Our response to a climate emergency? Turn up the heat...

That, ultimately, is the nature of the threat we now face. And… well, just look at us:  blissfully unaware that we are being slowly cooked to death… just like a frog in a pot of boiling water…

I imagine you’re all already familiar with the classic (and hopefully hypothetical) experiment involving a frog, and a pot of boiling water.

But just in case, it goes like this: if you place a frog directly into a pot of boiling water, it will… um... die. Oh, and because ‘being boiled alive’ is not exactly the most pleasant way to go: a word of friendly warning.

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! (otherwise, Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina will be out for your blood. And you wouldn’t really want that, would you now…?)

There is, however, a second tier to this experiment. Place the same frog - well, not the one that died, obviously - in a pot of cold water instead… and then gradually, ever-so gradually, increase the temperature until it reaches boiling point...

And hey presto! Your frog will not only be still alive… but also, perfectly unharmed.

Now: exactly what the original experiment was all along intended to prove, I have absolutely no idea. (That frogs are harder to cook than lobsters, perhaps? Who knows?) But still: even at a glance, you can more or less appreciate why it has since evolved into an automatic meme about the global effects of climate change.

Right now – with bush-fires raging all over the Mediterranean, and local temperatures set to hit an all-time record of 45C later this week – it is hard not to fully identify with that second frog. Not only are we likewise being forced to slowly ‘acclimatize’ to steadily increasing temperatures (only without the frog’s guarantee of actually surviving)… but we are also just as powerless to actually do anything at all about the rising heat, too.

In fact, we still can’t even seem to agree on the precise cause of the problem. On one hand, there is overwhelming scientific consensus (which I myself do not doubt, for even a nano-second) that climate change is ultimately a ‘man-made’ phenomenon: i.e., the result of air pollution caused by large-scale industrialization; of the kind that, let’s face it, has only really existed for the past 150 years…

… but then, there are also untold multitudes – in Malta, as everywhere else - who automatically question climate science… if not dismiss it outright as a ‘hoax’, or ‘global conspiracy’.

As for myself: I won’t bother wading too far into that argument, for one simple reason (two, if you include the fact that I’ve already clearly aligned myself with the scientists, and against the sceptics). In terms of how it will actually affect everyone and his frog… I mean, dog… it doesn’t really make all that much of a difference, in the long run.

Indeed, the only conceivable difference is that one of those scenarios – climate science – at least offers us a slight glimmer of ‘hope’ for the future… while the other, quite frankly, doesn’t.

Even so, however: that ‘hope’ ultimately rests on our governments’ collective ability to actually rise to the challenge… and that doesn’t seem too likely, given that our governments – and Malta is, I fear, no exception – tend to pander far more to the sceptics, than to the scientists.

The bottom line, however, is that in both scenarios, we remain very much the equivalent of that hapless frog: forced to endure rising temperatures, without any real access to the gas-dial on the cooker.

But still… we do have a small advantage, you know. Even if we can’t actually ‘lower the global temperature; – at least, not in time to fully avert catastrophe – there are plenty of things we could be doing, to at least mitigate these consequences as far as possible.

And again: this is true, regardless which of the above two interpretations you choose to go along with.  If, for instance, we accept that climate change is the result of (mostly) industrial carbon emissions… then Malta – being, by the way, among the most vulnerable countries in the world – should really at the very forefront of the global drive to reduce those emissions, once and for all.

If, on the other hand, we take the sceptics’ view… then we should be doing everything in our power to at least contain the catastrophic effects of rising temperatures on our daily lives (all the more so, given that – according to this interpretation – global warming is both inevitable, and irreversible).

And besides: in both scenarios, we should also be preparing for what we know, from now, is going to be a very, VERY hot (and arid) future.

Presumably, this would entail revisiting certain national policies and strategies: for instance, to maximise the production and preservation of fresh water; or to change our entire approach such things as energy production; urban planning; public transport; and so on, and so forth, and so fifth…

And yet: on all these fronts, it seems, Malta is currently doing the very opposite.

