From our earliest days at school, my generation has been constantly taught about the environment. Before we knew how to multiply and divide, we were raised to clean up after ourselves and never to litter.

Before we learned how to calculate density, we were taught to love and respect animals. Before we learned to quote Shakespeare, we learned about climate change, or, more fittingly, the climate crisis.

In light of all this, why is it that our ministers seemingly contradict those principles we have all been encouraged to follow? Why do they destroy the things we are taught to protect? To add insult to injury, they laugh in our faces and try to silence any dissent.

Quoting Environment Minister José Herrera’s infamous and controversial Facebook post: “When all the trees are cut down, when all the animals are dead, when all the air is unsafe to breathe… only then will you discover that you cannot eat money.” 

This is all quite blatantly contradictory. If trees are so dear to him, why is he silent about his colleague’s massacre of 549 trees by the sword of the Central Link Project, or the more recent 300 trees uprooted in Santa Luċija? If he has a soft spot for animals, why is his government proposing a year-long hunting season? If he cares about the air, why is the fact that ours is the worst in Europe a non-issue? 

How hollow ring the words “only then will you discover that you cannot eat money”. But, perhaps, the brilliant minister has learned how to deep-fry bank notes, sauté credit cards or roll cheques into sushi. 

When they sense any sort of criticism, we’re told that the trees aren’t being chopped but simply uprooted and replanted somewhere else. This is nothing short of an insult to our people’s intelligence. This excuse has been recycled over and over again and shouldn’t be accepted any longer. 

The last time we were lied to in this manner, we later found out that, from all the uprooted and relocated trees, only 14 per cent appeared to have survived. Yes, allow me to repeat myself: out of all the previously transplanted trees (some of which were decades old) it seems only 14 per cent survived. 

To elicit us to close an eye, we occasionally get promised a project that looks good on the surface but which raises more questions than answers. Just before the MEP elections, the Prime Minister promised us a couple of trees in the middle of Ta’ Qali. Do we need more trees in Ta’ Qali, or in urban areas? 

The announcement felt like an excuse to shut up environmentalists and win cheap votes.

It’s insulting to see the few people trying to protect our island are treated with such aversion. However, spinning lies is unfortunately not the only way our environmental protectors are being insulted by our government. Not only does the government trample all over our faltering environment but it directly attacks the very few who are actually ‘getting things done’. 

The most notable of the lies we’ve been fed is that wider roads give us cleaner air and less traffic

Environmentalists, who are nothing but an asset to our island, devote their time to performing clean-ups, organising fundraisers and spreading awareness, and yet they are glared at by Labour councillors, told to go back to their countries and accused of being nosy extremists who don’t understand the Maltese way of doing things. 

The government expects us to believe that it’s not full of axe-wielding psychopaths who guillotine trees for fun. It expects citizens to excuse the murder of our environment as it makes way for infrastructure projects. The government even expects us to give it our thanks since these infrastructure projects stimulate the economy (the inedible money we’ve been warned about), or so they repeatedly advertise through a corrupted and hijacked press web.

A boy holds a placard at a protest against the Central Link Project held in July. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaA boy holds a placard at a protest against the Central Link Project held in July. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

The most notable of the lies we’ve been fed is that wider roads give us cleaner air and less traffic. However, wider roads have proven to be more congested by traffic and quite obviously pollute our air further. Not to mention robbing farmers of their livelihoods.

As has been said by environmental activists, it’s like pouring water into the sea to fix plastic pollution or loosening a belt to cure obesity. How could the Prime Minister tell us with a straight face that quality of life is improving while the European Commission calls us the dirty man of Europe?

We have the lowest recycling rate and highest landfill rate in all of Europe. We should be cowering in complete and utter embarrassment for not reaching a single EU 2020 target. All over Europe, emissions dropped by 23 per cent since 1990, with Malta being one of the only countries to register an increase.  

Nearly 600 Maltese citizens die every year due to our air pollution, which means that 600 families lost someone they love because of pure greed and systemic short-sightedness. And yet, Herrera tells us that our concern over our sickly environment is simply false nostalgia. 

If this isn’t a wakeup call, I don’t know what is. 

So, José Herrera and Ian Borg, please sort it out.

Eve Borg Bonello is a student who has just completed her O Levels.