Il-karba tal-art, il-weġgħat tan-Natura

Il-faqar u l-ħsara ambjentali huma relatati. Qishom tewmin, inkella ż-żewġ naħat tal-istess munita. Il-faqar jiġġenera ħsara ambjentali filwaqt li l-ħsara ambjentali inevitabilment twassal għall-faqar.

Dan kien emfasizzat minn Indira Gandhi, dak iż-żmien Prim Ministru tal-Indja, meta fl-1972, fi Stokkolma, indirizzat konferenza tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar l-Ambjent Uman. Din hi wkoll it-tema ewlenija tal-eko-enċiklika Laudato Si tal-Papa Franġisku, kif ukoll l-argument bażiku tas-Sinodu tal-Isfqijiet tar-Reġjun tal-Amazonja li presentment għaddej f’Ruma. Il-konferenza ta’ Stokkolma kienet l-ewwel waħda tax-xorta tagħha dwar materji ambjentali internazzjonali. Kienet ix-xrara li kebbset l-iżvilupp tal-politika ambjentali internazzjonali.

Fi ftit kliem, il-politika soċjali u dik ambjentali huma interrelatati: huma dak li l-egħruq Latino Amerikani tat-tejoloġija tal-liberazzjoni jiddeskrivu bħala “ekoloġija integrali”.

Maurice Strong, Segretarju Ġenerali tal-konferenza tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar l-Ambjent Uman fi Stokkolma kiteb, fil-memorji tiegħu, dwar kemm u kif id-diskors ta’ Indira Gandhi fil-konferenza mhux biss baqa’ miftakar imma fuq kollox kemm kien influwenti. It-tema li Gandhi żviluppata b’komunikattiva kbira kienet dwar kif “il-faqar hu l-ikbar sors ta’ tniġġiż”. Kienet emfasizzat b’qawwa : “ kif qatt nistgħu nikkonvinċu lin-nies fl-irħula u fil-griebeġ biex iżommu l-ibħra, ix-xmajjar u l-arja ndaf u ħielsa mit-tniġġiż, meta ħajjithom hi kollha kemm hi tniġġisa waħda?”

Il-ħajja hi katina. Aħna l-bnedmin niffurmaw parti ntegrali min-natura. Saħhitna hi rifless tas-saħħa tan-natura. Id-dmugħ tagħna huma d-dmugħ tal-istess natura.

Leonardo Boff, il-Franġiskan Brażiljan, esponent ewlieni tat-tejoloġija tal-liberazzjoni, jitkellem ċar ħafna biex jiddeskrivi dan, saħansitra fit-titlu tal-ktieb influwenti tiegħu tal-1995 : “Il-karba tal-art, il-karba tal-fqir” (Grito da Terra, Grito dos Pobres.) L-argumenti f’dan il-ktieb kienu influwenti kemm fl-eko-enċiklika ta’ Jorge Bergoglio kif ukoll fis-Sinodu tal-Isfqijiet tal-Amazonja li għaddej bħalissa.

Il-ħsara ambjentali għandha impatt enormi fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll. Fuq il-ħajja ta’ kulħadd ħlief ta’ dawk il-ftit li jaħtfu għalihom u għal ta’ madwarhom vantaġġi ekonomiċi jew ta’ xorta oħra u fl-istess ħin jitfgħu l-pizijiet fuq ħaddieħor.

Il-ħsara ambjentali hi strument għall-inġustizzja soċjali. Il-ħarsien ambjentali hu, għaldaqstant essenzjali biex tissaħħaħ il-ġustizzja soċjali.

Id-dinja li qed ngħixu fiha hi d-dar komuni tagħna: flimkien magħha għanda futur komuni. Kull ħsara li nagħmlu fin-natura jispiċċa lura fuqna. Bħal min jobżoq lejn is-sema, u tgħallem li dak li jagħmel dejjem jiġi lura f’wiċċu!

Hemm l-impatti diretti bħal meta l-arja tant meħtieġa għan-nifs tkun imniġġsa, inkella meta l-ilma jkun ikkontaminat, jew ħaxix inkella ħut li jkun imniġġeż minħabba diversi fatturi ambjentali.

