The Malta Independent 19 April 2019, Friday

Fighting for the Earth's future

Timothy Alden Sunday, 17 March 2019, 09:45 Last update: about 2 months ago

On Friday, students from around the world protested against climate change. In Malta, school children and university students alike assembled and joined their voices in unison. Twenty years ago, people were ridiculed for recycling: today, it is expected of us. We have come a long way in the past couple of generations, and today's youth are the most environmentally conscious of all. However, the concern is that this progress will be too little, too late. Even if the world meets the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement, which seems to be unlikely, we will all still be in big trouble. Even that is not enough. 

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At the moment, we are on course for the world to warm by 3-5° Celsius, which would lead to millions of deaths at best. At worst, we are facing the total collapse of the natural world, through the acidification of our oceans, the collapse of insect populations, methane escaping from the ice as the Arctic melts and causing a negative feedback loop, as well as many other disasters besides. All it would take for human civilisation to suffer an apocalyptic end is for one of many terrible scenarios to play out and then have a domino effect on everything else. Everything is interconnected, and if one piece is removed, the entire natural system will come crashing down on us.

The response to climate change over in recent years has often been a mixture of disbelief and laziness. Even climate scientists have, until recently, played down just how bad things are actually going to get when climate change really kicks in, out of a fear of sounding alarmist. However, as studies increasingly show that climate change is likely to be even worse than the most terrible predictions in the past, even the scientists are now starting to admit outright that we are in more serious trouble than we imagined. There is no longer room for ambiguity: the doomsday clock is ticking.

While people can be distracted by secondary issues, it is almost as if they expect that others are going to somehow save the planet for them. Many probably expect that some last-minute miracle will deliver us from Armageddon. In Malta, we have the added disadvantage that people also think we are too small to make a difference, so why bother? What they fail to realise in that scenario is how Malta can punch above its weight, and that it should be easier to have a green revolution in Malta due to the size of our country. Once we push the economy in that direction, then we can lead by example in Europe, and take advantage of a new green economy. Malta should be setting an example.

Unfortunately, this current government has put the environment very low indeed on its list of priorities, and both Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia were recently courting the Malta Developers Association by saying that the construction boom needs to keep going. They made it clear that the environment can be sacrificed on the altar of an economic bubble. This is why the presence of Evarist Bartolo at the 'Youth4Climate' march on Friday seemed rather hypocritical, along with the presence of other politicians who remain silent in the face of awful environmental atrocities being waged on a daily basis by the government, with the consent of the Nationalist Party.

However, I want to offer some much needed words of encouragement, despite the dire forecasts and lack of political will. This was the first time that Maltese students came together on an issue as ambitious, serious and crucial as climate change. Although Malta is small, our young people do not feel that they can shirk their responsibility on this one. While I often highlight the consequences of the world warming above 3° Celsius, I do so only to motivate people into taking action. Nobody can rescue the planet but ourselves.

On Friday, however, I felt deeply inspired and refreshed for one of the first times since setting off on this uphill battle to save the environment some years ago. Despite politicians showing up for some photographs and then returning to their bad habits and indifference after the photos had been taken, young people from across all partisan divides still came together with a common vision. With such a sense of purpose, I believe we can inspire a radical change if we keep at it. It is important that this march against climate change is not the end of the story; it needs to be part of a new beginning.

It is crucial that Malta first gets a grip of its environmental problems here at home. If we cannot prevent our water table from being ruined due to over-extraction, or if we cannot keep our own air clean, then we cannot set an example in Europe and fight for a green economy. We first have to fight for it at home.

Saving the climate goes beyond changing how we travel or how we eat. It is also about how we practise political power. The environment needs to become the number one priority on the ballot paper. Once that is the case, it will be the new norm to prioritise the environment, and then all other politicians must follow the new standard or else get voted out. Let us therefore set a high standard for the environmental commitment we expect from our politicians, regardless of which party they come from.

It is time that the environment became more than a buzzword. We have had enough greenwashing; the time for talk has long since passed. It is now time for action, and that includes forging a collective political will to avert disaster. Despite everything, we must fight on, and we must dare to protect the world we know and love.


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