Week 33: 22 April 2012
Lecturer in Oceanography, University of Southampton
The nation's power
People of Nowhereisland, we are the youngest nation on Earth, and will probably be one of its shortest lived. We came about as a result of human actions, melting the ice that lay above us, and will vanish beneath the sea as more ice melts around us. During our short existence we have to decide upon how we power our island. We are a developed nation, full of philosophers, scientists, artists, musicians, writers and economists. As such we will need power; to ensure our contact with the outside world via internet and our MacBooks; to enable our lights to keep us working through the hours of darkness on ever more important endeavors; and to maintain our Puligny Montrachet at just the correct temperature to help our brain cells in their creative activities.
No matter how environmentally astute we aim to be, we do need power to maintain our presence in the 21st Century, and to ensure the comfort of our citizens. It is up to us to decide which source of power we use.
We could build an oil, coal or gas fired power station. This would be the traditional option and arguably the easiest. We would need to import our fuel as our nation’s economic zone doesn’t include any hydrocarbon reserves. This will upset our tenuous balance of payments and will make us very reliant on the politics of the nation who provides us with our fuel. We would also have the eyesore of a power station on our land with its transport needs, inherent pollution (both operational and accidental), and Carbon emissions – we will be contributing to our own demise.
We could build a nuclear power station. We don’t have the raw fission materials and the building costs would be high, but we could export excess power to our neighbours. We would have to find somewhere to bury the waste though – any volunteers?
We should use the resources we have – the sun, the tides, the waves, the wind. We are a wind swept isle with sea all around us, and it has even been known to be sunny in May and September. No import of fuel, no dependence on third party states, no pollution, and we could export any excess power should we build over capacity. We would have to have solar panels on our buildings and ground source heat pumps beneath our gardens - though if they are built into the design of the new buildings we would hardly know they were there and costs would be very low. Wind turbines will appear in our field(s) and the local port would need to incorporate a tidal barrage making it slightly more expensive to build initially. The wind turbines will strike the occasional pigeon – though far fewer deaths than by our cats or patio windows (by a factor of 10,000) – and we won’t even be aware that tidal energy is being extracted. With this option, after the initial investment there will be no transport of fuel issues, no external politics, no ongoing fuel imports, and as an extra bonus no pollution.
Another island nation had to make a similar decision last year, the Isle of Wight. A far bigger and wealthier population than Nowhereisland, it opted to not use the wind, sun and sea that surrounded its pleasant nation. They were concerned about the view and inconvenience of changing their habits, opting instead to let the citizens of middle England have the inconvenience of local transport issues, pollution and HT power lines. They celebrated their victory against local power sources unaware that one day the people of middle England would decide to go green and only provide power for their own people, in a sustainable way that minimized traffic and pollution.
In order to help the world move forward Nowhereisland needs to propose to the UN a new philosophy of local communities generating the power they need, in anyway they choose. Having to make local decisions that would have a direct impact on the countryside and economy of each local community would make more people think about how they get not only their power but also other aspects of their daily life such as food and transport. By making power in everyone’s back yard would really focus decisions, Nimbyism will be a thing of the past. We may be a small nation, but one small and positive step from Nowhereisland can still lead to one big step for humankind, and for a better planet.
Dr. Simon Boxall is a lecturer in Oceanography at the University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre (UK), and is lead scientist on the Cape Farewell project (capefarewell.com). He has worked on secondment for projects for UNESCO, The European Union Research Centre, The World Bank, The British Council, and European Space Agency over the years. Current research covers a spectrum of topics from climate change in the ocean to coastal dynamics and has carried out research in marine oil spill detection, tracking and clean up. He has produced a number of curriculum materials for UK Schools working with Nuffield Foundation, and co-ordinates courses for teachers in science to enable them to introduce oceanography to classroom activities. He has also been working with a Darwin anniversary initiative on marine biodiversity in South America which has been funded by the British Council.
For more information see http://www.capefarewell.com/people/science/simon-boxall.html