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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Post-electoral reflections

When voters repeatedly elect a candidate accused of usury and money-laundering into public office, it is inevitable that I ask the question as to whether, really, the voters are always right.

In view of this reality it is inevitable that now, more frequently than ever, I ask myself why I am in politics. Following the electoral counting process presents the stark reality of the substantial number of spoilt ballot papers – with a variety of comments written in very colourful language.

Answering my daily question, now more than ever, I choose to stay on as I am driven by a sense of duty towards the ordinary man and woman who request continuous help in facing their daily problems caused by an insensitive state buttressed by a variety of colourful hangers-on.

It is unfortunate that immediate gain, as opposed to long-term benefits, is the obvious choice of a majority of voters, irrespective of the locality. Tomorrow is too far away to feature in today’s choices and, as a result, voters are continuously misguided instead of being assisted in making their choices.

I am obviously disappointed that no green local councillors were elected in the latest election. Moreover, the only green councillor currently in office, Ralph Cassar in Attard, was not re-elected. The result was affected by a low turnout, coupled with a reduced number of cross-party voters in the locality. Ralph has given sterling service to Attard for a considerable number of years, almost uninterruptedly since the 1990s.

The voters’ decision not to re-elect Ralph Cassar but then for voters in another locality to  repeatedly elect a person charged with usury and money-laundering is mind-boggling.
“Crooks are everywhere” could be too simplistic an explanation. They are certainly present but their presence is definitely not ubiquitous. It would be unfair to tar all those who stand for public office with the same brush, because most of them are drawn into public life through a sense of public service.

Why am I in politics? “To be of service to the community” is the answer which I have repeatedly and convincingly given since my youth. It is a service against an ever-intruding state. It is a service in favour of the betterment of our quality of life through ensuring the optimisation of policy-making and implementation, focusing on addressing the common good.

Throughout the past months and years, together with fellow greens, I have striven hard to ensure that more people are conscious of the need to prioritise ecological issues. Tackling environmental issues is a political matter because it involves continuous political decision-taking on a large variety of issues – ranging from food and pesticides to land-use planning in all its complexities or water management.

Those who continuously plead against linking environmental issues with politics are unfortunately not conscious that each and every decision impacting the environment is a political decision. Politics is also a service to the environment, ideally seeking to ensure that long-term views prevail over short-term egoistic decisions.

During the past weeks. Alternattiva Demokratika focused on several environmental issues regarding the need to improve our urban environment. The agenda is topped by a need to improve transport planning and reclaiming back our roads and ensuring adequate accessibility for all. Reducing the number of cars from our roads is an urgent requirement but there is no interest in achieving it as an objective. This will keep up the pressure on our public spaces which are either being taken up by more parking spaces or else by tables and chairs servicing catering establishments.

It is indeed unfortunate that the voters who share these objectives did not sufficiently support those who continuously strive to address them.

It is difficult to answer the question as to why I am in politics striving to attain environmental protection in order to better our quality of life, when everything seems to be pointing in a different direction. However, there is no alternative. Putting egoistic short-termism aside is an absolute priority.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 June 2019