Debate about whether Malta’s resources are being used efficiently has raged on for months and is unlikely to end anytime soon. For every remark about Malta’s beauty there’s another arguing the country is “concrete, concrete, concrete.”

A binary perspective suggests either leaving everything untouched as nature intended, or building it all. It is easy to turn this into a treehugger-versus-developer argument, but both extremes are silly.

The more educational approach seems to take the defender-of-nature stance. But if this principle was applied throughout the ages, the pyramids would not have been built, to protect the desert’s ecosystem. The counterargument that the earth has a limited capacity that we have already reached is significantly Malthusian and a discussion of it is best left to another day.

All resources have a cost and if you are not using them, there is an opportunity cost. The concept of opportunity cost is the cost of not using money. Even Jesus, in his parable of talents, lamented that one individual just left the talents as is without using them. If there is a piece of land that is not serving a purpose, leaving it unused is an opportunity cost. Romanticising every centimetre of the island does not help; not every building currently standing is beautiful. 

Does that mean we should bulldoze Manoel Island and built it as flats? Please, No.

There is also a cost to using resources. These can be considered consumptive or non-consumptive uses. A consumptive use reduces the ability of the resource to be reused, while a non-consumptive use does not. For example, using a rental car is non-consumptive as someone else can use it after you (unless you crash it). Hence when we are dealing with barren land, there could be some consumptive use despite an opportunity cost of leaving it barren.

Personally, I prefer the opportunity cost of unused land than the consumptive cost of our resources. What about you?

Dominic Cortis can boast of two handfuls of peer-reviewed published papers and more citations than his age. Copies of his next academic paper will appear on his mother and grandmother’s fridges, displacing his nephew’s homework. You can tell him that’s sad on Twitter @domcortis


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