Every week the Green Column appears in the Isle of Man Examiner. The authors come from different organisations and backgrounds. They all share love and respect for their environment and the topic of the Green Column is always connected to that.
We have had many outstanding Green Columns written in the last 3 years. Some of them are featured underneath, selected by availability and whether their content is still valid.
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04 December 2014
Do the insulation test and help save energy
This week, Chris Burton of the Manx Energy Advice Centre, a charity offering information and support on energy efficiency and renewables, gives some sound advice
I’m often quite surprised, when I travel around the island, to see so many houses light up like the forthcoming Christmas tree.
I am not talking about decorative Christmas lights here, but the windows, doors and conservatories of the houses and businesses of the island.
Double or triple glazing systems are standard nowadays for buildings, and doors have improved their draught-sealing capabilities immeasurably over the last 20 years.
Nonetheless, if you take a look at any building using thermal imaging cameras, the areas where most heat escapes are the windows and doors of the property. Old buildings especially suffer, as they are not as thermally efficient as modern built homes – and in conservation and other areas there are limits as to what glazing systems planners allow.
Some secondary glazing on the inside is allowed, however, and this can make a big difference.
One tip for finding draughts around your house is this: on a windy day, light a joss stick, and go round all the windows and doors looking for where the smoke plume gets affected. Then you’ll have the information you need to take action – by replacement or tightening up seals and gaps to try and eliminate as many of the draughts as possible.
Broadsheet newspapers, wrapped up tight and covered with a cloth covering, make good and cost-effective draft protectors for floors around the bottom of doors.
However you heat your home, you’ll want to keep as much of this heat in as possible.
Remember, you only have to pay for insulation materials once – but you pay for the heat you’re producing, when you’re under-insulated, every day.
At the Green Centre we are still getting people coming in for advice, and telling us that they don’t have the minimum 270mm or 11 inches of mineral wool in their loft. If they take this simple measure, it’ll save up to £350 a year – and only cost about that to install. A lot of properties, even new ones, only have 100mm – so topping up would cost perhaps £260, saving some £40 a year. Go and check what you’re using now – you may be surprised. The big DIY stores in Douglas stock the materials you’ll need, and at present some have insulation products on special offer.
So take a look, have a walk round your house or business premises at night, and see what you can see. I’ll bet in many cases, all the lights will be visible through windows and doors. Well, join the club – you’re not alone. But if you can see the light, be assured that whatever your glazing system is, heat will be pouring out of these openings. Blinds and curtains are relatively cheap and will pay for themselves in a pretty short period of time, so give yourself and your home – and your wallet! – a little advance Christmas present.
20 November 2014
Carbon reductions ahead of Paris climate summit
The US and China have issued a joint statement announcing that they have agreed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, in anticipation of United Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations for an international climate change agreement in Paris next year
Sometimes, it can feel as though there’s not much good news about on the climate front. But then again, the picture can lighten a bit.
The background to this stems from a meeting in 2011 involving the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol parties in Durban, South Africa. One of the key outcomes of this conference was agreement to adopt a global climate change agreement, by 2015, to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
The new global climate change agreement would, they said, start in 2020.
So much for the ‘Greenest Government Ever’, Mr Cameron.
In the meantime, some countries have used the failure of bigger players such as the US and China to play a full part as an excuse to delay taking steps themselves.
Unbelievably, and shamingly, we in the Green Centre have actually heard from an MHK’s lips the phrase ‘there’s no point in the Isle of Man cutting its carbon emissions whilst China’s still belching them out’ – as if being able only to do little excused doing nothing. It’s a bit like saying: ‘We’re only killing one or two people through our selfish inaction – so that makes it OK.’
However, that excuse appears to be falling away now. Why so? Well, last week, on November12 – the US and China issued a joint statement of commitment to an ‘ambitious’ international climate change agreement in 2015. Their statement sets out specific targets, which they hope will encourage other countries to announce their own ‘ambitious actions’.
The US says that it will achieve an economy-wide target of reduced emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent below 2005 levels in 2025, making best efforts to achieve the top end of that target range.
And China, for its part, will:
– Achieve peak CO2 emissions around 2030, making best efforts to achieve peak emissions before 2030.
– Increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its primary energy consumption to around 20 per cent by 2030.
The two countries have also agreed to work more closely together on other climate change measures, including:
– Investing in joint clean energy research and development.
– Advancing carbon capture and storage and enhanced water recovery.
– Reducing hydrofluorocarbons.
– Reducing carbon emissions from cities.
– Promoting trade in green goods.
– Demonstrating clean energy on the ground, including energy efficiency in buildings and boilers, solar power and smart grids.
The UK government welcomed the announcement as a ‘clear sign that major economies are serious about getting a global deal in Paris’, which is a bit rich when they also keep rumbling about abandoning green aspirations themselves, but there you go. Other companies and organisations have also welcomed the announcement, particularly as the US and China together account for 42 per cent of global emissions, and together with the 40 per cent reduction target from the EU, this accounts for more than 50 per cent of global emissions.
So what does this mean for us?
Well, the island’s government has made lots of noise about climate change commitments, but so far action has been derisory; what’s needed is practical action, and soon (and I mean this in the context of Manx energy generation and consumption, not just that which we might facilitate by leasing our seabeds for offshore wind and marine renewable developments – to help the UK Government achieve its own targets).
A good, if small, start would be the establishment of some real incentives for household, business and community renewable microgeneration, so as to give our residents choice and the prospect of price stability. This would also help create new jobs, skills and opportunities – which are likely to be much-needed in our changing economic environment.
Let’s get on with it!
13 November 2014
Give the promenade back to people
In this week’s Green Column, publisher and enthusiastic pedestrian Sara Goodwins looks at the Douglas promenade redevelopment plans, and asks: Do we really want to throw away years of heritage just so that people find it easier to go somewhere else?
Ever seen old photographs of Douglas front? Of course you have! People chatting on benches, travelling on the horse trams, strolling, shopping and generally getting on with life.
Douglas front has become an uneasy mix of arterial road and huge carpark.
It’s noisy, smelly and dangerous, particularly for children, the elderly and anyone with limited mobility.
A pop-up market with small huts from which different traders could sell vegetables or craft work or spices. Street theatre perhaps? Farmers’ market? Play area for children? Sculpture park? Outdoor eateries? Information trail? Songs by the sea? Mobile library? Tai Chi? The list of possibilities is endless, but the point is that they would attract people from both on and off island who might not otherwise come.
Existing retailers would benefit. So would the Douglas community. There’d be more to do. More money to do it with.
Now, many people will point out that Douglas front is a ‘through-route’, so banning traffic isn’t feasible. Well, let’s think about that. There are three sorts of traffic going through Douglas: people en route elsewhere; people going to the boat; and people going somewhere within Douglas. The first could use Glencrutchery Road, Bray Hill and Quarterbridge Road, the second could be routed along Peel Road or Castletown Road. The third category could be served by park and ride.