Imbagħad hemm l-impatti ndiretti li jieħdu ż-żmien biex jimmaterjalizzaw. Bħat-tibdil fil-klima. L-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju ilhom jakkumulaw għal mijiet ta’ snin b’mod li jidher, minn diversi studji, li qed noqorbu lejn xi waħda kbira. Bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima qed nisograw impatti katastrofiċi: żieda fit-temperatura u silġ li jdub b’mod aċċelerat fil-poli u fil-Grenlandja b’mod partikolari: dawn iwasslu għal żieda sostanzjali fil-livell tal-baħar.

Il-vulnerabbli u l-foqra ikunu dawk li l-iżjed ilaqqtuha. L-istati gżejjer żgħar fil-Paċifiku diġa qed jgħaddu minn din l-esperjenza. Għandna speċi ġdida ta’ immigranti: ir-refuġjati tal-klima li qed jaħarbu minn impatti ambjentali li jridu jissaportu mingħajr ma kkontribwew għalihom.

In-natura, kif nafu, tirritalja b’qawwa kontinwament biex tirrestawra bilanċ. M’għandhiex għażla. Lanqas ma tiddiskrimina.

Dan hu kollu frott tar-rgħiba. Hi frott ta’ viżjoni li ma tħarisx fit-tul. Viżjoni li ma titlifx opportunità waħda biex issarraf vantaġġi li jistgħu jinkisbu malajr bla ma jkun hemm l-iċken idea tal-impatti fit-tul.

In-natura hi kapaċi tipprovdi għall-ħtiġijiet ta’ kulħadd. Imma ma tistax tissodisfa r-rgħiba fit-tul. F’din il-komunità ekoloġika jeħtieg li mhux biss ningwalawha man-natura, mal-ambjent immedjat tagħna, imma iktar mal-ambjent fit-totalità tiegħu, mal-ambjent integrat. Dan jista’ jsir biss jekk jirnexxielna nifhmu u nagħtu kaz tal-weġgħat tan-natura.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 13 t’Ottubru 2019

The tears of the Earth

Poverty and environmental degradation are inter-related. They are, in fact, twins or possibly the two sides of the same coin. Poverty generates environmental degradation while environmental degradation inevitably results in poverty.

This was emphasised by Indira Gandhi, then Indian Prime Minister, way back in 1972 during her intervention at the United Nations Stockholm conference on the Human Environment. It is also the underlying theme of Laudato Si, the eco-encyclical of Pope Francis, and a basic theme of the Bishops Synod for the Pan-Amazonian Region currently proceeding in Rome.

The Stockholm Conference was the United Nations first major conference on international environmental issues and marked the definite turning point in the development of international environmental politics.

Put simply, social and environmental policy are interlinked: it is what the Latin American roots of liberation theology describe as “the integral ecology”.

In his memoirs, Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment described Indira Gandhi’s Stockholm speech as being the most memorable and influential speech of the entire conference. The theme – which she forcefully developed and communicated – was that “poverty is the greatest polluter”. She eloquently emphasised: “…… how can we speak to those who live in villages and in slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean, when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”

Everything is related. We humans are an integral part of the natural order:our health is the earth’s health; our tears are the earth’s tears.

Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian Franciscan Liberation Theologist, uses crystal clear language to describe this, even encapsulating it in the title of his 1995 seminal publication: “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor” (Grito da Terra, Grito dos Pobres) which is the essential backdrop for both Jorge Bergoglio’s eco-encyclical as well as for the Amazonian Bishop’s Synod currently under way.

Environmental degradation has a considerable impact on the quality of life of all of us except, that is, for the quality of life of the select few who pocket profits by appropriating for themselves advantages (economic or otherwise) and lumping the negative impacts on the rest.

Environmental degradation is an instrument of social injustice. Consequently, enhancing the protection of the environment is also essential to restore social justice. The Earth is our common home: together with the earth we have a common future and all the damage we cause comes back to us.

There are the direct impacts, such as having to breathe contaminated air, drink polluted water, or eat fish and/or vegetables which contain various contaminants.

There are also the indirect impacts which take time to materialise. Climate change is a case in point. A slow build-up of carbon emissions over the centuries is currently close to a tipping point. We risk a catastrophic impact as a result of climate change: an increase in temperature and an accelerated melting of ice at the poles, and in Greenland in particular, which would lead to a substantial increase in sea level rise.

