Appreciation: Joe Sultana

September 14, 2018
Friday, September 14, 2018, 07:24

Alfred E. Baldacchino, 
General Secretary 1974-86, Malta Ornithological Society, writes

I met Joe Sultana when I was in my late 20s, through the Teens and Twenties Talent Trust – 4T’s, where I was committed. Eventually I sat on the committee of the Malta Ornithological Society (MOS), the first few months as PRO and later as the general secretary.

We became great friends and worked together for the better appreciation and conservation of birds. It was no easy task, especially during those early times when one had to hide one’s binoculars when out bird watching.

But Joe was determined, focused and had a dream, a dream which was so contagious.

All the bird lovers at that time got this bug. There were difficult times, with threats and also bullying. But under the guidance of Joe we marched on, through thick and thin all with one aim: the protection and better appreciation of birds as an international heritage.

As a nation we are responsible for such a natural heritage which we share with others especially during migration.

From a handful of members, the society grew not just in numbers but also in stature: international contacts, ornithological studies, educational activities all leading to a stronger, public awareness on birds. Joe was instrumental in establishing bird ringing studies through overseas contacts. Scientific papers slowly became part of the MOS work. Publications, from simple stickers, pamphlets to books were published to further increase the scientific and popular awareness by the general public.

Unfortunately, these were seen by some as a threat.

Politicians were not always helpful and neither were the religious entities during those times. But Joe was optimistic, he was not easily discouraged, and his leadership was instrumental in achieving such a noble, social, ecological, dream. Yes, he was.

Like him or hate him, one can never ignore or forget the vision, determination and unstinting dedicated work Joe gave to ornithology and its appreciation. Not only so but today one can never forget Joe Sultana in the world of ornithology.

Although Joe’s leadership gathered many admirers, none the less, there was no lack of enemies.

For 12 whole years, there was rarely a day when we were not in contact discussing and arguing the way ahead. Twelve years during which I learnt a lot from Joe, not only in the field of ornithology, but also in getting closer to achieving one’s dream.

After 12 years we drifted apart, though our aims and efforts towards the better appreciation of birds and nature were never dented. Each was contributing in his own way.

A look at the social media today reveals without any doubt the fruit of Joe’s dream.

The ever-increasing public awareness for the need of better protecting birds, and the professional photographing of birds in their natural habitat spell it all.

Professional photos of birds taken locally can rival others from overseas. It is not just the satisfaction of the stronger public outcry or the photos per se but the fact that during Joe’s early involvement in bird protection, these protected birds were not only butchered beyond any sense of imagination or reasoning, but also publicised as trophies in the mass media.

Surely the greatest satisfaction of all is that some of the professional photos are taken by the same finger which in the not so distant past pulled another kind of trigger. It did take almost half a century, but collective efforts have finally established a permanent basis to make Joe’s dream a reality.

While extending my condolences to Lucy, Mark and Ruth, Joe’s wife, son and daughter, I would also like to thank him for giving so much towards the birds of Malta and also for the many experiences we shared together working for the better appreciation and protection of nature.

Without doubt these have been of great help to me in my life.

Until we meet again, goodbye Joe.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Advertisements

To Gozo with love

January 8, 2019

The proposed Gozo tunnel has resurfaced once again. No surprise. The MEP elections are round the corner. It is normal that white elephants are driven in the political arena during such times.

Their main aim is to try to get on board the blindfolded followers who can be convinced that a circle is square, especially if this comes from the political leaders, no matter from which side.

This time a new step in this regard has been made. An international call for tenders for the construction of the 10km underwater tunnel, plus additional inland excavation – approximately an additional 5km – was announced.

The information was revealed by the Minister for Transport, who regrettably, is already associated with the destruction of any tree which dares stand in the way of spending EU millions to widen roads – the latest to bite the dust are national trees at Buqana.

Suggested socially and environmentally friendly alternative connections between the two islands.

Suggested socially and environmentally friendly alternative connections between the two islands.

Does the public have a right to know what were the findings of the social, environmental and financial impacts of this tunnel? After all, our country belongs to all of us and not just to politicians and entrepreneurs.

