‘Blessed are the boat-owners, for they shall inherit Marsaskala…’

By the same token, it will be the Marsaskala residents – the ones who rightly regard that bay as their own ‘public property’ – who will end up without the beach and promenade they had been brought up enjoying all their lives…

Does anyone remember a 1989 novel called ‘Stark’, by Ben Elton? If not… well, that’s a pity. For while other, more canonical novelists – such as George Orwell, for instance – often take credit for having more or less accurately ‘predicted the future’… with ‘Stark’, Ben Elton seems to have hit the proverbial nail spectacularly on the head.

But first, a brief spoiler alert. There is a rather important plot-twist roughly halfway through the novel; and any attempt to summarize will invariably give the whole game away. So if you haven’t yet read Ben Elton’s ‘Stark’, and plan to do so in the foreseeable future… well, just skip the next few paragraphs, OK?

Right, now onto the business. ‘Stark’ is ultimately based on two premises: one is that – by 1989 – the environmental damage caused by large-scale resource-exploitation had already surpassed the point of no return. Planet Earth was experiencing a series of devastating ‘avalanches’: the first death-throes of a total ecological collapse, brought about unbridled human industrial activity…

And I’ll stop there for now, because already you can see that – with regard to the first premise, at any rate – Ben Elton got it 100% right.

Replace ‘avalanche’ with almost any other manifestation of extreme weather you care to name: bush-fires, droughts, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. – and you’ll be left with a fairly accurate portrayal of Planet Earth in 2021 (more than 30 years after the novel was written).

It is the second premise, however, that I find more… chilling. In ‘Stark’, the people responsible for this environmental Apocalypse – that is to say, the ultra-rich, ultra-greedy ‘global elite’, who between them own 99% of the world’s wealth, and control all its resources – get together to hatch a ‘plan of action’.

Not, of course, to try and avert this catastrophe… nor even to mitigate, as far as possible, its environmental effects. No, the idea is actually to build a fleet of massive spaceships – the ‘Star Arks’ that give the novel its name – and abandon Earth altogether, to start up a new colony on the Moon.

In other words: having ruthlessly despoiled (and destroyed) the entire planet just to enrich themselves… they simply ‘up and go’: leaving the remaining 99% of the world’s population to wallow, as best they can, in a mess that they themselves had created.

And if that’s starting to sound vaguely familiar: well, it’s probably because it is precisely what seems to be happening, all around us, right now.

Almost literally, in fact: it was, after all, only a few weeks ago that multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos took a four-minute trip to Space, on what was effectively the equivalent of a private, pleasure ‘space-cruiser’ (at the cost of a mere $5.5 billion: i.e., more than $1b per minute)…

… and what was that, if not a classic case of: ‘one small step for Jeff Bezos; one giant leap for the whole ‘Abandon-Earth-To-Its-Own Fate’ programme…’?

And in any case: what did it even illustrate, anyway, if not the inescapable fact that people like Jeff Bezos – all 1% of them – can always simply ‘up and leave’, any time they choose, if things get too ‘hot’ for them on this particular planet?

For let’s face it: you don’t exactly have to go as far as Space – still less, colonise the Moon – to run away from your responsibilities, you know.

In fact, when the climate change excrement starts hitting the fan in earnest, I reckon most of the world’s rich and powerful (including those with a lot less than $5.5b to blow on a pleasure-cruise) will simply relocate to a cooler, more temperate part of the world… while the rest of us sweat it out, is best we can, in the unbearable desert heat.

Either way, it boils down to the same thing: a luxury that is available to the few, but denied to the overwhelming majority. And given that – in this scenario – the ‘few’ are far, far, FAR more guilty than the ‘many’, for the very situation they themselves are fleeing… that can only be described as a gross – galactic, even – injustice.

And it is here that the full impact of Ben Elton’s ‘Stark’ vision (pun intended) can be felt most forcefully. For even at the micro-level, our response to analogous problems appears to be exactly the same: the most ‘guilty’ among us will invariably be the ones who can most easily, and comfortably, avoid all the more unpleasant effects… while everyone else - blameless though they may be – will have no option but to bear the full brunt.

