Archive for the 'Environment' Category

SinglePlanetLiving2 – Energy Subsidy

August 13th 2019

I started last January thinking I would find time to write pieces for this blog at fairly regular intervals, but life, the universe and everything got in the way of that noble intention, and so the second instalment is only surfacing now. Such is life.

There are many ways in which we humans are unique amongst the myriads of species on this planet. One that rarely gets mentioned is the fact that we require extra energy from nature, as well as our food. This is our energy subsidy. All other species get all they need through their “food”. For example most animals consume food through their mouths and they convert this internally into all the energy they need to keep them warm, to grow, to move and to generally operate all the systems in their bodies. For plants they absorb nutrients and water via their roots as well as taking carbon dioxide from the air which they convert to glucose and oxygen, and the energy they get from this they then use to operate all their internal systems and to grow. Like other animals we too consume food to give us the energy to run our internal systems and to grow, but then we also require further energy inputs from various sources in order to survive, such as clothing to keep us protected from the elements, and it is this extra energy that is unique to us – our energy subsidy.

When the upright apes from which we have evolved first appeared on the planet, they, like all other animal species, basically had no need of an energy subsidy apart from their food, but since then we have evolved to require this energy subsidy for a variety of purposes. The first manifestations of this were probably in the form of making tools and weapons, and this further evolved into us making shelter and housing for ourselves, all made from materials we found in our environment, some plant derived such as wood, others mineral in nature such as stone. At some stage we significantly lost much of our fur, and this meant we then required clothing which would initially have come from animal hides, a by-product of our hunting the animals for food.

The first big leap occurred when we discovered how to light and control fires, and we used fires to cook our food and to keep our caves or housing warm, particularly at night. The source of fuel for the fire was wood and other dead plant matter. All of this was completely sustainable long term, as we were just using materials that were abundant in our environment, many of them “waste” from other processes, such as the hides for our clothing and the sticks we gathered to burn.

The next big leap was the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals. This required us to store food long term, and keep it fresh and away from vermin, requiring an energy subsidy in the form of extra buildings and storage vessels, and also the development of tools for agriculture. Also with the domestication of animals like horses, camels and donkeys, we now had the ability to travel much further than we could previously on foot, and it also meant we could trade over longer distances, leading to the development of things such as the Silk Road. As we continued to evolve and “progress”, so the energy subsidy we required to live went up. In ancient times this was all perfectly sustainable as we were getting that energy subsidy sustainably from the environment directly around us.

As societies continued to develop and evolve, so the energy subsidy required increased. As we moved away from being purely a rural and agricultural people, and we started to develop cities and hierarchical structures in our society, so the energy subsidy required continued to rise. In the Roman Empire for example, much of that energy subsidy for the Roman elite came from slaves and servants. As we moved forward into the Middle Ages, so that subjugation of “lesser” people as slaves and servants by the elite continued, to provide them with the energy subsidy necessary to live the high life. This continued with the development of plantations for sugar and rubber in the “New World”, which required huge amounts of energy subsidy in the form of slaves imported from Africa.

Up until the Industrial Revolution, this was all quite sustainable from an environmental perspective, though a lot of the moral and ethical issues within society were far from sustainable. The key change that happened in the Industrial Revolution from an energy perspective is that we started to supplement and replace the labour of humans and animals with energy from fossil fuels, first coal, and later oil and gas. The photo shows an early steam engine (Newcomen engine) in action. This is really the point at which it all started to become unsustainable from an environmental perspective.

The issue with fossil fuels is right there in the name – fossils. All fossil fuels are the ancient remains of large amounts of plants and animals that got trapped in a particular way at some point in geological time, and over millions of years the energy in their remains concentrated in such a way that it became a useful fuel for us, all those millions of years later. All living matter is based on carbon, and basically living things, particularly plants, take carbon from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, and turn it into other substances which trap the carbon in non-gaseous form. Fossil fuels are full of this trapped carbon, and when we burn them, we release the carbon that was trapped from the atmosphere millions of years ago back into the atmosphere again. This is the crux of the problem with our use of fossil fuels. Since the Industrial Revolution we have been releasing more and more of this carbon, which was removed from the atmosphere all those millions of years ago, back into the atmosphere again. We have completely overloaded the natural systems of the earth, so that the amount of carbon dioxide the natural systems can take out of the atmosphere are far exceeded by the amount we are pumping into the atmosphere, and so the amount of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) in our atmosphere is increasing unsustainably, and this has now reached a crisis point.