So, what vehicles would be allowed on Douglas front? Horse trams of course, cyclists, buses, taxis if you insist, and the Manx Electric Railway. Yes, the MER. In this, the 122nd year of the electric railway, isn’t it time the original plan was finally completed? Extend the MER all the way to the Sea Terminal – it makes no sense that one of the island’s main sources of transport to the north terminates two miles outside the island’s capital city; a single line with passing places would do it. With a terminus in town, traffic on the electric tram would rise exponentially and the extension needn’t threaten the horse trams; the four-footed transport becomes the stopping route, with the MER running non-stop along the prom.
Everyone sees that what exists at the moment isn’t working. The trouble is that the planners seem to lack imagination. Some cities import sand to create false beaches. Some encourage horses and carriages for a unique view of the sea front. Yet more emphasise their heritage or introduce pavement trains.
Douglas already has all this naturally – why not celebrate it?
Largely pedestrianising the Douglas promenades would attract visitors, but would, more importantly, benefit the people who live here.
This is such an opportunity – let’s not waste it.
06 November 2014
Parish pushing recycling initiatives
Muriel Garland, Chair of Zero Waste Mann, explains how the charity is working in partnership with Braddan Commissioners to improve recycling in the parish-and more!
When Braddan Commissioners approached Zero Waste Mann to develop a campaign for recycling, I must admit I had to get out the map and see exactly where Braddan was. I know one side of Vicarage Road is in the parish and the other is in Douglas. I was surprised to see that the parish of Braddan stretches from Port Soderick right up to Injebreck Reservoir, and that half the Mount Murray estate is in Braddan, the rest in Santon. There were 1,350 households with 3,586 people living in Braddan at the last census.
Braddan Commissioners provide a fortnightly kerb-side collection service to most of their residents. There are a few places where access is difficult, e.g. blocks of flats.
So we decided the best way to get our message out would be to deliver a leaflet to every household in the parish served by kerbside collection. The leaflet explained what should go in the boxes: paper and card in the blue one, plastic bottles, cans and aerosols in the green one. It also pointed out that as charges at the incinerator are going to increase, the financial case for recycling makes more and more sense.
Not only have we delivered more than 1,000 leaflets, we also held a successful beach clean event at Port Soderick with Bill Dale and his Beach Buddies in October. Then we heard that the Keep Britain Tidy Group was celebrating its Diamond Jubilee by re-launching the Wombles. And we just couldn’t resist.
Cat Turner of the Isle of Man Friends of the Earth volunteered to be Uncle Bulgaria for the occasion, and we set off on a Wombling Walk, picking up litter round the parish one Sunday afternoon. It’s surprising what you find by the side of the roads and in the hedges – hub caps, number plates, a box of 24 tiles, as well as the usual sweet wrappers, drinks cans and plastic bottles. Several small Wombles visited the parish of Braddan during the week and were spotted (and photographed) in Union Mills, Port Soderick, West Baldwin and even on the see-saw at Cronk Grianagh Park. The Big Tidy Up attracted adults and children who enjoyed their Wombling Walk along the Heritage Trail down to Braddan Bridge.
Following the leaflet drop, eight people rang the Commissioners’ Office to ask for recycling boxes. They were householders who have moved into the area, didn’t have kerbside boxes and had no calendar to explain when the collection days were. They were all provided with new kerbside boxes and calendars. I think some people must take their boxes when they move house. OK, they may make good toys boxes, but this creates a problem for new occupants.
The clerk to Braddan Commissioners, Colin Whiteway, and deputy clerk and financial officer Moira Radcliffe have been very helpful in providing information and helping to design the leaflet, together with their partners at Mannin Media. They have put up a recycling display in the Commissioners’ Office and have started collecting batteries and printer cartridges for recycling. They have also given us access to their notice boards so we can put up notices about the No Waste in Braddan campaign and advertise our events around the parish.
The fortnightly kerbside collection in Braddan is carried out by staff from Douglas Corporation. Their figures will show whether the amount of paper, cans and bottles collected for recycling is being maintained, or indeed increasing, as a result of our campaign.
We can’t understand why a few people don’t take part. If they haven’t got boxes they can always ring Colin or Moira on 852808 and get some. If they need help with lifting, that is available. If they need convincing about the value of recycling they can look at the commissioners’ excellent website www.braddan.im and see pictures of plastic bottles baled and ready for shipment to the UK – to be sold for money!
At Zero Waste Mann we are delighted to be sharing our enthusiasm with Braddan Commissioners. We hope people in the parish will get behind the campaign, continue to use the fortnightly kerbside collection and also think about other ways in which they can reduce waste and re-use items.
My daughter has just sent me some information about the Big Garage Trail they have in Australia, where she lives. They have hundreds of garage sales on the same weekend. Even the Australian Parliament takes part and clears out some of its books and furniture. Maybe in the Spring 2015 we can have a Garage Sale Trail in Braddan, from Port Soderick to Injebreck – and half way around the Mount Murray estate.
23 October 2014
Community Farm backs ‘No Waste In Braddan’
The Community Farm is joining forces with commissioners to promote recycling in Braddan, as Amanda Griffin explains
Minimising waste and recycling are central to education programmes at The CommunityFarm in Braddan. Kitchen waste is collected and fed to the worms in the wormeries to produce compost and liquid fertiliser that is used in the poly tunnels to grow fresh veg. Green waste from the gardens and animal bedding is composted in large bins and then turned onto the gardens to grow yet more food.
The wormeries and other composting systems are used as teaching tools with primary and secondary groups in co-ordinated fork-to-fork lessons. The farm’s inclusion learning programme helps to manage composting as part of Level 1 Horticulture Certificate training.
As a charitable project of The Children’s Centre, the farm is very careful with its use of resources; reclaiming, reusing and recycling wherever possible. Good examples of this are the information boards around the site, made by groups of young people from reclaimed pallets. Wooden garden planters, bird boxes, bug houses and bat houses have also been created from reclaimed wood using the farm’s workshop. Over in the vegetable gardens plastic drink bottles are reused as garden cane toppers and bird scarers. Old wellies adorn the walls filled with flowers and herbs. Growing areas are mulched with old coffee grounds from Noa Bakehouse and spent mushroom compost from Greeba Farm. The paths, meanwhile, are covered in bark chip donated by tree surgeons. Up in the farm office, the team use reclaimed desks and chairs, donated by corporate donors when they refresh their offices. Regular forays to the reclamation areas of the island’s amenity sites provide fresh supplies of plant pots, furniture and games for the recreation room. Even the tractors are reclaimed and upcycled, with the tractor shed now being used to restore a second Massey Ferguson, with young people learning mechanical and spraying skills under the watchful eye of farm staff.
