Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

March 2, 2017

univ-of-faith

Thursday, 2nd March, 2017

Universe of Faith talks to Alfred E. Baldacchino, an environmental expert who is highly concerned about the fact that in Malta, we keep repeating the same mistakes detrimental to human health, the environment and the economy.

Fountain grass, Penisetum at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

Fountain grass, Penisetum sp. at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

“In the 1970s the government introduced Acacias trees which are detrimental to some people suffering from asthma, allergies, sinusitis etc. This alien species was introduced in Malta after a donation to the government of the time. Today, landscapers are doing the same mistakes by introducing alien species in our roundabouts, streets and other urban areas. One such example is the fountain grass, Penisetum, which following its planting in major roads, has now escaped and is growing uncontrolled along streets, in fields and also in valleys, competing with indigenous flora.” He explained that while there are also indigenous plants which can cause allergies these grow in small quantities and not invasively like the alien species.

Alfred believes that landscaping our streets needs to be combined with respect for the local wildlife and ecosystem. “Australia and New Zealand spray each plane that lands to control the introduction of alien insects from being accidentally introduced in their country. They have learned their lesson hard after Europeans introduced foreign species which brought havoc to their indigenous biodiversity. England is spending billions to control the negative impacts of invasive species. What can we learn from them?”

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

He insists that our approach needs to change and that things can be done more professionally. “We can use many of our indigenous flora, which are so easy to propagate. We have so many beautiful wildflowers. Israel uses indigenous trees, such as the carob, to landscape its streets. We can do the same. Indigenous flora should be propagated locally and not imported for commercial reasons. This would help economically, ecologically and socially. We have to put our priorities right. Environmental landscaping needs to move hand in hand socially and ecologically.”

He also warns about the dangers of importing olive trees which are suffering from a deadly disease causing great economical and ecological damages. “Do we have to go through such negative ecological and economical experience to make us aware of the actions that needed to be taken?” he asks.

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe Major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud www.maltawildplants.com

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud http://www.maltawildplants.com

Alfred calls for the appreciation of our indigenous plants, those which have been adorning our country before the arrival of man, as well as implementing clear policies concerning alien invasive species which are destroying our ecosystems.

Pope Francis, in his recent letter On Care for Our Common Home also echoes this thinking when he said that some profits cause “terrible injustices, much greater than the economic benefit to be obtained,”. He also dedicates thirteen paragraphs (24, 32-42, 169, 190) of this letter on the value and protection of biodiversity.

Published: March 2017

Further Reading:
How can I become a “Green Catholic”?


Yet another toothless dog

August 26, 2016

times of malta

Yet another toothless dog

Friday. August 26, 2016

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The way in which the new Planning Authority handled the applications for high rise buildings is a harbinger of things to come with regard to the complete destruction of these islands socially, environmentally and economically. Without any policy on the matter, without any public consultations, without any respect for anything or anyone but with urgency to please the selected few while the sun shines, the PA decided to approve the applications with absolutely no sign of professionality at all.

The fact that the new Environment and Resources Authority was absent from such an important decision is also very worrying.

A new era seems to be dawning on the environment, which, we have been told, ” … will be given the priority it deserves…”

The ERA chairman was indisposed and sent an explanatory letter. If I were the ERA chairman and I were sick, I would have crawled to the meeting, if only to make my presence felt. It would have been important to vote and make ERA’s position known. If medical reasons did not allow me to crawl, I would have sent a letter to the PA chairman stressing the need for it to be read before the vote was taken and highlighting ERA’s vote.

I would also have entrusted one of the ERA board members with the task to substantiate ERA’s official position. I would certainly not have sent the letter to a PA board member to use as he deems fit.

Such unprofessional behaviour simply shows that the government’s intentions to split Mepa into two authorities was just a sham. It wanted to make things easier for the selected few, weakening national and EU environmental obligations and responsibilities, giving a blank cheque to development applications having a hidden political blessing.

This was evident when the environment protection directorate was kept in limbo by Mepa when they were supposed to be in the same bed. Unconcerned, Mepa presented the Parliamentary standing committee on the environment with an impact assessment on Żonqor Point, confirming that the directorate was not consulted and drafters of the assessment had to remain anonymous.

The Environment and
Resources Authority, still so
young, has signed its own
death warrant

 

The new ERA, the promised champion of the environment, failed at its first hurdle. ERA, still so young, has signed its own death warrant through its impotency. The subsequent news that the ERA chairman described the EIA of the Sliema skyscraper as a “sham” confirms that ERA is another toothless authority.

I am indeed sorry for the ERA chairman. I had high hopes and honestly believed he would go far towards the protection of our environment – the basis of life as professionally he fully well knows.

The Sliema parish priests and the Church Environment Commission were constrained to voice their concerns. One cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. The leadership of the Church is emerging to be a solid promoter of the social and environmental responsibilities in the country, in line with Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. Yet, it is already being hounded by the square-circled political mentality.

Considering the local conditions, the high rises approved and others being proposed are anti-social, anti-environmental and anti-economical. Unfortunately, the powers that be, despite claiming they hail from the socialist camp, are dead set to accommodate the selected few at the expense of the exploited many, who sooner rather than later will have to pay through their noses, financially, socially and environmentally.