The challenge facing humanity now, and it is a truly enormous challenge, is to very rapidly change how we do things so that our energy subsidy is back within sustainable limits again. By sustainable in this context I mean that the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we emit is within the limits that the earth’s natural systems can deal with, and that the amount of greenhouse gases are no longer increasing in the atmosphere. Nothing else has energy in such concentrated form as fossil fuels, but we have at this stage used a lot of them up, and must leave the rest of them where they are, in the ground. This means fundamentally re-examining literally everything we do, because everything we do requires an energy subsidy, and trying to do it in a way that minimises that energy subsidy. In reality this means that a lot of we do and take for granted in the modern world, we will simply have to stop doing, and very soon, as there is simply no way of continuing to do this in a sustainable way. I would put the aviation industry into this category, and I will deal with that in detail in another blog post very soon. Other things we do we will hopefully be able to continue doing, but maybe to a much lesser extent or by changing radically how we do it. I would put shipping in this category, for example.

Renewable energy sources (wind, solar, water, etc) will be able to provide some of the energy subsidy we need into the future in a sustainable way, but they will not be able to provide an energy subsidy to us to anything like the extent that we are used to in the “developed” world. We simply have to reduce our energy subsidy substantially. Those of us in the developed world are currently living as if we have 3 or 4 planets. We only have one. In energy terms, single planet living means we have to reduce our consumption of energy subsidy to a third or a quarter of what it currently is. This doesn’t mean just turning off a few lights and using a bit less electricity. Everything we consume is embodied energy. We have to cut our consumption to only the essentials. We have to travel a huge amount less and better. We have to use way less energy in our homes: bye-bye tumble drier, bye-bye air conditioner and bye-bye a lot more gizmos and gadgets. If we humans are to survive on this planet in any sort of numbers, we have to live a hell of a lot smarter than we do today. And we only have a decade to make substantial changes. The emergency is now.

At the start of the Industrial Revolution there were less than a billion humans on the planet. The population is now approaching 8 billion, and is expected to rise to approaching 10 billion. This population explosion has been mirrored by an explosion in our energy subsidy. In many ways our population explosion is dependent on that energy subsidy. This leads to the thorny question: how many humans is planet Earth able to sustain? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I intend to return to explore it in detail in a later blog post.

For the moment, for there to be any hope of single planet living, we must develop a deep understanding of the energy subsidy we rely on, and the implications of that. There is energy in everything, and everything is energy. We must learn to live with a lot less energy. We must learn to live with a lot less of everything.

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SinglePlanetLiving1 – What is Single Planet Living?

December 29th 2018

This is the first instalment of a series of blog posts I intend to write throughout 2019, looking at ways we in Ireland can reduce the negative impacts of how we currently live, so that over the next decade or so we can substantially decarbonise what we do, to give us a chance of mitigating the worst effects of climate breakdown.

This is written primarily in response to the IPCC SR15 report (https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/), published earlier in 2018, in which the case for reducing carbon emissions by 45% globally by 2030 is outlined. In Ireland, to quote our Taoiseach, we are the “climate laggards” of Europe. For Ireland, given our already overly high carbon outputs, this means we need to reduce our carbon emissions by more than 50% in the next decade or so, and then continue to reduce carbon outputs for the following decades. This is possible, though it is an enormous challenge. We simply as a society have not taken climate breakdown seriously at all, and we have not, and are not, adapting how and what we do to take climate into consideration. If we are to achieve anything like this level of reduction, we must work collectively together, every single one of us, to try to achieve this. There is simply no room on the bus for laggards.

We only have one planet to live on, albeit one very beautiful planet. Those of us in the “civilised” west are currently living as if we have 3-4 planets, in terms of the carbon and other resources we are using. What we are doing is inherently unsustainable; literally the planet cannot support that level of consumption of resources. There are a group of technogeeks, mostly centred around Elon Musk, who think that in order to maintain this level of consumption, we should start mining the moon, Mars, or any other available planetary bodies. This is patently ludicrous if considered from an energy perspective. Surely it is much better that we learn to live well, within the finite resources provided to us by our beautiful home planet. This is why I have called this Single Planet Living.

The age we live in has been called the Anthropocene, which literally mean that human activity is now the dominant factor affecting our climate and environment. We must get out of the Anthropocene as quickly as possible, and get to a state where the human population is living within the constraints imposed by nature and the finite resources of our home planet, so that we are no longer having such a negative influence on the very systems which sustain our lives on this planet. This requires us to fundamentally reassess our relationship with nature and the environment around us.

We have, for too long, generally viewed ourselves, Homo Sapiens, as somehow separate and “above” nature, rather than just one species among a myriad of interconnected species which make up the complex web of life on this planet. In the book of Genesis in the Bible it says: “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” We have taken this idea of dominion literally, and have sought to dominate nature, rather than working with nature, and being a part of nature, and it is largely, in my opinion, this attitude which has led us to the crisis we are now facing. This is the key reason we have put the earth systems under immense pressure, and why we are in the middle of a mass extinction, as we have forced nature to react to our abuse of its generosity and abundance.

