Divide and rule

The streets of Malta are choked with cars, and the air is choked with construction dust.

When construction dust isn’t engulfing you in an asphyxiating cloud, you’re smothered in a black fog of exhaust from the unmaintained vehicle in front of you.

Shade-giving trees are being cut down at an alarming rate even as temperatures rise, but you will find no relief from the heat in the sea because sun bed operators have taken over every patch of beach. Of course you should be grateful that Konrad Mizzi is giving you back some of what’s yours, but it’s only a tenth at Għadira Bay.

And good luck walking down the shady side of the street, at least in those popular seaside areas. The creeping spread of tables and chairs from nearby establishments will drive you into the road. Their proprietors feel entitled to take over that pavement, and who are you to get in the way? “I have a right to feed my family!” and to hell with everyone else.

And so we’ve reached a situation where a small windswept island in the middle of the Mediterranean has seen 105 people die from chronic asthma in the first four months of 2019.

It’s no surprise that people are gasping for air. Malta registered an increase in greenhouse gas emissions of 6.7% between 2017 and 2018, second only to Latvia. Only five other EU countries saw increases. Emissions in the EU as a whole dropped by 23%.

The majority of citizens have chosen this, either because they couldn’t see the consequences that their actions would lead to, or because they simply didn’t care. They value driving more than they value clean air. They also value additional lanes to do that driving in more than they value the trees which provide shade and help clean that air.

When asked by Lovin Malta what he intended to do about this soup of pollution which has thickened the island’s air, Environment Minister Jose Herrera said, “People are used to driving everywhere, myself included unfortunately, we’re a bit lazy.”

When pressed to reveal his plan, he shrugged off the need to make difficult decisions. “Trends will change, people find their level,” he said. “First they exaggerate like there’s no tomorrow, then people start reacting to the circumstances.”

In other words: ‘Things will change because that’s what happens to things. They change. People will eventually get fed up and solve the problem themselves by changing their own behaviour’.

Herrera doesn’t have a solution. He hopes it’ll all just fix itself.

But things are reaching their boiling point, both literally and figuratively. Protestors came out in large numbers to make their voices heard in Attard. The government didn’t listen, of course. They were out chopping down trees in Santa Luċija within days. But a smaller group of protestors stood up against the rape of the environment there, too. They were met with the abuse of cowards and bullies.

Predictably, the response of the government has been to brush these protests aside as yet another partisan plot, a small battle in the eternal Maltese war of Red vs Blue.

It has nothing to do with the organisers of this particular protest. They’ve done nothing wrong. The attacks they’re being hit with follow exactly the same pattern as attacks against other activists in Malta.

It’s the same old government spin machine in action. The message is going out on all channels, stirring up the usual fight to distract you from the total lack of workable solutions being offered by your elected officials.

You’re being deliberately manipulated, and it’s such an obvious ploy. The end result of this blind tribalism is total gridlock — but only if you buy into it and play along.

The desire to live in a clean environment, with air you can breathe and green spaces you can relax in, is a basic human issue. One that could unite people across the political spectrum. It’s one of those rare things we can all agree on.

But if you start by excluding people who share your concerns because you disagree with them about other issues, the opposition fractures into a bunch of smaller shards wrapped up in their own self-interest, and the government’s policy of divide and rule is successful.

It’s like a stubborn child boycotting a birthday party.

“Are you going on Sunday?”

“That depends… Was this organised by Charlie? Because I’m not going if he’s gonna be there!”

You have to fight for a liveable future that isn’t dictated by the blind Red-Blue political divide that has paralysed Malta just as surely as too many cars are paralysing all movement on Maltese roads.

The way I see it, you can agree to unite around those things you do have in common — even if it means uniting with people who disagree with you in other areas. That makes you powerful. Maybe even unstoppable. Or you can just sit back and complain endlessly about the dust and the noise, the overcrowding and the tribal hate until everyone chokes to death, both Red and Blue.

But if you buy into the government’s narrative that this is yet another campaign by the followers of the other Party who are trying to undermine what you’ve gained, then you are allowing yourself to be used. Someone’s having the last laugh at your expense.

Divide and rule only serves the agenda of those who stand to gain by tearing out trees and building yet another block of flats on ODZ or prime coastal land to stuff their own pockets. Theirs, and the politicians whose pockets they’re also lining.

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