permezz tal-ikel ta’ laħam infettat.
In-natura għandha l-ħabta li meta jidhrilha tiddeċiedi. Il-virus jibqa’ għaddej b’mod naturali u sakemm jitwaqqaf b’imġiebitna xejn ma jżommu.

It-tbagħbis tan-natura dejjem iwassal għal konsegwenzi serji. Hemm prezz x’jitħallas għal imġiebitna. Kull meta ninjoraw dan il-fatt bażiku, jiddispjaċina.

Nimmaġina li ħadd minna ma kiel laħam infettat ġej mill-friefet il-lejl inkella mix-xadini. Aħna iżda nbagħbsu man-natura mod ieħor li fuq tul ta’ żmien jagħmel ħsara daqs il-virus li jaqbeż mill-farfett il-lejl għal ġol-bniedem.

Il-kwalità tal-arja tagħna ħafna drabi hi deskritta mill-agenzija Ewropea tal-Ambjent bħala waħda fqira.

Imma wara li daħlu fis-seħħ il-miżuri biex nikkumbattu l-imxija tal-coronavirus, fl-Imsida, fejn l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent għandha stazzjon li jkejjel il-kwalità tal-arja, ġie osservat tnaqqis fit-tniġġiż tal-arja. L-informazzjoni li nġabret mill-kampjuni tal-kwalità tal-arja tindika tnaqqis sostanzjali fit-tniġġiż li hu assoċjat mal-użu tal-karozzi. Dan seħħ tul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat bħala riżultat tal-fatt li iktar nies qed jaħdmu mid-dar kif ukoll minħabba li l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi għalqu l-bibien tagħhom. L-użu tal-karozzi naqas sostanzjalment u dan wassal għal tnaqqis fit-tniġġiż li joriġina mit-traffiku.

Kellha tkun il-coronavirus li twassal għall-implimentazzjoni tal-istrateġija nazzjonali tat-trasport li identifikat id-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi bħala l-problema ewlenija li dawk li jfasslu l-miżuri dwar it-trasport kontinwament jinjoraw. Nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati f’Malta idumu inqas minn 15-il minuta. Dan ifisser li l-mobilità meħtieġa hi prinċipalment ta’ natura lokali jew reġjonali u għal distanzi qosra. Xi ħtieġa hemm ta’ karozzi privati għal dan? F’pajjiż fejn kważi kullimkien huwa tefa’ ta’ ġebla ‘l-bogħod għandna iktar minn biżżejjed mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport.

L-impatt tal-Covid-19 fuq il-ġenerazzjoni tat-traffiku u allura fuq il-kwalità tal-arja jindika li m’għandniex ħtieġa li nibqgħu għaddejjin bil-ħela ta’ fondi pubbliċi fuq proġetti massivi mhux meħtieġa in konnessjoni mal-infrastruttura tat-toroq. Ilkoll jeħtieġ li nifhmu li hu possibli illi nnaqqsu sostanzjalment l-impatti fuq il-kwalità tal-arja jekk nindirizzaw bis-serjetà d-dipendenza tagħna lkoll fuq il-karozzi privati. Jagħmlu tajjeb dawk li huma nkarigati mill-ippjanar tat-trasport jekk jagħtu każ tal-impatti tal-coronavirus fuq it-traffiku: tibdil fl-imġieba tagħna lkoll u tnaqqis tat-traffiku ġġenerat.

L-impatt tat-traffiku fuq il-kwalità tal-arja hu kontribut sinifikanti ta’ Malta għat-tibdil fi-klima. It-tibdil fil-klima hi r-reazzjoni tan-natura għat-tniġġis tal-arja ikkawżat fid-dinja, prinċipalment mill-bniedem. Din diġa qed timmanifesta ruħha permezz ta’ tibdil, kultant sostanzjali, fit-temperaturi, perjodi twal ta’ nixfa u varjazzjonijiet dwar meta u kemm tagħmel xita. Kultant l-istaġuni donnu jaslu barra minn żmienhom.