The poor and the vulnerable will be those most affected. The vulnerable small island states in the Pacific are already experiencing these impacts. “Climate Refugees” are a new breed of immigrants, fleeing from the environmental impacts which they have to shoulder but to which they did not contribute.

The Earth continuously retaliates to restore a natural balance. It has no choice: it does not discriminate.

This is the result of greed – a myopic vision which takes every opportunity to cash on short-terms gains but is unable to understand the long-term impacts.

Nature is able to provide for the needs of everyone. It is, however, unable to sustain long-term greed. In our ecological community we need to interact not just with nature, our immediate environment, but more with the total environment. This can only be achieved if we take heed of the tears of the Earth.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 October 2019

Il-politika dwar il-klima

“Extinction Rebellion” hi waħda minn l-aħħar forom ta’ eko-attiviżmu. Stabilita fir-Renju Unit reċentment, dan hu attiviżmu non-vjolenti bbażat fuq azzjoni diretta, intenzjonat li jikkonvinċi lill-Gvern biex jaġixxi fil-konfront tal-emergenza klimatika u ekoloġika li qed niffaċċjaw presentement.

It-talbiet li qed jagħmlu lill-Gvern tar-Renju Unit huma ffokati fuq il-ħtieġa li l-fatti veri jkunu magħrufa kif ukoll li jkun hemm azzjoni dwarhom mingħajr iktar tkaxkir tas-saqajn.

Li nassiguraw li jingħadu l-fatti jfisser illi fid-dibattitu dwar il-bidla fil-klima, leħen ix-xjenza jitħalla jinstema’ b’mod ċar. Ix-xjenzjati kienu ċari ħafna (kważi unanimi) huma u jenfasizzaw li l-bidla fil-klima qegħda magħna. Ix-xjenza tgħidilna li diġà qed inħossu l-ewwel impatti tal-bidla fil-klima. Dawn jinkludu temperaturi estremi, tibdil fl-intensità u l-frekwenza tax-xita: nixfa estrema f’partijiet tad-dinja u xita intensiva u għargħar f’oħrajn.

Li jkunu magħrufa l-fatti, jfisser ukoll li nagħrfu illi r-riżorsi fid-dinja huma limitati u li t-tkabbir ekonomiku bla limitu mhux realtà li tista’ isseħħ għax ma hemmx x’jagħmel tajjeb għal dan ix-xorta ta’ tkabbir. Mhux vijabbli li f’dinja b’riżorsi limitati nimmaġinaw tkabbir ekonomiku infinit. Aħseb ftit dwar il-kwalità tal-arja u l-ilma tagħna, il-minerali f’żaqq id-dinja kif ukoll l-ispeċi rari.

Li naġixxu issa jfisser li ma nistgħux nibqgħu nkaxkru saqajna qiesu mhu jiġri xejn. Il-klassi politika ma tistax tibqa’ ddur mal-lewża. Jeħtieġ bidla fil-mod kif ngħixu, mingħajr iktar dewmien.

Jeħtieġilna niffukaw fuq politika ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli b’ħarsa fit-tul flok fuq politika li tħares lejn il-gwadann immedjat . Irridu nibdew naħsbu dwar kif ġenerazzjoni ser ittejjeb fuq dak li ħalliet il-ġenerazzjoni ta’ qabilha flok ma naħsbu dwar x’ser nilħqu nagħmlu sa l-elezzjoni ġenerali li jmiss.

Sadanittant iż-żmien għaddej. Il-frekwenza ta’ maltemp qalil qed jiżdied. L-għargħar qed iħarbat l-infrastruttura ta’ pajjiżi madwar id-dinja. Il-kwalità tal-arja sejra għall-agħar. L-ispeċi qed jisparixxu b’rata li qatt ma rajna bħalha.

Il-livell tal-ibħra qed jogħla, bil-mod għalissa. Imma ma għandna l-ebda garanzija li dan ma jaċċellerax fiż-żmien li ġej.

