Thursday, 25 February 2010

A Whiter Shade Of Green - Mr Greenacres Has A Look At The Winter Olympics

Dear friends, never let it be said that your Green Sage doesn’t embrace at least SOME new things. Now here is a very simple modern invention that’s totally brilliant – straight out of the Dragon’s Den. Picture if you will a 2” diameter plastic roller, some 4” long, a bit like a mini paint roller but with the handle in line with the roller body, covered with reams and reams of double sided tape all rolled round and round. You simply peel off a layer of plastic film to reveal a new sticky surface that rolls over soft furnishings and clothes picking up all the dirt and debris in its path – and that includes the dreaded CAT HAIRS.

Now you know, Humphrey is a nature lover, a real out and about little fellow, always following me around the garden or workshop in fair weather but in the depths of a cold, damp, bleak mid-winter he gets terribly bored and moody and tries to get up to all sorts of mischief about the house. One of his favourite winter pastimes is trying to uncover a new secret place for a kip – preferably on some of my clothes if I’m stupid enough to leave them lying about anywhere – he’s even been known to knock a cardboard box off a chair to get on the cushion underneath. Trouble is — beastly grey and white hairs everywhere – YUK! I nickname him the abominable snowman. What a mess – but now I have the answer – roller-bowler-boo to you Humphrey – nasty hairs all stuck to my new roller gizmo.

I’m not too bright eyed and bushy tailed at the moment, chums, even with spring on the way I’m distinctly off colour, all boggle headed and bleary eyed, not on top form at all. True I’ve just recovered from a nasty bout of flu but that’s not it – I’ve been burning the midnight oil, staying up far too late into the small wee hours watching all the thrills and spills of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics on BBC.

I’ve seen things I never knew existed or even thought possible. Brand new Olympic sports like snowboarding – with its amazing flying acrobats – or ski-cross where four skiers race each other to the bottom of the course. I’ve learnt about long track and short track ice skating, and curling, I’ve seen the spectacle of 140kph bobsleighs and I must confess I’d never heard of ‘Skeleton Sliding’ before last week. Imagine a miniature sledge appearing to be little bigger than a tea tray – the rider sprints along the top of the course and leaps on, head first, and hurtles down the infamous Whistler Sliding track at speeds of over 80mph. Three cheers for Britain’s Amy Williams who won gold at this little known event – HOORAH!

And whilst we’re on the subject of hoorahs we’d better save some puff for Gregor Robertson, Vancouver’s dynamic and forward thinking young mayor. Since he took office in December 2008, Mayor Robertson has made it his mission to put Vancouver firmly on the map – as the greenest city in North America and to make Vancouver 2010, the first ever carbon neutral Olympic Games.

So what do we know about Vancouver? Capital of British Columbia, located in the far south-west corner of Canada, just 30 miles from the U.S. border, this coastal city was named after British explorer George Vancouver who landed here in the 1790s. Sawmills were opened in 1867 and a logging industry was established in the area. When the railroad came in 1887 it became a trade route to the orient. Today Vancouver is the third largest Metropolitan area in Canada and its eighth largest city. It has a population of 578,000 (less than 10% of London) and has remained very diverse ethnically with 52% of residents not speaking English as a first language. It’s also the birthplace of Greenpeace and a world leader in Hydro-electric power – 90% of electricity comes from renewable sources.

Mayor Robertson has sanctioned the introduction of ‘Vancouver Green Capital’ and says: “We’re saying we’re open for business and the days of Vancouver being seen as a sleepy, laid-back West Coast town are in the past”. Mayor Roberston is a 45 year old former organic farmer who ran the Happy Planet juice company and is also a committed cyclist. His achievements in the city so far are quite remarkable. In February 2009, he launched his ‘Greenest City Initiative’, which includes policies on: Energy Efficiency, Green Economy, Green Jobs, Nature and Green Spaces, Clean Air, Clean Water, Local Food and Protecting Health. He then set about: doubling Vancouver’s cycle infrastructure budget – introducing new cycle lanes including one across a major city bridge, expanding the city’s ‘car free days’, and setting ground breaking standards for electric vehicle charging in new buildings. He put in place several other strategic initiatives including a new Economic Development Strategy for Vancouver and a Low carbon Economic Development Zone in order to promote economic activity and create jobs. “We’ve got cutting-edge businesses, we have the opportunity to lead the world in green technology research and development and we have a dynamic highly educated and creative workforce”. Not bad for the first year in office! And then he began to focus on the forthcoming Winter Olympic Games.

Of course Gregor Robertson can’t do it alone, he’s the leader of a whole green movement. The Vancouver Organising Committee (VANOC) worked with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for three years to achieve the greenest possible Winter Olympics. Once upon a time the Winter Olympics could be held in a sleepy Alpine village – not so anymore – this world event now attracts over 7000 visiting athletes, coaches and officials and requires a city venue with substantial, hi-tech and sometimes purpose-built facilities. Vancouver is the third games to be held in a major city. Salt Lake City was the venue in 2002 and Turin in 2006. These new games can have a huge environmental impact – villages, stadiums and ice rinks to be built, new roads or rail connections – or worse, whole sections of forest cut down for the construction of ski jumps and bobsled runs. And what happens to all these facilities after the games have finished? So there was quite a challenge in Vancouver to achieve a zero-carbon Winter Olympics. Did they manage it? And if so how?

