Sunday, October 26, 2008
GOZO – an ecological island – Alfred E. Baldacchino
The concept of establishing Gozo as an ecological island is indeed a great concept: a concept which can not only transform Gozo in all its splendours, but also one which at the same time can conserve all the characteristics of the island, be they ecological, historical, cultural, economical, educational, or aesthetic. However, this vision has to follow a strategic holistic plan, rather than piecemeal fragmented efforts. Every social entity, be it governmental or nongovernmental and every interested and willing individual of whatever colour or creed, should feel the responsibility and the duty to contribute to such a vision. From what I have read and from what I have heard, there is still a need for more public awareness on the basic principles of this concept. These need to be better defined and refined. Some do have feelings of fear and uncertainty, while others are not fully convinced of what this is all about, and if there is a need for it at all, or whether all this is just political mileage. This is mainly due to the fact that the meaning of the words ecology and sustainability need to be more clearly explained to one and all so that stakeholders’ ideas and input towards the realisation of this concept can be one of conviction. Admittedly, this concept is still in its embryonic stage, and strategic and holistic plans still need to be drawn up to encompass the thoughts, suggestions and ideas of all stakeholders.
Ecology is the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living species (life) and the interactions between such organisms and their natural environment. In common parlance the word ‘ecology’ is a synonym for the natural environment. The environment of an organism includes physical properties, which can be described as the sum of local factors such as sunlight, climate, water and geology. So the ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. An ecological concept has its roots in ecology as the ability of an ecosystem to maintain the ecological processes, functions, biodiversity and productivity, into the future, conscious of the intrinsic value of biological diversity and of the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, education, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values of the biological diversity and its components.
Sustainable use means the use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations. Sustainability means that nature’s resources are to be used at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally. According to the above definitions, some topics that quickly come to mind and on which action can be taken are climate change and clean energy, sustainable transport, sustainable consumption and production, conservation and management of natural resources – both terrestrial and marine, public health, social inclusion, demography and poverty, education and training, research and development, communication, economical activity to bring about change towards the implementation of this concept. And this is not an exhaustive list either. Education, through which knowledge can be shared, makes all the difference. And the use of market forces to boost sustainable development is a keystone of such strategy. To be fruitful, such a vision has to be run on the principles of openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence, followed by constant monitoring. The diagram shown above, readily found on any related Internet site, shows the three pillars of sustainability: the social environment, the economic environment, and environment protection. Not only are the three pillars interdependent, but also it is their joint mutual efforts that contribute to sustainability. This can perhaps dispel the fears of some who do not feel comfortable with the ecological sustainable tag as regards future visions, not least the concept of Gozo as an ecological island.
The first official steps taken by the government offers a direction for such a concept. In the brochure “Share your dreams” published by the Ministry for Gozo, Minister for Gozo Giovanna Debono underlines the important fact that this is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” where “everybody is called to the front line to project our Gozo of tomorrow”, “to shape its future together”. The brochure also gives an idea of what eco-Gozo means. Valid points which “… will make change happen, in both small, everyday practices and significant issues or sectors.” On similar lines, Dr Chris Said, a Gozitan himself and currently parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, in his article on sustainability (TMI, 13 October) emphasises that sustainability demands a change in mentality and lifestyles choice, as well as in the way we think, plan, work and earn our living and live; this will come to fruition through the participation of all interested parties, particularly the general public. In a separate article “A vision for Gozo” (TMI, 29 September), Dr Said, while touching on some topics that should be addressed with regard to the eco-Gozo concept, rightly emphasises “that this is not a concept exclusively owned by the government”, but that “every citizen, should embrace the eco-Gozo concept and make it his own”.
Sharing a dream
The concept for Gozo as an eco island is great. The official directions presented are encouraging. The stage is set. Admittedly it is no easy task to collate all the separate agendas and fine tune and amalgamate them into one, especially if there is that odd one or two which disregard the two other pillars of sustainability as explained above. A way forward is the convening of a number of ad hoc thematic groups, possibly chaired by a government official, with the main aim being that they draw up a report incorporating their views and suggestions on the concept of an eco-island based on ecology and sustainability as guidelines. Outlines of such reports can then be presented by the groups’ rapporteurs at a public national seminar for further discussions and evaluation. Proceedings from such a national seminar can then be published as the first draft of the strategy to implement and achieve such a concept for Gozo as an eco-island. As Dr Said concluded his first article, “this may sound utopian”. However where there is a will there is a way: nothing ventured, nothing gained. The artist Vincent van Gogh once said: “I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream.”