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   Inside Out - North West: Friday March 30, 2007
North West initiative
Blackpool seawall
Blackpool's new seawall was built at a cost of £64 million

Village initiative

How communities are coming together to tackle global warming in the North West.

The ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, temperatures are increasing, rainfall is getting heavier, the winds are getting stronger, there are droughts and flooding and it is our entire fault because we drive cars and fly in planes.

Well, not quite.

The Earth is getting warmer - and most scientists agree that we humans are responsible for at least some of the climate change.

By burning fossil fuels, we are adding heat-trapping gases - especially carbon dioxide - into the atmosphere.

Experts now say that if the world's population lived like we do in the UK, we would need three planets to support our lifestyles.

We have just had the warmest 12 months on record - and are heading for another graph-busting year in 2007. However, that may just be the start.

Change noticeable

Today's children may find the North West becoming a very different place. Hotter summers and wetter winters is the forecast for them.

By the end of this century, scientists say summer temperatures here could rise by 6 degrees Celsius - giving the region a real Mediterranean feel.

Summer rainfall could be half what it is currently.

In winter, it could be 30% wetter than now. In the worst case prediction, we would never see snow again.

Climate change could mean sea levels rising around the North West - particularly in Blackpool, Southport and Liverpool.

Scientists say that in their worst case scenario, floods which now are so rare they only happen once a century could come once a year by 2080.

New sea wall

Which is why a new sea wall is being built in Blackpool. It is designed to withstand those superstorms… and worse.

However, it does not come cheap - at £64m, it's Blackpool's largest civil engineering project stretching from the Sandcastle to the North Pier.

When it is finished, three years from now, it will protect more than 1500 homes and businesses.

And that is all good news for tourists - who could boost the region's economy if they decide to stay at home for their annual holidays, rather than travel to the Mediterranean, which scientists say could become unpleasantly hot.

Simon Calder
Simon Calder believes domestic holidays will be the norm

Holidays at home?

As well as enjoying street cafe culture, travel writer, Simon Calder reckons domestic holidays could become the norm.

"An increasing number of people are saying 'hang on we don't want to be responsible for climate change, therefore we are going to change our behaviour'.

"For at least one holiday a year we're not going to fly off from Manchester or Liverpool John Lennon airport we're actually going to holiday at home in our own region.

"I think that could have enormous benefits in the short term for the economy of the North West tourist industry."

Until recently, global warming was seen as a problem that someone else would sort out - governments, scientists, corporations.

It was just too big for individuals to get to grips with.

We could do our bit by recycling, there was not much else.

Ashton Hayes
Ashton Hayes goes carbon neutral

Village initiative

In 2006, an engineer in a Cheshire village stood up and talked to his neighbours.

He had a revolutionary idea - the question was - did anyone want to listen?

For the last 24 years, Garry Charnock's home has been in a village called Ashton Hayes - secluded between Chester and Northwich.

Garry said: "Ashton - I suppose - you might call a typical English village.

"We have a pub , a school, a church - a couple of churches actually - lots of organisations, a 1000 people in 350 houses who commute to places like Liverpool, Manchester, Chester or work for international organisations on the Mersey estuary."

Garry wanted future generations to understand that not only had we recognised the danger of climate change, but, we had also started doing something about it.

Carbon neutral

What he proposed was actually quite simple - that the village no longer contributed to global warming.

Whatever carbon dioxide they did produce would be balanced out by planting new trees, or using renewable energy.

The aim was to become Britain's first "carbon-neutral" village.

"Well, I was a bit nervous that people would think it was a rather a crazy idea.

"So I went to the pub quiz one night and I spoke to my best friends in the village and I said 'how do you feel about this?'

And they said "Oh go for it, we would really support you if you went for it" which I was surprised about because I thought people might think I was rather cranky.

Nearly half the village turned out to hear Garry.

Staff and students from the University of Chester would measure the amount of carbon each family was emitting, and then suggest ways of reducing it.

Barry Cooney
Barry Cooney needed persuasion... now converted

Some sceptics

The landlord at the Golden Lion was the most sceptical person in the village - but now you will find low energy light bulbs outside.

Barry Cooney started to switch off machines, dumped the tumble dryer and ran the ovens later - in a month he had reduced his electricity bill by a fifth and saved £200.

Barry said: "I mean if you just stop and think about it - why have the Coca-Cola machine running all night?

"Why have your coolers running all night? Because we just walk away from it.

"But once you get into it, it is like a bug, once you get into it you know you are saving it for yourself and you are doing your bit for the climate changes."

The village primary school has also been doing its bit - giving the children an insight into climate change.

Pester power?

And how important is pester power when the kids go home?

"The village is adopting a real sort of global awareness you know what's going on in the world, what's going on locally but also how can they look at saving money and also helping the environment we've got all sorts of aspects being touched through something quite simple really but something very very exciting," says Head teacher Rob Ford.

Outside a solar panel heats water for the school cleaners, while a wind-turbine contributes to the building's power supply.

architect Andy Foster
Architect Andy Foster used straw for insulation

And the community will use straw to insulate to two temporary classrooms.

"Well the straw works like all insulating material by trapping air in the body of the material," says architect Andy Foster.

"Some insulating materials are much more efficient than straw and can be thinner - a straw bale is going to be three to four feet thick

"And I suppose one of the advantages is that it is relatively cheap isn't it because straw is not that expensive to use as a material?

"Well with any luck we might find a local farmer that's willing to donate some of the materials and it will be an economic project to take forward and have a lot of impact at the same time."

The schoolchildren have helped plant hundreds of trees - to help absorb the carbon dioxide that they produce.

Energy saving house

Moreover, on the outskirts of the village you will find what is set to become the most energy efficient house in Cheshire.

This house uses the heat stored in the ground to warm the building, treble glazing, solar cells, rainwater recycling and extra insulation.

And how widespread will this type of building will become?

"Very widespread," says the developer and builder, Brian Spencer.

"As time goes by people will look and say, 'why didn't we do it earlier - what was stopping us in the first place'.

"Therefore as it becomes more and more prevalent in the market it should then become more economically viable as well."

In the end, one local community cannot reverse global warming on its own - but future generations may look back and say it was a good way to start.

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BBC Inside Out North West - Friday March 30, 2007

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