Ħbieb tan-natura …… b’subgħajhom fuq il-grillu

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Bernard Grech ħatar il-kelliema tal-Opposizzjoni (Shadow Cabinet), fosthom kelliemi għall-kaċċa u l-insib. Mexa fuq il-passi tal-Gvern u ssepara din ir-responsabbiltà minn dik ambjentali, fejn hu postha.

B’dan il-pass, il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll tana messaġġ ċar li anke hu jiġu jaqa’ u jqum mir-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tal-pajjiż. Il-kaċċa u l-insib għandhom ikunu regolati skond id-Direttiva Ewropeja dwar l-Għasafar.

Il-Gvern qiegħed kontinwament attent li jbiegħed il-kaċċa u l-insib mill-istrutturi regolatorji ambjentali biex jasserixxi l-kontroll politiku. Il-Unit dwar l-Għasafar fl-2013 inqala’ mill-qafas regolatorju ambjentali. L-ewwel tqiegħed fil-Ministeru responsabbli mill-agrikultura u issa spiċċa fil-Ministeru għal Għawdex.

Il-Partiti fil-Parlament huma ċari fil-messaġġ tagħhom: il-kaċċa u l-insib, għalihom mhux meqjusa ambjent, imma jarawhom biss f’termini ta’ voti.  

Il-kaċċa u l-insib għandhom ikunu regolati f’qafas regolatorju ambjentali, speċifikament bħala parti minn strateġija realistika dwar il-biodiversità. Din hi raġuni ewlenija għalfejn nopponu bil-qawwa l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Għax hu fir-rebbiegħa li n-natura jkollha l-possibilità li tistejqer u tirriġenera ruħha. Jekk mhux ser tieqaf il-kaċċa tal-għasafar fir-rebbiegħa tibqa’ tikber il-ħsara lill-biodiversità. Din hi verità ambjentali bażika li iktar ma tkun aċċettata minn kulħadd, aħjar.  

NET TV nhar l-Erbgħa irrapporta li Edwin Vassallo inħatar bħala l-kelliemi tal-PN fil-Parlament dwar il-ħarsien tad-delizzji tradizzjonali. Għax il-PN, bħall-Labour, iħarsu lejn il-kaċċa u l-insib tal-għasafar esklussivament f’termini ta’ voti. Għad m’għandhomx idea dwar l-impatti ambjentali li qed jinjoraw.

B’mod redikolu, meta Bernard Grech iltaqa’ ma’ rappresentanti tal-kaċċaturi, l-FKNK, huwa iddeskriva lill-kaċċaturi u lin-nassaba bħala ħbieb tan-natura. Il-ħbieb tan-natura ma jkunux armati!   

Minn meta ‘l hawn il-ħbieb tan-natura jisplodu l-għasafar fl-ajru jew jaqfluhom f’gaġeġ?  

Huwa ċar li Bernard Grech u l-PN li hu jmexxi, għadu mħawwad fejn jikkonċerna l-ambjent. Mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida din!  Tfisser biss li l-PN għadu ma tgħallem xejn minn dak li għadda minnu f’dawn l-aħħar snin. Billi jilgħaq lill-kaċċaturi u lin-nassaba m’hu ser jasal imkien.

F’qasam fejn diversi għadhom jippretendu li jagħmlu li jridu kont nistenna li Bernard Grech jappoġġa lil dawk li qed jinsistu għal regolamentazzjoni rigoruża tal-kaċċa. Kliemu, sfortunatament, jinkoraġixxi lil dawk li jabbużaw, inkluż lil dawk li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu minn l-għasafar protetti. Għandu jifhem ukoll li l-perjodu ta’ transizzjoni dwar l-insib kif imfisser dettaljatament fit-trattat li bih Malta issieħbet fl-EU ilu li skada.  Dan ifisser li l-insib suppost li ilu li spiċċa minn Malta. Il-kummenti ta’ Bernard Grech, għaldaqstant jinkoraġixxu attività illegali. Is-saltna tad-dritt, Dr Grech, tapplika għall-kaċċa u l-insib ukoll!

F’Jannar 2017, predeċessur ta’ Bernard Grech ippubblika l-politika ambjentali tal-PN fi ktejjeb intitolat “Kwalità tal-Ħajja Aħjar”.  F’dan id-dokument ma ssibx referenza għall-kaċċa u għall-insib. Id-dokument jiddiskuti l-biodiversità f’termini ġenerali u jemfasizza li f’Malta l-ekosistemi mhux imħarsa u l-biodiversità qed tiddgħajjef kontinwament.  L-appoġġ tal-PN lill-kaċċa u l-insib (bħalma jagħmel il-Labour) hu attakk frontali kontra l-biodiversità. Hemm bżonn li jiġu f’sensihom.  

L-insib diġa hu illegali. Anke l-kaċċa jeħtieġ li tkun imrazzna u mhux tkun inkoraġġita.

Ambjentalment il-PN għadu lura ħafna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 24 ta’ Jannar 2021

Nature lovers …………… with a gun

In his first Shadow Cabinet the Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech has appointed a spokesperson for hunting and trapping. A responsibility which, parroting the Government, has not been included within the remit of the spokesperson for the environment.

In so doing, the PN too has given notice that it does not give a fig about Malta’s environmental responsibilities. Hunting and trapping are to be regulated in accordance to the environmental acquis, specifically in line with the provisions of the Birds Directive of the EU.

This government has consistently parked hunting and trapping far away from the environmental regulatory structures. The Wild Birds Study Unit was in 2013 divorced from the environmental setup and parked within the Ministry responsible for Agriculture, subsequently moving to the Ministry for Gozo.

