In general I am quite impressed with the 2010 Throne Speech, especially as regards its comments relating to the environment and energy. About four paragraphs of the speech spoke directly on these issues, and the ideas touched upon in these seem generally quite progressive. My objective here is to look at what these ideas are and what else could be done, as well as cover areas which seem to have been neglected in this speech (such as Transport, which did not get a single mention).
For the ease of readers I will copy the relevant sections of the 2010 Throne Speech here (in italics), followed by their review. After this I will discuss some issues that were not included in the speech but are worthy of consideration for the Government, in my opinion.
Madam President and Members of the Senate, Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly, the environmental miracle of Bermuda’s coral reefs must be preserved. During this Session the Legislature will be invited to take note of a report entitled “A Summary of the Economic Valuation of Bermuda’s Coral Reefs” prepared by the Department of Conservation Services. The Government will lead the development of sustainable coral reef management, prioritising the passage of legislation specific to marine ecosystems.
I welcome the Government’s intention to develop a sustainable management program for our coral reefs. Our reefs provide us with several vital ecosystem services, namely protection from erosion from waves, fish to eat, and the natural beauty of our waters. In addition they provide important services from a carbon sequestration and biodiversity perspective, and they also have some important cultural and scientific benefits for our people. I have only read the Executive Summary of the valuation of our reefs, but it looks quite good and can serve an important pedagogical tool to convey the importance of our reefs and natural environment, and I would like to see this acknowledgement fully incorporated into our planning for any developments that may impact our coral reefs.
While I welcome the initiative for our coral reefs, I do think that we should also look into other vital ecosystems of relevance for Bermuda. Chief among these should be our mangroves and seagrasses, which have seen major declines (especially mangroves) over the last century. These habitats also provide important services for protecting us against wave-erosion and storm surges, and also contribute greatly to our fisheries (serving as important nurseries for fish and lobsters) and also provide important carbon sequestration and biodiversity contributions for the island. They are also both important for tourism, both in a general sense of aesthetics and snorkelling, but also for the importance of our sea turtles, which would appear to be a developing eco-tourism niche for the island.
As a result, I would like to see a study, similar to that of the economic valuation of our coral reefs, initiated for our mangroves and seagrasses. These habitats too are threatened by various developments, and as such extra support for them, like that suggested for coral reefs, should be developed. Furthermore, an aggressive mangrove restoration project, particularly along the rim of Castle Harbour (along the southern edge of the Causeway and the airport) could provide some additional protection to these important aspects of our national infrastructure, as well as potentially helping with the ecological restoration of Castle Harbour, still suffering from the negative environmental consequences of its dredging for constructing the airport. In the long run this could also provide numerous positive externalities for the country, namely in boosting our long-term fisheries and providing a new eco-tourism attracting. The carbon sequestration potential of such a project may also help, even in some small way, off-set the greenhouse gas emissions related to international transport to and from our island home.
In a similar vein, Bermuda remains a comparatively clean Island, but this reputation is under threat. Violations of the Waste and Litter Control Act 1987 through improper setting out of waste, littering and illegal dumping is threatening the health of our nation and harming Bermuda’s land and marine environment. The Government will invoke powers invested by the Waste and Litter Control Act to combat this problem on several fronts. Upon consultation with Bermuda’s environmental non-governmental organisations, the Government will prohibit the importation and use of certain materials that are deemed to exacerbate the litter problem and will invoke the waste haulier licensing requirement in the Act to combat illegal dumping.
I strongly welcome these developments. While the Throne Speech itself did not specify what materials may be involved, subsequent news reports have indicated this policy may involve restrictions, or all out bans, on plastic bags and balloons, both of which have serious negative consequences for our marine life (and also embody rather large greenhouse gas emissions in their production and transportation). Particularly affected by these products are our sea turtles, for whom Bermuda is increasingly recognised as an important location in the early life-cycle stages of, particularly, the endangered Green Turtles. Our turtle populations are also increasingly important from an eco-tourism perspective, and these developments will only benefit the further evolution of Bermuda as an eco-tourism center.
In addition to these issues, I would like to see the development of a green paper to investigate the potential for a Bottle Bill for Bermuda. Glass bottles are by far much less carbon-intensive than aluminium and plastic containers, but they also pose some challenges for Bermuda from a public health and conservation biology perspective. From a public health position they are ideal containers, once discarded as litter, for breeding mosquitoes. While we fortunately are free from the scourge of Yellow Fever that seriously affected our population in earlier times, their is the risk of new diseases, such as malaria and West Nile virus, which can be transmitted through mosquitoes. While these are not immediate threats at the moment (with malaria less likely than West Nile virus), they are potential problems that we would be wise to continue preventing. Glass bottles also have the potential to cause lacerations, particularly when the glass shards are hidden in grass and sand, and pose particular risks to children. Tourism too could benefit from this, as, while no-one likes to see litter or slice their feet up, it is important to make our visitors want to come back, and litter and lacerations isn’t exactly a good recipe for that.