F’Pariġi, fis-Summit dwar it-tibdil fil-klima fl-2015, kien hemm qbil li għandna nagħmlu ħilitna biex nassiguraw li t-temperatura tad-dinja ma tiżdiedx b’iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. Imma, wara li diversi pajjiżi issottomettew il-miri volontarji tagħhom kif miftiem fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi, jirriżulta li sa l-aħħar ta’ dan is-seklu ż-żieda fit-temperatura ser taqbez il-mira bid-doppju, ċjoe ser taqbeż it-tlett gradi Celsius. Dan jirriżulta minn rapport tal- IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) li kien approvat fl-2018 u sar pubbliku fil-Korea t’Isfel. Jekk dan iseħħ, l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima ser jiżdiedu b’mod astronomiku.

Minkejja dan, ir-rapport tal-2018 tal-IPCC jenfasizza li xorta għadu possibli illum li nilħqu l-mira li tillimita ż-żieda fit-temperatura għal 1.5 degree Celsius. Imma biex dan iseħħ hemm ħtieġa ta’ tnaqqis sostanzjali fl-emissjonijiet kif ukoll tibdil sostanzjali u b’ritmu mgħaġġel f’kull aspett tas-soċjetà. Dan jinkludi process rapidu ta’ tnaqqis ta’ dipendenza fuq il-karbonju (rapid decarbonisation).

Issa għaddew iktar minn tlett snin minn meta Alternattiva Demokratika ippubblikat dokument poliitku dwar il-ħtieġa li f’Malta niffukaw fuq li naslu biex ninfatmu mid-dipendenza fuq il-karbonju (decarbonisation) sa mhux iktar tard mill-2050. Li nilħqu dan l-oġġettiv mhux biss jelimina d-dipendenza fuq fjuwil karboniku imma joħloq ukoll opportunitajiet ekonomiċi sinifikanti kif ukoll numru sostanzjali ta’ impiegi ambjentali fl-użu ta’ teknoliġiji ġodda. Jagħti ukoll kontribut għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Ma nistawx nibqgħu niġu naqgħu u nqumu mir-regoli fundamentali tan-natura u x-xjenza mingħajr imbagħad ma nerfgħu l-konsegwenzi. Anke f’dawn il-gżejjer għandna responsabbiltà li nagħtu kontribut biex tkun eradikata l-inġustizzja klimatika. Imma ż-żmien għaddej, ma jistenna lil ħadd. In-natura ma tkaxkarx saqajha biex tirritalja!

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Settembru 2019

Climate politics

Extinction Rebellion is one of the latest forms of eco-activism. It was established in the United Kingdom as an apolitical network using non-violent direct action to persuade the government to take action on the climate and ecological emergency which we face.

In brief, the demands by Extinction Rebellion to the UK government focus on the need to be truthful as well as on the need to act now without any further procrastination.

Telling the truth means ensuring that, when it comes to issues of climate change, the voice of science is heard loud and clear. Scientists have been very clear (practically unanimous) in emphasising the fact that climate change is here. Science tells us that we are already at the receiving end of the first impacts of climate change, which include extremes of temperature and the changing patterns of rainfall: extreme drought in parts of the world and the most intensive rainfall and floods elsewhere.

The truth also means a realisation that the earth’s resources are finite and that they cannot keep bankrolling unlimited economic growth. Infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources in not viable. Think about the quality of our air, our water, minerals in the earth’s core and rare species: they are, at this point in time, stretched beyond the most reasonable limits. And, finally, the truth finally also means that there is no institution on earth which will bail us out of the accumulating ecological debt.

Acting now means that the status quo must end immediately. The current political class must halt its policy of going around in circles. Changing our lifestyles is an immediate must. We need to take on board a politics of sustainable development which focuses on the long-term view instead of a politics of short-term immediate gains. We must start acting on road-maps which span a generation and not on those which span general elections.

Time is running out: violent storms are more frequent; flooding is playing havoc with the infrastructure all over the world; air quality is deteriorating continuously and species are becoming extinct at the fastest rate ever.

The sea is rising – slowly at this point in time, but we have no guarantee that this will not accelerate. The rate at which ice is melting at the polar caps is not the least reassuring.

