Revenge of the killer trees...

Starting with the most obvious question of all: what proof is there, that ‘trees in general’ – and, even more so, those trees in particular – really do pose a threat to the health and safety of passing motorists

Well, what can I say? Thank goodness we have people like Transport Minister Ian Borg out there, to alert us all to ‘life-threatening dangers’ that we didn’t even know existed.

Like… um… trees, for instance. You know: those woody, leafy, branchy things, that used to line so many of our streets and thoroughfares in the past… casting pleasant shade over incandescent tarmac… pumping out vital oxygen, to compensate for all the noxious fumes of passing traffic… providing homes for nesting birds, and all sorts of other arboreal wildlife…  and above all, shielding from view all the ghastly, hideous urban accretions, that have arisen to replace them almost everywhere you look…

Seriously, though: who would have ever guessed that these majestic (and seemingly innocuous) marvels of nature, actually spend all their free time plotting murder and violence upon innocent passers-by?  That each time we pause to admire the beauty of a solitary tree – or, more perilously still, stop to enjoy the shade provided by its canopy of leaves – we are actually exposing ourselves to imminent, mortal danger…?

It almost reminds me of the classic reactions, every time people discover that their seemingly ‘friendly, harmless neighbour’ was all along a serial killer: “What, him? But he was always so polite… so quiet and reserved… the sort who would never hurt a fly”… etc., etc.

Ah… but thanks to the indefatigable life-saving efforts of our brave Minister of Transport: we now know better than to ever trust a living tree again. And we can also understand precisely why our benevolent government is so utterly hell-bent of removing every last herbaceous perennial from our islands, once and for all…

It is not - as so many of us foolishly used to believe - out of reckless, irresponsible disdain for all that is ‘natural’ (and therefore, ‘economically worthless’). No… it was all along to protect us, and our loved ones, from the cunningly-disguised homicidal tendencies of Malta’s ‘public enemy number one’…

Or at least, that’s Ian Borg’s latest excuse for chopping down the last few remaining ficus trees on the main Attard thoroughfare this week: that is to say, on the last bottle-neck leading to the Rabat Road… where so many of the elegant Mediterranean pines that once adorned that memorable landscape have already been mercilessly uprooted, to make way for the Central Link Project.

Hmm.  OK, at this point, I shall have to admit that my sarcasm meter has officially run out of gas. There is, after all, a limit to the amount of sheer amount of illogical nonsense a population can realistically put up with, in defence of what can only be termed a daily onslaught of State-sponsored environmental terrorism.

And truth be told, Ian Borg crossed that line long, long before arguing this week that – wait for it - “the Attard trees were removed because they posed a danger to motorists”.

In fact, I’m not even sure what irks me more: the fact that Ian Borg – and his allies in government – are doing their utmost to deprive Malta of what little remains of our precious natural environment; or that he would genuinely believe we are all stupid enough to fall for such an unparalleled crock of horse-shit in the first place.

But tell you what: seeing as he made that outrageous claim (in Parliament, no less)… let’s see how well it actually stands up to the facts on the ground.

Starting with the most obvious question of all: what proof is there, that ‘trees in general’ – and, even more so, those trees in particular – really do pose a threat to the health and safety of passing motorists?

I suppose we shall have to start with a statistical analysis of precisely how many people are ‘killed or injured by trees’ in Malta each year. Luckily, Ian Borg – or to be more precise, the Infrastructure Malta audit he was quoting – has already done some of the spadework for us: by pointing towards an infamous 2018 traffic accident, in which two people lost their lives (and 13 more were grievously injured) when a double-decker tourist bus collided with a low-hanging ficus branch on the road leading to Zurrieq.

And that is pretty much as far as this exercise will ever take us, because – to the best of my knowledge; and not taking into account any freak accident where a tree may have been uprooted during a storm, possibly landing on a passing vehicle and/or pedestrian - there are quite simply no other known cases of motorists (or anyone, really) ever ‘killed by a tree’ in in the entire recorded history of Malta and Gozo.

This places the number of tree-related traffic fatalities at the grand total of: two (2). And even that has to be qualified slightly; because – even though those unfortunate victims were undeniably killed in an arboreal collision - it remains highly debatable whether that solitary Zurrieq tree can realistically be held responsible for those deaths in the first place.

Last I looked, the only criminal action ever taken with regard to that incident happened to be against the bus driver, and the company that organized the tour.

At a stretch, we might also include the relevant authority (and which ministry does that fall under, by the way?) that originally granted a permit for an open-roofed, double-decker bus to be used for touristic purposes… on an island where the road network is clearly not suitable for vehicles of that height to begin with.

But that’s the utmost limit to which culpability an possibly be stretched, in this case. So to claim – as Ian Borg did this week - that the tree itself should be held directly responsible for those fatalities… and (more bizarrely still) to extend that guilt also to other trees of the same species, in other localities, which have never caused even the slightest traffic mishap, in all the 70 years they’ve been standing there…

… I don’t know. That’s taking public credulity just slightly too much for granted, wouldn’t you say?

But still: statistics are statistics; and in this case, they translate directly into two deaths caused by the presence of a tree in a particular locality, over an indeterminate period of time.

Now, let’s look at the corresponding figures for people who get killed - directly or indirectly – by cars in this country on a yearly basis.

Suffice it to say that, according to NSO statistics released in 2019, the number of traffic fatalities in Malta averages out at around 16 a year: that is to say, more or less one every three weeks.

Compared to the figure of only two, in as long as such statistics have been recorded… well, I’d say it means your chances of being killed by a motorist are exponentially higher than your chances of ever being killed (or in any way harmed) by any number of trees, of any species whatsoever.

And that statistic, by the way, is only concerned with people who have died in traffic accidents. If you were to extend the argument also to people who have died – and continue to die, day in, day out - as a result of respiratory problems caused by traffic-induced pollution…

… suddenly, the figures start assuming almost genocide proportions. For instance: in May this year, a study by The Centre of Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) concluded that “on average in Malta more than 500 people die prematurely every year due to air pollution alone…”

And just to leave us in no doubt whatsoever that most of this deadly pollution is, in fact, caused by traffic… the same study observes that: “air pollution fell drastically during COVID-19 outbreak restrictions in Malta, and so did asthma attacks; possibly due to both decrease in air pollution and restrictive measures…”

As we all know from our own personal experience (and also thanks to the above-quoted NSO report), those restrictive measures directly resulted in a near-total absence of traffic from Maltese roads, for a stretch of several months. And not only did we all feel the benefits, just by taking a deep breath of fresh air… but it would not be an exaggeration to add that some people actually managed to live just a tiny bit longer than they would have, had there been no drop in traffic at all.

Not, of course, that we actually needed the confirmation… but there you have it, in a nutshell. More traffic (and fewer trees) directly results in hundreds of deaths each year… and that, I hasten to add, is not an opinion of mine; but a scientifically confirmed fact.

Conversely, it follows that hundreds of lives could be saved, simply by reducing traffic, and increasing the number of trees (which, in case nobody’s noticed, happen to be around the only things in the entire country that are actually trying to mitigating all that air pollution, and make our air slightly less harmful to breathe).

So what do we do, when confronted with this incontrovertible, self-evident truth? Why, we remove every single tree, at every single opportunity, of course; in order to replace them with wider roads…. for more cars… to produce more pollution… to needlessly kill as many people as humanly possible, without directly murdering them ourselves...

Honestly, though. What could possibly be more logical, and sensible, than that…?