This also leads us to the key obstacle, and that is that the vast majority of people are happy to keep going with “business as usual”, and see no sense of crisis. There are many names for what is happening: global warming, climate change, climate breakdown, etc. At a recent meeting I was at Dr. Margaret Desmond of the EPA described it as: “It’s not about climate change, it’s about everything change.” Unfortunately the number of people who see is this way, while it is steadily growing, is still realistically a tiny minority of the population.

Therefore the key challenge facing all of us is how to persuade our friends and family that, first of all there is a crisis, and that secondly, we have it within our grasp to rectify that crisis. Yes the changes we need to make are radical and extensive, but we humans have proven before that in times of crisis we can radical changes to how we go about our daily lives. I think the most startling example in recent history is how society changed so radically and extensively during the Second World War, from how the role of women changed, to the development of a myriad of new technologies, to setting the seeds of internationalism which resulted in the UN and the EU and other organisations. When you are in the middle of a war, it is easy to see you are in a crisis, and to adapt your behaviours to the common and collective good. The really difficult part of the current crisis is persuading people that it is in their own best interests to act in favour of the common good, and to ditch their own selfish objectives and desires. The great British film-maker Adam Curtis aptly called his examination of the roots of the consumer age “The Century of the Self” (which are available on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnPmg0R1M04&list=PL6pY_60DybELxkbu23bC6NahuxF1edoVw, though not correctly licenced!) Moving beyond this selfishness is our most difficult task.

Over the years, when I have entered discussions on this kind of thing with many people, the instinct is to always blame others. We can always point the finger at someone over there who is worse than us – that does not mean we have permission to do nothing. No-one on our little green island is living in such a way that they are in fact Single Planet Living. We are, as a nation, the worst per capita in Europe, and our first task is to move ourselves rapidly down that European league table. We all have a journey to make, and the first thing we must all do is accept that fact, and not blame others. The default Irish response to anything like this is to blame the politicians. This is a lazy and dangerous response. We elect politicians to reflect who we are as a population, so until we are ready as a population to meet the challenges ahead, and to make the necessary changes, we won’t have the politicians to enable those changes. Politics in Ireland follows, it doesn’t lead, and we actually don’t want it to lead, and we don’t vote, by and large, for leaders.

I hope that in reading this I have helped convince you, if you weren’t convinced already, that we are in a crisis situation, and that this crisis requires radical change in how we do everything. The time is short, but I am confident we can do this, as long as we do it together. Those who are reluctant to come on this journey must be convinced and cajoled, and ultimately coerced, into it. I hope and pray that in twelve years time, at the end of 2030, as we look forward to celebrating the start of 2031, that we will be well on our way to preserving life as we know it on this, our beautiful fragile planet. Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful 2019, and that we may all have the resolve to start this journey of change together.

Dominick Donnelly’s submission to the Oral Hearing on the proposed Ringaskiddy Incinerator

Please note that I was censored from reading the latter part of point 5 of this submission into the record at the hearing by the Inspector. It’s all about the money, and this tries to get to the heart of the money issues, but that was deemed to be irrelevant to the proceedings. We cannot live in fear of asking the difficult questions. If there is nothing to hide, then let them come out in the open. If they don’t, then they must have something to hide.

Carrigaline Court Hotel, Thursday 28th April 2016

1) Introduction:
I am Dominick Donnelly. I work as a secondary school teacher of Maths, Applied Maths and Physics in Cork City. While I currently live in Cork City, I have in the past 20 years lived in various parts of Cork Harbour, in Passage West, Cobh and Carrigaline. I have been involved with CHASE since its inception, and thereby with fighting this proposal. I had the extreme honour to be elected to Passage West Town Council for one term, and I served as Mayor of Passage West for a year, and I also chaired the CHEPA campaign to fight the Port of Cork’s proposed reclamation of the Oyster Bank off Ringaskiddy for a number of years. I am a long-standing member of the Green Party, but I wish to make it clear that this is my personal submission, and not that of the Cork Green Party, which will be delivered later in this hearing. I give this background information just to make it clear that I have had a long involvement with Cork Harbour politics. In this submission I will focus on a number of key issues which I think have not been adequately dealt with elsewhere, but I will not seek to labour points that I think have been dealt with sufficiently well by others.