From a conservation point of view, the endemic rock lizard, the Bermuda Skink, is quite endangered, and particularly vulnerable to dying in glass bottles. Skinks are attracted to decaying smells, particularly fish and rancid beer/alcohol. Skinks are thus attracted to discarded bottles and, if possible, will enter them to consume what they can. The problem with this is that while they can easily go in, they cannot very easily exit. Skinks possess claws, but not pads like the Anolis lizards (the more commonly encountered chameleon and Warwick lizards, also the rarer Bajan lizards localised in Somerset) which allow them to almost defy gravity and walk on glass. As such, our skinks find themselves trapped within bottles and eventually die, either through heat exposure (bottles act as mini-glasshouses) or through starvation and dehydration. Reducing the incidence of discarded bottles could help reduce the pressures on this important and endangered part of our biological heritage.
There are, of course, pros and cons involved with bottle bills, but I believe that a green paper on the subject would at least help with working out the value of such a policy, as well as raise awareness of the issues that discarded bottles raise.
As an island which relies on rain as its primary source of drinking water, increased demand but lower rainfall has strained existing systems. The Government will develop a Water Supply and Servicing Master Plan for Bermuda. This plan will evaluate our water infrastructure, determine Government’s necessary reserves and consider whether a regulatory authority is required.
I welcome this development as well. Bermuda has always had to be mindful about its potable water supplies, and every Bermudian grows up learning to conserve water as much as possible. The Government has in recent years put in place some helpful projects to help increase our supply of potable water, particularly with the construction of reverse osmosis plants. Reverse osmosis plants, great technology that they are, should not be seen as a silver bullet for our water issues, but only as one tool at our disposal.
There are extensive water catchment systems on public lands (including Morgans Point) which have been in some degree of disuse, and this is unfortunate. While the Government has made some efforts to repair these systems, much more could still be done. A strong commitment to bringing disused (or underused) water catchment systems back into full use would go some way to reducing our growing dependence on reverse osmosis plants (which require increasingly specialised parts, as well as electricity).
In addition, while most residential houses have their own cesspits, the City of Hamilton has a general sewage system. This sewage is piped out of the City and simply deposited off of Hungry Bay (south of the Botanical Gardens). While it is not clear what the ecological consequences of this system are for our corals and general marine environment, what is clear is that we are missing an opportunity to produce gray water for non-drinking purposes (and thus reduce our pressure on potable water supplies). While the technology does exist to produce quality potable water from this wastewater, even some basic sewage treatment would be sufficient to produce gray water which may be used for watering our plants, which has benefits from a purely aesthetic point of view for residents, and a wider benefit in ensuring the natural beauty of our island from a purely tourism perspective. The construction of the new hospital offers a good opportunity to also include the construction of such a basic sewage treatment plant, and I feel this deserves consideration by Government.
Madam President and Members of the Senate, Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly, energy demand and the consequences of increased use are global issues. For Bermuda, the government will mount an energy conservation campaign targeting young people with a view to creating a lifelong sense of personal responsibility in the conservation of energy. Incentives promoting investment in an alternate, green energy source by homeowners and businesses will continue to be promoted.
These ideas are good, but there is not enough detail to know exactly what is meant by them. At best one assumes this means further tax breaks on the importation of alternative energy technologies, as well as increased educational campaigns on energy conservation. Ideally this should also include changes to planning policies, requiring all new buildings to incorporate passive energy savings (in their design and material composition) as well as having some renewable energy technologies incorporated in their design. Even the introduction of all houses needing to produce 10% of their energy (or savings thereof, such as with solar water heaters), or all commercial buildings providing 25% of their own energy, would greatly reduce our overall demand on fossil fuels. In addition, there is the potential for our bus shelters to feature renewable energy sources, both to provide basic security lighting and to feed into the national gird.
While there are good reasons to maintaining our aesthetic Bermudian building style, this most be balanced with our need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It should be possible to successfully incorporate both positions in our planning policies.
In addition to the above, it is noted that the 2010 Throne Speech fails to mention the ‘national tree planting’ campaign that was mentioned in Ms. Paula Cox’s successful leadership campaign. I am confident that this was simply due to limited space in the speech itself, as well as an indication that the policy is still in its early stages of being developed. I eagerly await additional information on what this policy will entail; for example, will it be a purely public initiative, where trees are planted on public lands, or will it involve subsidies to encourage plantings on private lands, or something else, such as a ‘Kyoto gift’ of a tree to each student in the public education system?
One does assume however that such a tree planting campaign is restricted solely to native and endemic trees (such as cedars, palmettos and olivewood). The widespread planting of these species would bring various benefits to the island, particularly from a biodiversity perspective, but they may also bring additional benefits. They are particularly suited for our island climate and more resilient to drought and storms than most introduced species, and thus result in less hurricane damage (both in debris and overall appearance, post-hurricane). Additionally, they can enhance our cultural heritage, and could be used as part of a coordinated push to make Bermuda an eco-tourism destination. Trees also have a valuable carbon sequestration potential, and may help off-set, even a little, our carbon footprint as a nation dependent on imports.
