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

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