2) This Incinerator is Not Needed Nationally or Regionally
When we started on this journey in Cork Harbour 15 years ago there were no mass-burn incinerators in the country. At present there is one in operation, in Carranstown Co. Meath, with a second enormous one under construction in Poolbeg, Dublin. These two combined have sufficient capacity to deal with the country’s waste suitable for incineration, particularly when you factor in that there a number of cement kilns around the country currently looking at using the same waste streams to fire their kilns. In this situation even the most ardent fans of incineration would see that it is highly premature to be considering adding to this incineration capacity at present, at least until Poolbeg comes on stream late next year, and to see how that affects the waste market. This is so enormous it is bound to have a large effect on the waste market nationally. Also given the fact that we are going to have to move towards a more circular economy in the very near future given that we live on a finite planet and there simply isn’t enough stuff on the planet for us to continue living the wasteful lives we currently do, there must be falling levels of waste arising in the coming decades, and more of this will be going for reuse and recycling. As a planning authority surely in it incumbent on the board to take into account what effect overcapacity of incineration in the country would have. The Swedes learned this lesson many years ago, and have relied on substantial amounts of imported waste to keep their incinerators going, including taking large amounts of waste from their neighbour Norway. We should learn from their lessons. At least the Swedes had the good sense to attach district heating systems to their incinerators and thus derive the maximum benefit from this noxious technology. Given the location of this proposal there is no realistic likelihood of this ever happening in Ringaskiddy. Indaver will say that under our national waste policy that each region should be dealing with its own waste, and that is true. But those regional waste regions were substantially redrawn by Minister Hogan in 2011, and if required they can easily be redrawn again. The residents in the area have always contested that the reason this proposed facility is located where it is adjacent to a port is to facilitate the importation of waste. To me that is the only plausible explanation for the location of this proposed facility.

3) Overdevelopment of the Ringaskiddy Peninsula
This incinerator is proposed to be located in what is surely the most overdeveloped part of the whole country. Enough is enough. On the Ringaskiddy peninsula 50 years ago there were a few small villages and a lot of farms. The amount, and national significance, of the developments that have taken place on the peninsula since have contributed enormously to the national economy and to general progress, but they have happened without any realistic development of the community infrastructure, and realistically it has to end. In the area you have an expanding port facility, the National Maritime College, the only naval base in the country, one of only a handful of crematoria in the country, the growing nationally and internationally significant iMERC campus, the blossoming tourism and heritage potential of Spike Island, along with an enormous amount of industry. All this with only one road in, an inadequate bus service, no hope of a rail service and a local infrastructure that is basically at breaking point. There is no other village in the country has had to endure this amount of development. How on earth could it considered appropriate planning to put an incinerator in on top of that? It just can’t.

4) Zero Acceptance by Local Population
What I fear most should this proposal be granted planning permission would be the effect of that decision on the local population around Cork Harbour. In my time I have canvassed a very large amount of houses on both sides of the harbour, and I have met a huge number of the wider harbour community. Were this development to go ahead, I sincerely believe that it would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. There is just absolutely no acceptance of the need for this facility, and were it to be granted permission large sections of the harbour population would I believe lose faith completely in officialdom in this country, and the mechanisms by which decisions are made on their behalf. What the consequences of this would be I don’t know, but there is certainly the potential there for things to get very ugly. I say this not by way of threat, but by way of my assessment of the mood and views of the population of the harbour area. Other developments have been opposed, but there has been a recognition of potential benefits of those developments too. In my experience, nobody feels that they would derive any benefit from this proposal, and in this way it is different to other developments, and the community response is also therefore different and more heartfelt.

