Cutting down trees to widen roads is not just wrong. It is evil

And our government’s policy holds that the economy takes precedence over absolutely everything else: including our citizens’ health and safety, the quality of their lives… heck, even their long-term survival chances…’

I rather suspect that they will look back at us today, and conclude that we must truly have been an evil bunch of criminally delinquent monsters, to have wilfully embarked on a course of action that we knew would make their own lives hell
I rather suspect that they will look back at us today, and conclude that we must truly have been an evil bunch of criminally delinquent monsters, to have wilfully embarked on a course of action that we knew would make their own lives hell

So let me get this straight: after decades warning us that our planet is spiralling towards self-destruction because of climate change… scientists have finally given us all a tiny glimmer of hope for the future.

We are still in time to mitigate the effects of global warming, they tell us: not through some fancy new technology costing billions; and not even (necessarily) by making painful sacrifices in our daily lifestyle.

All we have to do is ‘plant a trillion trees’.

There, that doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? Sure, you’d need a lot of land: a luxury Malta doesn’t exactly have right now (though you’d never guess from the way we consistently just build up every square inch of available space… for all the world as though ‘land’ were some kind of infinite resource…)

I rather suspect that they will look back at us today, and conclude that we must truly have been an evil bunch of criminally delinquent monsters, to have wilfully embarked on a course of action that we knew would make their own lives hell
I rather suspect that they will look back at us today, and conclude that we must truly have been an evil bunch of criminally delinquent monsters, to have wilfully embarked on a course of action that we knew would make their own lives hell

But on a global level? Are we to understand that ‘planting a trillion trees’ is simply beyond the collective capabilities of the 195 countries that make up the geo-political map of Planet Earth?

Reason I ask is that… well, that’s what it looks like right now. We’ve been told that we have to plant a trillion trees to save our own species from extinction; and for some unearthly reason, the general reaction has been to pooh-pooh the idea as an ‘impossibility’.

‘Plant a trillion trees? Are you out of your mind? Do you have any idea how much a trillion is? It’s a thousand billion, for crying out loud…’
Yeah, well, that is also roughly how many trees we have managed to fell in around 50 years of global deforestation. There was, after all, a time – admittedly very long ago – when a single squirrel could hop from tree to tree, all the way from northern Scandinavia to the southernmost tip of South Africa.

And ironically, it is the compressed remains of those very primeval forests that constitute much of the oil and coal that we now burn to produce energy, and pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Even more ironically, this also means that ‘planting a trillion trees’ today, would actually work out as an investment in the future of the fossil fuels industry itself (though you would have to wait a few million years to see any return).

But that’s just an aside. The part I really don’t get in all this is… since when is it harder to chop a tree down, than to plant a new one? All it takes to clear away acres of forest, the way we still do every day, is labour and man-power. Nothing more, nothing less. Why, then, should it take anything more to reverse the process, and embark on a global reforestation programme?

To put that into context: let’s imagine it was the other way round. Let’s pretend that those scientists said ‘cut down a trillion trees’, instead of plant them. My guess is that we’d have done it in the space of a week. We would have sent out entire armies equipped with axes and chainsaws – like we already do in places like Borneo, to produce more palm-oil – and, hey presto! A trillion trees, and more, would all be gone in the bat of an eyelid. Problem solved.

For the life of me, then, I can’t understand how a species which seems perfectly capable of destroying entire tropical rainforests – not to mention landing people on the Moon, planning missions to Mars, etc. – should not be equally capable of reforesting their own planet through a dedicated tree-planting programme.

All it would take, in practice, is a firm commitment from at least the most developed of those 195 countries, to do (and financially help other countries to do) what we are told is the only thing that might actually prevent the world from becoming uninhabitable in the near future.

Just plant a f***ing trillion trees, damn it. What’s stopping us from doing that, anyway? There is nothing – absolutely nothing whatsoever – that is ‘impossible’ about it at all.

Except, perhaps, for one small thing. Time and again, it has proved beyond humanity’s capabilities to ever agree on a course of action that is beneficial (in this case, critically vital) to the environment… but doesn’t make anybody any richer.

And that’s the only thing that seems to be holding us back. There is no money to be made – and plenty to be spent – out of doing what we all know we should be doing, even to save our own skins.