Has consideration been given to the negative impacts of such works on the only remaining unadulterated water catchment area at l-Imbordin?  How will this affect the water table? And how will this affect the livelihood of  those involved in agriculture in the area?

What about the Gozitan farmers on the other side of the tunnel exit? Is this of importance? Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists? Have such studies been undertaken despite the official tender calls? Has the general public a right to know of these negative impacts or are these confidential too? Would any professional firm tender for such works without such important scientific studies?

How much deeper under the 35 m of sea-depth will the tunnel be excavated? What kind of geological strata grace such depths? What is the position of the ERA?

Who will be giving the assurance and take responsibility for any loss of human life and limb in meddling with such dangerous large and deep sea bottom faults the area is full of, as has been pointed out by geologist Peter Gatt?

Will the responsible minister and the Planning Authority, which incidentally is in his portfolio, be shouldering all responsibility for loss of human life and ecological and social destruction and disasters, both on the site in question and also, directly or indirectly, in the affected areas? Somebody has to.

The answer to these and other questions raised by sociologist Godfrey Baldacchino ‘What purpose should tunnel serve?’ (January 4) have never been addressed, much more answered.

In the background of this political circus, one can hear the artificial, shameless pleadings that this is all in the interest of the general public, especially Gozitans, who deserve to have better crossing facilities between the two islands. No doubt about it.

Everybody agrees that Gozitans and Maltese deserve better crossing facilities. But not with such destructive decisions bereft of any technical and scientific studies, solely based on local arbitrary political acumen and agendas.

There is an ever-increasing momentum among the public, not least Gozitans, that the best environmental, social and financially friendly approach is the fast ferry service between the two islands. These can run not just from Mġarr to Ċirkewwa, but also to St Paul’s Bay or Qawra, to Sliema and also to Valletta.

And if found that there is the appropriate economically feasible demand, also to the Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk.

This would help commuters from getting caught in traffic jams along the way in St Paul’s Bay, Mosta, Birkirkara, Msida, Ħamrun, Floriana or everywhere along their journey across the island, something the tunnel can never achieve. The sea routes are already available at no cost at all. And these do not need any widening.

Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists?

If the Ministry of Transport is open to suggestions, unless they believe that the people out there can all be convinced that a circle is square, they can plan a holistically better managed public transport system on both islands, in connection with the stops of these fast ferries service. The present service between the two islands should also form part of this national transport management plan.

Such holistic public transport management can include, among others, a shuttle service from the Valletta ferry stop to the Valletta bus terminus to cut down on private transport and help commuters reach their destination easier.

Another shuttle service can take commuters to the Blata l-Bajda park-and-ride to reach a parked car which, if one wishes, can be left there. Such facilities can also be available at every fast-ferry stop.

This would be far less expensive and more socially and environmentally friendly than the proposed tunnel, in all aspects. It would also help commuters to cut down on expenses, both in the consumption of petrol, and also in the wear and tear of their cars. It would also help to further reduce pollution from the urban and rural environment, with all its negative impacts on the people’s physical and psychological health.

Furthermore this would also help to lessen the stress in crossing from one island to the other, especially through the 15 km+ tunnel, where all the psychological impact studies seem to have been completely ignored. Unless of course these negative social impacts are also officially regarded as further contributing to the economy.

It would also be interesting to know the toll commuters will have to pay to use the tunnel. It seems that this is not in the public interest either, possibly because it might scare some of the ‘faithful’ who may have concluded that driving through the tunnel would be free, like driving through any other road.

From past experience, I am convinced that the minister responsible for transport has a positive environmental awareness and would positively study any alternative suggestions. However, I have my doubts how much power he has to decide himself because of directions from upstairs.

From the way the social and environmental fabric of these islands is being officially exploited and destroyed, without any scientific studies or regard for their negative impacts, it is very difficult not to conclude that their destruction is part of an official political agenda supported by the square-circled mentality, and endorsed by some academics paid to decide politically and not to think professionally.

The Minister for Transport, nonetheless, is both personally and collectively responsible for the future sanity and well-being of the people of these islands and their environment with regards to the tunnel and transport management.

The crossing to Gozo and back can be made easier for the benefit of the people of these islands, with love and not with co-ordinated politically motivated destruction.