5) National Policy and Politics
I am a political animal by my nature. Politics is often misconstrued, but it is at its core a mechanism by which decisions are reached on behalf of the population. All national policy comes about as a result of politics, including waste policy. This hearing has heard some very valuable contributions already from a number of politicians from the area, not one of whom it must be noted have spoken up in favour of this proposal, thus underlying the depth of the communities’ opposition. Whatever their personal convictions, no politician in the area is going to dare speak up in favour, as that would be political suicide. I wish to highlight a couple of decisions and how they have brought us to where we are today. Incineration was first put on the national agenda and became part of national policy about 20 years ago by a Fianna Fail led Government. Shortly afterwards a number of proposed incinerator applications began happening around the country, including in Ringaskiddy. Of all of those, most of the applications died a death, with only two getting permission to date, Carranstown and Poolbeg. Locally we thought this application had died a death too due to the valiant efforts of the community to fight it, until it reappeared on the agenda recently again. During the Government of 2007-2011 of which my own party was part, and my party colleague John Gormley was Minister for the Environment, significant changes were made to waste policy, including the introduction of incineration levies. He was unable to ban it outright as there were at that stage two existing planning permissions in place, but he made sure that they were not economically viable, and little progress was made on their construction. It was only with the advent of the Fine Gael / Labour Government in 2011 that incineration was put firmly back on the national agenda. One of the first decisions made by the incoming Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, or Minister against the Environment as I like to call him, was to get rid of the incineration levies, and to redraw the national waste regions. Much as I welcome the contributions of the local representatives to this hearing, none of them said anything about this decision of Phil Hogan’s at the time, and I find it duplicitous and nimbyist of them to oppose this application now. I ask the question of Fine Gael, and particularly Minister Coveney, were Fine Gael paid to remove the incineration levy? Obviously major lobbying of them went on, but I wonder how much of this lobbying went on within the confines of Fine Gael fundraising events such as golf classics or dinners? I do not expect an answer to that question, but it is to me the only rational explanation as to why the incineration levy was removed. It is the removal of the levy that has led directly to the construction of the incinerators in Carranstown and Poolbeg, and to this application now. There was thereby a huge financial incentive for those involved in incineration to have the levy removed. I also ask Indaver and John Ahern were they involved in any interactions with Fine Gael and Minister Hogan at this time? Has John Ahern or any other Indaver executives ever attended a Fine Gael fundraiser, such as a golf classic or a dinner? These seem to be the locations where much of national importance is actually decided, and if John Ahern has not got involved in this, then surely he is not doing his job properly. Again these are probably rhetorical questions and I do not expect to get a true answer.

6) Ireland Will Not Meet Its Emission Targets
Last week the EPA issued a report illustrating how Ireland has not a hope of reaching its greenhouse gas emission targets by 2020, and in fact we will be quite far away from them. This just highlights how we have failed, and continue to fail to take the issue of climate change seriously, both nationally and individually. This proposal can in no way be construed to be contributing in any positive sense to the reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions, and in fact by its very nature it would contribute to the continuation of the wasteful linear economy, rather than contributing to a shift to a more circular economy, which we desperately need if we are to have any hope of preventing runaway climate change in the near future.

I would like to finish Mr Inspector by reading a poem I wrote at the start of this hearing last week. I think it encapsulates the unbalanced nature of the proceedings here.

Round 3

Here we go again,
into the fray.

The Ringaskiddy Incinerator. Oral Hearing. Round 3.

Another bland hotel conference room,
Mr. Inspector on his dais.

To the right
a phalanx of corporate prostitutes in their grey uniformity,
keeping tight formation,
dutifully waiting to do their pimps’ bidding.
Let no-one break the line,
or dare show a glimpse of humanity.

To the left
a huddle of blinkered technocrats,
hoping to get out alive
so that they can go back,
back to hiding quietly
behind their layers of bureaucracy.
They are really not there to fight.

Out front
a motley rabble,
full of hubbub and colour and chaotic consternation
loud, proud and full of vigour
for the fight ahead.
At their centre, a quiet man in a suit
directing the show,
or more like letting the chaos unfurl gently,
the unkempt hair exposing his true loyalties.
He is not really a suit,
more at ease amongst the passions of the masses
than the cold conformity of complicity.

Amidst all this ruile buile of preparation
the fourth estate flit,
notepads at the ready,
thrusting microphones in front of all and sundry,
recording the battle cries and the bon mots.

At the top Mr. Inspector calls proceedings to order.
The rabble quietens and takes their positions,
armed only with love and passion
and bonds of conviction that bind them tighter than any mere mercenaries.
Let the battle commence.
I know which side I’m on.

Round 3

Round 3

Here we go again,
into the fray.

The Ringaskiddy Incinerator. Oral Hearing. Round 3.

Another bland hotel conference room,
Mr. Inspector on his dais.

To the right
a phalanx of corporate prostitutes in their grey uniformity,
keeping tight formation,
dutifully waiting to do their pimps’ bidding.
Let no-one break the line,
or dare show a glimpse of humanity.

To the left
a huddle of blinkered technocrats,
hoping to get out alive
so that they can go back,
back to hiding quietly
behind their layers of bureaucracy.
They are really not there to fight.

Out front
a motley rabble,
full of hubbub and colour and chaotic consternation
loud, proud and full of vigour
for the fight ahead.
At their centre, a quiet man in a suit
directing the show,
or more like letting the chaos unfurl gently,
the unkempt hair exposing his true loyalties.
He is not really a suit,
more at ease amongst the passions of the masses
than the cold conformity of complicity.

Amidst all this ruile buile of preparation
the fourth estate flit,
notepads at the ready,
thrusting microphones in front of all and sundry,
recording the battle cries and the bon mots.

At the top Mr. Inspector calls proceedings to order.
The rabble quietens and takes their positions,
armed only with love and passion
and bonds of conviction that bind them tighter than any mere mercenaries.
Let the battle commence.

