The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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Before it is too late

Mark Said Sunday, 19 May 2024, 08:34 Last update: about 26 days ago

We have an overpopulation figure of 533,286 as of 2023, 800,000 by 2040, with more than 1 in 5 being foreign, coupled with a low fertility rate. We know that this situation can no longer be sustained.

We know that the frenzied rate at which our construction industry is going can no longer be sustained. Yet, MDA head Michael Stivala speaks of the need for more construction, foreign workers, and tourists.

We know that we cannot continue enticing droves of tourists to this little rock. Yet, we keep on striving, year after year, for even greater tourist arrivals and gleefully boast when, indeed, we do reach such record statistics.

Clearly, we cannot go on churning out close to 50 new vehicles on the road every day, but we simply ignore the writing on the wall and continue increasing the number of toxic emissions in the air that we breathe. We continue to devise new flyovers and widen and lengthen existing roads while sacrificing virgin arable land, only to forcefully recoup some patches of green space in the name of Project Green.

Undoubtedly, our country cannot afford to continue increasing its public debt, which now reaches €9,000.5 million last year, or 52.4% of the gross domestic product. Yet, we do not seem to worry in the least about this sleeping time bomb.

Our focus must shift away from fast fashion and quick food options in favour of a more environmentally responsible way of living. Sustainability for the sake of environmental protection means doing things like walking short distances rather than driving, reducing one’s intake of single-use plastics, eating less meat, and investing in better-quality clothing to reduce material waste.

We must make people more aware of what environmental harm does not just to the environment but also to themselves and our communities. It should encourage better building practices, protect public health, and educate people on why we should live more sustainable lives. Sustainability goes beyond what we do with the items we already own. Purchasing sensibly often means only buying what we need and, when we do, investing in higher-quality, longer-lasting products.

We cannot maintain our quality of life unless we acknowledge and reduce the damage we do to our country each day. If we do not learn to live sustainably, some of the effects will be more landfills popping up everywhere, more extinct fauna, an increase in respiratory diseases, rising sea levels, declining soil quality, and likely a reduced nutritional quality of our food.

Yes, recycling recyclable products can help prevent waste from building up in landfills. But just because something can be recycled does not mean that it actually happens. Our recycling infrastructure is overwhelmed, and most of what gets sent there does not actually get recycled.

Sure, we were good and absolutely far-reaching, on paper, when we launched Malta’s Sustainable Development Vision for 2050 on the basis that economic growth, environmental protection, and social cohesion must move forward in a mutually reinforcing manner. This followed years of Malta having no sustainable development indicators.

Environmental sustainability provides a clear route to prosperity and well-being, and people in power need to take notice. Awareness of the need to embed sustainability into policymaking has broken into the mainstream, although much of it is still talk.

In the past, there were mistakes and missed opportunities. The establishment of multiple agencies and policy instruments created a disjointed governance system. Our environment ministers wielded little power. In national budgets, environmental protection was siloed away from economic development and social concerns. For a long time, action on climate change remained unfocused. And the economic drivers of environmental change were overlooked.

Pretending environmental protection and economic justice are separate public policy problems will prevent us from ever achieving either. Sustainability is a challenge that crosses disciplines. It is an economic problem as well as a political one, a scientific challenge as well as a philosophical and moral one. Capabilities for flourishing are a good starting point from which to define what it means to prosper. But this vision needs to be interpreted carefully, not as a set of disembodied freedoms but as a range of ‘bounded capabilities’ to live well within certain clearly defined limits.

Equality will play, as it must, an important role in our society’s efforts to achieve sustainability. This is true whether those efforts are taking place on local, regional, or national scales. Either an unequal sacrifice that falls disproportionately upon the poor and middle class or an unequal distribution of available goods and services that disproportionately favours the wealthy will doom any attempts at sustainable development to eventual failure.

As then President Vella pointed out during the launch of the Malta Sustainability Forum 2023, the concept of ‘sustainability’ has progressively become linked to the broader concept of quality of life and is no longer perceived merely in financial or economic terms. It took us a very long time to come to this realisation, and it might be too late today.

One of the biggest barriers to sustainable living is the misconception that only big, sweeping changes make an impact. That is absolutely not true. Why? Well, aiming for perfection simply is not sustainable. If we wait for perfection to adopt an eco-warrior lifestyle, we will never start moving the needle. A whole bunch of people doing an imperfect job at sustainable living does way more for our country than one or two people doing it perfectly.

Yet, while much environmental damage has already been done, change is still possible. The root of that positive change lies in understanding what we must do from now on and striving for sustainability.

 

Dr Mark Said is a lawyer

 

 

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