Unsustainable Malta – The Road to Hell

“We have a dream of Malta as a cosmopolitan place ready for the future but there are things that cannot be achieved by just 400,000 people” “More foreign workers are needed to stop the country from freezing up” This view goes across party lines and finds all our representatives perversely as one. It is unclear how a hotchpotch of cultures crammed on two severely overpopulated islands would provide anybody with a future worth living. Also there is no future waiting for us. There is however the future we create for ourselves.

Public governance in Malta has always been bereft of any strategic thinking, guided as it is by opportunistic and personal interests.  We are missing the opportunity to make our country and the world a better place. A place where growth gives way to balance; where regeneration replaces degeneration; where peoples’ life aspirations take their place as a country’s ultimate goals.

The 410,000 Maltese people are the rightful owners and heirs of our small and potentially beautiful islands. Not all is well in our country. We have overstepped the boundaries that would have kept Malta in economic and social balance with the natural world, that is our life support system and that could provide us with a high quality of life.

In order to appreciate how quickly things can go from bad to worse, we need to understand the maths that underlies the mechanics of worsening situations. An increase by a compound rate of, say, 5% a year for 13 years is not a movement of 65% (5%x13) but an overall movement over the 13 years of 188%. The reason for this is that every passing year has a higher base on which the percentage increase in the next year is applied.

Now, a compound rate can also increase exponentially. This means that the percentage used year on year can also be increasing with every year that passes. Therefore if our 5% rate is itself increasing by 10% a year, so that the second year is 5.5% and so on, then at the 13th year the overall movement is of 321% rather than 188%. These principles are also applicable to declines or decreases.

The workings of exponential growth or decline operate in the biosphere. We live in the biosphere. The exponential increase in human pollution and exploitation of the natural world is leading to an exponential decline in animal and plant populations. In other words when things start to go bad, they get worse very quickly and spin out of control in no time at all. This is also why our lifestyle and activity on this rock of a country have become utterly unsustainable.

In 2012 urban areas and agricultural land covered 60% of the surface area of the Maltese islands. Agricultural land is managed and engineered by humans and contaminated with fertilizer, pesticides and copper. The other 40% is what we might tentatively call natural land. In the 20 years from 1995 to 2015, as many as 12,500 development permits have been granted in the natural and agricultural areas. This means that we do not really have any pristine natural land left anywhere in the Maltese islands and no ecosystem to speak of. This was 6 years ago – things are much worse today.

The estimated tourist arrivals for 2017 were 2.3 million. Extrapolating the tourist arrivals at the average rate of the last 3 years compounded for the next 13 years, gives us tourist arrivals in 2030 of 8.4 million. The average daily tourists present in Malta would increase from 41,000 in 2016 to 205,000 in 2030, or 648 tourists per sq km.

Licensed motor vehicles in Malta as at September 2017 were 369,261 (est. 969 million kg of carbon dioxide emissions annually). The number of licensed vehicles in 2030 calculated at the average rate of the past 3 years compounded would be 582,000 (est. 1.53 billion kg of carbon dioxide emissions annually). Malta is using taxpayer’s money to buy its way out of its failure to reduce pollution by purchasing emission credits from Bulgaria. Can you imagine the air quality in 2030?

An estimate of Malta’s national output (GDP) for 2017 is Eur10.7 billion. Let us assume that the GDP continues to grow at 5% annually compounded, this would result in the doubling of our GDP by 2030 to Eur20.1 billion. By the way, in 2030 our national debt would probably be in the region of Eur12 billion or more.

As at 2016 the population of Malta stood at 440,000, of which 30,000 were foreigners. If we add the average daily number of tourists present in Malta in 2016 of 41,000, this gives us 481,000 or 1,522 people per sq km. Let us now move fast forward to 2030. The gainfully employed population in Malta in 2016 was 223,000. If we are to double our national output we will need to more or less double our workforce, so that is, say, another 200,000. By that time the average daily tourist in Malta would be 205,000. We shall assume that the Maltese people would remain stable at 410,000 – so the total number of people in Malta on a daily basis in 2030 would be 845,000 or 2,674 people per sq km and less than half of these would be Maltese.

The negative consequences of a national strategy based on growth will be staggering. Air, sea, sound and light pollution will make this country unliveable. The demand for fresh water, sewage treatment, electricity and housing would be far, far greater than one we can meet. Prices will continue to rocket. Malta would be completely built up with literally no countryside or wildlife. The waste, litter and plastics problem we think we have now will be insignificant in comparison to our situation in 2030.  Our agricultural industry will be history.

As organised crime consolidates its position in Malta, serious crimes will be common place and petty crimes, tormenting every aspect of our life, will be endemic. Last but not least we will be a minority in our own country, a country without ethics, morals or values and where anything goes.

This is where the path, we have chosen to travel, will take us.

This is the cosmopolitan Malta that our representatives dream of. If you think that this is an exaggeration you should know that the population density of Hong Kong is 6,690 people per sq km and that of New York City 10,400 people per sq km. So even in 2030 we would still have a way to go to reach the cosmopolitan heights we apparently aspire to.

Why should we care? We are biological beings and have come to exist as part of the natural world. Our quality of life and our mental and physical well being depend on living in a healthy and natural environment and in harmony with the other species that share with us this Earth we all call home. It is nature that has made us human. Nature keeps us human, rather than this other thing we are fast becoming. There is no way back from the hell we are creating.

The fifth in a series of five articles on sustainabilityArticle published in the Sunday Times of Malta, 22nd April 2018