I know which side I’m on.

Dominick’s submission to the Cork Cycle Network Plan

Background
I am a daily commuter cyclist, living and working in Cork City. I have been cycling in and around Cork City for the past fifteen years or so.

Cycle Lanes and Routes
First of all there has been a huge improvement in recent years in cycling infrastructure around the city, and I hope this improvement continues. I regularly use the new cycle lanes on both Anglesea Street / Parnell Place and Pope’s Quay, and these are both excellent. I used to use the old railway line from the marina to Rochestown regularly, and still do occasionally, and this too is excellent. The biggest issue with this route is the state of the road surface on Centre Park Road, which you must use to get to and from the city, which is shocking in places. This causes a definite hazard to cyclists using this route, as there are often huge potholes to negotiate, and you can often be left with the Hobson’s choice of ploughing on into a pothole, or veering out in front of a truck. I hope that this road can get a completely new surface in the near future.

I fully recognise that the potential for developing a complete cohesive cycling route around the city is not practical, as many of the city’s roads are too narrow. One route that could be developed I think is a two way route across the North channel of the River Lee, either at St. Patrick’s Bridge / Bridge Street or at Brian Boru Bridge / Brian Boru Street.

Bike Parking
There has been great improvement in bike parking facilities around the city in recent years, with a number of excellently sited bike racks. However some key locations are still lacking. Topmost of these, for me, is the English Market. There is great potential to put simple racks, probably best parallel to the walls rather than perpendicular, to which bikes could be locked on some of the laneways leading in to the market, such as Market Lane on the Oliver Plunkett Street side, or on the lane that used to have the Vineyard pub (sorry don’t know its name) on the Patrick’s Street side. Other locations I have noticed a lack, or insufficient, bike parking are Opera Lane, in the vicinity of Dunnes Stores on Patrick’s Street, the bus station, around Merchant’s Quay shopping centre, around the Gate Cinema, and around Cork Opera House, and also around Princes Street and McCurtain Street.

Also large sporting and entertainment facilities around the city are generally lacking any bike parking infrastructure, such as at Irish Independent Park, the soccer stadium at Turner’s Cross and Pairc Ui Chaoimh (which I hope can be sorted out in its current redevelopment). Also the Live at the Marquee event during the summer, while it has some bike parking, could do with much better, and maybe the Coke Zero city bikes could set up temporary stands at events like this.

Bike Pods and Bike Lockers
It would be extremely useful for people who want to leave their bikes for a few days or similar, or who have a particularly valuable bike with them, that there be paid bike lockers or bike pods or similar, at a couple of locations around the city. These could be charged on an hourly or daily basis. Suitable locations might be at the train station, the bus station, and maybe close to City Hall, or even within some the multi-storey car parks. These could be made dual purpose, for the use of motor cyclists as well as cyclists.

Bike Lifts for the Northside of the City
If we are truly to embrace cycling culture in Cork, a big obstacle to this are the hills on the North side of the city. The installation of bicycle lifts, similar to that in Trondheim in Norway, at a few key locations around the city could go a long way to opening up the north side of the city to cycling. I believe there is a French company marketing such technology. I have a number of suggested locations, such as St. Patrick’s Hill, Shandon Street as far as the north Cathedral, Summerhill North / Ballyhooly Road as far as Dillon’s Cross, and Popham’s Road, from near Blackpool Shopping Centre up to the church.

Making Work Places/ Shops/ Schools etc. more Cyclist Friendly
I think that the provision of cycling infrastructure should be fully integrated in to the planning process, so that any new developments, or any redevelopments, must provide appropriate cycling infrastructure as part of the development. I think this should apply to any sort of commercial development, or really any sort of development beyond a single private residence, including workplaces, shops, leisure facilities, schools, etc. Even private houses should be designed so that there is space to park bicycles. A key part of any design process should be the consideration of how someone arriving by bicycle at a location would fare. The following are some sample questions which could be used to test any new developments for cyclist compatibility. Where do they park the bicycle? Where do they store their helmet/ panniers/ rain gear, so that they don’t have to carry it all with them? Do cyclists need shower and / or locker facilities to freshen up and to store their gear? I think Cork City Council should consider providing a facility in the City Centre to facilitate those working or shopping in the city arriving by bicycle, where they can park their bicycle safely, where there are lockers for them to store their gear, and where there are showers available if they are arriving sweaty. Such facilities should be integrated into all larger workplaces, and where there is a concentration of smaller workplaces, such facilities should be provided communally.