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


To Gozo with love

January 8, 2019

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The proposed Gozo tunnel has resurfaced once again. No surprise. The MEP elections are round the corner. It is normal that white elephants are driven in the political arena during such times.

Their main aim is to try to get on board the blindfolded followers who can be convinced that a circle is square, especially if this comes from the political leaders, no matter from which side.

This time a new step in this regard has been made. An international call for tenders for the construction of the 10 km underwater tunnel, plus additional inland excavation – approximately an additional 5 km – was announced.

The information was revealed by the Minister for Transport, who regrettably, is already associated with the destruction of any tree which dares stand in the way of spending EU millions to widen roads – the latest to bite the dust are national trees at Buqana.

Suggested socially and environmentally friendly alternative connections between the two islands.

Does the public have a right to know what were the findings of the social, environmental and financial impacts of this tunnel? After all, our country belongs to all of us and not just to politicians and entrepreneurs.

Has consideration been given to the negative impacts of such works on the only remaining unadulterated water catchment area at l-Imbordin?  How will this affect the water table? And how will this affect the livelihood of  those involved in agriculture in the area?

What about the Gozitan farmers on the other side of the tunnel exit? Is this of importance? Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists? Have such studies been undertaken despite the official tender calls? Has the general public a right to know of these negative impacts or are these confidential too? Would any professional firm tender for such works without such important scientific studies?

How much deeper under the 35 m of sea-depth will the tunnel be excavated? What kind of geological strata grace such depths? What is the position of the ERA?

Who will be giving the assurance and take responsibility for any loss of human life and limb in meddling with such dangerous large and deep sea bottom faults the area is full of, as has been pointed out by geologist Peter Gatt?

Will the responsible minister and the Planning Authority, which incidentally is in his portfolio, be shouldering all responsibility for loss of human life and ecological and social destruction and disasters, both on the site in question and also, directly or indirectly, in the affected areas? Somebody has to.

The answer to these and other questions raised by sociologist Godfrey Baldacchino ‘What purpose should tunnel serve?’ (January 4) have never been addressed, much more answered.

In the background of this political circus, one can hear the artificial, shameless pleadings that this is all in the interest of the general public, especially Gozitans, who deserve to have better crossing facilities between the two islands. No doubt about it.

Everybody agrees that Gozitans and Maltese deserve better crossing facilities. But not with such destructive decisions bereft of any technical and scientific studies, solely based on local arbitrary political acumen and agendas.

There is an ever-increasing momentum among the public, not least Gozitans, that the best environmental, social and financially friendly approach is the fast ferry service between the two islands. These can run not just from Mġarr to Ċirkewwa, but also to St Paul’s Bay or Qawra, to Sliema and also to Valletta.

And if found that there is the appropriate economically feasible demand, also to the Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk.

This would help commuters from getting caught in traffic jams along the way in St Paul’s Bay, Mosta, Birkirkara, Msida, Ħamrun, Floriana or everywhere along their journey across the island, something the tunnel can never achieve. The sea routes are already available at no cost at all. And these do not need any widening.

Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists?

If the Ministry of Transport is open to suggestions, unless they believe that the people out there can all be convinced that a circle is square, they can plan a holistically better managed public transport system on both islands, in connection with the stops of these fast ferries service. The present service between the two islands should also form part of this national transport management plan.

Such holistic public transport management can include, among others, a shuttle service from the Valletta ferry stop to the Valletta bus terminus to cut down on private transport and help commuters reach their destination easier.

Another shuttle service can take commuters to the Blata l-Bajda park-and-ride to reach a parked car which, if one wishes, can be left there. Such facilities can also be available at every fast-ferry stop.

This would be far less expensive and more socially and environmentally friendly than the proposed tunnel, in all aspects. It would also help commuters to cut down on expenses, both in the consumption of petrol, and also in the wear and tear of their cars. It would also help to further reduce pollution from the urban and rural environment, with all its negative impacts on the people’s physical and psychological health.

Furthermore this would also help to lessen the stress in crossing from one island to the other, especially through the 15 km+ tunnel, where all the psychological impact studies seem to have been completely ignored. Unless of course these negative social impacts are also officially regarded as further contributing to the economy.