Trees, for instance. They are arguably our most reliable ally, in the global war on climate change – for not only do they cast a pleasant shade (which, let’s face it, we all now sorely miss, in our streets and townscapes…) but they also create a micro-climate of their own, by absorbing CO2– and also, humidity – from the surrounding atmosphere, etc. etc.

Yet here we all are: not only uprooting mature trees at every conceivable opportunity… but also, replacing the micro-climate they once provided with a network of urban roads… that is to say, a series of swelteringly hot, asphalt surfaces, which:

a) multiply the Sun’s heat, and fan it out in all directions (thus acting much like ‘radiators’: in the other words, the very last thing this country really needs…);

b) actively encourage more car-use… which also means more air-pollution, more CO2 emissions (and therefore, more contribution to the overall problem), etc., etc., and;

c) provide the perfect run-off surfaces for all Malta’s annual rainfall to simply flow off back into the sea – unharvested - where it is of absolutely no use to anyone.

The result? Our towns and villages are either literally baking under the unfriendly glare of an ever-more hostile Sun… or else, occasionally submerged by violent, destructive flash-floods...

At which point, we do have to ask ourselves, sooner or later: what are we trying to do here, exactly? Speed up the entire process, whereby this country may very soon become completely uninhabitable (to anyone, that is, but an acclimatized frog)?

But to compound matters even further: it looks to me as though we are also failing the Climate Change test on an international level, too.

Just yesterday, Energy Minister Miriam Dalli announced that – in the upcoming negotiations over the EU’s ‘Green Deal’ package – Malta would once again be requesting ‘special exemptions’.

In her own words: “The moment you put a kerosene tax on aviation and on the transport of goods, products coming to Malta will be much more expensive than a product being transported between France and Germany…”

And… well, don’t get me wrong. There is certainly room to discuss concerns like that, before signing on any final dotted line. But there are a couple of small snags with Dalli’s – and by extension, Malta’s – position, in the global effort against Climate Change.

The first is that (‘understandable’, or otherwise) it still remains a case of putting national concerns before the best interests of the entire planet (of which, in case anyone’s forgotten, we are still part: regardless how small and peripheral we may be).

And if Malta can expect to get away with ‘special exemptions’… in this case, because our status as a tiny island makes us ‘more dependant on air and sea traffic’…

Well, guess what? By the same reasoning, the United States of America - as the world’s most fossil-fuel dependant country -  is also eligible for ‘special treatment’… if nothing else, to protect the millions of American jobs that would no doubt be lost, as a result of any international ‘Green Deal’.

And oh look, what a surprise: that is precisely what the USA – and pretty much every other carbon-emitting nation on earth, for that matter - is actually doing, at UN level. It is defending its own national interests, at the expense of the commonly-agreed goal…

And it is this tendency, by the way – far more than any amount of ‘climate scepticism’ – that is really holding us back from achieving any such ‘Green Deal’ to begin with.

The second problem, however, is that… well, it arises from Dalli’s own comment. “The moment you put a kerosene tax on aviation and on the transport of goods, products coming to Malta will be much more expensive…”

Perhaps. But what about the moment when August temperatures start hitting the 50C-mark, instead of this week’s 45C (as will probably happen by next summer, or the one after)? Under those circumstances: how many people will actually be left in this country, to even deliver those products to at all?

Not to mention the ‘tourism industry’ we are all so eager to protect: what will remain of that, by the time when Malta becomes too hot and arid to even risk emerging from your air-conditioned hotel for more than five minutes flat…?

And besides… for how long will there still be an island called ‘Malta’ to even deliver all that expensive cargo to… if, as is now predicted, sea-levels are expected to keep rising steadily, over the next century, as a result of the one problem we all seem so hell-bent on ignoring for as long as possible…?

That, ultimately, is the nature of the threat we now face. And… well, just look at us:  blissfully unaware that we are being slowly cooked to death… just like a frog in a pot of boiling water…