MaltaToday, 16 April 2008 | Oh, for a breath of fresh air


OPINION | Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Oh, for a breath of fresh air

Pamela Hansen

Air pollution, like waste, is a by-product of affluence. We all love our comforts, modern homes and time saving devices, but they come at a price.
However, there are certainly things that could improve our air quality without too much sacrifice. Saving trees is one of them, walking and cycling instead of using fuel-guzzling cars are other options.
As much as fresh air is essential for our quality of life, so are labour-saving machines. We are seeing more energy saving initiatives taking place in domestic chore savers like laundry and dishwashing machines and air conditioners, both things we cannot really do without. And, sometimes, even cars are essential, ambulances and fire engines, for example.
I mean, what is the point of being able to breathe fresh air if there is no speedy transport to get you to hospital in an emergency, or no one to stop your house burning down?
And on a daily non-emergency basis, if you are struggling with washing dirty linen and plates, pots and pans and other domestic tasks manually all day, besides sweating like a pig in the summer and getting chilled in the winter.
On the other hand, how can we appreciate our leisure time if we cannot walk anywhere without getting a lung full of smoke and dust and our eyes get no restful, pleasant and aesthetic vistas? As with everything in life, you have to have a balance.
Government ministers, sometimes rightly, say that public cooperation is necessary for righting measures to succeed. However, when the public responds and the relevant authority fails to deliver the government must then expect cynicism and a lack of enthusiasm.
Take car fumes. The public responded enthusiastically and did not mind doing a policeman’s job reporting the owners of smoke belching cars when the Transport Authority had their SMS campaign. But the worst offenders – the buses – got off. Many of them are still belching the lethal smoke.
Yet, the government is still saying that a transport system that serves the whole population effectively and on time to get the public to abandon their cars was needed to reduce greenhouse emissions.
OK. So start by getting the offending buses off the road. That should at least encourage more people to walk and cycle.
The latest letdown for the public was the inability of the relevant authorities to get their act together on waste separation at source. If you remember, an inept attempt had been made in 1996, when after people had bothered to separate their waste it was just being dumped with the rest of the junk.
The system had not been prepared to cope and apparently is still isn’t. Despite the pre-election promise that this time it is going to happen, we were fooled yet again: the scheme did not kick-start on the first of April. And neither did it yesterday. Apparently, the government will only pay for the scheme for a two-month trial period and where the money will come from after that time is up has not been sorted.
Well, isn’t it obvious that waste disposal has to come out of our taxes, so whether it is the government or the council that pays is neither here nor there.
Although it does seem like the costing has not been properly sorted either.
Now as someone whose car’s backseat looks like a bag lady’s trolley, despite frequent visits to the recycling bins, I have been rather looking forward for this system to start operating.
So for heaven’s sake, can the government and the Local Councils Association get their act together, cut the bureaucracy, get on with it and sort out whatever needs to be sorted out?
The parties concerned cannot seem more inept then they do already, so instead of worrying about yet more embarrassing situations where a date is set but not honoured. Set the date and honour it.
And by the way, can you (the parties concerned) at your next meeting ensure that the collectors leave empty bags when they take away the full ones? (A) They are being paid enough and (B) any other system would be inefficient and probably would not work.

Fresh air enhancers
Moving on to trees. Now the latter, as opposed to fumes and smelly waste, are fresh air enhancers. By the way, I was so happy to see that the mini pinewood that stretches from Sa Maison to Floriana is being looked after. More trees are being planted and there are noticeable signs warning drivers not to park their cars in the pinetum.
But the messages we get from government on trees are confusing. Because on the one hand we see the protection of one green area, yet, on the other, a superb green lung in the middle between high-rise, built-up Sliema and Baroque Valletta – Manoel Island – is at risk. I am not sure what MEPA has given the go-ahead for on Manoel Island, but I suggest the relevant NGOs, and all of us really, keep a close eye on this one. We don’t want another Tignè Point, do we?
And please, spare us any more photo opportunities. Reading about yet some other minister planting a tree reminded me of a cartoon, kindly supplied by Architecture Project, I once included in an architectural supplement.
Two architects were about to leave their offices to present a proposal for a new development to the local planning authority.
They had packed up their sizable model of the high- rise development, which they were to use for their presentation, but as they were about to leave one of them grabbed a miniscule model. “We mustn’t forget the tree!”
It was encouraging to read that Dr Joe Cassar, the new Parliamentary Secretary for Health has noted that “trees were the lungs of the world since they helped to counter the effects of carbon dioxide”, when he was photographed planting a tree with Resources and Infrastructure Minister George Pullicino at the Ta’ Qali National Park, recently.
The latter announced that the government is to appoint a team of seven experts to devise a plan to reduce Malta's greenhouse gas emissions in its endeavours to combat climate change.
The team will be working on the plan over the next two months, formulating the action that needs to be taken in the next five years.
What with that project and keeping up with the latest EU directive on improving air quality levels George Pullicino has his work cut out. Let’s hope he does better than with the MEPA portfolio.
The PM has given him a second chance, possibly because he did not have much choice, so he cannot afford to mess this one up.
As we know, the construction industry is one of the major culprits responsible for low air quality as well as waste in Malta. A recent study revealed that fine dust emissions from active soft stone quarries, in Malta, stood at some 38 times higher than the highest international recommended levels.
If the directive is to be followed stone quarries, cement factories and construction plants will have to abide by strict emission level values to reduce the impact on the environment.
This should be interesting to follow, especially as to who will be responsible for enforcement.
While on the subject of air pollution, I must include an item I have been meaning to refer to since last week, and which also includes noise pollution.
The coverage of the tragedies caused by fireworks attracted an enormous amount of comments and some of us consistently criticise people who encourage their use, although beautiful displays also get their fair share of publicity.
Yet, a feature by George Cini, in The Times on April 7, informing us that the Vittoriosa parish and the organising committee of special feasts were to hold back on pyrotechnic displays and instead use the money to present a deeper insight into the significance of the feast of St Lawrence from a historical and literary standpoint, only got one comment, from me!
It is a shame that such a truly altruistic and enlightened gesture that should set an example, which hopefully all parishes will follow, went by almost unnoticed.
We are so quick to criticise, yet not so quick to praise.

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