It would also be interesting to know the toll commuters will have to pay to use the tunnel. It seems that this is not in the public interest either, possibly because it might scare some of the ‘faithful’ who may have concluded that driving through the tunnel would be free, like driving through any other road.

From past experience, I am convinced that the minister responsible for transport has a positive environmental awareness and would positively study any alternative suggestions. However, I have my doubts how much power he has to decide himself because of directions from upstairs.

From the way the social and environmental fabric of these islands is being officially exploited and destroyed, without any scientific studies or regard for their negative impacts, it is very difficult not to conclude that their destruction is part of an official political agenda supported by the square-circled mentality, and endorsed by some academics paid to decide politically and not to think professionally.

The Minister for Transport, nonetheless, is both personally and collectively responsible for the future sanity and well-being of the people of these islands and their environment with regards to the tunnel and transport management.

The crossing to Gozo and back can be made easier for the benefit of the people of these islands, with love and not with co-ordinated politically motivated destruction.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

other related articles:

Tunnelling the cross

Efficient link to Gozo

 

 


Il-Milied u s-sena t-tajba / Happy Christmas & happy new year

December 16, 2018

Lil dawk kollha li matul din is-sena għoġobhom jaraw il-kitbiet fuq dan il-blog, u dawk li żiedu l-kummenti tagħhom, jew inkella għenu biex ixerrdu l-messaġġ biex dejjem titqajjem kuxjenza pubblika aktar b’saħħitha dwar l-ambjent ta’ pajjiżna, u lill-ħbieb kollha tagħna nixtieq, flimkien ma’ Mary Rose, nawguralkom Milied hieni u sena ġdida mimlija paċi u barka biex flimkien ilkoll naqsmu u ngħixu f’dan il-pajjiż li ġie misluf lilna mill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. J’Alla jkun hemm oħrajn li jingħaqdu magħna għal dan il-għan.

————

To all those who during the current year had the pleasure of going through my blog, and those who contributed by adding their comments or else helped to share the message to further increase public awareness on the environment of our Country, and to all our friends, together with Mary Rose, we would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and a new peaceful and blessed new year, so that together we can share and live in this Country which was lent to use by future generations. May others join us in doing so.

 

 


The environmental state

November 24, 2018

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Alfred Baldacchino

The last meeting of the Environment and Development Planning Parliamentary Committee on the state of the environment report highlighted, consciously or unconsciously, the environment hurdles that are preventing professional environmental awareness, management and enforcement, in short not allowing Environment and Rural Authority to fulfill its obligations.

One of the main difficulties is the fact that environment is not understood and interpreted in a holistic way. This was also emphasised by the chairman of ERA who stressed that a great percentage of people only regard the building and development aspect when referring to the environment, unaware of other important biodiversity, marine, air and water aspects. A case in point is the replenishing of Balluta Bay with sand, which was completely carried away at nature’s whims and fancies.

An MP on the head table remarked on the marine environment, as if dumping to reclaim land is something to which there cannot be any objection, because it is far from the visible eye, ignoring the biodiversity (biological and physical aspect) completely. Environment Minister Josè Herrera was quick to comment that the ERA has the qualified officials (in fact two marine biologist professors sit on ERA’s board) to address this issue.

What irritates me most is the fact that such need for awareness and educational approach is more often than not addressed to ‘school children’. Not that this in itself is wrong, but today a good number of  primary  schoolchildren, individually have more environmental awareness than that collectively of most of the political MPs and official entities who are nilly-willy involved with environmental matters.

Perhaps the Planning Authority tops the list for such lack of awareness through the blindness for development without any environmental considerations.

As I had the opportunity to write and say many times, it is not just the Minister for the Environment and his entourage who bear all responsibility for environmental matters, but all official and social entities such as religious, legal, commercial, educational, voluntary organisations, mass media and the man in the street.

Each of these, in one way or other, use, abuse, and is in contact with environmental matters and has different but collective responsibility for such a holistic approach.

The ERA on its own cannot, despite all its willingness, achieve this national responsibility, the more so since it is not given the importance it deserves by the government

I would like to see or hear somebody, possibly a political leader who does not need air, water, the ecosystem and health for his everyday livelihood.

This was endorsed by another MP on the head table who emphasised that at home it is his children who tell him what to do and what not to do on environmental matters – thanks to the hard-working professional educators.

