Tribute to Mario Cuomo : a tale of two cities

Mario Cuomo, three times Democratic Governor of New York is dead. He died Thursday 1st January, at the age of 82. A fitting tribute in his own words is his address to the Democratic Party Convention in July 1984.

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The risk of being ill-prepared

Hurricane Sandy swept through the states of New York and New Jersey making it clear to all that the forces of nature, amplified and stronger as a result of climate change, will spare no one.

The impacts of climate change are here for all to see. The destructive power of nature is being made incrementally worse by a warming climate. In 2012, it was Hurricane Sandy that wreaked havoc on New York and New Jersey. In 2005, it was Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans.

The havoc left behind in New York and New Jersey has been documented by the visual media. Less evident was the damage and misery in Haiti and neighbouring Caribbean countries.

Nature does not discriminate; it does not distinguish between rich and poor. Nor does it distinguish between developed and undeveloped countries. It sweeps away all that lies in its path.

Large areas of New York were without electricity. Over 40,000 New Yorkers were homeless as a result of Hurricane Sandy. This made the news.

However, disaster-stricken Haiti has been hit much harder. More than 200,000 Haitians already in makeshift homes as a result of the 2010 earthquake are now homeless.

A cholera outbreak in Haiti could be made worse by floods. Haiti, which is an agricultural economy, has also suffered a large loss of crops. This will lead to food shortages compounding the misery of an already impoverished nation.

Meteorologists have commented that more hurricanes are occurring late in the season, even after their “normal” season has ended. A 2008 study had pointed out that the Atlantic hurricane season seems to be starting earlier and lasting longer.

Normally, there are 11 named Atlantic storms. The past two years have seen 19 and 18 named storms. This year, with one month to go, there are already 19 named storms.

It is not only in the Atlantic that the climate is changing. Earlier this month, the Meteorological Office informed us that, in Malta, October 2012 was the sixth hottest month on record since 1922. With an increased frequency we too are witnessing more intense storms, which are playing havoc with an ill-prepared infrastructure.

The civil protection issues resulting from flooding will be hopefully addressed through storm-water relief projects substantially funded by the EU. While this will go a long way towards reducing damage to life and limb, it addresses the effects while leaving the causes of flooding largely unaddressed.

Malta’s climate change adaptation strategy, adopted some time ago, had pointed towards the issue of rainwater harvesting, which has not and still is not given due importance in new developments both those on a large scale as well as those on a much smaller scale.

The lack of application of rainwater harvesting measures through the construction of appropriately-sized water cisterns is an important contributor to the flooding of Malta’s roads and the overflowing public sewers whenever a storm comes our way. This occurs irrespective of the severity of the storm. Addressing this cause would go a long way towards reducing the volume of storm water that has to be contained to prevent it from causing damage.

By now it should be clear that there is no political will to address the issue as such a measure would entail taking action against developers (large and small) who did not provide rainwater harvesting facilities in their quest to increase profits (or reduce costs) in their land development projects. This has been the unfortunate practice for the past 50 years. Old habits die hard.

The expenses required to tackle a principal cause of the problem has been shifted from the developers onto the public purse, this including the EU funds being utilised. This expense has to make good for the accumulated (and accumulating) incompetence in rainwater management by focusing on the effects but simultaneously ignoring the causes.

Therefore, when one speaks on the devastating impacts of nature and climate change it should be realised that some of these impacts are being amplified as a result of the way in which successive governments have mismanaged this country’s resources.

The impacts of flooding are the ones which leave a lasting impression due to their detailed documentation by the media. There are, however, other impacts that are as important and in respect of which a public debate is conspicuously absent. I refer in particular to the impact of rising temperatures on agriculture and health.

Higher temperatures will slowly change our agriculture as the type of crops that can withstand higher temperatures are generally different from those which are currently prevalent. In addition, higher temperatures means that we will have some alien insects flying around, some of which are disease carriers.

Not discussing these issues does not mean that they will disappear. It only means that we are ill-prepared for the inevitable impacts and the necessary changes.

There is much to be done. So far, we have barely scratched the surface.

Published in The Times of Malta Saturday November 10, 2012

The eco-threat of the Italian Mafia

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by Carmel Cacopardo

published September 19, 2009

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The revelation by Francesco Fonti that the Calabria Mafia sank a number of ships in the Mediterranean carrying a cargo of nuclear and toxic waste confirmed what the international environmental non-governmental organisation Greenpeace has been stating for a number of years.

The cargo on board these ships (which could number as many as 42) is of direct concern to Malta. The environmental crime of dumping this toxic and nuclear waste could have already affected (without our knowing) Malta’s water supply as well as the fish we eat and the seawater we swim in.

Whether and to what extent the food chain was contaminated is difficult to ascertain at this stage unless the relevant authorities are in a position to explain whether over the years fish and water (including sea-water) were sampled and tested for chemical contamination. Hopefully, such monitoring, sampling and testing was carried out. At this stage no information is forthcoming as to the type of toxic wastes dumped nor whether the waste dumped is still contained or else whether it has dispersed. The exact location of the dumping and the sea currents prevalent in the area would also be of extreme relevance.

Toxic contamination does not necessarily kill immediately. It may block or distort a number of our natural activities.

In the foreword to the book Our Stolen Future by Theo Colborn, Diane Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers, former US Vice President Al Gore speaks of  “a large and growing body of scientific evidence linking synthetic chemicals to aberrant sexual development and behavioural and reproductive problems. Although much of the evidence these scientific studies review is for animal populations and ecological effects, there are important implications for human health as well”.

Reference to three examples would serve to illustrate the nature of the threats.

President Jimmy Carter on August 7, 1978 had declared a state of emergency at Love Canal. A landfill containing over 21,000 tons of chemical waste dumped in the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s caused the contamination of residential and educational environments and resulted in miscarriages, birth defects, respiratory ailments and cancer. Fifty-six per cent of children born in the Love Canal environs between 1974 and 1978 had a birth defect. This led the US to enact the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act known as the Superfund in the last days of the Carter Presidency.

In early 2008 in Italy it was found that buffalo mozzarella originating from some 83 dairy farms in an area near Naples was tainted with dioxin. The buffalo were grazing in an area of illegal dumps of toxic waste controlled by the Mafia. Dioxin can cause birth defects and organ failure.

On May 31, 1989 a beluga whale was found floating belly up near Pointe-aux-Cenelles close to Quebec, Canada. An autopsy carried out on the whale revealed that it had both a male and a female set of genital organs. It was a hermaphrodite. This was eventually traced to pollution-induced hormone disruption which derailed the beluga whale’s normal course of sexual development. “One cannot rule out,” noted the autopsy report “that pollutants present in the mother’s diet had interfered with hormonal processes (guiding the) normal evolution of the sexual organs of her foetus”. The beluga whale is a mammal like the human being.

The above examples point to the possible consequences of the Mafia eco-threat.

Sixty per cent of our water originates from the sea. Fish roam about the Mediterranean Sea including contaminated areas. Pollution will not respect borders.

All of us would be more at ease if we are informed of the measures being taken by the public authorities to shield us from these threats.

original article at   The Times