On Saturday 27th May, environmental organisations are calling on the public to participate in a national protest. The demands of the protest include a change in planning policies, a radical reform of all institutions responsible for the environment, planning and lands, as well as a new economic model that seeks a better quality of life for everyone instead of endless economic growth based on the profits of the few.
Over the years, the Justice and Peace Commission, through its various press releases, articles and publications has not been silent on these crucial issues. The quotes reproduced below can serve as a timely reminder of our responsibility and duty to build a more inclusive society founded on truth, justice and respect for our common home, as well as an economy that restores and builds rather than exploits and destroys.
All too often, regulations and policies which are supposed to be in place to protect people as well as the natural environment, are either not properly enforced or interpreted in a way which always favours “economic development”. Citizens are expected to be on a 24-hour watch just in case a new “development” or policy needs to be objected to. This gives rise to a situation where we have an unlevel playing field between those who want to safeguard and promote a form of development which puts at its centre the quality of life of people and those who plan the latest mega-development or takeover of public land for purely economic reasons. Moreover, the latter not only have more access to politicians and policymakers but infinitely greater resources at their disposal.
We all end up suffering the consequences of poor planning decisions based on a narrow and myopic understanding of development. When it comes to aesthetics for example “we are living in an environment where ugliness burdens the soul and makes the ordinariness of daily life that much more distressing” (One Church, One Journey). A lack of green open spaces – preferably untouched from development and not artificially created as some sort of compensation for destroying the natural environment – seriously affects our mental health. In the words of Pope Francis, it’s a delusion to think that we can stay healthy in a world that is sick. And God forbid we reach a state where public green spaces become so limited and public foreshore encroachment becomes so widespread that only those with considerable economic means will be able to continue enjoying – in Malta or abroad – the healing and life-giving relationship with nature.
We know that the construction of more inclusive society built on truth, justice and respect for our common home doesn’t come easily. All those who promise us otherwise are doing society a great disservice. And as Christians, we should be at the forefront in taking up the invitation to respect those limits which are imposed by our love towards others and towards our common home. Our “calling to renew the world must be lived with temperance” (One Church, One Journey) by denying the urge to always have more and be more. In this we must be guided by the hope that one person living temperately gives a good example. A community living temperately represents a political force which can change a society for the better.
Findings such as those contained in the latest Happiness Index Report which found that there are only 27 other countries in the world where people feel more worried, sad or angry than us should certainly serve as a wake-up call that implores us to accept our collective responsibility to build an economy that restores and builds rather than exploits and destroys.
In this process of rethinking the economic model for our country we can draw inspiration from the teachings of Pope Francis and his powerful ethical insights. Last year, in a meeting addressing the post-pandemic challenges of the world economy, he urged business leaders to redefine their measure of success as “the number of people who move out of extreme poverty” instead of “profits, expansion, and short-term and shortest-term results”.
The safety of construction workers must never be sacrificed at the altar of economic growth and limitless greed. A worker can never be reduced to a disposable cog in the wheel of a soulless economy. The purpose of any economic activity – including the construction industry – is that of serving people, favouring healthy relationships with each other and our natural environment, whilst promoting the common good.
While the initiatives that are creating green spaces around our country are praise-worthy and to be encouraged, one cannot understand how in the same breath the building industry is allowed to continue eating away at our natural and urban spaces. What kind of strength or protection does this industry enjoy, to be allowed to do practically what it wants? […]
The Justice and Peace Commission and the Interdiocesan Environment Commission would like to end this statement with an appeal to the political class of our country to stop wasting time on partisan piques that only serve to get our country into alleys. The important thing is to learn from the mistakes made and not to repeat them or take advantage of them. Both commissions call for the representatives of the people to keep the common good – and not the good of the party or of particular groups in society – as their highest value and not exploit environmental issues to please the electorate.
The Commission urges Government to agree with social partners on a national well-being framework which includes a set of indicators, which the NSO will track and publish. The country needs an annual publication which critically assesses impacts on well-being so that the national debate will not solely focus on GDP but a broader assessment of well-being is taken.
Once such a framework is defined and agreed upon, it is being suggested that government policies or strategies include a chapter on the expected outcomes and effects of the policy on well-being. This will ensure that every policy proposal would have assessed its effects on well-being, in the spirit of good stewardship aimed at both current and future generations.
Read also the Commission’s feedback document, drafted as part of the Public Consultation on Proposed Regulations on the Contractor’s Licence.