Another MP on the head table, referring to the building of towers, remarked that if there is a demand for them and a demand for more people on this island, than one has to satisfy this demand. Yet again, the unawareness of the holistic approach towards environmental matters, through narrow specialised teaching, ignoring the greater environmental demands of society such as a healthier environment, more open spaces, demand for less population density because of its negative social, ecological and financial impacts, less stress, all in the interests of present and future generations. It seems that the politician is programmed by the Planning Authority’s dictum.

ERA on its own cannot, despite all its willingness, achieve this national responsibility, the more so since it is not given the importance it deserves by the government, both with regard to resources (financial and human) and also by the lack of respect it has from other government quarters, especially from the Planning Authority, which still dictates what goes on in the construction and developmental field irrespective of social, national and international environmental obligations, not to add electoral promises.

This was again highlighted by the Environment Ombudsman when saying that the ERA needs to be strengthened and be on the same level as the Planning Authority if environmental matters are to be taken seriously and professionally.

The Environment Ombudsman also dwelt on a case in point. He said that it is unacceptable that an employee (a case officer) of the Planning Authority completely ignores and dismisses a report on a project drawn up by the Environment and Resource Authority.

It is not only unacceptable but also unethical by an official authority to act in this way and regard the ERA as still under lock and key in limbo and under its control, as it was when it was under Mepa.

These are the highest hurdles faced by the environmental watchdog. It was so evident from the debate in the said parliamentary committee. Whether this is being done with political blessing or with personal initiatives and interests is left for the intelligent public and intellectuals to conclude. One can build more on these environmental official hurdles following next week’s two-day seminar on the state of the environment report.

aebaldachino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

Some trees of Malta

November 20, 2018

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sandro Lanfranco

 A new and updated book about Maltese trees could not have come at a more opportune moment.

Trees have been in the news almost every week and almost always for the wrong reasons. Over-development, upgrading of the road network and accident prevention, to name a few, have all been used as justification for the removal or  mutilation of old, mature trees in recent months. This general regard for trees as expendable ornaments of landscape reminds us we are still a very long way from appreciating them as an integral part of our environment, including our built environment.

This is why Alfred Baldacchino’s new book, Sigar Maltin – taghrif, tnissil, ħarsien, għajdut (Klabb Kotba Maltin), is so timely. It is an educational tool that, one hopes, will go some way towards raising awareness of what we have and of what we stand to lose.

It is not a comprehensive account of Malta’s trees, instead, the author chose 12 species and devoted a chapter to each, telling a story about every one tree, describing its natural history, horticulture, pests and diseases, cultural importance, historical background and conservation status.

The author includes an introductory chapter describing the Maltese environment and the biology of trees, a list of relevant legislation concerning trees, an extensive bibliography and a list of species with Maltese and English vernacular names accompanying the scientific  binomials. There is also a glossary defining both technical and unfamiliar non-technical terms.

The book is well-organised, written in refreshingly fluent Maltese and draws upon the author’s vast experience in this field. Descriptions of species are comprehensive and accompanied by a generous number of functional photographs. The author does not just describe the leaves, flowers and bark of each tree but also provides photos of seeds, fruits and other distinctive features, depending on the species. This is a very welcome addition as it is a feature missing from many  books  about Malta’s plant life.

The scientific aspect of Baldacchino’s writing is correct and updated, with only one or two very minor quibbles.

Appreciation of this book also revolves around an understanding of two key choices made by the author: species and language.

The species included are all native but are by no means all common. This is certainly a positive point as it introduces readers to trees that may have never seen.

Moreover, the author’s definition of a ‘tree’ is also quite inclusive and incorporates plants such as Spanish Broom and Lentisk that are probably better described as shrubs.

There is also no trace of alien trees in Baldacchino’s account. He is very much a ‘purist’ in this regard and these latecomer usurpers have no place in his book, in spite of their important ecological and cultural roles.

The author’s definition  of Maltin (Maltese) extends to species that have been recorded prior to 1500 and any species not present before that point are considered ‘alien’. Baldacchino, nonetheless, recognises that several trees, now considered native, were probably also introduced by humans in antiquity.

