The weather is a great test of an island’s resolve.
It may be fashioned by brollies and wellington boots, or more elaborately in kayaks down Parliament Street in Ramsey, but when Douglas promenade of recent months, tied down its hair bonnets and donned the log flume poncho, few of us expected the Irish Sea to come splashing like it did.
Easterly-blown waves not only engulfed the capital’s seaside but ripped up the walkway at the bottleneck Kiosk and flung a formation of sand dunes in front of the Villa Marina colonnade. Novelties yes, but stark reminders too of when the elements combine.
Battered railings and flooded gardens aside, it is the ocean spray felt some hundred feet atop the cliff at Onchan head where the salt is strewn all over the parked cars along Imperial Terrace that offers another perspective to our Island’s vulnerability.
Over in Tesco, there’s tumble weed down the vegetable aisles.
‘There’s a boat in the morning’ goes the Manx proverb. But actually there wasn’t, for 3 days.
And so the punters are with their smartphones taking photos of plastic crates empty with black bin liners as if it’s some art installation.
It’s a supermarket exhibit, an expression of our reliance on imports.
Our self sufficiency is called into question when the freights don’t arrive and the shelves go bare. Like many of us, Andrew Newton understands the survivalist notions in these times of panic buying the baked beans, but also recognises an approach of not just self reliance, but one that is utilitarian in regard to the Island’s available land.
“There is both a risk and opportunity to the Isle of Man with that identification of how capricious the weather can be on an island nation. But one side the risk, other side the opportunity for things of provenance; home grown, organic and vegetarian in the majority. It doesn’t have to be a task, to generate a virtuous feedback loop by growing more fruit and vegetables for the health of islanders.”
Reducing both food miles and reliance on huge companies like Tesco for our necessities is something Newton is keen to address with that green buzz word; sustainability.
In what he describes as ‘a virtuous cycle in a massively sustainable practice’, Newton champions the commercial composting operation out in St Johns in conjunction with MannVend, whose eventual product is sold back to the farmers to use as fertiliser for their next crop. As a man voracious for initiatives of progress then, he declares ‘something of that nature is certainly the kind of policy I’d be encouraging.’
In a similar vein, he calls for a dietary and consumer shift.
‘The Isle of Man has an opportunity to create a platform as an Organic Island coinciding with the Biosphere, that challenges this intensive farming narrative that society puts to one side and doesn’t like to think about because it’s such an ugly subject which has so many unconsidered and untold problems.’
You only have to drive from Douglas to Peel, to notice that often at either side of you are empty fields, sparsely occupied with the occasional grazer. And so you are left to wonder whether the rural Manx land would be more effective and efficient for food production when utilised as arable.
Perhaps Newton will be encouraged too by the latest venture of beef farmer Chris Kneale, who has underlined the need for diversification in Manx agriculture by growing the Island’s first Quinoa crop.
“In terms of the Government, green issues don’t seem to be a priority.” Says Newton, “Minister for the environment Geoffrey Boot, said the Island’s climate change target for 2050 is ‘too aspirational’ and even ‘unachievable’” to which Newton laments as ‘very sad to see’.
“In public office, there is a less progressive vision for green issues on the Isle of Man, and that is an issue.”
The exciting prospect for Newton however, is in renewables. And when he makes statements like ‘this change is happening notwithstanding whatever the Isle of Man government’s policy is’ coupled with statistics like, enough solar energy hits the world in 90 minutes, if harnessed would meet global energy needs, you can’t help but feel encouraged by what is a market led shift, finally recognising the common sense potentials in solar.
So what does the Isle of Man Government think?
Newton confesses, “Investment in solar will be contrary to government policy”.
“In terms of the gas powered station in the early 2000s, that will now run until 2034 and there is a debt to the Isle of Man government on that. There was a view that it would sell a lot of electricity back to the UK market, which is does, but is that a sustainable future for the Isle of Man?”
“Traditional utility companies, monopolies are now on the cusp of being disrupted by micro production and storage”, he cites solar is the key one.
“Solar offers a weight of opportunity for the world. Since 1990, solar capacity has doubled every second year. In 2015, solar was about 2% of global energy production, but if we take that forward in time as it continues on its trajectory, solar will encompass the global energy needs.”
“There’s a law that has been held for the last 30 years known as Swanson’s Law, that every doubling of capacity is a 20% reduction in price and this has held since the 70s. I estimate, it’ll be another 5 years before we see another halving in price.”
“Even in the Isle of Man, where the north plain is on record as one of the sunniest places in the UK, presents itself as opportunity for solar farming.”
Very much in the spirit of ‘think global, act local’, Newton is constantly monitoring the world’s Geo political changes and how they affect the Isle of Man.
It is clear that like any fervent Green, he is well versed in policy alternatives, as he goes on to tells me of his much grounded desire for a house with a garage, so he can have somewhere to charge his currently imaginary EV (electric vehicle).
Though, I suppose the car is the next step, once you’ve got the roadmap.
The Isle of Man Green Party Relaunch Meeting is at 18:30 tonight at the Columba Club, Circular Road, Douglas.