The farm worked with the Isle of Man government’s recycling and waste minimisation officer Steve Taggart to put recycling bins and signage around the farm. The staff, children and young people collect and recycle glass, metal and plastic. Confidential waste paper is shredded, used as animal bedding and then composted.
School groups use waste management as a topic monitoring recycling levels and taking trips to amenity sites and the energy from waste plant, which can be seen from the farm. New to the farm’s programme this year have been a series of workshops and short courses including composting, willow weaving, felting, bread-making and an introduction to permaculture course.
All of these use local resources and local expertise to increase levels of countryside skills and sustainable land management which tie in with the farm’s ethos of ‘reconnecting with the countryside’.
To find out more about what’s happening at The Community Farm, including alternative education programmes workshops, open afternoons and bookable children’s parties, check out The Farm blog www.thecommunityfarm.wordpress.com, Call 676076 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
24 August 2014
Second hand is far from second best
by Cat Turner
‘Just before the schools broke up, I was at a school sports day to watch my twin daughters.
They were like two little bookends – Lizzie led the field by a mile, whilst Catherine Rose gamely brought up the rear and had the good sense to be proud of her performance (‘I tried my hardest, Mummy – I can’t be best at EVERYTHING’. I could learn a thing or two from that girl).
As usual, the school was selling off outgrown, donated or unclaimed uniforms as a fundraiser, and after the games I had a jolly good rummage: I was elated to find a stash of perfect, scarcely-worn summer dresses in just their sizes. I texted a friend, another mummy, to see if she’d like me to snag any prize items for her child. ‘No thank you’, came the reply, ‘I only like new for my daughter’.
1) Buying second hand is the greenest choice, by a country mile. If you want to help conserve the planet’s dwindling resources, stop buying new – re-using and recycling everything from clothes to furniture is the way to go. Clothing’s an especially good example, because the fabric it’s made from can be a significant contributor to environmental damage. Cotton, in particular, is a thirsty crop and where it’s grown in industrial quantities, water is being diverted from other essential uses to feed the West’s gluttonous appetite for new T-shirts and jeans. It’s also a crop that needs plenty of pesticides and fertilizers to ensure a reliable yield – this means often brutal chemical pesticides and fossil-fuel based soil additives, which irreparably damages the ecosystems that would otherwise flourish in those areas.
2) Buying second-hand helps the seller. Whether you buy your pre-loved clothing from a charity shop, or (as I was doing) from the ‘Friends of the School’ group which helps to fund outings and events for its children, you’re giving your money to a cause which will almost always spread more good. That’s got to feel better than handing it over to a big company, to turn into profits for its shareholders. I love the fact that my few pennies will go towards some lovely daytrip or other for St Thomas’ children, whether it’s my own or others!
3) There’s already enough stuff in the world. You don’t have to look far to see how the amount of things we manufacture is mounting up – mostly destined for landfills and incinerators at the end of an all-too-brief useful life. Doesn’t it seem barking mad to you, that we grow plants, or make plastics, from precious resources – only to bin them or burn them within a few short months or years? Every time you buy something second hand, you’re short-circuiting a damaging cycle of production -you’re conserving resources, or preventing pollution, which means there’s more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff.
Admittedly, those who earn their livings by making and selling new stuff won’t appreciate this (sorry Primark, sorry Topshop) – but it’s beyond argument that as a race, we’re going to have to stop making so many things ‘from new’ in the foreseeable future.
And those of our leaders who are still touting the rather outdated tale of ‘stimulating economic growth through consumer activity’ have clearly not yet caught up with the new realities; we’re depleting the Earth’s resources at a massive burn-rate, as if those who come after us didn’t matter. We need to find new ways of earning our livings, ways that don’t steal the future out from under our children’s feet; there’s a whole, exciting world of green economics out there and it’s time we caught up.
4) Buying new is an expensive form of slavery. Making and selling new clothes – at least in the quantities it’s happening now – is part of a slightly insane, relatively recent, but deeply embedded economic model that has the majority of people working their socks off, to afford the money to buy new stuff, to make them feel more ‘successful’ and better about the exhausting lives they lead, and to compensate themselves for the fact that they work so hard. It’s a vicious circle, but one that more and more people are opting out of. It gladdens my heart every time I meet another escapee from the longtail-race, who’s discovering the pleasures of making do with less stuff (or what we used to call ‘enough’) and enjoying having more time for their loved ones and favourite pursuits.
5) Second hand is the new cool, and it’s definitely much more fun! I can’t tell you what gems I’ve found when rootling through local thrift shops – items made from glorious fabrics which I can unpick and repurpose, vintage designer clothes that have obviously led exciting lives and bring their little histories into our house, and simply terrific items made with a care and precision that’s rare nowadays. For sure, it’s cheaper (yahoo! good result!) – but it’s also massively more rewarding.
6) It gets your money to where it’s really needed. One of my Green Centre colleagues pointed out that in our parents’ day, there simply weren’t the number of charity shops there are now – there wasn’t the stuff to fill them. Maybe people just hung onto their things for longer, mended, adapted and handed them down….treating them, and the work that had gone into producing them, with the respect they deserved. For sure, charity shops are everywhere nowadays, providing an affordable marketplace for things you don’t need any more but someone else does, giving jobs and experience to their volunteers, and much-needed income to the charities that run them. They need our support, and you’re doing a good thing both when you donate your things and when you shop there.
So I don’t see second hand as ‘second rate’ at all: it’s better in every way to give an item a second chance at a useful life, and my girls are gloriously kitted it when they wear their pre-loved finds.Try it, you might be amazed at what you find and how good it feels!
24 July 2014
Highlighting the dangers of balloon release celebrations
This week, IoM Friends of the Earth’s youth outreach officer Falk Horning looks at some downsides of a popular, but environmentally disastrous, way of marking events
What goes up must come down. We all learned this simple truth as children, throwing sticks, paper planes and kites into the air. Yet we tend to forget this fact at balloon releases and fireworks.
Helped by the wind, balloons can stay a lot longer in the air than a paper airplane and travel much greater distances. So we usually don’t see when they come down. They do, sooner or later, sometimes over land, sometimes over a river, most often over the sea.
Floating around in the sea they are often consumed by animals and may block their stomach or guts, leading to a miserable slow death from starvation. Sea turtles, on finding a ‘dead’ balloon, often think it is jellyfish, their most common food. Seabirds mistake them as prey because of their shiny colours. Besides eating the balloons, birds can get entangled in the cords and choked to death. The effects on fish and sea mammals like dolphins are sometimes harder to record – but balloons have been found in their stomachs on many occasions.
Mass balloon releases have already been banned by some authorities around the world, including – thank goodness – UK bodies – and groups such as the RSPCA and Marine Conservation Society strongly advise against them.