Baldacchino chooses the path less-travelled  and  writes  in Maltese. His reasons are twofold.

Firstly, while completely aware he is excluding much of his potential audience, he is reaching out to those who may be more comfortable reading in Maltese than in English, an unquantified cohort neglected by most local authors in this field.

Secondly, by writing in Maltese he is reinforcing and reviving a subset of vocabulary that is not in general use. The Maltese language has its own lexicon for trees but this is often supplanted by more general terms or by inclusion from other languages. Through his choice, the author is not only teaching about trees but is also teaching language.

The book will be an indispensable addition to the libraries of readers on natural history and melitensia in general. It will be appreciated by general readers as well as by students of the Maltese environment and those of the Maltese language.

One looks forward to seeing a version written in English for the benefit of a wider readership.

Sandro Lanfranco – Senior lecturer in biology at the University of Malta.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Kummenti fuq il-Baġit mill-aspett tal-ambjent

November 5, 2018
il-Ħadd, 4 ta’ Novembru 2018

Tħawwil ta’ siġra għal kull wild

… kliem li aktar juri l-falliment tal-Minsteru tal-Ambjent

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Dwar l-ambjent u l-baġit li ġie ppreżentat smajna ħafna. L-argumenti ma jonqsux. IT-TORĊA tkellmet mal-ekoloġista Alfred E. Baldacchino, dwar il-ħsibijiet tiegħu rigward il-miżuri li ttieħdu fil-baġit dwar l-ambjent. Alfred E. Baldacchino jgħidilna li:  

Filwaqt li taqsima 5.0 ‘Ninvestu fl-Ambjent’ fiha daħla bi kliem sabiħ u ta’ tifhir, bħal: Il-Gvern jinsab konvint li investiment fl-ambjent se jfisser ukoll tkabbir u titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kull wieħed u waħda minna, imma ftit li xejn hemm indikazzjoni ta’ miżuri jew għajnuna finanzjarja għall-ambjent, fil-milja kollha tiegħu, “biex dan il-qasam daqstant importanti u sensittiv jingħata l-attenzjoni li jixraqlu.”

“5.4 Aktar siġar”

L-unika miżura li tispikka dwar l-ambjent fid-diskors tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi hija li: “Biex inkomplu nsebbħu l-ambjent, mis-sena d-dieħla l-Gvern se jkun qed jiżra’ siġra f’isem kull tifel u tifla li jitwieldu f’pajjiżna. Dan ifisser li kull sena se jkunu qegħdin jitħawlu madwar 4,000 xitel ta’ siġar.“

Għalija dan huwa kliem li aktar juri l-falliment tal-Minsteru tal-Ambjent milli xi ħaġa oħra.  U bil-viżjoni li bħalissa tirrenja fil-Minsteru tal-Ambjent, din tista’ tkun aktar ta’ ħsara milli ta’ ġid mill-aspett ta’ biodiversità.

5.3 Twaqqif ta’ Ambjent Malta

“Din is-sena qegħdin isiru preparamenti biex titwaqqaf Ambjent Malta bl- iskop li tindokra u tieħu ħsieb il-wirt naturali tagħna.” Pass tajjeb li jista’ jkollu riżultati pożittivi, dejjem jekk titmexxa fuq passi professjonali. Imma biex wieħed ikun jista’ jiffoka fuq “l-implimentazzjoni tal-immaniġġjar ta’ siti Natura 2000 filwaqt li se nkunu qegħdin nagħmlu l-kampanja tagħna aktar aċċessibbli għaċ-ċittadin” u “Permezz ta’ hekk se nkunu wkoll qegħdin nippromwovu infrastruttura ħadra għaż-żoni urbani tagħna.” hemm bżonn ta’ riżorsi, mhux biss finanzjarji imma anki kapitali.

Kif intqal ukoll l-Ambjent Malta sejra tkun responsabbli wkoll għat-‘tindif tal-widien’ u għat-tisbieħ tal-art jew kif inhu magħruf il-‘landscaping’.

Kont qed nistenna xi kumment x’se jsir bit-€8 miljun li qed jintefqu kull sena u li ftit li xejn qed ikun hemm riżultati professjonali u permanenti. Aktar u aktar issa li hemm l-Ambjent  Malta li qed tieħu ħsieb dan ix-xogħol. U aktar u aktar meta dawn it-€8 miljuni  qed jiqu amministrati fuq ftehim li mhux accessibli għall-poplu.

