Back in my student days, an economics professor had introduced the demand-supply correlation by saying that all commodities are governed by that principle, except air. He explained this assertion by saying that air is exempt because the supply is infinite compared to the demand, and it is freely accessible to all equally.
One of my student friends reacted to this by mumbling “Not for long”… and was instantly dubbed a green tree-hugger by the professor for his pains.
While the quantity of available air is not yet being threatened, quality is something else altogether. Pollution has taken its toll on air quality, meaning that we are regularly inhaling toxins and allergens together with the oxygen that we need for life.
The quality of life, and hence property prices, in urban and residential zones, is also assessed on the basis of air quality. Clean air now being in such short supply, has become a marketable commodity in its own right proving my green university friend’s prediction correct. Hence my choice of title, the name of the famous song by that other green star of my generation, Sting.
Pollution is something that affects us all to some degree, but it has a much higher impact on those members of our communities who are more vulnerable, such as our babies, young children and our grandparents. Our air is being contaminated by indiscriminate economic activities that are enriching the few who consider the air to be a convenient dumping ground for their poisonous waste products.
The fight for clean air is not a partisan issue – it is the issue of all of us
This is very detrimental for the health of the rest of us lesser mortals. Suffice it to mention the dust and cement powder that we have to inhale due to the building frenzy going on all year round in our urban areas. Are we supposed to be comforted by the token presence of hoardings and green shading material around these sites?
During my many visits to households, families have expressed serious concern about the threat that this poses to them. I had been aware of this issue for some time, especially being a mother of young children myself, but it was shocking to grasp its sheer magnitude and spread. The incidence of respiratory conditions, from allergies to more severe asthma, is on a steep rise, and this should worry us all. Air is a life-sustaining basic right, and its quality and safetyshould never take second place to commercial considerations.
In 2008, the EU approved a framework directive in this regard, Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. It was drafted, negotiated and adopted by the governments of Member States at the Council, and by the European Parliament.
Having the best interests of citizens in mind and at heart, it lays down maximum levels of pollutants in air, making specific reference to particulate matter, including dust.
The EU is not, however, only responsible for having legislation, which can then be ignored by governments to the detriment of their people.
The EU must ensure that governments live up to their obligations and commitments, not forgoing health obligations in the interests of a higher profit margin of the few businessmen making a killing through construction.
Air knows no physical or political division. Pollution has harmful effects on blue and red alike, and the fight for clean air is not a partisan issue – it is the issue of all of us.
Therefore, should I be returned as an MEP entrusted with defending the interests of all the people on these islands, I shall pick up the baton and ensure that the provisions of this Directive are being followed to the letter, as a minimum.
I know full well that there will be those who will go blue in the face shouting out accusations that, in doing so, I am harming Malta, but we all know that this is not so. Profiteering at the expense of our health is not the national interest, so I shall assume this responsibility, convinced that I am doing the right thing for all of us, especially for our children and senior citizens.
That is my most solemn pledge.
Roberta Metsola is a Nationalist Party MEP.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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