L-impatti tal-coronavirus qed jagħtu ftit nifs lin-natura u dan mhux biss f’Malta! Hemm bosta lezzjonijiet x’nitgħallmu biex forsi nibdlu l-imġieba tagħna u l-istil ta’ ħajjitna. Meta l-impatti tat-tibdil il-klima jiżdiedu u jilħqu l-milja tagħhom, dak li għaddej bħalissa riżultat tal-coronavirus inqiesuh bħala insinifikanti. Hemm bżonn niftħu ftit widnejna u nagħtu każ dak li qed tgħidilna n-natura.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 29 ta’ Marzu 2020


Nature calls the shots

COVID-19 has brought the country to a standstill. We are not isolated from nature and its forces at work around us. We are not immune, not just from viruses, but from the forces of nature.

Today it’s the pandemic COVID-19 that’s ploughing through. Tomorrow it will be climate change.

Nature acts in a non-discriminatory manner.

The coronavirus pandemic is thought to have had its origins at the Wuhan wild animal market in China through the sale of meat derived from various wild animals, primarily bats.

This is not the first time for such an occurrence. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), is another respiratory disease which was detected some 20 years ago, when it had a limited spread. It was traced to a virus belonging to the same family of viruses as the Coronavirus, also traced to viruses originating in wild animals. Incidentally, bats seem to be the point of origin in both cases.

At other times HIV (Human immune-deficiency Virus) which destroys the human immune defences, was traced to the eating of meat of infected chimpanzees. Likewise, the Ebola virus, causing outbreaks of fatal infections, is transmitted from infected animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, and monkeys, to humans, generally through the consumption of infected meat.

Nature has a habit of calling the shots whenever it deems fit. Viruses follow natural paths and until brought in check by proper behaviour on our part, they will reign supreme.

Tinkering with nature and natural processes always backfires. There is then a price to pay and we ignore this at our peril.

None of us, most probably, has consumed infected meat from bats or chimpanzees. However, we tinker with nature in other ways, which, in the longer term are just as lethal as viruses which jump from bats to man.

The quality of our air is poor. The European Environment Agency in fact, at times, describes it as very poor.

Yet after the Coronavirus mitigation measures came into force there was a substantial decrease in air pollution registered at the air-monitoring station in Msida operated by the Environment and Resources Authority. Data available indicates a significant decrease in pollutants associated with a decrease in car use during the past weeks as more work from home and the educational institutions closed their doors. Car use has decreased substantially, as a result leading to an all-round decrease in traffic generated pollutants.

It had to be the Coronavirus to commence seriously “implementing” Malta’s National Transport Master Plan which identified car-dependency as a major issue ignored continuously by our transport planners. A basic statistic which stares at us in the face is that 50 per cent of car trips in Malta have a duration shorter than 15 minutes. It follows that mobility is primarily local and regional in nature and on very short routes. Do we need private cars for this? Are the available alternative means of transport not sufficient for this need in a country where practically everywhere is a stone’s throw away?

The impact of COVID-19 on the generation of traffic and consequently on air quality should be an eye opener indicating that we do not need to waste public funds on unnecessary infrastructural road works. We need to understand that it is possible to substantially reduce our impacts on air quality if we address car-dependency head-on. The traffic impacts of Coronavirus could be of help to transport planners to do their job properly.

The impact of traffic on air quality is a significant contribution from Malta towards climate change.

Climate change is nature’s reaction to man-made pollution of the atmosphere. This is already manifesting itself through changes in temperatures, extended periods of drought and changes to rainfall patterns. The seasons at times seem to be inversed. It could get worse, much worse in fact.

The Coronavirus impact has introduced some much-needed breathing space for nature and natural forces, not only in Malta. There are significant lessons to be learnt in order to adjust our behaviour. When the full force of nature releases additional impacts of climate change, the coronavirus impacts would pale to insignificance. Is it not about time that we start listening to nature and act accordingly?

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 March 2020

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