Repetitive patterns help us to predict and better understand some outcomes but tell us nothing about purpose. It is purpose that gives our life meaning. Without meaning, knowledge is incomplete, and even the little we do know, which is that we need the healthy and regenerative planetary ecosystems (the biosphere) to live, we ignore as an inconvenient truth.
Economic growth is at times necessary, and at other times economic de-growth is necessary. The purpose of both growth and de-growth is balance. Balance is meaningful to us because it is that which maximises our wellbeing in that it brings us the most happiness and avoids the most suffering.
Ignorance of the way things are is a very dangerous thing. We need to get it into our heads that we, humans, are not privileged or entitled to anything. The only reason why we have dominated this planet is because we have, for some millennia, plundered and destroyed all else. Every day we get up and prove this to be true. We kill with our lifestyle, which pollutes and destroys oceans and forests; we bring other species, that are the only other life forms we know of in the entire universe, to extinction as we destroy their habitats and social order on Earth; we cause untold suffering and eventual death to numerous species as we farm other sentient life for food.
Seeing ourselves for what we are is fundamental. It is the only starting point that will give us the humility and courage needed to make the necessary changes to build a better world, a better Malta.
Economic growth is not of itself bad. Overdoing growth is, however, driving the wholesale devastation of the natural world. What should be a means to an end has become an end in itself. Everything in life is a balance and yet we fail to apply this fundamental principle to the economy.
Malta needs de-growth like we need the air we breathe. De-growth is another term for rebalancing the economy at a lower and more sustainable level. This is not only possible, it is also desirable.
We are well able to reach the safe and just place that will balance humanity’s wellbeing with the Earth’s regenerative life-giving biosphere. I use the term ‘regenerative’ deliberately as the life support system, the clean air and water, the right temperatures and climate, are not infinite. If the biosphere does not regenerate, within a couple of generations, humanity may be left alone on Earth – truly a hell hole of a place.
It is popular to say that technological innovation is what will make everything right... wrong. You do not have to be a genius to know that as everything changes, everything remains the same. Our outward appearance and the tools we use and our lifestyle may have changed, but our character, attitudes, minds, emotions and our body’s dependence on air, water and food has remained the same for hundreds of millennia and will continue to be so. We are biological creatures on a biological Earth, the result of millions of years of biological evolution by natural selection. This is why our lives are so rich in experience.
We should reduce the maximum company and personal income tax rate from 35 per cent to 17 per cent gradually over a period of seven years
It is also being said that it is not possible to stop or pause the economy. The idea that in order for the economy to change it has to stop or pause is incorrect. The economy is like a river, it cannot be stopped but it can change course. This can be done by changing strategy, rules and behaviour. For example, consider the following areas of possible change:
Tourism: Malta should go for upmarket tourism. This is being said again and has been said many times in the past. We would have lower tourist numbers spending more money; more cultural tourism; more tourists who are interested in the scenic beauty and wild places that our islands have to offer; tourists who would not litter and whose idea of having fun would not be causing mayhem and getting drunk or worse. We should get serious about making Malta a quality destination. This is far more suitable for small Mediterranean islands.
Taxation: We should reduce the maximum company and personal income tax rate from 35 per cent to 17 per cent gradually over a period of seven years, for Maltese and foreign owned businesses and persons alike. This would immediately impact businesses positively by releasing cash into the hands of all. Employees would also benefit from the extra cash with increased net wages.
I also think that if we do this, at least 80 per cent of undeclared income would, within a few years, find its way into the tax net. Foreign residents and foreign owned business would then have a choice to make: pay at 17 per cent or relocate elsewhere. Some will relocate and some will stay. This is a natural selection process that will favour fiscally responsible foreigners, in other words the ones we should be pleased to keep.
Needless to say this would also be a game changer for our country’s reputation. A reduced number of foreign workers would make renting and purchasing of property more affordable for Maltese people. It would also ease the employee shortage for Maltese business.
Both the above measures would reduce population numbers and the pressure on our infrastructure, ODZ land and health services. The number of vehicles on our roads would stabilise at a lower level, also reducing the pollution from car emissions.
Single-use plastic: All single-use plastic should be phased out within five years. We should go back to reusable glass bottles for water and beverages. Malta Enterprise should provide assistance to bottling and beverage companies in this transition. For all others, there are alternatives and businesses will find them. Simply do not believe anybody who says we should continue to import the toxic material called single-use plastic as we are going to recycle it all.
It appears that 60 per cent of the plastic to be recycled is exported by EU countries and ends up in plastic mountains in developing countries. This is all included in the EU statistics as recycled plastic – you can draw your own conclusions. Every beverage company in Malta, pre-2004, had its own bottle cleaning plant. Nearly 100 per cent of all glass bottles used to be collected and reused.
Waste separation: It seems that it is to become mandatory for all to separate waste for recycling. I remember this momentous move being declared a couple of times over the past decades. In fact, 25-plus years ago we had already been separating waste in Swieqi for years – we later found out it was all going to landfill anyway.
Successive Maltese governments have always been afraid to upset voters in their core districts, so don’t hold your breath.
Waste separation is not rocket science. The fact that something so basic is being trumpeted like a great achievement just goes to show how poverty-stricken the vision for our country is.
Yes, waste separation, we are not impressed, stop talking about it and just do it.
At the end, it is all down to choices. For all our sakes, let’s make the right ones.
David Marinelli is a researcher on human ecology and sustainability.
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