A few weeks ago, protestors from Extinction Rebellion, which claims to be ‘an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse’ stopped rush-hour traffic in Central London, grinding the city to a halt, claiming to protest over the ‘air pollution crisis’ in the area. Even more recently, Extinction Rebellion held climate change protests in Oxford Circus, occupying the main intersection of Oxford Street and Regent Street and setting up a camp at Marble Arch.
Fronting the protest, was none other than revered actress Dame Emma Thompson, herself a long-time activist, who just for the occasion hopped on a single, fuel-guzzling, 5,400‑mile transatlantic flight between LA and London, consequently belching out a three-tonne carbon footprint. To heap even more insult to ecological injury, Dame Emma’s airline of choice was British Airways, revealed to be the least fuel-efficient transatlantic airline in operation last year. Apparently, the incongruity of Dame Emma’s grandstanding totally escaped Extinction Rebellion, who are actively calling on the world, his brother and his dog, to fly only in dire emergencies. Facepalm moment?
But, what has all this got to do with our tiny rock, where we have more than enough on our plate to worry about climate change, I hear you ask? All in good time. So, onto the local cause ‘du jour’. The construction industry has been making headlines for quite a while now and sadly, for all the wrong reasons. There is a general consensus that the way this industry is functioning at the moment is far, far from acceptable. On-site fatalities, the collapse of three buildings, incessant noise and air pollution, not to mention the uglification of whole towns and villages, point to a construction lobby that is at best operating with brazen impunity.
Complete disregard for health and safety issues and existing regulations by the same lobby, have seen hundreds of activists and citizens take to the streets in protest, may citing ‘greed’ as the main motivator of the industry and the havoc it has wreaked on the country in general. Yes, infinite greed could be at the root of the current situation, but has not anyone stopped for a moment and thought about those of us, who as far removed as we are from the construction lobby, have in some way enabled this ‘greed’ to flourish and continue?
A quick look through the images of said protest… How many of those calling for a limit on the number of planning permits issued, are living in boxy apartments which have formerly been one household residences, torn down by contractors to make way for even more residential blocks? Worse still, how many have sold their terraced houses at a hefty profit to developers to erect even more ugly apartments? How many, right after such an exhausting protest went back to their villa (built on what probably was at one time ODZ land) to lounge by the pool and rest their sore feet? How many would honestly, hand on heart, resist the lure of big profits and hold on to a developable property if they had it, solely on point of principle, so as not to feed the ‘greed’ of developers?
I would think that all this boils down to the very basic law of supply and demand – If there are no sellers, there would be no buyers, and the construction crisis we’re experiencing at the moment would die a natural death. But on the other hand, what if, you’re basically surviving from one salary to another, and your only asset is the home you bought some thirty years ago for a pittance; would you really care about the cranes, the dust, the inconvenience when a more comfortable way of life, free of financial worries, beckons? It would be all very good to preach about greed if you’re sat on a privileged perch, but for all the rest whose only light at the end of the tunnel is the liquidation of their one and only asset, it’s a whole different story.
But let’s proceed… To spice up the whole debate, a few days prior to the protest, Tony Zahra of MHRA fame joined the fray, claiming that, “This situation has now reached intolerable levels and is seriously damaging the tourism sector, which is an extremely important economic sector, and thus affecting also the quality of life of the Maltese residents.” Is this not the same Tony Zahra of the Zahra hoteliers’ family? Was it ok then, twenty, thirty years ago, to erect crane after crane, in order to establish a hotel empire, but not now? In his statement Mr Zahra also said that, “We are quickly becoming a destination specializing in a construction site experience for tourists visiting us,” a claim with which I personally wholeheartedly agree. However, Mr Zahra, were not the seeds of this sorry situation sown a long time ago, when for example, your family and their ilk, turned what was at the time pristine land, into the Radisson SAS Bay Point Resort? Or does Mr Zahra believe, like many others, that there’s one moral compass for them and another for the rest of us?
Yes, the construction lobby is running amok, making a mockery of existing regulations without any consideration for the general population; its health, its wellbeing and its very life. Enforcement needs to step up its game and wake up from the depressing lethargy it has been arsing about in, since time immemorial. Something needs to be done and fast! However, before we cast the first stone, before we beat our chests in revulsion at the atrocities perpetrated by the construction industry, would it not be more honest and realistic to examine our conscience and honestly assess whether we are complicit or not in this disaster?
If it transpires that we are as pure as the driven snow, and have never enabled or assisted in the creation of this situation, can we honestly claim that given half a chance, (or in this case a few metres square of land or airspace) we would not sell our souls to the ‘devil’ like the rest of them? Or do we, in keeping with the national tradition of hysterical hypocrisy, while also taking a leaf out of the grand Dame Emma Thompson’s book, believe that where our moral credentials are concerned, there really are two weights and two measures; theirs and ours? With this in mind and as yet another dust cloud rises on the horizon, perhaps a little food for thought would go a long way?
Photo credit: The Malta Independent