The Climate Change 2015 summit in Paris agreed on the need to spare no effort in ensuring that the global temperature did not increase by more than 1.5 degree Celsius over that recorded in the pre-industrial age. However, after the different countries submitted their voluntary targets, as agreed at the Paris summit, it seem that by the end of the current century the increase in temperature will be 3 degree Celsius – double the target. This is the result of an IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)  approved and published in South Korea in 2018. If this happens, climate change impacts will increase exponentially.

The key finding of the 2018 IPCC report is that while the 1.5 degree Celsius climate increase target is still achievable at this stage, it would require “deep emission reductions” and “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. This would include rapid decarbonisation.

It has been more than three years since Alternattiva Demokratika -The Green Party – published a policy paper on the need to focus on decarbonisation in Malta and achieve this by not later than 2050. Such an objective would not only eradicate our dependency on carbon fuels, it would also create significant economic opportunities and the creation of a multitude of real green jobs in emerging technologies, as well as contribute significantly to an improvement in our quality of life.

We cannot continue to violate the fundamental laws of nature or science with impunity. Even on these islands we have a responsibility to contribute to the eradication of climate injustice. Time is running out. Nature does not have second thoughts about implementing its agenda!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1 September 2019

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 

Il-proġett Central Link: riżultat ta’ inkompetenza

Ilkoll naqblu li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna hi problema kbira.

Imma hi sfortuna kbira li dawk responsabbli biex jimplimentaw il-politika dwar it-trasport qieshom mhumiex konxji li meta qed japprovaw il-proġett Central Link qed jinjoraw il-kawża tal-problema u minflok qed jikkonċentraw fuq l-effetti. Il-konġestjoni tat-toroq tagħna mhix ikkawżata mit-tul jew mill-wisa’ tat-toroq imma min-numru ta’ karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom.

It-toroq tagħna ma jesgħux iktar karozzi li żdiedu b’mod sproporzjonat għad-daqs u l-ħtiġijiet ta’ dawn il-gżejjer.

Id-dibattitu fuq il-proġett Central Link iffoka fuq ħafna materji importanti: l-kwalità tal-arja, l-ħarsien tal-agrikultura, l-ħarsien tas-siġar, l-passaġġi riżervati għar-roti, imma li lkoll kemm huma għandhom importanza marġinali għas-soluzzjoni tal-problema reali tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Il-kawża tal-problema mhix id-daqs tat-toroq imma n-numru tal-karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom u li sirna dipendenti wisq fuqhom.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport fih referenza għall-analiżi bażika li tindika x’qed jikkawża l-problemi tagħna: s’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul fl-ippjanar tat-trasport. Jiġifieri aħna nfittxu l-benefiċċji mmedjati u ninjoraw l-impatti fit-tul.
B’mod speċifiku taħt it-titlu “Intejbu l-ippjanar u d-diżinn għat-traport integrat u li jħares fit-tul” il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport jgħid hekk: “……….. nistgħu naraw, mill-esperjenza, li l-politika u l-ippjanar tat-trasport f’Malta ġeneralment ħares lejn l-immedjat ( 4 sa 5 snin). In-nuqqas li tingħata importanza lejn l-ippjanar fit-tul ifisser li ma hemm l-ebda pjan integrat ibbażat fuq analiżi solida, b’miri ċari li jħarsu fit-tul. Dan wassal għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjonji strateġika u n-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħall-kontroll fuq l-użu ta’ karozzi privati. Is-soċjetà Maltija bil-mod biex tiċċaqlaq, u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni biex il-problema tat-traffiku tkun indirizzata kemm illum kif ukoll fil-futur. Dan iwassal biex il-vjaġġatur Malti jistenna li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu ħalli hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza. ” (sezzjoni 2.2.1 tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport)

L-affarijiet ma jistgħux ikunu iktar ċari minn hekk. Il-problema hi waħda: d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi. Toroq li jkunu usa’ jew itwal jistgħu jsolvu l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku għal żmien limitat. Imma kif ġie repetutament ippruvat minn studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi oħra, l-interventi fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq, fl-aħħar jispiċċaw biex iżidu l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, u dan għax iżidu it-traffiku.

Min-naħa l-oħra, il-proċess biex jitnaqqas id-dipendenza fuq il-karozza jieħu l-ħin, u l-votanti mhux ser jieħdu ġost!

