Can the science that achieved so much so quickly see off the greatest threat of all - global warming?
Can the science that achieved so much so quickly in coming up with a Covid vaccine see off the greatest threat of all - global warming?
On Good Friday evening I stood in glorious sunshine on the bank of the pond in Cabragh.
Groups of children with grandparents climbed, ducked and wove around the Cosmic Walk in the sheer joy of being out in the great outdoors. Further along the path to the willow walk, an elderly man explained the extent of the wetlands to his adult daughter sharing his experiences of Cabragh long ago. A single octogenarian with cap and walking stick shuffled confidently along the path for wheelchairs while two old friends of many years chatted and laughed beneath the balcony and took in the scene. Here and there children’s bikes lay thrown around while their owners, nowhere to be seen, embarked on mini journeys of exploration.
I walked along the bank of the upper pond, the harshness of March still holding back the full emergence of spring but not the effervescence of a group of fast moving whirligig beetles, the first insects I have noticed on the ponds apart from the newly hatched tadpoles among the bulrushes.
If we continue to tread warily and if the vaccine rollout lives up to its promise the coronavirus will be on the way out. The threat of global warming is not. Can the science that achieved so much so quickly see off the greatest threat of all? Great targets of “zero net carbon” have been set so where are the logjams? Globally, the construction industry accounts for 38% of CO2emissions. Four billion tons of cement production a year account for 8%-only coal, oil and gas are bigger sources of greenhouse gases. There will have to be a sea change if we are to prevent the seas encroaching on great swathes of our island. Science tells us that we will never get to zero carbon using concrete and steel-timber is the only true carbon sink.
Trees are about 75% carbon, capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and transforming it into biomass. That carbon is still locked away if the timber is used for construction and the newly planted replacemement tree continues the good work of carbon sequestration. There is no reason why timber cannot be used for most types of building.
Cross laminated timber which is made from planes of pine or spruce glued at right angles is enormously strong as well as fire resistant. Other materials also have green credentials. Hemp can be woven into insulation panels, recycled products are enzyme bonded sheets of cardboard, ferrock which uses steel dust and timbercrete made of concrete and sawdust.
Trucking material from afar can be 15% of carbon footprint so local wood and even fired bricks, who knows now of the brickfields of Brittas? The only drawback is that everything takes longer as you have to cure timber for a year for example.
There have been numerous experiments with covering buildings with greenery. Boko Verticale opened in Milan in 2014 and has large planters on the ouside of its two towers. There are 21,000 items of flora of which 800 are deciduous trees which provide shade in summer while letting in light in winter. The global engineering group Arup have found that covering a fifth of the buildings in inner cities in greenery can reduce temperature peaks by as much as 10C. Watering all the greenery has led to developments in rainwater and grey water harvesting and the technology of solar panels, built in wind turbines and ground source heat pumps can turn the tide.
Right across Europe, citizens are buying into sustainable planning. Take Heidleberg of Student Prince fame as an example located deep in German car country. A new network of bicycle highways have sprung up. Ten years ago it created a new car free district for 6,000 people living in passive houses. Here, Cork is really active in the field of sustainability as is Limerick and Galway. We must move away quickly from the produce, consume and discard model.
The previous night to my ramble, we had the pleasant task of divvying out prizes to forty winners in our Easter Fundraising Draw of whom the main winner was Tammy Byrne who took home a lovely Easter hamper. Our thanks to all who organized, donated and participated in this online draw. Our thanks also to all who sent “preloved” or unwanted clothes for another fundraiser. The lorry will return in a week’s time so there is still an opportunity to donate. It all begs questions of “fast fashion” but at least they are being recycled.
Correction:In an article a fortnight ago I named the prizewinning photographer Larry Doherty's father as Larry Snr. He was of course Jack Doherty. R.I.P. Apologies to all. Stay safe, hold firm.
Slán go fóill.