However on the Isle of Man, unfortunately, balloon releases are still being practised, although when the organisations staging them are alerted to why countries are increasingly outlawing them, they usually choose some alternative way of making their point – so as not to taint a well-motivated happening with unintended, but increasingly socially unacceptable, environmental vandalism. So, for example, when in 2012 we learned of one group planning a celebratory balloon launch, we approached the organisers and to their great credit, they decided to choose an alternative way of promoting their message, preferring not to commemorate loved ones through an activity which inevitably results in pollution and, as like as not, wildlife deaths.
There are many alternatives which might bring joy to your party.
Make flags and banners, let them dance in the wind. You can even use them at the next party again.
You can also use kites to bring colour in the skies.
Let drums bring some rhythm into your party, light candles up to shine a light on life. The possibilities are endless.
And remember, it’s not only balloons that can cause these problems – all sorts of of litter is floating around in the oceans. Balloon latex usually takes around six months to biodegrade, a long time for something to be clogging up the oceans. But other forms of plastic can take much, much longer – so avoid leaving any plastic behind after a day out under any circumstances.
Some people even go further and collect plastics and other waste from the beaches, like the brilliant social volunteer group Beach Buddies on the Isle of Man who go out every weekend to keep our coastline clean.
You don’t have to jump out of the window to change the world – small steps can change a lot.
03 July 2014
Block the leaks and save your energy
This week, IoM Friends of the earth’s Cat Turner talks to Steve Brown, MD of Stroma NX, about why – and how – the company is helping individuals and businesses to take responsibility for cutting their own energy and heating bills, for their good and the island’s
You hear a lot in the Green Column about why people might want to cut their energy usage – whether it’s from the financial perspective (cutting bills), or the ethical (taking care of the environment we live in and being responsible tenants on planet earth). But as important as the ‘why’, is the ‘how’.
This week, I heard from Castletown-based Stroma NX Limited, a business which aims to help people – both home-owners and commercial organisations – manage their energy consumption for heat and cooling, one of the most expensive aspects of any building. Stroma NX has, over the past few years, significantly increased both its workload and its influence in the island. Initially, it won contracts within the education sector, where it provides air tightness testing and full energy assessments, including building complex thermal models, on all of the island’s 54 schools – and then establishing a targeted remedial programme. It did this by ‘benchmarking’ all the properties to, identify all the ‘quick wins’ available – measures making the highest impact of improvement for the least amount of financial outlay.
The results were exceptional. Schools were able to demonstrate significant and clear energy savings, and Stroma NX’s strategy was recognised by the government at the 2012 annual Energy Awards, where it won the Best Practice Award in The Public Sector. The greatest benefit of this discipline is within the existing housing stock.
The folks at Stroma NX advise that most causes of excessive air leakage aren’t obvious and that until a householder sees the actual air tightness test, it can be hard to believe.
Steve Brown, the amiable and engaging MD, describes the job satisfaction that comes from this aspect of the job: ‘Almost without fail, the epiphany that comes with seeing your property pressurised and the areas of concern so clearly highlighted is a great delight for us to witness.’ He gave me a useful analogy: wouldn’t we all, if faced with it, make immediate repair to a 2ft square hole in our roof? The effective air leakage area of a huge number of residential properties is of this extent, and often a great deal more.
As a government listed energy efficiency consultant, Stroma NX aims to help local companies understand, and improve, the performance of their premises. Through the Department of Economic Development’s Business Support Scheme (BSS), they can also help a business to access grant funding for qualifying projects. What this can mean is funding to cover up to half of the costs of this assessment process. Once that’s done, a business can then apply for an interest-free ‘green loan’ over four years of up to £20,000 to pay for the remedial and improvement measures, the repayment of which will very often be covered by the savings made. Well worth exploring, if you want to reduce energy costs, improve your building’s fabric and, for the environmentally-minded, reduce your carbon levels.
It’s pretty easy to see what an enormous impact this process could make on the island as a whole, in terms of reducing our emissions – as well as improving the energy ‘sustainability’ of our little rock. With a government commitment to reducing our CO2 emissions to a fifth of their 1979 levels by 2050 (the so-called ‘80/50’ target), efforts of this nature need to be encouraged!
Steve points to the heartening fact that in the schools, where its journey began on the island, an acceptance and understanding of the wider implications of social responsibility, self-sufficiency in energy provision and conservation and active enforcement of such strategies are coming through strongly. ‘The children in our schools – our next generation of the island’s decision makers, homeowners and business people – should be applauded, listened to, supported and encouraged,’ he says, adding: ‘The responsibility our generation has is to actively lead by example and be role models wherever we can, in a positive spirit, with good intentions and free of destructive agendas”.
Wise words indeed.
12 June 2014
The Strand Group closes the cycle
This week, Cat Turner finds out about how a local business group is helping to close the resources gap. The Strand Group comprises facilities management company Strand Facilities Services, secure document management company Storall, contract cleaning brand Krypton and newly acquired commercial refuse collection company, Clean A Way. And the group is proud to be doing its bit for the planet!
This week I’ve been spending a good deal of time thinking about recycling and waste management. In part, this is because Zero Waste Mann, which is based at the Green Centre, has just been given the contract to help raise awareness of the hows and whys of recycling in one of our Island parishes. But in looking into these issues, I tripped over a really inspiring story – a tale of how conscious resource management and reuse/recycling can help both the environment, and the bottom line.
The story involves two businesses which are part of the well-known Island based Strand Group – Storall and Strand Facilities Services.
For those who aren’t familiar with these organisations, Storall is Strand Group’s secure document management company.
Among the services it provides is the shredding of confidential paper – the sort of thing generated by financial services offices and the like, in pretty sizeable quantities. Storall then bails, packs and transports the shredded paper to a paper mill in North Wales – Oswestry Waste Paper, a recycling specialist. The shredded paper is processed / recycled and a ‘parent roll’ is produced – basically a giant (and I mean GIANT) roll of paper. These parent rolls are then bought by ‘convertors’ – businesses which reduce the parent rolls into a variety of paper products – everything from toilet rolls to handwipe rolls, and the like. Which is fantastic, because it means rather than the remains of harvested and processed trees going to landfill, incinerator or otherwise leaving the system, they’re re-used; they have a second crack at life, as one recycler put it lately.
But it doesn’t stop there; things get even neater. Strand Facilities Services then buys back said toilet tissue and paper towels from these converters, and supply them to their clients here on the Island. These aren’t negligible volumes either; Storall are currently providing 26 tonnes of paper per month into this recycling loop, a terrific contribution to closing the loop, at least on this small sub-segment of our economy.