I suspect it is partly for this reason that people in Malta reacted so badly, when it emerged (last January) that the ‘private owner’ erecting fences at Fomm ir-Riħ bay was none other than Sandro Chetcuti: chairman of the Malta Developer’s Association.

On the surface, those objections may have been based on such issues as ‘rambler’s rights’, ‘access to the foreshore’, and other such legal niceties.

But there could be no mistaking a deep-rooted sense of popular resentment, that it had to be (of all people) a representative of the construction industry – the same industry that has already ravaged and ruined so many other parts of this country – who had secured for himself one of Malta’s last-remaining, unspoilt coastal locations… and then built walls around it, to shutter the rest of us lesser mortals out.

Admittedly, that may even be an unfair assessment of that particular situation (Chetcuti himself claimed that his concern was for ‘public safety’; and even I can confirm, from personal experience, that Fomm ir-Riħ is indeed a dangerous place. It is prone to landslides… and at least one that I know of, long ago, proved fatal.)

Ah, but trying telling that to people whose homes, and entire neighbourhoods, have been rendered all but inhabitable – and in some cases, even come tumbling down upon their heads – by nearby construction and development projects. Try explaining to them, that yet another prime public spot (the Fomm ir-Riħ foreshore, if not the villa itself) has been denied to them, and their families, forever… on the pretext that it’s ‘for their own safety’….

Even if true – which it may well be, in this case – it’s not really going to wash, is it? Because we all know that Fomm ir-Riħ is very far from an isolated case: on the contrary, it slots in nicely with an infinity of other examples, in which ordinary people – i.e., the ‘many’, as opposed to Malta’s equivalent of the ‘global 1%’ (albeit on a much smaller scale) – find themselves steamrolled over, time and again, by an establishment that always puts ‘business interests’ first… and therefore, conversely, the rights of individual residents last.

And nowhere, perhaps, is this more visible than in what is happening in Marsaskala today: where – unlike the case with Fomm Ir-Riħ – we are not dealing with a private residence, which happens to also have access to a public beach.

No: here we are talking about the public foreshore of an entire seaside town – home to thousands of residents: most of whom would have grown up jumping into, and splashing about in, the waters of Marsaskala Bay – simply taken away from its rightful owners, and handed over to private business interests… just like that.

And for the creation of (of all things) a 700-berth yacht marina, that will quite literally take up every last square-inch of the entire inlet… to the exclusion of everyone else.

Ok, at this point I shall have to concede that my ‘Stark’ analogy may break down slightly, applied to this scenario. For while the typical Maltese ‘pleasure-boat’ owner may have enough money to own, and maintain, even an expensive luxury yacht… well, you can’t exactly compare them to Jeff Bezos, can you now?

Moreover, it would be absurd to suggest that individual boat-owners – however wealthy they may be (which, incidentally, isn’t even always the case: boats have become a lot more affordable these days, you know…) – are somehow ‘guilty’ of causing any kind of ‘environmental catastrophe’, or anything remotely comparable…

All the same, however… they still have access to a luxury that is denied to others; and in this case, it would have been a yacht marina built for their own benefit – and no one else’s – that would utterly (and permanently) ruin the Marsaskala foreshore for everybody else.

And yet… it won’t exactly be the boat-owners themselves to pay the price for this loss of public space, will it? No indeed: like Jeff Bezos (but at considerably less expense) they can always just hop onto their pleasure cruisers, and ‘up and leave’… that is, sail out of the murky, polluted waters of the newly-inaugurated ‘Marsaskala marina’, and head out to those parts of the Maltese coast that haven’t yet been utterly ruined by over-development; and which are pretty much inaccessible to anyone else.

By the same token, it will be the Marsaskala residents – the ones who rightly regard that bay as their own ‘public property’ – who will end up without the beach and promenade they had been brought up enjoying all their lives…

… because it was taken away from them, from one day to the next; and simply given to others, so that it can be used as – and I here I quote Marsaskala resident Marianna Theuma – ‘a garage for pleasure boaters’.

I don’t know. It might not come across as quite as shocking, or far-reaching, as the plot-twist of Ben Elton’s ‘Stark’… but it sure does look like an injustice to me.