Meta wieħed iħares lejn it-tabelli li hemm mehmuża mad-diskors, isib li filwaqt li kien hemm xi żieda fl-ammont lill-Ministeru tal-Ambjent, ir-raġunijiet mogħtija għal dawn huma għall-“allowances” u għall-“Waste Management Strategy”. L-ebda referenza għall-Ambjent Malta.

Anki fil-qasam tal-infiq kapitali kien hemm tnaqqis ta’ madwar €4 miljun. U ma nafx kif dan kollu jista’ jwassal “biex dan il-qasam daqstant importanti u sensittiv jingħata l-attenzjoni li jixraqlu.”

5.5 Enerġija u Ilma

Ħsieb li nnotajt huwa li “Il-Gvern bħalissa qed jaħdem ukoll fuq il-Pjan Nazzjonali tal-Enerġija u l-Klima għall-perjodu 2020-2030” li wieħed jassumi li dan jinkludi wkoll lir-riżorsi tal-ilma ta’ dawn il-gżejjer. Veru daqsxejn tard wara l-isforzi kbar li saru minn għaqdiet u individwi f’dan il-qasam, l-aktar fuq il-ħela u t-teħid tal-ilma tal-pjan bla kontrol. Imma anki hawnhekk l-emfasi qegħda fuq is-settur domestiku. U dak industrijali, agrikolu, u ambjentali?

Huwa minnu li taqsima “5.7 Ilma”, titkellem fuq miżura li sejra “tipprovdi seba’ miljun metru kubu ta’ ilma ġdid, u b’hekk se tikkontribwixxi biex jinkisbu  riżultati sostenibbli tal-użu tal-ilma, parti kbira billi titnaqqas l-estrazzjoni tal-ilma ta’ taħt l-art” li huwa ħsieb tajjeb.

Inħoss li ma hemmx miżuri biżżejjed fil-qasam ambjentali ħolistiku.  Ngħidu aħna mizuri ambjentali edukattivi, ekoloġiċi, u anki fil-qasam tas-saħħa ambjentali, u nistaqsi lili nnifsi: dan huwa nuqqas ta’ provisjoni tal-Minsteru tal-Ambjent, jew inkella nuqqas ta’ amministrazzjoni li qed iċċaħħad lill-Minsteru tal-Ambjent biex jaħdem “biex dan il-qasam daqstant importanti u sensittiv jingħata l-attenzjoni li jixraqlu?”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


Overshoot-and-collapse

October 16, 2018

Tuesday, 16 October, 2018

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Local mass media daily carry news of an alarming increase in traffic accidents, some with loss of life; injuries and deaths in the neck-breaking rush of the construction industry; the alarming increase in criminal activities, some leading to manslaughter and even murder; already seven in less than nine months.

Not necessarily hitting the headlines are the number of physical and psychological impacts on both the old and young population, especially children.

“A new government will put the environmental health as a focal point in the decisions taken,” said one of the government’s last two electoral manifestos. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Unless the socio-ecological fabric of our country walks hand in hand with the economic factor, the former will have to pay externalities – the hidden costs – of short-sighted commercial decisions. The latter are putting the carrying capacity of our country under heavy pressure.

The overshooting of the carrying capacity was emphatically stressed by a pro-rector at the University, jokingly or not, saying that the government should consider buying Pantalleria.

Any sociologist qualified in population dynamics and population ecology can easily expound on the naturally occurring negative impacts of an over-populated affluent society, now rumoured to double.

The carrying capacity of a country is the number of people, animals or crops, which a region can support without environmental (social and ecological) degradation. When population exceeds the long-term carrying capacity of its environment, it leads to an ‘overshoot’. The environment usually has mechanisms in place to prevent such overshoot – often referred to as ‘overshoot-and-collapse’.

A country’s biocapacity deficit increases as either its population or its per capita consumption grows: faster if both grow. Decline is then faster than growth leading to social and ecological dysfunction.

