Getting the priorities right

The problems that need to be fixed by us will not be seen to by any other international organisation with the ability to impose targets, regulations and limits on all signatory countries

I have this little bee in my bonnet which keeps me from visiting the once idyllic Bahrija. I make it a point to avoid ever driving remotely close to the new building catastrophe that now stands in for this village.

I have this nostalgic picture in my mind of Bahrija as a cute, authentic Maltese hamlet, with a small path that takes you down to a winding valley, then a water course with the freshwater crab, il-qabru, concealed in the humid vegetation.

I want to remember Bahrija as it was, not as it is today.

When Bahrija started its transformation into an ugly aggregation of badly-designed buildings with no appreciation for its rural setting, not one voice of dissent was registered. No architect, no environmental NGO, no author or poet. Bahrija died a cruel death and was changed into a little monster.

Today the number of Maltese environmental groups that have proliferated is unprecedented. A good deal are less motivated by local issues, given the urgency of the climate emergency. And others tend to badly structured, sometimes run by young, ethusiastic leaders who suddenly disappear for a three-month spell to Bali, leaving their organisation paralysed and in limbo.

The inspiration that is Greta Thunberg has also pushed young Maltese people to join her in her call for action on climate change. It makes for a refreshing change from the materialistic generation whose brain is addled by social media influencers peddling sponsored products.

This week in parliament, a vibrant – to say the least – exchange occurred when environment minister Jose Herrera ‘corrected’ shadow minister Jason Azzopardi, to see both MPs getting lost in semantics. Herrera correctly reminded Azzopardi that sulphurous emissions from sea vessels had nothing to do with climate change. But on the other hand, Azzopardi, who lacks the scientific knowledge to understand this, may have got it right when he highlighted this problem. This is especially so when one considers that the channel between Malta and Sicily hosts thousands of vessels every day of the year and the emissions coming from these vessels dwarf the emissions from all the cars in Malta put together in a decade. Indeed their contribution is so big that this channel is one of the most polluted in the whole world.

Those who research public health will tell you that the worst offenders for respiratory diseases and conditions are ports and airports. So though we have seen the two political parties ‘coming together’ (as usual armed with cutlasses) on climate change, the truth has to be told that our contribition – if one takes the footprint of our island – to climate change is more or less inconsequential.

It does not follow we should not do anything about it, but we should at least follow by example (for example, is Malta then responsible for the emissions from its large shipping register, even though these ships are not Maltese-owned and are sailing distant seas?).

The problems that need to be fixed by us will not be seen to by any other international organisation with the ability to impose targets, regulations and limits on all signatory countries

Just as in the case of Bahrija, few people have spoken of the threat to our public health from the tonnes of sulphur and fine particles (particulates) that skyrocket into our immediate air. For the past seventy years we have been engulfed in pollutants and no one really knows how this has aggravated the state of our health.

Meanwhile on the same day when our miniscule parliament carried a lively discussion on this subject, the International Maritime Organisation chose to dramatically decrease the level of sulphur in the fuel used by vessels, and we had another problem solved for us by someone else...

The problems that need to be fixed by us will not be seen to by any other international organisation with the ability to impose targets, regulations and limits on all signatory countries.

That is why Bahrija has continued to be treated like a chessboard for deviant town planners and that is why Bahrija’s rape would be an ideal centre of attraction for any budding NGO. Needless to say, it is no secret that Malta’s number one environmental problem is our footprint, because after all the good intentions and philosphical arguments about what is important and what is not, there is a very simple truth. Without the footprint, the earth and sea we live in and from, it follows that we will have no landscape, no views, no wildlife, no agriculture, no open spaces – simply nothing.

And that is why the youthful force of all these NGOs should join forces and make this their number one campaign issue.


* * *


Meanwhile if arguing that our contribution to climate change is grossly insignificant, then surely the calamity of migration from Africa and the solutions are not in our hands. Beyond the pointless commentary by PN leader Adrian Delia there is one important plea that needs underlining. It is the need for the European Union to step in and seriously address the problem.

The first is by engaging with the anarchy that exists in Libya, created first and foremost by Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron with the war that dumped Gaddafi; and secondly the long-term calamity in Africa, also a legacy of European countries that left their colonies in an indescribable state.

Having said this, the solutions are not easy and it would be helpful that Delia starts off by realising that his performances in parliament and beyond – that is pandering to xenophobia – are not only dangerous but unwarranted.

Someone should also be advising him that no matter how much he tries he will not be rallying support from the Maltese public on this. No matter how much he tries, his credibility is rock-bottom.

And accusing Muscat of having changed tack from pushback to a more humanitarian political leader is not exactly getting him anywhere.

People see through people. They know how to add and subtract when assessing political arguments.

Migrants may not be manna from heaven, but everyone knows that they pose few calamatious’ problems for a nation that already sustains an invasion of two million tourists, depends on foreigners to run its economy and has a booming economy.

We need to come together to find long-term solutions. Surely that is what leadership is all about.