Sfortunatament, uħud mill-dawk li kienu kritiċi tal-proġett iffukaw fuq id-dettalji u ma ħarsux lejn il-proġett fih innifsu, fit-totalità tiegħu, u allura ma rnexxilhomx japprezzaw kemm hi kbira l-ħsara li ser jagħmel il-proġett fit-totalità tiegħu.

Dan il-proġett m’għandniex bżonnu. Neħtieġu li niffukaw fuq il-problema li ġiet evitata kontinwament għax il-politiċi fil-Parlament u fil-Gvern ma jridux jieħdu deċiżjonijiet li m’humiex popolari. Għal din ir-raġuni iroxxu l-flus u jonfquhom, taparsi qed isolvu l-problemi. Mhux flushom, ovvjament, imma dak li jiġbru mit-taxxi minn fuqna. Il-problemi tal-lum, b’hekk, ikunu trasferiti f’ħoġor il-ġenerazzjonjiet futuri.

Is-soluzzjoni meħtieġa ma tinvolvix ħafna xogħol infrastrutturali imma prinċipalment inizjattivi politiċi biex jinkoraġixxu l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ mobilità u dan flimkien ma inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati.

Biex inkun ġust fil-kritika tiegħi ngħid li xi inizjattivi ittieħdu diġà u oħrajn bla dubju jitwettqu ukoll. Żdied sostanzjalment is-sussidju għat-trasport pubbliku. Ittieħdu inizjattivi diversi dwar aċċess b’xejn għat-trasport pubbliku lil diversi kategoriji u eventwalment hu ippjanat li dan ikun b’xejn għal kulħadd. Dan kollu tajjeb, iżda mhux biżżejjed. Flimkien ma dawn il-miżuri u bosta oħrajn hemm bżonn inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati. Dawn jistgħu jinkludu żieda fit-taxxi applikabbli kemm għar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi kif ukoll għall-liċenzji. Dan iwassal għal tnaqqis fin-numru tal-karozzi fit-toroq.

It-taxxi ambjentali jagħmlu l-ġid. Huma l-għodda politika li jekk użati tajjeb jgħinu biex tissolva l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku illum.

Għax il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hu l-prezz li l-ġenerazzjoni tal-lum qed tħallas għall-inkompetenza akkumulata tal-gvernijiet differenti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-politika tat-trasport. Sal-lum ġie evitat li jkunu ndirizzati l-problemi reali. Fir-realtà ma hemmx soluzzjonjijiet maġiċi: irridu naffrontaw il-problema. Sakemm nagħmlu hekk, il-problema tikber tista’.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Lulju 2019

Central Link project: the cost of incompetence

We are all in agreement that traffic congestion is a massive problem.

However, it is indeed unfortunate that those responsible for implementing transport policy at times give the impression that they are not aware that, in approving the Central Link project they are ignoring the cause of the problem and instead they are focusing on the effects. The issue in question is not the length or width of our roads but the number of cars making use of them.

Our roads are bursting at the seams as a result of an ever-increasing number of cars that is out of proportion to the size and needs of our islands.

The debate on the Central Link project focused on many important issues: air quality, the protection of agriculture, the protection of trees, cycling lanes –  all of which are of marginal significance to the real issue. The cause of the problem is not the size of our roads but the number of cars on which we are so dependent.

The National Transport Master Plan contains a reference to the basic analysis which identifies our transport problems: a lack of long-term vision. We seek immediate gains and ignore the long-term impact.

Specifically, under the heading “Improve integrated and long-term strategic transport planning and design” the following is included in the National Transport Master Plan: “This objective has been defined since, 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. 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.” (section 2.2.1 of Transport Master Plan)

Can it be clearer than this? The problem is car dependency and nothing else. Congestion can be temporarily solved with new and wider roads. It has been proven by studies carried out in other countries that infrastructural interventions in the road network will, in the end, increase traffic congestion because they end up generating more traffic.

On the other hand, addressing car dependency adequately will take a long time and it comes with a voter backlash!

Unfortunately, some critics have focused on the details and ignored the holistic view of the whole project, and consequently failed to grasp the real damaging issues at stake. We do not need a central link. We require focusing on the central problem which has been avoided time and again because politicians in Parliament and in government do not want to make unpopular decisions. Hence, they throw money at problems, thereby postponing them into the future. Today’s problems being once more shifted onto future generations.