Additionally, while their widespread planting along crucial routes and among key infrastructure may reduce the impact of hurricanes on these routes and key points, the Regiment could also be involved in the culling of invasives (particularly Brazil Pepper), and in the process hone their skills for post-hurricane operations.
While I feel that this initiative should be restricted solely to natives and endemics, I think an exception can be made for fruit trees, particularly citrus trees. There seem to be a number of acres zoned as agricultural which appear to have fallen into disuse. This is unfortunate, as it means a loss of some of our cultural heritage. Additionally, it means we are even more dependent on imports of various foodstuffs which we could otherwise produce domestically. Whether it would be best to provide subsidies to owners of these lands, or if it would be more efficient to introduce a carbon tax on goods which may be produced domestically, making it more profitable for local production, or a combination of the two, through some sort of Pigovian tax, is something that would be worth investigating.
There is also the potential to use the national tree planting project to assist with rehabilitation of prisoners. There have been some studies in the UK and the USA involving such schemes and they have met with various successes, which we may be able to replicate here.
In the past the Government, through the former Ministry of Works and Engineering, had made some effort to restore the Pembroke Canal and mitigate some of the flooding events that occur in the area, the continuation or expansion of this project is not mentioned in the 2010 Throne Speech. It is my belief that this project deserves additional investment, especially as it could be tied in with the ongoing development of the North Hamilton Economic Empowerment Zone, as the terminus of the canal borders part of this scheme. In the early part of the 20th Century Pembroke Canal was actually a minor tourist attraction, and there is the potential for the improvement of the canal, especially for wildlife, to aid in the regeneration of the areas it passes. The creation of a ‘canal trail’ is even possible, which could serve as a component of an eco-tourism product.
From my review of the 2010 Throne Speech I have not found any references to transport related issues. Perhaps this is not surprising, as we have a new Minister of Transport and the previous Minister is no longer available for consultation. As such, there may not have been enough time since the election of the new Leader to have finalised any policies for this field. Additionally, Bermuda does actually have a very well developed transport infrastructure, especially compared to other similar jurisdictions, as well as the bulk of the USA. Nonetheless, I do feel there are some policies that the Government may wish to consider in this field.
Our bus network is actually quite efficient, although some more minor routes are not served regularly enough (or long enough throughout the day) to provide a strong enough incentive to decrease private transportation on these routes. While it may not make sense to send a full bus on these routes, as they would be under-utilised, the introduction of smaller buses (in between our ‘pink and blues’ and private mini-buses) may instead be efficient for these routes. In addition, some people may be put off from using public transportation due to security issues, as at night time bus shelters may appear unsafe to some members of our community. As a result there is an argument here for the introduction of some security lighting within shelters (although care will have to be made to ensure these cannot be easily vandalised). The addition of solar or micro-wind generating technologies on bus shelters could be used to power such lights, and the use of LEDs may make the best energy conservation use.
In addition to GPS in our taxis, an argument could be made to also install them in our buses and ferries. Through such technology we could introduce an internet and/or phone system where users can find out how long the bus and ferry will be before arriving at their stop. In truth, our buses and ferries are relatively punctual, but the addition of such a system may be useful for residents and tourists alike. It could also assist transport planners with refining the public transport network.
There are ongoing concerns regarding the ferry service, although I acknowledge that Government has recently communicated that they are addressing these. The ferries, and water transportation as a whole, offer us some great opportunities to reduce congestion on our roads. I would like to see the ferry network expanded, with the potential for a new route servicing North Shore investigated. Potential stops could include Francis Patton School dock, Flatts (especially due to the popularity of the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo) and North Village.
There are ongoing concerns about the size of vehicles on our roads. The Government may wish to re-investigate the relaxation of laws in this area which have occurred over the last decade as a result, as restricting cars to compact size is no doubt more cost effective and practical than expanding the width of our road network.
I would have liked to have seen an explicit commitment to reducing our fossil fuel use from transport mentioned in the 2010 Throne Speech. While increasing the use of public transportation is key to this, there is also room for encouraging greater use of electric, hybrid and generally more fuel efficient vehicles for private transport purposes. Government could encourage a transition towards greater use of these vehicles through bans on cars not achieving a set fuel efficiency level, as well as providing greater subsidies for electric and hybrid cars. The widespread use of electric cars would, of course, increase the demand on our electrical power generation, but from a carbon footprint perspective (especially if one also factors in carbon equivalents of fertilisers and biodiversity impacts) this is more efficient than encouraging biofuels (with the exception of domestically produced biofuels, say, from cassava plants).
I would also welcome the Government investigating the potential of an island wide bicycle deposit scheme, similar to that recently introduced in London and well established in other European countries (particularly France and Denmark) as well as parts of the USA and Australia. While there are already concerns about cycling in Bermuda, such a scheme has the potential to encourage greater use (and thus increasing awareness of cyclists by motorists), and could make particular use of the extensive Railway Trail (and thus avoiding road traffic). There are potential public health benefits here (due to increased physical activity of citizens) as well as potential tourism benefits (for one thing, it would be hoped that tourists are more familiar with cycling than using mopeds), although concerns over safety would still need to be addressed (cycling helmets, amongst other things).