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Guest Commentary: Storm Dnegel Could Be A Terrible Sign Of Things To Come For Malta, But Here’s What We Can Do

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What an eventful weekend! The legendary “Storm Dnegel” has come and gone. Fish have been flung onto our streets, buildings evacuated, walls broken, homes flooded and trees uprooted. Given the latter, I would have preferred they named the Storm Ian, given the minister’s penchant for uprooting trees in his road-widening crusade.

Inevitably, many have asked on social media whether this storm is a sign of things to come, given the accelerating pace of climate change. This has probably been one of Malta’s worst storms on record, with a wind speed of 101 km/hr reached in Gozo; a national record since such measurements began.

We might expect future Storm Dnegels to become part of our average winter conditions

People are right to make such a link.

You see, climate change is analogous to loading the dice. In a relatively stable system, 1s and 2s have an equal chance of appearing as much as 5s and 6s. However, thanks to mankind’s addiction to fossil fuel burning we are, in effect loading these dice, making it more likely to give us 5s or 6s of weather extremes. In future, we may also be getting the previously inconceivable 7s and 8s, never before experienced by humanity in its history.

Climate models have long predicted that with increased temperatures, you get greater moisture in the atmosphere and stronger winds, leading to a greater likelihood of intense precipitation and erratic weather conditions. This storm might be a sign of things to come, and we will be more familiar with it in the future. We might expect future Storm Dnegels to become part of our average winter conditions.

As expected, climate change discussions elicit many backlashes from climate denialists, who relish their trolling skills on social media. “These weather extremes have always happened in the past! I remember such a storm in 19_ _ [insert date]!” Sure, dear denialists, but the trend of their increased occurrence is measurable and can be seen around the world in our data. “The Earth’s climate has always changed in the past!” Sure, dear denialists, but what we are seeing is unprecedented in both scale and speed, and is causing massive damage worldwide.

You’re all making a fuss, there is no link between fossil fuels and climate change”! This perhaps is one of the more bizarre claims by the denialist front, given that they are very willing, it seems, to believe the science that enables the computer technology they work with and allows their daily life to actually continue. Yet they deny climate science because it is too complex for them to understand… or perhaps because it doesn’t suit their world view.

As worried and anxious as we are with the prospect of climate change, we are not doing nearly enough to deal with it

And here, dear reader, lies the crux of the matter.

You see, as worried and anxious as we are with the prospect of climate change, we are not doing nearly enough to deal with it. And no, I’m not talking about switching off a light bulb in an empty room or taking the bus (though these are good things, mind you!).

I’m talking about who we vote for. Globally, people seem to consistently vote for politicians who repeatedly favour the very policies that further cement us into a world addicted to fossil fuel consumption. We have some gems, locally. Is there a problem with traffic in Malta, one of the countries with the highest car ownership rates in the world? Sure, let’s widen the roads to accommodate it, not deal with the culprit – sheer car use. Is there a problem with construction waste? Sure – let’s dump it in the sea and build a new island, instead of forcing the producers of that waste (*cough* developers *cough*) to actually pay a high cost for squandering building material instead of reusing it. Not only that – let’s also dig a tunnel to Gozo, to make sure that we will be forced to build a new island!

This brings me to comment on one of the more bizarre things yesterday that caught the attention of many.

I am referring here to the Prime Minister’s statement on One Radio. While the storm was in full swing, he rightly advised people to stay inside unless absolutely necessary. He also absolutely was spot on in praising the incredible work of the priceless work of the Police, the Civil Protection Department, Clean Malta, and St John Ambulance.

Sometimes, I wonder if our Prime Minister and his fellow ministers are just closeted climate deniers

Bizarrely, however, he followed it up with a justification for the tunnel between Malta and Gozo, which is so self-contradictory that I am surprised he didn’t see it himself.

If in such events people are to stay inside, why then should we provide a tunnel for Gozo commuters? Perhaps so that everyone can huddle inside the tunnel while the waves roar overhead? It is important to note that the ferry still worked well, even during this storm. Furthermore, people can join the dots and can see that this tunnel and some heinous projects in the pipeline would generate huge amounts of construction waste that will overwhelm the current system of quarry infilling, forcing us to have no alternative but to dump it in the sea – and thus going for land reclamation. Where? Along the very coast that was subjected to the full brunt of the waves this weekend.

Sometimes, I wonder if our PM and his fellow ministers are just closeted climate deniers. Clearly, the warnings of science don’t seem to affect them. They attend big UN conferences and talk about the urgent need to address climate change and prepare for climate change, and yet they are all too willing to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s money on projects that fly in the face of climate change. How else can we explain their wilful adoration of an economic system that worships money at all costs while causing untold environmental damage? How else can we explain the shocking statements of our Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change for his encouragement of land reclamation, calling it sustainable?

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We are still in time to prepare for the changes ahead, and to slow or mitigate climate change. For that, however, we need to stop voting for people who have the same mindset that set the problem in motion in the first place

With such politicians at the helm and with radio silence on the matter from the main party in the opposition, how can we hope to start adapting to the climate impacts long foreseen and currently coming into fruition?

What is being done to prepare low-lying areas and infrastructure for the greater storms to come and rising sea levels? When parts of Msida, for example, become permanently inundated (a likely scenario given accelerating sea level rise), how can we justify our present inaction? I wonder how our PM and his fellow ministers go to sleep at night, knowing they are subjecting their children to a lifetime of increasingly high rolls of the dice in the climate system. But as long as their blessed GDP targets are achieved, all is well I guess, for them. What a sad story for the rest of us!

We are still in time to prepare for the changes ahead, and to slow or mitigate climate change. For that, however, we need to stop voting for people who have the same mindset that set the problem in motion in the first place. The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We need to stop being mad, and urgently start worrying for our future. We cannot take it for granted.

John Paul Cauchi studied medicine in Malta and got a Masters degree in Environmental Public Health in London. He’s now pursuing a PhD in Australia and his research involves looking at how the interaction between food security and health is influenced by Climate Change in the remote Pacific Island nation of Kiribati. He hopes that through his research and environmental activism, he can help our societies address the climate crisis, which stem out of a great imbalance between human activity and the limited resources of our planet and urgently needs to be addressed.

Lovin Malta is open to external contributions that are well written and thought provoking. If you would like your commentary to be featured as a guest post, please write to [email protected] and add ‘Guest Commentary’ in the subject line. Contributions are subject to editing and do not necessarily represent Lovin Malta’s views.

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