Whence comes all this waste paper? Well, Storall offers electronic document scanning, document and archive storage facilities – a growing industry, especially in these days of data protection sensitivity; concerns over identity theft and fraud make it ever more critical that businesses ensure their customer and proprietary information is securely held, archived and ultimately destroyed when it’s of no further use. It’s that final element of data destruction that leads to the recycling. (You can find out more about this, if you’re so inclined, at http://www.strandgroup.im/document-services.html).
I was interested in the drivers behind the process – is it really all about efficiency and profit, or are there other drivers? Lourdes Otxoa de Alda, Storall’s operations director, was instrumental in developing the recycling aspect of the business, and says: ‘We’re very proud of this service. ‘Once there’s no longer a requirement for businesses to retain hard copy documents, we can arrange for them to be securely destroyed. ‘We then recycle this paper waste that has been tying up valuable space in our client’s businesses. ‘The fact that those clients may also buy back products made from this waste is very satisfying for everyone involved.’
I’d echo that – the idea of reusing scarce resources rather than burning them and harvesting more wood is extremely appealing, and where it involves protecting existing forest, also helps to cut our carbon footprint. Hats off to Strand – let’s hear of more virtuous circles like this, so our island can play its part to an even greater extent!
29 May 2014
It’s better to breathe new life into existing buildings
Friends of the Earth has queried whether the brief for the central Douglas draft masterplan has taken into account the government’s commitment to sustainability and reducing the island’s carbon footprint.
The plan was drawn up by urban designers IBI Taylor Young, and showcased in the Strand Shopping Centre for three days earlier this month so that members of the public could see images of how Douglas might look.
But reaction has been by no means universally favourable, with some expressing concern over the amount of spending potentially involved – and over plans to demolish and replace the ‘iconic’ Sea Terminal.
IoM Friends of the Earth’s main concerns centre on the contribution (or otherwise) the plans might make to the island’s progress towards sustainability. It’s understood that in February a number of ‘stakeholder’ discussions were held to inform the planners’ work, but the group says it isn’t aware of any of the island’s main ‘green groups’ having been invited and describes this as ‘a glaring omission’.
Government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent from the 1990 levels by 2050. If this is to be met, however, IoMFoE stresses big changes in behaviour need to be taking place right now. Co-ordinator Cat Turner said: ‘In Government’s Agenda for Change, there was an explicit commitment to encouraging sustainable economic activity – which we wholeheartedly applaud. But we’d query whether dismantling perfectly serviceable buildings, to replace them with new ones at potentially great carbon cost, is consistent with these and the other aims and commitments that government has articulated. ‘Further, we wonder whether the emphasis on retail establishments is really appropriate at a time when a re-engineering of the economy is taking place all around the world. ‘I’d suggest that money would be far better spent on breathing new life into existing buildings and spaces, and spending money on retrofitting them with better energy efficiency so as to make them less expensive to run and more appealing to the population.
‘There are many commentators who suggest that – at this time of world environmental challenge – encouraging the continued growth of consumer culture does no favours to people or planet. We all need to learn to do better with less, and to value pleasant experiences and places over the acquisition of stuff. ‘Personally I’d like to see the focus on creating more spaces where people can sit and enjoy a view for free; more community buildings where they can converse and network; more local marketplaces where Manx producers can sell their wares for fair prices, without involving the transport of food and things over needless distances; and less focus on extracting families’ hard-earned cash from their wallets and feeding it to large retail corporations. ‘But that’s my view – I’d love to hear what other townspeople have to say.’
IoMFoE is suggesting that a public meeting be held to allow people to air their concerns over the direction Douglas is taking, to share what they love about the island’s capital and to discuss what might make it an even better place to live. The group says the focus needs to be on helping townspeople and businesses gain the resilience to help themselves, rather than relying on public services. ‘We need less “impressive” and more considered plans for the development of the town,’ said Cat.
Anyone interested in attending a meeting to discuss ideas for the development of Douglas can contact email@example.com or write to or visit the group at the Green Centre.
15 May 2014
Assessing the year’s progress
In the past 12 months, the organisation has run a number of successful events, bringing speakers to the island, including the UK’s Craig Bennett, Ireland’s Philip Allen and the Isle of Wight’s David Green. We’ve also held many special interest days at the Green Centre, on subjects as diverse as composting, electric cycles, genetic modification of foods and recycling. In addition, members have campaigned on issues from energy to transport, bees to biodiversity, and increased its outreach into schools, cub and scout meetings, and many other forums.
It’s been a lot of fun, and netted some terrific new members into the bargain – that’s the best news of all.
On top of this, there’s been a whole lot of lower-profile, but equally important behind-the-scenes activity. Among other things, we’ve contributed to the island’s Biodiversity Strategy, its draft Sustainability and Climate Change Bill, and DEFA’s Biosphere Vannin plans – to name but a few.
And, of course, there’s EcoVannin, the joint initiative which was inspired by David Green and which involves IoMFoE, the Manx Energy Advice Centre, Zero Waste Mann and, from government, the Department of Economic Development, Department of the Environment, Food and Agriculture and the Manx Utilities Authority has absorbed much time and effort. It is now, we hope, edging towards launch! We’re currently seeking sponsors from the business community to help us get this off the ground, so expect to hear more from us on this soon.
We’ll also be saying a big ‘thank you’ to our terrific co-ordinator, Phil Corlett, who is, sadly for us, stepping down after carrying out the role for seven years – a long time doing a lot of work on an entirely voluntary basis.
A keen diver and passionate advocate for the island’s natural environment, Phil has worked tirelessly in what sometimes can seem a rather thankless role. In doing so, he has led IoMFoE to achieve many successes, great and small. He’s been an inspiration to many of us, especially me, and we hope he’ll stay involved for many years to come. We’re glad to know you, Phil!
08 May 2014
In praise of real nappies
This week, IoM Friends of the Earth’s Cat Turner finds out about Real Nappy Week and an unusual lending library
If you’ve a baby in your family, or close social circle, you might be interested to know that the Isle of Man Cloth Nappy Network and Library were in full support of Real Nappy Week (April 28 to May 4). The Network and Library is a not-for-profit organisation that exists to support island parents (and parents-to-be) who choose to use cloth nappies either full time or part time – and those thinking of making the switch to cloth.
When I heard of this, my nosiness was piqued. I was raised in terry towelling nappies myself, and indeed some of them are still in our household nearly half-a-century on, although now consigned to the role of cleaning and dusting cloths. The nappy pins have also survived, turning up as kilt-pins and fastenings for makeshift bedroom ‘tents’.
But I must confess that when I had my own twin girls, some seven years ago, I wasn’t as mindful as I try to be now: so Catherine and Lizzie ploughed their way through scads of disposables, and I only resorted to the terry type when I’d run out of the throwaway versions, or couldn’t afford to buy any. So I was really interested to hear from Samantha Heard and Nicky Hockaday of this great initiative – I wish I’d paid more attention at the time!