Well, the starting point was, why build new facilities if we can manage with what we already have? Saves time, money, environmental impact and of course you don’t have to worry if construction work will be finished on time. To this effect it was decided to hold the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in the existing Canadian Football League Stadium, whilst ice hockey events are being staged in its NHL rink, even though the size of the ice does not meet current Olympic standards. Nowadays two massive media centres are required for an Olympic games, one for broadcast and one for print. Both these facilities have been incorporated into the Convention Centre that overlooks the harbour.

Some new construction has taken place, a nine block Olympic village for example, but it has been built to the highest green standards – half the buildings have energy efficient green living roofs, clad with grass, there is a low flush toilet system that uses recycled rainwater, separate bins for compostable waste, and an energy generation unit that converts sewage to power. In fact organisers are claiming it to be a “net zero building” that produces as much power as it consumes. Last month the Vancouver Olympics Athletes Village was awarded its own medal: the highest environmental certification in the world, ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (or LEED) Platinum’. After the Games, the village will become environmentally friendly apartments.

Other venues also have green technology – heat from the curling rinks refrigeration plant is used to warm an aquatics pool, the day lodge at Whistler Olympic Park features an on-site waste water treatment plant and the Whistler Sliding Centre uses heat from the tracks refrigeration system to help heat the buildings. “We feel like we’ve raised the bar’, Robertson said. “Some of these technologies will be a legacy for generations to come that will benefit cities all over the world”.

The Games' green performance will be very carefully monitored and UNEP will produce an ‘Environmental Assessment Report’ later this year but we can already see that the first five days readings showed energy saving methods to have saved 112,700 kilowatt hours – a 16% saving compared to conventional buildings and don’t forget that 90% of power is generated from renewable sources. VANOC is also using the Games to inspire broader awareness and action on climate change solutions. Together UNEP and VANOC launched a ‘Do Your Part’ video contest that called on young people across Canada, aged between 13-24, to produce a short 90 second video or animation clip to show youngsters how to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle both during and beyond the 2010 Games. This is part of a wider ‘Vancouver 2010 Sustainability Program’.

Obviously Mayor Robertson has a car and driver at his disposal to whisk him through the Olympic crowds but on most days he can be seen arriving for events on his trusty mountain bike, with the bottoms of his suit trousers tucked into his socks. Mass transit is a key to sustainable travel and much has been done to promote this in Vancouver, for example a day’s worth of free transit travel is included in the price of ticket and there is no spectator parking at the venues. There is also a fleet of hydrogen-powered SUVs and buses for Olympic use. Even the Olympic torch is 90% recyclable and emits minimal greenhouse gases and the Gold, Silver, Bronze medals are made from recycled electronic waste.

There have been concerns that Climate Change has begun to affect the Winter Olympics. Did anyone notice that the temperature in London at the end of February was actually 8ºC lower than Vancouver? Well, they did have problems with the weather, after a long period of unusually warm weather, heavy rain washed 40cm of snow off the slopes and snow had to be imported in by truck and helicopter and kept topped up throughout the event! Organisers insist that the snow emergency only boosted the carbon footprint by less than 1% and they will still meet all their environmental goals.

Another criticism centred on the felling of thousands of trees to make way for a new highway and cross-country skiing trails. The organizers, via private sponsorship, have put in place what they believe to be comprehensive carbon offsetting projects – with at least $3million investment in clean-energy projects. Half gets invested in British Columbia projects such as a cement plant that burns construction debris or a greenhouse heated with wood chips whilst the other half goes to projects around the world.

The travel from the 1.6million spectators the Games will have generated, an estimated total of 268,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases – I dread to think what it would have been if Britain had staged the games!

Mayor Robertson’s goal goes beyond a green Games, he wants to use the Olympics to help develop a new clean-technology industry base around Vancouver – to see the city as a hub for green jobs and sustainable industry – a major player in the seismic shift towards a green economy. He predicts that the new green businesses will “thrive as they roll out their goods and services to other cities that are still playing catch up”.

Wow! What a story and I bet you thought the most exciting thing about the Games was the Great Britain 4-man bobsleigh crashing on turn 13 at nearly 150kph! I can’t help thinking of our very own Mayor here in the Borough of Barnet, who just last year, at the opening ceremony of the 2009 Greenacre Bicycle Rally was politely heckled by a cyclist, “Mr Mayor, can’t we do more for cycling in this borough?” He replied, “Well, what exactly do you want me to do?” When the cyclist speedily said, “How about better cycle training, more cycle stands, or what about some proper dedicated cycle lanes?” our wonderful Mayor replied, “I’ve always been against cycle lanes, because they slow up the traffic.” And all this in front of the press and 169 assembled cycles! Not for nothing is he nick-named Toad of Toad Hall. No green medals for you Mr Toad! And another 3 cheers for Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vancouver B.C., green capital of North America.

No Humphrey, I will not build a cat sliding mud track in the back garden. Come on we’ll have a look at how the bulbs are doing. Keep happy, comprades, Spring is on the way and all the beautiful, beautiful flowers, till next time, adieu mes amis.

(From an article published in the Spring 2010 edition of The Greenacre Times)

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