One word which is often used to describe Malta is greed. But like many other words, ‘greed’ is a vague term which can be used to describe many different situations. And when a term is overused it runs the danger of becoming a truism.
More often than not ‘greed’ is used to describe rich and powerful people but in reality it applies to all and sundry. And the greatest catalyst for greed is a lack of understanding of its consequences.
And I do not only mean the consequences of evading tax, an economy built on cheap labour or the building spree destroying our countryside. The consequences of our selfish behaviour and voraciousness for material comfort has a direct impact on our health, our environment and quality of life.
One good example is the obsession with cars in Malta. The number of licensed motor vehicles rose to 379,338 by the end of last June. This translates to an increase of almost 80,000 cars since 2010. At this rate, Malta will soon overtake Luxembourg to have the highest number of cars per inhabitant in the European Union.
Beyond the statistics the mammoth increase in cars has consequences on the environment, our health and quality of life.
Not only do thousands waste hours commuting from one place to another in what is the smallest EU member state as they are stuck in traffic at all times of the day but its wreaking havoc on our environment and health.
The ridiculous number of cars on our roads means that the infrastructure is stretched. More cars mean more traffic and more traffic means more roads, less trees, less countryside and more air pollution.
A study by the EU’s environment authority found vehicle emissions were the biggest source of pollution in Malta which has been classified the fourth worst in Europe.
Research found that air pollution causes more than 500,000 premature deaths across Europe. Yet there is no drive to reduce the number of cars on the road. No politician would dare to so otherwise their career would be over before they get home in the rush hour.
Instead we have countless road extensions, such as the planned widening of roads in place such Attard, Zebbug, Rabat, Mellieha, Mtarfa, San Gwann and Mosta. This might temporarily ease the traffic problems in some areas but it will only encourage people to buy more cars and pollute more without thinking much about the consequences.
Phasing out petrol and diesel cars is a welcome long-term project but by the time it comes into effect it may well be too late as by then we would have chopped down more trees, widened more roads and killed more people with vehicle emissions.
The same goes for waste. Malta produces the second highest amount of waste per person in Europe (647 kg annually) but there is no plan in place to reduce the waste generated. While other countries are now moving towards Zero Waste policies, Malta is moving towards an incinerator which requires more and more waste.
Although it is scientifically proven that waste incineration plants produce toxic emissions and waste, this project is taking the priority over policies to encourage people to reduce, reuse and recycle.
We are often presented with such situations as inevitable. But are they really? Malta, like most of the western world needs a good dose of austerity. I’m not talking of cuts to social welfare and public spending to boost government revenue.
But I’m talking about an alternative vision of society and life based on solidarity and equality as opposed to turbo-consumerism and egoism driven by the liberal world order.
As the Italian Communist Party leader Enrico Berlinguer argued at the height of the oil crisis in the 70s, we need to ditch the “development model based on a fabricated expansion of individual consumption, which is a source of waste, parasitism, privilege, resource depletion, and financial disarray.”
We are consuming too much and as one of the symbols of global greed, HSBC, warned this week the planet is running out of resources and neither governments nor companies are prepared for the devastating impact of climate change.
While the prophets of neoliberalism try to convince us that we live in a post-ideological world, consumption itself has become an ideology and whoever champions an alternative lifestyle is marginalised and mocked.
We are told there is no alternative to economic models which stimulate consumer demand to drive economic growth. But this is only depleting the world’s resources and driving people into new forms of poverty and hardship.
Thanks to the Labour government’s borrowed neoliberal policies, Malta is heading towards a bigger population, bigger energy demands, more cars, more pollution and more waste.
But no amount of new power stations, bigger roads and incineration plants will mitigate the problems caused by greed. What is needed is a new system tailored to the demands of the 21st century designed to save not the planet but our existence and fight inequalities.