– Money. A subject close to everyone’s heart in these straitened times. Parents using real nappies can save around £500, sometimes even more, for one baby, and at least twice that if there is more than one child in the family, because, of course, a set of nappies can be used again without any extra expense. In addition, families can also buy nappies ‘pre-loved’, and then sell them again when they’re done with, so as to recoup some costs.
– Environmental benefits. Each disposable nappy takes 200-500 years to break down, and in the course of a baby’s birth to potty years they will go through around 4,000-5,000 nappies! That’s a veritable mountain of waste degrading at a glacial pace. On-island, disposable nappies make up a significant 2 to 4 per cent of our incinerated waste, and as incineration costs are rising steeply, it’s worth bearing in mind that these costs will have to be passed on to the tax payer.
– Health benefits. Lots of parents find cloth nappies and wipes are kinder and more comfortable for their baby’s sensitive skin – they’re usually made of natural fabrics, and (unless you choose them that way) they’re not infused with harsh or environmentally-damaging chemicals.
– General appeal. Let’s face it, terry towelling nappies look and feel cute and fluffy. Nowadays, cloth nappies are available in a huge range of colours, prints, fabrics, shapes and sizes – so your baby can be spoilt for choice!
In case you’re worried that this might mean that parents will be condemned to days of boiling and scrubbing bulky, scratchy nappies, fear not, you can put your mind at rest.
Cloth nappies are now easy and cheap to wash, with hardly any effort over and above the probable one or two extra loads of washing a week that’ll be involved.
But if you’re yet to be convinced, why not give it a try for yourself? The Island’s Nappy Network has a library of nappies that parents can borrow to ‘try before you buy’, and advisers on hand to give advice and help to those choosing cloth nappies. You can contact the team by visiting their Facebook page for the latest news and meeting dates: www.facebook.com/iomclothnappynetwork.
06 March 2014
The true cost of ‘growth’
This week, C.A. (Tony) Brown points out some flaws in our rather out-dated ways of measuring economic progress – flaws which are hurting both people and planet
As I understand it (and I’m not a trained economist), gross domestic product, or GDP, is a measure of all the financial transactions made in the region in question – irrespective of their environmental harm, or indeed of any other ethical considerations.
For instance, ever since Henry Ford introduced the production line in the manufacture of cars, ‘progress’ has motored on – and we haven’t looked back. The ever-increasing volume of car manufacture has become an integral part of our economic system. Legislation favours the use of cars and lorries, over and above more benign mass transport systems such as rail, light-rail, trams and coach travel – all of them far better for the environment, and much more sociable too.
To meet the demand for car mobility, infrastructure has been increasingly built and adapted. With every increase in provision, there’s a further rise in demand, an escalation of cost relative to benefit, and a decline in the very mobility sought – stifling the society it’s meant to serve. Pollution, noise, stress, injury and death is exacting a great toll on humans and wildlife alike. More efficient, less polluting models of transport have evolved in some areas, but the relentless growth of car usage by a rising population has cancelled out the majority of benefits.
Urban car pollution contributes to the increasing risks of cancer, respiratory problems, heart disease and more – and each year around 30,000 people die prematurely from such health problems in the UK alone, with around another 3,000 deaths due to road accidents and many thousands more suffering serious injury. In China, far worse conditions kill some 500,000 prematurely from motor emmission-related health issues a year, as well as many more thousands due to accidents. All this, in the name of ‘material economic progress’.
One would think that the negative impacts of car travel would be taken into account when measuring GDP, reflecting the carnage created. However, such is the perversity of the current system that every financial transaction involved in the creation of this pollution, death and injury – such as the costs of healthcare, legal advice, clean-up and insurance costs – are added to the country’s GDP as a measure of increasing growth. In addition, many of the resources used to build and power cars are considered ‘free goods’ in economic jargon – and the escalation of their very exploitation is costed as a positive when calculating GDP.
This is akin to confusing capital with income. Any business would soon go bust if it acted similarly, which is where the world may be heading if we continue to pursue every increasing growth based on the exploitation of finite resources.
I’ve used the private car sector as an example of our flawed accounting system, in relation to the present model of economic growth. But a similar argument can be applied to other sectors. The growth in air travel, industrial food production, industrial fishing practices and increasing fossil-fuelled energy use and so on are all reliant on the use of ‘free goods’, or finite natural capital.
There is an alternative: a steady state system based on the sustainable use of our precious and finite resources.
That is, using them sparingly whilst developing alternative options and exploiting renewable resources such as forests, fisheries, the soil, water aquifers and so on, only within their abilities to replenish themselves. I’d suggest that this system would only work effectively if applied in a spirit of equality and co-operation, as opposed to the present competitive way of doing things.
Is this an impossible pipedream? Maybe so, but surely it’s worth striving for and infinitely preferable to the eventual destructive nightmare being pursued at present.
Our current approach clearly doesn’t even work financially, give that the Isle of Man has had to impose austerity measures while ‘enjoying’ a per capita GDP figure of some £43k and a ‘growth’ rate of 3 per cent.
The answer, apparently, is even more unsustainable – unworkable growth which in reality serves only to enhance inequality and trash our environment.
13 February 2014
Visions of the future
Muriel Garland, chair of Zero Waste Mann, asks what we’re really aiming for
What is it with this ‘vision’ thing? Malaysia, India, Nigeria, The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership – they’ve all got a vision for 2020. So perhaps it was inevitable that eventually the Isle of Man has joined the club. First we had ‘Freedom to Flourish’ followed by the ‘Isle of Man Where You Can’. Now our government in co-operation with the private sector has come up with ‘Vision 2020’, outlining the broad way forward for the island’s economy to the end of this decade.
At the same time in the UK, an impressive group of academics, Conservative politicians and business leaders has come up with ‘Vision 2020 C – Sweating Our Assets’. Apparently one of their aims is to point out to Conservative climate change deniers that economic and environmental factors are intertwined and not ‘opposite ends of the see-saw’.
The Manx Vision 2020 sees continued growth of 3-4 per cent in GDP and 1-2 per cent increase in government income. Seven sectors of the Manx economy are expected to grow: financial services, information and communication technology, manufacturing, offshore energy, the island as a destination for visitors and potential residents, local food and drink, and encouraging enterprise. Many of these depend on improving the environment and the careful use of resources – although that is not spelt out in the document, which is vague on detail.
By contrast, in England’s version of ‘Vision 2020 – Sweating Our Assets’, the environment is at the heart of things. Much emphasis is given to improving the productivity and the efficient use of resources through re-use and recycling. In a situation where world-wide demand and competition for materials is increasing, the authors point out that companies need to be much more careful and responsible. Not only should they avoid waste, but they should look to use and re-use materials efficiently. Vision 2020 points out that there is much talk of improving the productivity of workers but not much about improving resource productivity. And yet, in the modern world it is vital.