Developing and Fostering a Culture of Cycling in Cork City and Environs
In order to develop a culture of cycling, it is first important to ask the questions as to what are the fundamental obstacles to this. In the last fifteen years or so that I have been cycling in Cork, the number of cyclists has increased dramatically, and if this growth is to continue, which is good for the general population in so many ways in terms of the environment, health, reduction of congestion and pollution, tourism, ease of mobility, and so on, the questions must be asked as to what is preventing more people becoming cyclists. This is not just a questions of hard cycling infrastructure, which I have already dealt with above, but is also a question of how to shift mindsets and open people up to the possibilities of cycling.

The biggest obstacle to the growth of cycling is fear. There is now largely a couple of generations in existence who have lived their whole lives using cars as their principal means of transport, and who either have never cycled, or who have only cycled as children before they were old enough to drive. There are also many parents who would not let their children cycle out of fear, even as teenagers. These are largely people who do not and have not cycled themselves. Overcoming these fears is not easy, and any schemes aimed at getting those who don’t / haven’t ever cycled out on bikes is to be encouraged. To that end, such events as the Rebel Pedal, the Cork Cycling Festival, family fun cycles, cycle to school days, charity fun cycles and so on, should be supported, encouraged and facilitated where at all possible. The long term benefits of getting people on to bicycles who haven’t cycled before are huge. Hopefully the recent introduction of the Coke Zero city bike scheme will encourage many of those who have never cycled to get out there and give it a go.

Another obstacle to the real growth of cycling is that many view it as purely a leisure or sporting activity, and not primarily as a mode of transport. While the leisure cyclists should certainly be supported and encouraged, my main concern is with cycling as a mode of transport, and many do not see it in this way. The Government’s bike to work scheme has certainly helped promote the idea of cycling as a principal mode of transport, but all possible avenues to promote this viewpoint should be explored and promoted. The introduction of cyclist friendly infrastructure within work places and schools, as outlined above, would certainly help.

It must be said that there are road users out there who neither expect, nor respect, cyclists. In my experience in the city, one of the main groupings that cyclists come into conflict with are taxi drivers. As taxi drivers are professional drivers, and their working days on the roads, they come into contact with many cyclists, and should be aware of the space cyclists need, and should also be aware of the hazards they can cause cyclists. However by their behaviour on the roads, it is patently clear that many, certainly not all, taxi drivers have no fundamental understanding of the risks they can pose to cyclists. I know that in other countries to overcome such issues, the car drivers have been taken out around the city on bicycles for a few hours, and they have the hazards caused by drivers pointed starkly out to them. I propose that, to start with, a group of taxi drivers be taken out by some experienced cyclists for a few hours around the city, as when they experience cycling from the cyclists’ perspective, they will hopefully change their behaviour as drivers as they become more aware of the hazards they pose to cyclists. Such a scheme may be possible in conjunction with the Coke Zero city bike scheme, who might be able to provide the bicycles for such an event.

Conclusion
That is all I have to say for now on the subject. If I can be of any further assistance, please feel free to get in touch. I look forward to the continuing development of cycling in and around the city, and to the development eventually of a cycling culture in Cork, as exists in many cities on the European continent already.

Bad election for the Green Party – Bad election for Ireland

While I am a bit down about my own result and that of my party nationally it must be put in perspective. Most people simply do not understand how important environmental issues are going to be over the coming years, including within the next five years of the local government term. In particular our media do not seem to have a clue.  In choosing to effectively exclude the Green Party from local Government for the next five years, the Irish electorate has demonstrated that it is far more interested in giving out and looking backwards, rather than planning for a safe future for us all, and this is a decision that the electorate will come to rue.  The only hope is that we stick at what we are doing in Government, putting the building blocks in place for us to deal with what is coming over the years ahead, and that in the next few years the Irish electorate, and the Irish media who have been dreadful over the past few years, start to understand what is really happening on our planet.  We have to get away from our obsession with money and economics (witness George Lee’s huge vote) and realise that economics is just one pillar of good decision making, with the environmental and social pillars having equal importance.  Unfortunately the electorate has all but eliminated those who understand the importance of the environmental pillar from local government, and largely replaced them with people who have limited understanding of any of the three pillars.  A sad day for the future of this country.

Cllr. Donnelly welcomes Minister Gormley’s clarification of waste policy for all planning authorities

3rd June 2009

Department of Environment circular to all planning authorities makes it clear that mechanical and biological treatments, not incineration, are to be the cornerstones of national waste policy in the future

The Green Party’s candidate for the Carrigaline area of Cork County Council and for Passage West Town Council, Cllr. Dominick Donnelly, has welcomed the letter which has been circulated to all planning authorities around the country from the Department of the Environment, which clarifies that waste policy in the country is changing, with the emphasis switching away from incineration towards mechanical and biological treatment. This circular comes in advance of the full review of national waste policy which is currently being undertaken by consultants Eunomia, and which is due to be complete in July.

