We shouldn’t have to choose between our prosperity, quality of life and ensuring the sustainability of the planet we inhabit. Looking at things as a zero-sum game will prevent us from finding solutions, we can all get behind.
If we make something as fundamental as sustaining life on our planet a battle ground of small-time politics, we risk losing the war before we start. We can’t afford this. We should instead look for consensus on what should after all be self-evident and compete instead in our efforts to come up with solutions that help us reach our goals.
It is simplistic to dismiss the need for growth. Economic drive and innovation have brought about untold benefits to human lives. We live longer and healthier lives. We travel further and learn more. But it is also naïve to think it has all been rosy. Our economy needs growth because adding value to economic activity pays the interest on the debt that financed whatever it is that we've bought as a country. That debt cannot be the health of the one planet we inhabit. If we don’t see that, we’ll die of thirst in a desert of our own making.
If we think we’re not able to rethink the very basis of our polity, we would still be living under the divine right of kings. Change is inherent to our ability as a species to survive and there has never been a greater challenge to our very existence than the present climate change crisis.
A green economy is not about going back to the stone age. We are not abandoning the great advances of the last two centuries. We are not taking the wheels off our travel bags. Maltese political leaders govern a very small fraction of the world but that’s no reason why we should not look to be a sustainable, green economy. The biggest stumbling block we have is our commitment with Electrogas to buy electricity from their power station even if we don’t need it. We can’t switch to cleaner, cheaper electricity even if we can buy it from elsewhere. That’s a bad deal we’re stuck in for 18 years and it’s starting to look like elements of Electrogas played foully to get it.
Real leaders and politicians should be able to break us out of the Electrogas prison. We can the instead focus on buying energy from renewable sources through the undersea cable to Sicily whilst looking to generate our own to sell some back through the cable as well.
In the meantime, our small toehold on the world could capture more carbon. A miserable 1.1% of Malta is covered by trees. The government should lead a program of converting poorly used unbuilt land and turn it into forest: not concrete gardens we insist on calling parks but a return to verdant and wild nature which we forget is the indigenous state of the Mediterranean climate. We need to stop being timid about using tax to punish the use of fossil fuels and ring-fence the revenues from that to incentivise the use of renewals.
That sustainable cycle lubricated by tax must go into other sectors as well. Car users must pay more to finance the commitment of people who walk, cycle or use public transport. In place of wider roads, we should have pathways sheltered by trees for people to move without guzzling fuel. Now this is a difficult pill to swallow, I mean I'm talking about adding taxes, but isn't that better then selling our passports and citizenship to criminals out of fear of not imposing new taxes?
The same logic must be applied to penalise wasteful use of our most precious resource – land – whilst rewarding those who are ready to give up their quarries, their disused farmland and their plans for outsized ODZ developments to be converted to greenery and forest. Increased sustainability makes economic sense. Jobs will still be needed then created, energy will still be available, people and goods will still be able to move: likely more efficiently than now.
The time has come for our country to have its measure of success be less economic growth and more quality of life. Let's work towards being the country that measures quality of life of our citizens by the measure of the air that they breathe and the chances of their children to inherit an earth worth living in.