The biocapacity or biological capacity of an ecosystem is an estimate of its production of certain biological materials, such as natural resources, and its absorption and filtering of other materials such as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the ecological footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the environment it lives in, this can be called an ‘ecological overshoot’.

I tend to believe that this is not the government’s intention, though I am afraid I cannot see any official measures in place to prevent this – not even from the handpicked Planning Authority or the Environment and Resources Authority. It would be a great injustice to our younger and future generations if they find themselves in this cul de sac.

The accelerating mismanagement of the socio-ecological fabric is contributing to such overshoot-and-collapse. This can be gathered from the decimation, with official consent, of biodiversity: land, ecosystem, air and water resources. The lack of enforcement of the national and international obligations, including those of the EU, make it seem as if these, as well as official authorities referred to, exist only on paper.

Past promised commitments as outlined in the government’s last two electoral manifestos led one to hope for a better future through good governance in the light of such principles; but it gives me great heartaches when I remember such signed commitments. Allow me to quote some:

“Social justice also means environmental justice. It means clean air. It means that everybody has a right to live without fear in our country and feel safe. Social justice means the creation of a society which thinks about everybody. These are the foundation of what we believe in” (forward to Labour Electoral Manifesto 2017).

“Environmental protection will be given priority and weight in all major Government decisions” (page 117).

“Protection of outside development zones will be strengthened. A new government led by Joseph Muscat will be committed that no major public project will be constructed in ODZ” (page 117).

“We believe that Malta should be in the front line in environmental standards. Not because of the obligations of European directives, but because this is what our children deserve” (2013, page 93).

“A new government will take more seriously and with greater commitment environmental matters. We are going to work with determination so that the lost time will be regained, aware that there are difficult decisions to be taken, among which is the reform of Mepa, from its roots. We are going to take this measure in the environmental interest of our country so that we will be in a better position to address the challenges” (2013, page 93).

“A better environment leads to better health. A new government will put the environmental health as a focal point in the decisions taken. Our aim is that we will make our country one of the best in air quality; water conservation; waste management; drainage treatment; and other related fields. Therefore, a new government commits itself to better considerably these fields, to ensure a better environmental heritage to our children” (2013, page 96).

“We will focus with more professionality on the protection of biodiversity and natural species in our country, while we will ensure honouring all the obligations of our country for the protection of biodiversity” (2013, page 100).

“A new government acknowledges and recognises the professional work and the professionals in the environmental field. Therefore, we will create a structure which recognises and better leads the professions in this field, while encouraging more professional specialisation (2013, page 101).

“Environment will be given the priority it deserves and this will be incorporated with that of the present Resource Authority and so establish the Environment and Resource Authority, which will be more proactive and strategic and which will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection of the environment and resources, while also assuming the important role of an environmental regulator which presently our country does not have” (2013, page 94).

Past promised commitments as outlined in the government’s last two electoral manifestos led one to hope for a better future

These are all commendable, noble commitments, with which I fully agree. I have been working for the best part of my life towards such aims, because I love my country, its people and its environment. So, I feel it is my obligation and my responsibility to say that the way official decisions are presently being taken and implemented are diametrically opposite to such commitments – commitments which our country not only deserves, but also demands. The government is responsible to implement such commitments. Unfortunately, I cannot see any, not even in their embryonic stage.

I also remember a circular e-mail (February 20, 2013) titled “Your priorities are our priorities” from Joseph Muscat, now Prime Minister, confirming that: “I will be personally accountable for delivery.”

Regrettably, with hindsight, I would not be surprised if I am laughed off, or told that these are now past the best-before date.

The people of Malta, irrespective of their political beliefs, deserve to feel confident of a better, safer, peaceful, healthier, common future, living in a healthy environment, as after all has been officially promised.

Science never lies. So would I be expecting too much if I say that I am eagerly looking forward to immediate action, in the interest of the young and future generation, who have lent this country to us? I am sure that anybody with a genuine socialist background not only would agree with these principles and commitments, but would also take immediate measures to implement them. Not so if one is blinded by the capitalist system. Unless of course, I am corrected again.

“The choices we make about the lives we live determine the kinds of legacies we leave,”  said Tavis Smiley, the American talk-show host, author, political commentator, entrepreneur, advocate and philanthropist.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com