The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

TMIS Editorial: Environment – we will believe it when we see it

Sunday, 15 May 2022, 11:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

The environment will be the main objective of this administration, President George Vella said in a speech he delivered on the day when Parliament convened for the first time since the election.

As is tradition, the speech was prepared by the government and highlighted the government’s aims for the next five years.

The time has come, the President added, that the emphasis that previous administrations made on the infrastructure will now be shifted to the environment.

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In the next five years, government intends to spend €700m in projects related to the environment, Vella said. It was a promise the Labour Party made before the election.

Nice words, indeed.

Forgive us if we behave like St Thomas did, but we will only believe it when we see it.

For too many decades, the environment has played second fiddle to anything else that needed to be seen to. It was never the priority as multi-layered roads were built, villages expanded into land that was previously used for agricultural purposes and the construction industry was given too much leeway to make gold – and not just hay – while the sun shines.

We cannot reverse time, and what was lost will remain lost. So we really wonder whether the €700m government is saying it will spend will be enough.

For one thing, so much damage has been caused, and therefore it is pointless now to speak of green areas in public places. The concrete that we see around us, going higher and higher, will always overshadow anything else.

Vella – again, to be precise, it’s the government saying it, not him – said that one of the intentions is to protect the unique characteristics of our towns and villages. Buy how can this happen if, in most cases, these characteristics have already been destroyed?

Compare a few old photos of how our localities looked 25, 50 and 100 years ago and you will realise that the situation back then was much better than it is today. Maybe we’re being nostalgic, but the fact remains that, just to give one example, the quaint houses on the Sliema front (in the area close to the tower) were much easier on the eye than the mass of buildings that have been constructed in the past 30 years or so. And any green project there will not bring them back.

In his speech, the President highlighted the need to change our mentality towards the environment. This is probably the tallest order of them all, because history has taught us that we find it extremely difficult, collectively as a nation, to alter our ways.

We mention just one simple thing which, if we manage to do it, will certainly make our country a more beautiful place to live in – and this is the way we dispose of items we no longer want or need.  As things stand now, we get zero points.

Just take a look around you and it is not hard to see unwanted tissues, empty cigarette packs and a thousand other items lying on pavements or in the middle of the road. Sometimes we get mattresses and domestic appliances too.

Just notice what happens when it is a windy day, and the lighter of these discarded items start flying around, sometimes even endangering drivers. Or on rainy days when the so-called floods carry them to the sea, unless they end up blocking culverts. Then also take a look at how so many of us think that public places do not belong to anyone and so it’s OK to leave empty burger boxes lying around on benches where people are supposed to sit.

Big changes start from little things, but if we cannot change the way we behave in the little things, then it is hard to imagine that we will change the way we look at the bigger picture.

And this bigger picture also means that the authorities responsible must play their role properly.

It is useless to speak of the environment when, then, nobody lifts a finger when construction waste ends up in the sea, ruining bays.

It is useless to speak of the environment when permits are given for large projects in areas where, supposedly, no development should take place.

It is useless to speak of the environment when the government does not think it over twice to chop down trees and take up land to, say, build an airstrip in Gozo when this idea is set to fail.

This is why we said that we will believe what the government is saying when we see it.

In five years’ time, government will have to give an account of where these €700m would have been spent.

We will then make our judgment.

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