The Manx Vision 2020 doesn’t mention waste or resources – and yet it is important that companies, which import materials to an island and have to pay for waste to be disposed of, should be thinking hard about their efficient use of those valuable resources. The document mentions ‘excellent infrastructure’ but companies will find few facilities for the re-use and recycling of many materials here. For example, the European WEE directives on waste, electrical and electronic items don’t apply – so electrical items can be sent to the incinerator and batteries can be thrown in the bin. Not a good outcome foranyone.
The English Vision 2020 sees waste as a resource and an opportunity. In fact they call for waste to be moved from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), recognising that there are opportunities for enterprise within the waste sector.
I wonder how many waste companies the Isle of Man government talked to when drawing up their vision of the future. In England, they had the chairman of Novelis, the aluminium can producer and recycler, Claire Whelan from WRAP, circular economy and resource efficiency experts, and Paul Sanderson from Resource Efficiency magazine on their panel. The authors call for demand reduction policies and for waste to be redefined as a business opportunity. Surely here in the island, the government should be encouraging companies, which go to all the expense of shipping stuff across the Irish Sea and from further afield to take great care of those resources and make sure they are used efficiently and then re-used. Just disposing of items made from wood, plastic, etc, via the incinerator is wanton when such materials could be recovered and used again.
Vision 2020 reckons England could save £1 billion in disposal costs and gain £2.5 billion in recovering materials rather than sending them to landfill. They call for waste to be redefined as resources and see waste as an opportunity with a new stream of exciting business opportunities emerging.
Marketing the environment to visitors is an obvious step for the Isle of Man to take – but while members of our government still refer to people who want to protect footpaths and improve cycling routes as ‘the Greenies’, I can’t see them entering into a real partnership with us. They want the island to look beautiful and attract visitors – but those of us who plant trees are referred to by politicians as ‘those tree huggers’. Our government needs to appreciate that the environment and business are complimentary, not antagonistic, to each other. We can all contribute to the success of our island.
Vision 2020C (Sweating Our Assets) points out that a unit of energy saved and not paid for increases a company’s profitability – although it may not increase our GDP. And government should ensure that businesses are aware of all the profit-maximising opportunities that are available to them through clever use of resources, as global demand drives up costs.
Both the UK and Isle of Man visions agree that small to medium sized business will be the ones to flourish in the period up to 2020. But where is our promised incubator for budding young entrepreneurs who will create this Enterprise Isle? The last one was sold to the highest bidder in Laxey. And in Business News (Examiner, February 4) only Alyson Hamilton Lacey of ITEX had the temerity to suggest that the government might focus on some of the existing entrepreneurs who are here already!
The UK Conservatives’ ‘Vision 2020 – Sweating Our Assets’ has been greeted very favourably by the Environmental Industries Commission, for putting resource efficiency at the heart of UK’s future economic growth. The Resource Association welcomes it but also calls for a cap on valuable materials going to incineration. Here in the Isle of Man, I haven’t seen a response from the waste industry – but perhaps they weren’t invited to the presentation at the Manx Museum.
The business community generally seems to be seeking more detail on how the Isle of Man government is going to achieve this golden future by 2020.
As a Guardian reader, it grieves me to have to say it, but as chair of Zero Waste Mann, and an advocate of resource efficiency in all its forms I would recommend our politicians and civil servants read the UK Conservatives’ Vision 2020 – Sweating Our Assets. They really do appear to understand how environmental matters are intertwined with economic success. For more information, see here. www.2020conservatives.com/Downloads/PEComissionReport.pdf
27 January 2014
Love your garden – and eat it
Zero Waste Mann’s Sarah Calverley shares her experience of how easy – and enjoyable – it is to grow your own fruit and vegetables
As a total amateur at gardening, I’m sure my methods will be laughed at by many experienced gardeners. But I am able to grow enough to reduce my shopping bill significantly – and that’s good enough for me.
Last spring, a shop which was charging more than £2 a punnet for raspberries also sold raspberry bushes for £2 each. I bought a raspberry bush for my garden. Soon, I was eating fresh raspberries straight from my own patch. I did not give the plant special treatment, it must just like the Manx soil (and have a very forgiving nature).
My neighbours kindly gave me a greenhouse – complete with a resident plantpot, containing a pepper plant. Again, the poor plant received no particular attention from me, and it was growing in normal garden soil. After several weeks it provided tasty peppers – and kept replenishing the supply of its own accord.
I put tomato plants in the greenhouse and used empty wine bottles filled with water and stuck upside down to keep the soil moist in case I forgot to water them. Someone helpfully advised me that it helps to remove the odd growth from between the stem and side shoots. That is all I did, and my tomato plants were very productive.
It was as easy as that.
Runner beans can be expensive in the shops, and they certainly cannot be as fresh as home grown beans. In my very amateurish way I made holes in the soil with my fingers, and popped a runner bean seed in each hole, then put a short cane by each bean. For each cane I cut the bottom off a two-litre plastic bottle and made a little greenhouse for the bean seed, with the cane sticking out of the top of the bottle and the base of the bottle lodged into the soil. This kept the snails off the beans, and they thrived. Runner beans were at one time used as ornamental plants for their colourful flowers and they can still be used like this, with the added advantage of producing a useful vegetable too.
I also grow herbs which have medicinal and household uses.
Lavender is a relaxing herb which the bees in the garden enjoy as much as I do. I pick the lavender and make little lavender bags for the wardrobe as it smells so nice.
Last year I bought a peppermint plant which makes delicious tea. Lemon balm also flourishes in my garden, which I use to make tea and is also a relaxing herb. Rosemary, sage and a small bay tree are great for seasoning food.
Nobody has to be, and nobody should be, excluded from enjoying the environment. And if you have no garden or can’t get out for health reasons, edible plants can be grown indoors too – for example, a basil plant in a nice pot; or be ambitious and try miniature orange and lemon trees.
On occasions when I am sadly unable to enjoy my gardening ‘bug’, I make sure I still get my ‘fix’ of nature by visiting the island’s wonderful local glens and parks – and many parks, such as Nobles’ Park, also have access for wheelchair users.
If you haven’t done so for a while, put on your boots and visit your local park – enjoy Mann!
22 January 2014
Making good business sense
This week, Zero Waste Mann’s Sarah Calverley looks at ways that a Manx firm is helping both the environment and themselves
In a sense it’s good news: I can see an organic or ‘bottom up’ awareness growing about just how wasteful society has become. And awareness is the key – when you know about it, you can start to fix it. It is not just individual people, I see it in commercial entities too. Some businesses are keen to reduce waste, and in so-doing they almost inevitable save money, on paper, fuel bills and all sorts of other things.