The solution required should not involve substantial infrastructural work but policy initiatives which encourage the use of alternative means of mobility, as well as initiatives that penalise the use of private cars. We need to use both carrots and sticks as effective policy instruments.

In fairness, some initiatives are being taken and others are undoubtedly in the pipeline. Subsidies applicable to public transport have been increased substantially. Initiatives regarding access to free public transport – presently for various categories but eventually free to everyone – are laudable carrots. On their own, however, they are not enough. They need to be coupled with adequate policy initiatives which penalise the use of private cars. This could include increase to car registration tax as well as in car circulation taxes.

Environmental taxation is not a dirty expression. It is a policy that holds the keys to the solution of our traffic congestion that we should be solving now.

Traffic congestion is, in reality, the cost that the present generation is paying for the accumulated incompetence of our governments to date in managing transport policy. So far, the real issues have been avoided. It is about time we realise that there is no magical solution: we have to face the real cause of our problem head-on and, until this happens, the problem will get worse.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 July 2019

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

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” hu wieħed mill-iktar abbużat fil-lingwaġġ u d-diskorsi politiċi. Nazzarda ngħid li hu terminu abbużat iktar mill-kelma “demokrazija”. Jintuża f’kuntest żbaljat u bħala riżultat jitwassal messaġġ mhux korrett.

Żvilupp sostenibbli jfisser żvilupp li jħares fit-tul, jiġifieri jqis, jikkunsidra u jindirizza impatti fit-tul. B’mod partikolari jfisser żvilupp li jassigura illi r-riżorsi jintużaw bir-reqqa u li l-interessi tal-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri jkunu kkunsidrati. Dan mhux biss materja ta’ interess ambjentali. Imma li l-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali jimxu id f’id. Ifisser li dak kollu li nagħmlu jrid iħares fit-tul u jkun kompatibbli simultanjament man-natura, mal-ekonomija, mal-iżvilupp uman kif ukoll mal-kultura.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li nkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li hawn madwarna, f’kull ħin. Huwa dwar ħajja f’armonija kemm man-natura kif ukoll mal-bnedmin ta’ madwarna. Dan li hawn madwarna nqiesuh bħala parti mill-familja. Hi t-triq lejn iktar dinjità mmirata simultanjament lejn il-qerda tal-faqar u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent kollu madwarna. L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li l-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika jkunu sinkronizzati. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-kultura tagħna u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu fil-fatt żvilupp ibbilanċjat għax suppost li għandu perspettiva wiesgħa ħafna. Huwa għal dan l-iskop li sa mis-snin disgħin, meta għall-ewwel darba daħlet referenza għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli fil-liġijiet Maltin, ir-responsabbiltà politika għal dan il-qasam (fuq il-karta) kienet dejjem waħda diretta tal-prim ministru. Għax fil-prattika tfisser il-koordinazzjoni sħiħa tal-poltiika tal-Gvern u għandha tkun riflessa f’kull qasam, mit-trasport, sal-agrikultura u l-politika marittima.

Huwa minħabba li l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jidħol f’kull qasam ta’ politika li jeħtieġ li responsabbiltà għalih ikun f’idejn membru anzjan tal-Kabinett. Sfortunatament l-ebda wieħed mill-Prim Ministri li kellna ma żamm din ir-responsabbiltà f’idejh u b’mod jew ieħor kollha ddelegaw din ir-responsabbiltà lill-Ministru jew lis-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għall-ambjent.

Ikkonsidra, per eżempju l-politika dwar it-trasport li dwarha ktibt b’mod estensiv tul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat. Fuq il-karta għandna strateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li tipprovdi kemm għal titjib fiżiku tax-xibka ta’ toroq fil-gżejjer Maltin kif ukoll li jittieħdu inizjattivi speċifiċi biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Hu ovvju li fejn it-toroq mhux qed jaqdu sewwa għandhom ikunu rranġati. Imma huwa daqstant ieħor ovvju li hemm limitu dwar id-daqs tat-toroq tagħna

Studji mad-dinja kollha juru li jekk il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku ikun indirizzat b’iktar żvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq, il-problema tkun effettivament posposta u tiċċaqlaq minn triq għal-oħra inkella tkun posposta għal data oħra.