The clear message delivered by both the PN and the Labour Party is that they do not consider hunting and trapping to be environmental issues. We have been aware of this for quite a long time.

Hunting and trapping should be regulated within a general environment framework, specifically as part of a realistic biodiversity strategy. This is the basic reason why greens object to spring hunting. It is during spring that nature has the possibility to regenerate. Not banning spring bird-hunting across the board is damaging to biodiversity. This is a basic environmental truth which needs to be accepted by all, and the sooner that this is done, the better.

NET TV reported on Wednesday that Edwin Vassallo was the PN’s spokesperson relative to “the defence of traditional hobbies” (Il-ħarsien tad-delizzji tradizzjonali). The PN, just like Labour, assess bird-hunting and trapping exclusively on their voting potential: they still do not have a clue of their serious environmental impact.

Meeting with the representatives of the hunters’ federation, FKNK, earlier this week, Bernard Grech ridiculously described hunters and trappers as nature lovers. Nature lovers with a gun. Bernard Grech wants to address the negative perception of hunters and trappers in the Maltese islands by green-washing them. 

Since when do nature lovers blast birds out of the sky or enclose them in cages?

Clearly Bernard Grech, and the PN which he leads, has got his environmental bearings mixed up. There is nothing new about it. It only signifies that the PN has not learnt anything from its experiences in the past years. Bootlicking hunters and trappers will not get it anywhere.

In an area of activity where laissez-faire is prevalent, one would have expected Bernard Grech to take up the case in favour of more rigorous regulation of hunting. His words, alas, encourage the abusive actions of those hunters who blast anything that flies, in particular protected birds. He should also be aware that the transition period relative to bird-trapping in the treaty regulating Malta’s EU accession has elapsed quite some time ago. This signifies that bird-trapping should have been abolished long ago on these islands. Bernard Grech’s comments are thus encouraging illegal activity. The rule of law is applicable to hunting and trapping too!

In January 2017, Bernard Grech’s predecessor had published an environmental policy for the PN entitled “A Better Quality of Life”.  The said document does not refer to hunting or trapping. It does however discuss biodiversity in general terms emphasising that in Malta, ecoystems and habitats are not adequately protected and their biodiversity is in decline. When the PN (like the PL) supports hunters and trappers it is reinforcing the frontal attack on biodiversity. Is it not about time that they come to their senses?

Bird trapping is already illegal. Hunting should be curtailed as much as possible and not further encouraged.

Environmentally the PN is as retrograde as ever.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 January 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

Beyond GDP

“The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” This was stated by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas 52 years ago in what is known as his GDP speech!

In what was a highly charged US Presidential campaign, during which he was assassinated, Robert Kennedy had further explained that the GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.”

We may use different language or emphasise different aspects to explain the problem, but not much has changed since: The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile!

Pursuing economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base. It contrasts with the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival.

Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Instead it has delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources or clean air, and an ever-increasing global inequality. Is this measured by the GDP? Definitely not.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth, ignoring in the process our health, our education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred …………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is the context in which Greens welcome the Justice and Peace Commission of the Church in Malta looking beyond the GDP. It is welcome not only because it is the correct approach but also because we have been at it for so long, mostly practically on our own.

The 54 page published Church Commission study entitled Beyond GDP – A framework to gauge Malta’s success through quality of life justifiably argues that limiting ourselves to gauging progress through the use of the GDP leads to a situation where other factors leading to a satisfactory quality of life can be easily disregarded.

The study, supported by EY, APS Bank and Seed Consultancy is a very valid contribution to a mature political debate which we lack so much.

The insistence that we should go beyond GDP in gauging our quality of life is not an exercise in diminishing the importance of the economy. Rather, it signifies the determination that the economy should not be seen in isolation but that it should be viewed within a realistic context. Social, environmental and cultural dimensions are extremely relevant, as much as economics, in the gauging of our wellness, or the lack of it.

A more just economy needs to look at the bigger picture and not limit itself to the GDP to get its bearings right. This is another way of emphasising the need for a sustainable development, a term which is much in use nowadays but unfortunately not sufficiently understood or catered for. Going beyond GDP in measuring our state of wellness would definitely yield more realistic indicators which we urgently require. 

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 29 November 2020

The debate on the National Environment Strategy

The human person forms an integral part of the eco-system.  We do not form part of “the economy”. The economy is the manner in which we organise ourselves, but the eco-system is our DNA.

This is what the ERA National Strategy for the Environment for 2050, currently in consultation phase, should be about.

The strategy is entitled “Wellbeing First”.  A strategy drafted only in the English language, once more ignoring Maltese. While our quality of life is of the utmost importance, an environmental strategy which is anthropocentric does not make sense. An anthropocentric environmental policy is short term in nature and does not lead to enhancing well-being. Environmental policy should be eco-centric: its subject matter should be the achievement of a healthy ecology, as free as possible from human toxicity. Ensuring a healthy ecology will definitely also enhance our quality of life too.

Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) Chairperson Victor Axiaq, in the forward to the consultation document, emphasises that we have yet to learn to live within our ecological limits. Obviously, as a result of his participation in the Planning Authority Board over the past seven years, he has first-hand experience of the manner in which these limits have been continuously stretched beyond any elastic limit. There is a need to reverse this trend the soonest.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival. While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues the tackling of which cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) yet the GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred…………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

The consultation document seeks to guide the national debate towards identifying the long-term objectives of the National Environmental Strategy. Once this is done ERA should be in a position to develop action plans for the achievement of such objectives.

It should be undoubtedly clear to all that a sustainable future will only be achieved when we start respecting the eco-system without any exception. Our eco-system determines our permissible limits which we only ignore at our peril. This is our challenge which must be addressed by the National Environment Strategy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 August 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

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 

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