Cllr. Donnelly said: “This clarification that incineration is no longer a cornerstone of national waste policy, coupled with the recent introduction of an incineration levy comparable to the landfill levy, is highly significant for the planning application currently before An Bord Pleanála for two incinerators at Ringaskiddy. The oral hearing for that application is due to resume next Monday, and surely the message is coming loud and clear from Government that incineration is no longer part of Government policy. Given that when the Ringaskiddy incinerators were granted planning five years ago by An Bord Pleanála it was solely on the basis that it was Government policy, this clarification from Minister Gormley, I think now makes it impossible for the board to reasonably grant planning for the Ringaskiddy incinerators.”

“As well as this circular, and the recent incineration levies, I have seen the text of an order which Minister Gormley will be issuing next week, which in effect reinstates the Proximity Principle. This effectively means that any incinerator or landfill can only accept waste from whichever of the eight waste management regions in which it is situated. The Ringaskiddy incinerators would therefore be only able to accept waste from within County Cork. This really makes them non-viable financially, and so should be another nail in their coffin,” continued Cllr. Donnelly.

Cllr. Donnelly concluded: “With this series of measures introduced by Minister Gormley in recent weeks, I hope it is now patently clear that incineration is no longer a key component of national waste management policy. While an outright ban on incineration is not currently possible due to existing planning permissions in Poolbeg in Dublin, and in Carranstown, Co. Meath, it is now clear that Government policy is heading in that direction. Incineration is so clearly not the way we should be dealing with our waste. A proper waste industry based on reuse, recycling within this country, and mechanical and biological treatments is the only policy that makes any sense, both in terms of economics and the environment.”

 

Full text of Department of the Envrionment circular to planning authorities:

May 2009

Update on progress in respect of implementing the waste management provisions of the Programme for Government

 I am directed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to update you on progress in respect of implementing the waste management provisions of the Programme for Government, and in particular the commitment to conduct an international review of waste management policy. 

 The Programme for Government makes major commitments in relation to national waste policy. In particular, there is an emphasis on moving away from the high reliance on incineration foreseen in the National Development Plan and reflected in the regional waste management plans for which the local authorities have statutory responsibility, generally operating in regional groupings. In this regard it is intended that there be an increased commitment to the use of alternative technologies, including those known as mechanical and biological treatment.

 The Department’s Statement of Strategy 2008-2010, which is published on the Department’s web site and which was noted by Government in July 2008, states:

 “The new Programme for Government indicates a further development of waste and resource policy in the direction of sustainability, in particular, to move away from mass burn incineration towards alternative technologies and to minimise waste going to landfill, subject to the outcome of the review of the waste management strategy. This major international review being undertaken by the Department will address how best to implement waste prevention and minimisation, and the emergence of new technologies in waste management.”

 Progress on the review of waste management strategy

Consultants have been retained to conduct the study of waste policy options which will underpin the conclusion of the overall review later this year. This work is well advanced and a series of interim reports has been considered by the Review Steering Group. It is considered that the study itself should be concluded on time, July 2009, with policy proposals being brought to Government shortly thereafter.

 Interim policy measures

While this work is on target, it is acknowledged that progress towards meeting Ireland’s targets under the Landfill Directive and the requirements of the recently adopted Waste Framework Directive cannot wait. Therefore the Minister is pressing ahead with key initiatives which are compatible with the overall objectives of the review in order to meet the targets. These include:

  • increase in the landfill levy and the introduction of a levy on incineration;
  • roll-out of brown bin collections;
  • intensifying efforts to promote at source/home composting;
  • supporting small-scale local composting initiatives;
  • encouraging access to waste streams for composting/anaerobic digestion, recycling and other processes high on the waste hierarchy; and,
  • source segregated collection of commercial biowaste.

 The Minister has also initiated a Strategic Environmental Assessment on proposed policy directions to the EPA and local authorities which would (in relation to their functions under the Waste Management Acts and any instruments made thereunder), inter alia, require the recipients to:

  • limit incineration capacity to ensure that waste is not drawn to incineration which could have been dealt with by recycling or other methods higher up the waste hierarchy;
  • refrain from exercising their powers in such a way as to direct waste to landfill or incineration.

 The proposed policy direction is subject to consultation with both the public and all stakeholders, including local authorities.

 The above are interim actions intended to help meet the Landfill Directive targets while implementing the commitments in the Programme for Government. The Minister considers that they are in line with the policies emerging from the overall review.

 Queries in relation to this Circular may be addressed to the undersigned. 

 Yours sincerely,

­­­­­­Michael Layde

Principal Officer – Waste Policy: Review and Regulation


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