Li nindirizzaw is-sostenibilità tal-politika tat-trasport ifisser li għandna nifhmu dak li hu bażiku għall-mobiltà: il-mobilità faċli minn post għall-ieħor f’kull ħin. Sfortunatament dan mhux qed isir. Dan hu rifless f’numru ta’ kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika tat-trasport. Uħud minnhom diġa iddiskutejthom f’dan l-artikli imma hemm oħrajn bħall-politika dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni u dik dwar il-pompi tal-fuel. Politika dwar it-trasport li tħares verament fit-tul mhiex kompatibbli ma’ policy li tmexxi l-quddiem l-iżvilupp il-pompi tal-fuel. Il-fatt li f’data fil-viċin suppost li nibdew il-proċess tal-elettrifikazzjoni tal-karozzi, mifrux fuq numru ta’ snin, iwassal għal konklużjoni loġika li f’data mhux il-bogħod in-numru ta’ pompi tal-fuel meħtieġa ser ikun wieħed insinifikanti. Ministeru tat-Trasport iggwidat minn prinċipji bażiċi ta’ sens komun kien jifhem dan u jaġixxi b’mod loġiku.

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jeħtieġ li ssir parti integrali mill-istrutturi politiċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Jekk dan isir inkun f’posizzjoni ferm aħjar biex nindirizzaw il-kontradizzjonijiet u dan iwassal għal deċiżjonijiet aħjar fl-interess ta’ kulħadd.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Mejju 2019

The politics of sustainable development

The term “sustainable development” is one of the most misused and abused in political discourse. I would dare say that it is as misused as much as the word “democracy”. It is generally used in the wrong context, and,  as a result, sends a wrong message.

Sustainable development refers to development which has a long-term view, that is a view that considers and addresses long-term impacts. In particular, it signifies development which ensures that resources are carefully used so that the interests of future generations are taken into consideration. This is not just a matter of environmental concern – it is an intertwining of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It means that our actions must take the long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and a respect for culture.

Sustainable development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times. It is about being in harmony with Mother Earth, with nature and with our fellow human beings. It is treating our surroundings as part of our family. It is the path to dignity, aiming simultaneously at the eradication of poverty and the protection of the planet. Sustainable development requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

Sustainable development is, in fact, a balanced approach to development, as its perspective is all-encompassing. It is for this reason that, since the 1990s, when sustainable development first made it into Malta’s statute book, it was retained (on paper) as a direct political responsibility of the Prime Minister. In practice, it involves coordinating all areas of policy and should be reflected in transport policy as much as in maritime or agricultural policy.

Sustainable development permeates all areas of policy and hence requires a senior politician in Cabinet to be in charge. Unfortunately, not even one of our prime ministers assumed direct political responsibility for the matter as, formally or informally, all of them delegated the matter to the Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) responsible for the environment.

Consider, for example, transport policy – about which I have written extensively in recent weeks. On paper, it is described through the National Transport Masterplan which envisages both physical improvements to the road network as well as specific initiatives to limit cars on our roads. It is obvious that bottlenecks have to be addressed, but it is just as obvious that there is a practical limit to the size of our road network.

Studies all over the world have clearly shown that addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network has only postponed the problem and has either moved it physically to another area, or else moved it in time.

Addressing the sustainability of transport policy means that we should get to grips with the basics of mobility issues: the movement with ease from one point to another at all times. Unfortunately, this is not being done. This is reflected in the large number of contradictions encountered in the various aspects of transport policy and ranges from the electrification policy to the policy on the development of fuel stations.

A long-term view of transport policy would have easily made short shrift of the fuel service station policy. The fact that the electrification of motor vehicles will shortly commence and will be spread over a number of years, makes it  pretty obvious to one and all that, at the end of the process, the number of fuel service stations required will be insignificant. A Transport Ministry guided by the basic principles of common sense would have easily understood this basic point and acted accordingly.

The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. If this is done, we will be in a position to weed out glaring contradictions and, as a result, be in a position to produce policies which promote the interests of all.