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  • Letter on Our Environment by Janet Howitt

    Amidst growing awareness of the alarming and growing problem of climate change and its significance for humanity, it is heartening to note, that at last open debate and discussion of its implications and need for action has finally hit Gibraltar. With religious seminars and vying political candidates speaking out about the need for environmental action this is seen as a necessary and positive step in our development as a modern society.

    The past few years has seen a gradual response by the Government of the day to environmental issues in Gibraltar. Many of these issues stem from concerns about health from the many polluting sources in our local and regional environment. Quality of life is also a familiar term used to describe why specific measures must be taken to curb immediate and long term threats. Community awareness and heightened media coverage of global environmental issues such as climate change has promoted debate within every strata of our society and featured strongly in electoral broadcasts.

    If we pause and look at Gibraltar’s environment and the campaigns pressed forward by NGO’s like ourselves and others do the manifestos provide the answers? Would Gibraltar’s performance change sufficiently to address the demands being asked for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? This clearly means going above and beyond the demands asked for under EU legislation which due to political and commercial pressures, is clearly a conservative response. We do not believe that Gibraltar is too small to make a difference, or that our continued affluence is the be all and end all of government policy and ultimate action.

    Bold and urgent action is asked for from everyone, in every corner of the globe and so far, the language of politicians today is slow to respond, no doubt wary of the immediate financial implications from a fickle and global market. Its clear, also, that while we privately listen and worry about the reality of a threatening and unstable environment facing younger and future generations, that our actions do not ultimately change, our goals remain the same and climate change more of a certainty than ever.

    I recently read a book called “Rubbish”, Dirt on our hands and Crisis ahead by Richard Girling, containing many interesting insights and facts surrounding these issues. I wanted to share an extract of the book with you as I think it describes the malaise facing humanity and our ability to respond to our quite likely extinction unless we wake up and take action.

    “ Intellectually we may be conservationists, recyclers, sustainable developers. Instinctively we are driven by our appetites. The caveman inside us will not go away.

    Or perhaps not quite. We are homo sapiens. Although, like other species, we are driven by our native urges, we have the intelligence to understand cause and effect, and to accept responsibility for the consequences of what we do. We know the earth is not finite. We know we cannot go on spending its resources and depleting its energy without risk to our own as well as to other generations. As cavemen we are programmed to preserve our genetic stock, but this does not just mean taking flight from wolves. Just as importantly, it means recoiling from our own baser instincts when they conflict with our long-term needs. Yes, as individuals, there is much that we can and should do. The “Environment” …..is not some theoretical concept in the minds of dreamers. It is the entire fabric of our lives, dawn to dusk, birth to death, generation to generation. Let us protect it for all it is worth. Press our leaders to look further than their elected terms of office, and live our own lives as we know we should. Do all the obvious things. Conserve water and energy. Recycle. Take rubbish home. Explain to doubters why the green wheelie bin matters. Support enterprises that recognise their responsibilities to conserve, and avoid those that don’t.

    Just remember, it’s the only planet we’ll ever have.”

    In Gibraltar the issues of energy and waste also apply. For such a small country Gibraltar produces significant waste, uses old technology, encourages motor vehicle use and its fossil fuel economy is significant (in European terms). Issues such as a tailored environmental policy to provide a healthy quality of life remains unaddressed instead we have compliance with legislation which itself is being dragged forward with strong resistance from the business and industrial community.

    Issues such as a dedicated waste park and publication of a waste policy remain unaddressed. Recycling remains unaddressed. This links in with future plans for an incinerator which is being promoted as having a greener profile – providing potable water and some electricity thereby reducing the burning of fossil fuels in the process. All of these decisions, which assume a collective responsibility as to how, Gibraltar, as a community, performs with respect to climate change, must be made public.

    The welcome signing of an Environmental Charter by the previous GSD administration has to be accompanied by the necessary implementation plan, without which, the Charter remains out of reach, to be referred to as an achievement, but meaningless unless put into practice.

    Any party or candidate elected, carry with them a heavy responsibility of turning Gibraltar’s current performance on climate change into meaningful and visible action. Let’s hope for all our sakes that they are up to it.