Such an official blinded vision is an extreme capitalist mentality rather than a moderate socialist commitment. But this is of no concern to those involved in these decisions. Greed, materialism and the exploitation of everything, at everyone’s expense, seem to be the order of the day.

As a past chairman of the Church Environment Commission once wrote: ” … Mepa, which should be our national watchdog on environmental protection and good management, has been turned into an old toothless dog often receiving merciless battering from all directions, including from the authorities, the public at large, NGOs and also from environmental speculators. And, let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter!”

He had also said: “What we need is a national watchdog called MEA: the Malta Environment Autlority. This should be able to act as a strong regulatory body in environmental matters, with all the required resources, including a well-trained and motivated staff. And, as a national watchdog, it should be able to act independently of all other govemment entities and authorities. Our MEA should play second fiddle to none” (Times of Malta, January 1, 2010).

Bold and noble words indeed when said with conviction.

cartoonThe old toothless dog is still running the show. And it is not only the old toothless dog that is still receiving such criticism. It has now been joined by a seemingly toothlless ERA.

One has to be aware that scientific decisions are arrived at in a very, very different way from political decisions. “And let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter”.

Who has let down whom?

Alfled Baldacchino served as assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


Not to lose my religion

May 3, 2016

times of malta

Tuesday, 3rd May, 2016

Not to lose my religion

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Gozo diocese is once again in the news. Not for any special religious teaching or matters of faith, but because of a commercial application, endorsed by the Minster for Gozo, to the new Planning Authority. The PA is being asked to approve a car park instead of a historical building.

It is a building described by many professionals as an elegant house by the renowned architect in the early 1950s, Ġuże Damato, who designed many parish churches.

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The elegant historical house which the Gozo Cathedral Chapter wants to make way for a car-park. Photo Daniel Cilia

Among the many who have objected to the demolition are Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, and Architect Conrad Thake from the University. An online petition garnered over  3,750 signatures objecting to such ‘barbaric destruction’.  An official objection was also submitted by FAA to the Planning Authority.

The Gozo cathedral chapter insists that “its needs should be considered too”, “there are no adverse reactions to the final proposal”, and that “the need for better accessibility to the Gozo citadel far outweighs the need to conserve a house of dubious historical significance”. The house is the property of the Gozo Curia, and the Curia want to demolish the property for the benefit of its parishioners. This is all being done to help the parishioners gain better access to their parish, as the Curia’s architect said.

Microsoft Word - Document1

“the need for better accessibility to the Gozo citadel far outweighs the need to conserve a house of dubious historical significance”. Photo Daniel Cilia

Some years ago I was on the Gozo cathedral parvis and decided to visit the cathedral. A tourist also wanted to enter but was asked for a ticket at the door.

“What ticket?” he asked surprised, “I only want to pray.” He was not allowed in because he did not pay. We both withdrew from the house of prayer, and ever since I did not set foot on that parvis.

It seems that the Gozo diocese does not want to hear or to learn of its social and environmental responsibilities arising out of the Church’s spiritual teachings. It has already been in the driving seat of the cemetery at Wied il-Qasab in Gozo, a project which ruined a historical and natural hydrological system. It drove farmers to despair, to the extent that there is a court case for yearly damages caused by the building of the cemetery.

And now the same diocese is at the helm of a project which if approved will eliminate a historic building to build a car park “for the benefit of parishioners”.

This reminds me of the Isis mentality which destroys historical monuments in the name of their god.

Is it possible that Laudato Si is yet to reach the spiritual leaders of the Gozo diocese?

Is it possible that the ripples of the worldwide impact of Pope Francis’s Laudato Si have not yet reached the Gozo diocese, enclosed in their fortified citadel?

Is it possible that Laudato Si, which was applauded even by atheists for its social, environmental and spiritual vision, has yet to reach the spiritual leaders of the Gozo diocese?

Is it possible that the pro-business vision which has infected the Maltese mentality has also contaminated the Gozo diocese?

The teachings by Pope Francis in his ecumenical letter are very clear. Laudato Si shows the need for new and more appropriate forms to think biblically in spiritual guidance. A new approach needed which goes beyond decisions that are not sustainable.

Laudato Si teaches that not everything can be accepted in the discernment of spiritual guidance. The Church achieves more genuine and effective spiritual guidance when it is willing and ready to deprive itself from the right to acquire more common riches.

These are the teachings of Pope Francis, unless of course the Gozo diocese has declared complete independence from the Vatican.

If the Gozo cathedral chapter really wants to “help the parishioners gain better access to their parish”, it can easily sponsor a shuttle service from it-Tokk bus terminus or from near the local council offices.

papa-franġisku

This can take them to the front door of the church, and in so doing, save resources, contribute to a smaller carbon dioxide emission footprint, avoid traffic congestions adjacent to the citadel, and help in the conservation of historical buildings.