A few simple ideas have been discussed by visitors to the Green Centre. These include offices having heating on in the early morning so the building is warm by the start of the day, and then turning it off. After that, the activity of the staff combined with warmer daylight hours can often keep the building warmer than if the early heating hadn’t taken the edge off. In ways like this, a business may reduce its carbon footprint and save money on heating bills. Hurrah!
And I wonder: how many businesses realise how much extra rent they’re paying for car parking spaces? Car-share, or better still cycling, walking or using public transport, may be more reliable methods of transport. A business with fewer motor vehicles and pollution will be more likely to be welcomed by local residents, because it’s demonstrating that it has less impact on the local environment too.
Many businesses on the island recycle paper, and consciously seek to use less of it. The Isle of Man College gave an impressive display of its reduction in paper usage, and ‘bottom line impact’, at its EcoLlege day last year. And some businesses go further with other resources too.
Here I offer an example and invite other businesses to share ways they have reduced their carbon footprint.
I was impressed by the initiative of a local gym. You may wonder what a gym, of all places, could do to reduce its carbon footprint, as they have exercise machines, showers, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room – all using energy. But the Warehouse Ladies’ Gym was consciously designed with low carbon emissions in mind. The gym opened in January 2013, and it was intended from the outset that it should be environmentally friendly. The heating system works on the theory of using heat produced from the exercising bodies, warming up the air, being recycled and assisting in the heating of the building. This seems particularly appropriate for a gym, where there will be plenty of body heat which can be used. It also uses heat from the shops underneath, a hair salon and a convenience store.
Harnessing body heat is a novel idea to me – and is something which could be very useful in many workplaces to reduce the carbon footprint. This recycling of body heat is also used to assist with heating the water. The showers utilise timing switches to prevent heat and water wastage. The spa area is not kept on permanently, only when it is being used, and all light bulbs in the building are eco-friendly low energy bulbs. Meanwhile, the gym is planning to install motion sensors, so lights will come on only when a room is in use. And there is a long term goal to put solar panels on all of the warehouse roofs to make it more self sufficient and to reduce the carbon footprint. Currently the gym sells reusable bottles, and is also looking to acquire two bins to use to recycle plastic bottles as the customers get through a lot of them. It is also currently looking into recycling or alternatives to the paper towels which are used to clean the machines.
Another are of recycling I had not heard of before is a Bra Bank – this involves the recycling of bras, to be sent to India and Africa. The organiser of the local initiative saw these on GMTV, and contacted the television company to ask about it. They applied for and received two of the bra-banks. For each ton of bras, a registered charity receives £1,000.
It would be interesting for us at the Green Centre to hear of other local businesses readers have come across, which are conscious of and kind to the environment.
So come on all you businesses, reduce your carbon footprint.
13 January 2014
Once in a lifetime?
IoM Friends of the Earth’s co-ordinator Phil Corlett reflects on how weather events once regarded as unusual now appear to have become a regular feature – and wonders what will come next
Readers will doubtless by now all have seen some pretty arresting pictures of the recent storm surge and flooding around the island
We often hear terms such as “a once in 50 years occurence” said in connection with heavey snows, hurricane force winds and severe conditions, but that can no longer really be said about what we are seeing now. Many of us remember well the flooding that happened along Douglas’ Leigh Terrace and the harbour Tongue back in 2002- after all, that was only 12 years ago. And insurers the world over are confirming that extreme weather events, for which they often end up footing the bill, have increased in frequency.
So if, as is evident, these events are becoming more frequent, one has to wonder whether it’s because of man-made climate change. The science says so: disruption to the deep ocean currents which carry temperature change around the globe is forcing both greater extremes of heat and drought, and worse deep freezes and winds, upon various parts of the world. On a a global scale it’s forcing huge environmental, humanitarian and economic changes. But more locally, what are the possible costs to the Isle of Man?
These could, in both the short and the longer term, be significant. Most obviously, there are the costs in cash terms to repair and reinforce infrastructure and clean up post-storm damage. In addition there will be costs to the local economy. Insurance premiums are rising and in some cases insurance for certain weather-related events is becoming unavailable.
But we also have to recognise that more frequent and intesnse storms can result in the loss of areas of land on the island, particulary as research shows that sea levels are rising globally and bigger storms will bring more land erosion and inundation from the sea.
Elsewhere in the world, we have already seen populations having to move because their homelands are now underwater – climate change has claimed its first refugees.
The final local cost of the recent storms will come out as a very large figure, have no doubt. So here we are, with a growing population and yet the island’s habitable area may reduce in size. The recent storms on Douglas promenade not only closed nearly half of it for many hours but also flushed sand and debris fully across to the habitable side and into businesses. Having discussed the issue with one of our island’s ministers, I gather that there are currently no plans or budget available to take precautionary steps for the future – such as raising the height of the sea wall as part of the planned promenade upgrade, which our neighbours in Blackpool did many years ago. I wonder what it might cost in insurance and compensation payouts if the sea floods businesses and apartments in the future?
As a Douglas resident, I saw by cycling around the town – and the boats in Douglas harbour at high tide seemed to be only kept from floating on the road by the heavy wooden blocks fixed on top of the harbour wall – it was an alarming sight! And of course we were lucky on the day as the wind was blowing out of the harbour. If it had been blowing inland, the sea height could have been increased considerably.
These points show how important it is to take seriously the threat of ever worsening climate change and how we all should be doing our bit to live low carbon lifestyles and not continually keep increasing CO2 levels. These are now up at 400 ppm, when for a “safe” environment for mankind’s livelihood they should be kept down at 350 ppm. The changes this would necessitate don’t have to mean painful cuts to our lifestyles and most of what you can do on a personal basis also saves you money. I’m thinking here of things like insulation, draught exclusion, using thermal curtains, switching stuff off instead of leaving it on standby, installing more efficient boilers or using air source heat pumps for heating.
The renowned economist Sir Nicholas Stern’s review on the economics of climate change stated back in 2006 that “the benefits of strong early action on climate change far outweigh the costs of not acting”. This is being proven to be the case and while some of the steps needed to safeguard our homes and businesses from severe weather could cost our government and the taxpayer painful sums initially, in the long term they are pretty much guaranteed to save money. Such steps could include raising Douglas promenade sea wall. It could also extend to establishing sustainable power production – for example, by way of an onshore windfarm which produces clean electricity, negligible Co2 and keeps money in the Manx economy instead of paying overseas for non-renewable oil or gas. We are blessed with some of the best wind resource in the British isles as any resident will know!
A decade or so ago there was much debate about the reality and consequences of climate change. We are increasingly living with those realities right now. We are lucky, living where we do, that these are not generally life-threatening or more severe. Others on this planet are not so lucky.
But it would be irresponsible not to recognise what’s come to pass and take the necessary actions now – if we don’t, it won’t just be our grandchildren who will suffer the costs. It will be ourselves.