Which leads me to the uncomfortable conclusion that… well, maybe our skins aren’t worth saving after all. Maybe we really do deserve to be wiped off the face of this planet by our own myopic greed.

But there is another side to this dilemma. Not only are we avoiding the one course of action left to us to save our planet… but – here in Malta, at any rate – we seem to be enthusiastically doing the very opposite. We are removing trees, to widen roads.

That is to say, we are taking away the one thing that has the power to re-absorb some of the carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere… to create more space for more things that will only belch out more (and more, and more, and more) of the greenhouses gases that are slowly killing us all.

And what makes this almost pathologically irresponsible, is that we are doing this in full awareness of the consequences. The Central Link project is not just about removing trees from where they are needed most… because at least, there is the promise to plant more trees elsewhere. No, the problem concerns the declared motive for this senseless act.  

The only reason we are going ahead with this lunacy is to make it easier for people to drive their cars (oh yeah, and also to give out a few lucrative roadworks contracts): at a time when government’s official (but evidently forgotten) traffic management plan is actually geared towards the clean opposite goal.

We are – according to government’s own policy targets, anyway – supposed to be reducing vehicular traffic in Malta, not increasing it. And there is even a study by the Transport Authority which concludes that widening roads would only result in more congestion further down the line.

So, the Central Link project is already destined to produce the opposite of its intended result. It might ease traffic flow in the short-term… but only until the wider roads become equally congested by the never-ending influx of more and more cars to fill the extra space.

And what then? We widen those roads even further… removing more trees, eating into more agricultural land, displacing more communities… and for what, anyway? So that we’ll just have to repeat the process again, and again, and again… until there’s no more space to widen them any further?

Meanwhile, there are ancillary consequences that have a direct bearing on climate change itself. Malta admittedly cannot do much about the problem on a global level (though I still strongly feel we should at least be doing our own bit, however small); but this doesn’t mean we will be spared the effects of rising temperatures.

We already know, for instance, that fresh water is going to be the next critical resource: and historically, fresh water has always been in short supply here. Even the Knights were aware of this, way, way back in the 16th century. That’s why they decreed (among other water-saving policies) that all Valletta houses had to have their own well.

Fast-forward 500 years, and it seems we have lost this basic capacity for foresight. New and wider roads will also create more flat surfaces for precious rainwater to simply run off into the sea – where it can only be retrieved through an expensive, energy-guzzling process called ‘Reverse Osmosis’ – when we should be doing everything in our power to harvest as much of it as possible, to ward against inevitable future water shortages.

Meanwhile, the new road network – unshaded by any newly-planted trees, as these will all be planted in ‘national parks’ where their shade is practically useless anyway – will dramatically increase temperatures in the immediate vicinity. For what is a road, anyway, but an expanse of asphalt that radiates solar heat upwards and outwards?

It is as though we are doing our utmost to make this country as uncomfortable and uninhabitable as possible. I mean, we’ve only just recorded our hottest June ever, for crying out loud. What is Malta going to be like, when most of its surface becomes an inbuilt solar radiator?

Transport Minister Ian Borg cannot claim ignorance as his excuse for overlooking this reality. He has been told – by countless studies and reports commissioned by all the relevant authorities – that his precious Central Link project will only speed up the devastating consequences of climate change on our country… while not even solving the problem (i.e., traffic congestion) it was conceived from the outset to solve.

I described this as ‘lunacy’ above; but then again, Borg doesn’t quite strike me as a lunatic. So he can’t even plead insanity, when charged – by a future court of public opinion – with gross crimes against the environment. What’s his defence going to be, I wonder, when future generations hold him and his government responsible for their actions today?

Let me guess: ‘It seemed a good idea, at the time, to dish out a few roadworks contracts worth millions to a handful of local contractors. After all, that’s what keeps the economy ticking over, isn’t it?

And our government’s policy holds that the economy takes precedence over absolutely everything else: including our citizens’ health and safety, the quality of their lives… heck, even their long-term survival chances….’

Personally, I don’t see that going down too well with future generations who will probably curse today’s decision-makers with every breath of their short, uncomfortable and miserable lives.

I rather suspect that they will look back at us today, and conclude that we must truly have been an evil bunch of criminally delinquent monsters, to have wilfully embarked on a course of action that we knew would make their own lives hell.

And I’m sorry to have to add that… they’ll be right.

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