If it is believed that Pope Francis is not up to the level to understand the needs and aims of the Gozitan cathedral chapter, then perhaps the latter should refer to the Bible and ruminate on verses 12 and 13 in Matthew’s chapter 21.

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all that sold and bought in the temple… He said to them, ‘my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers’.”

This is what the Church teaches, or rather, is expected to teach, even in Gozo.

If this is not digestible to the Cathedral chapter, then I believe the Archbishop should intervene and put his foot down and file for an injunction like he boldly did against the Carmelites in St. Julian’s. In this miniscule country, there cannot be two gods, one for each island.

If this fails too, not to lose my religion, as I am sure many others feel, it would be appropriate for me to disassociate myself with this kind of tribal religion based on papier mache gilted with gold, bells, books and candles… and ‘parking places for parishiners’.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related readings

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%e2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/a-vision-buried-at-nadur-cemetery/

 

 

 


Climate change and the Pope

December 7, 2015

times of malta

Monday, 7th December 2015

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE POPE

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the terrorism against humanity, Paris is now hosting the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The main objective is to get a legally binding universal agreement for all nations, on climate: a measure in the name of humanity.

logo-cop21-webAfter past failures and procrastinations, world leaders will be trying to agree on a new model of growth that is safe, durable and beneficial to all. This is not only possible, but now necessary and urgent. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development and president-designate of COP21, Mr Laurent Fabius, said that the whole planet is expecting such a global agreement; the citizens of the world know that later will be too late.

Climate change is so devastating that even Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ dwelt on this matter. Prof Schellnhuber expanded on climate change during the launch of Laudato Si’. Prof Schellnhuber is the founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, a German government-funded research institute addressing crucial scientific question in the field of global change, climate impacts and sustainable development.

Prof. Schellnhuber spoke on the urgency of taking immediate actions on the solid scientific evidence of global warming driven by greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. Failure to strongly reduce such emissions will expose the present world populations and their future generations to intolerable risks. He added that the Encyclical Laudato Si’ mirrors these scientific findings, endorsed by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Pope-francis-deified-market

Laudato Si’ looks at the large scale production of fossil fuel energy towards human development, but benefitting a minority. Such a resource is privately owned by large corporations or controlled by governments. Access largely depends on the financial resources of the individuals, generating extreme wealth as compared to the poor and the poorest of the poor. This is seen to be a violence of development which predetermines the lives of the latter thus leading to disparities  and to wasteful over-usage of resources, to the extent of exploitation of the carbon history of humankind.

This development by the few affects everyone, with the greatest consequences borne by the poor, as compared to the consumption by the rich who are contributing to the deeply wounding of the planet. And the devastation of this is borne by the weakest in society.  This is why Laudato Si’ emphasises that it is indispensable to confront climate change and poverty simultaneously. Not only so, but climate impacts will disproportionately affect many of the developing countries.

Development as it is being carried out is like walking the plank. Not only will it not bring prosperity for all, but it will bring disaster for most of humanity. Science teaches us that climate is a fragile and delicate web of interwoven components. It embraces the atmosphere, the oceans, the frozen water part of the Earth system, the soils and the ecosystems. These interact through complex physical, chemical, geological and biological processes. Just the pull or breaking of one single thread of this web can possibly lead to permanent damage of the whole web.

   Development as it is being carried out

is like walking the plank.

Such a delicate natural web started to be tampered with at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, by a small ‘privileged group’.  This has led to the present crisis of climate change.

A pro-business vision, bereft of any social and ecological considerations, has already led to expansion of sea water as it warms, and also through the melting glaciers and ice caps, leading to sea-level rise. These can lead to about 1.2 meters of sea-level rise, all due to human interference through short-sited egoistic development.

Excess of carbon dioxide emissions, which is contributing to climate change can cause sudden, irreversible and large-scale disruption in the natural web interwoven by physical and ecological systems. Business as usual will lead greenhouse gas emission to an increase in temperature by 4°C.

Prof. Schellnhuber  while addressing the congregation on the launching of the encyclical Laudato Si’ compared climate change to a human being having a body temperature of 37°C. A 2°C rise in temperature will lead to fever. A 5°C rise will result in a dead body through heat and the collapse of vital organs of the body. Our planet is the body which embraces humanity.

Pope-Francis-golden-calf

What will be the outcome of the Paris Summit? Will the pro-business vision rule the day? Will there be dragging of feet by those who put unlimited development before the survival of humanity? Will business acumen look at such a global problem through a Volkswagen approach? Will the past sceptics and opponents of such measures join the chorus for a binding agreement? Will man endorse the fact that he is his worst enemy?

Pope Francis emphasises that “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all”. Prof. Schellnhuber adds that now is the time to form alliances, find common ground and act together as humankind – but also to take on individual responsibility and change what is in our power to change.” Our planet does not need anybody to save it. It can take care of itself. It is humanity which needs to save itself.

Sir David Attenborough sums it all up when he said that “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth on a physically finite planet is either mad, or an economist.”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

See also:

Il-Knisja Ortodossa u l-Enċiklika Laudato Si’.

tifhir-lilek-mulej/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/il-knisja-ortodossa-u-l-enciklika-laudato-si/