27 August, 2006

Silence Please

Sure it's a silly pic, but any photo-op is better than the kiss of death of a press conference in Buswell's Hotel. Our Neighbourhood Noise Bill is simply a way of making it easier to tackle noise in our everyday lives. The effects of pollution can be obvious like a fish-kill, or less easy to detect like greenhouse gas emissions. Many people simply don't get it that noise is also a form of pollution and deserves to be treated as seriously as any other type of pollution.

Councillor David Healy pointed out that the noise is not simply a nuisance but has significant effects on human health, stress levels, memory, learning, attention and mood. We want to put in place a single point of contact for noise nuisance within local authorities, plus a freephone number and the powers to actually do something about the problem. There's nothing worse than waiting weeks or months for a hearing in the District Court and than not having the other side turn up.

Years ago, I had a friend who took a hammer to an alarm on a wall beside his apartment, but what he didn't realise was that it had an internal battery that kept sounding until he had silenced it with a lump hammer. We'd give Noise Control Officers the right to remove a building alarm if it isn't registered, and if the key-holder can't be contacted, and give the Guards power to tow a vehicle if the alarm keeps on sounding for hours.

As Ireland becomes more urbanised noise is becoming a bigger problem. There are some great sites devoted to noise pollution, from the Site of Silence in the Netherlands to the US clearing house No Noise, and the Right to Quiet Society in Canada. Our Bill would help, but we also need to tighten up the Building Regulations and ensure that they're better monitored, as many apartment buildings don't seem to be up to spec on this front.

Essentially it's a quality of life issue that the Greens feel requires action, and yes, it is on our shopping list for Government.

14 August, 2006

Travelling Smart

Few things get people more animated than talking about traffic and transport. Spike Milligan once observed that by virtue of having children he had made his own traffic jam.

I bought my Smart car just as they started to appear in Ireland. A friend told me that someone had just bough a car off the internet, and I was hooked. Six years later and 30,000 km down, it's working just fine, although I did have to replace the battery after ambitiously using it to jump-start the station wagon. It's always enjoyable finding a parking space too small for other cars to use. We got rid of that second car a year ago, and are happy with the decision. The teenagers didn't particularly want to travel with us anyway, and the younger kids hated being trussed into baby-seats for long periods at a time. They're much happier running around the DART or Luas. A few years ago it cost €20 to fill the tank. These days it's closer to €25, but that only happens around once a month.

Most days I cycle though. It's a good way of arriving on time and it beats the heck out of being stuck in the roadworks on the Rock Road. Unlike David Cameron I tend to cycle alone, that is, apart from a child or two on board during term time. Speaking of the Rock Road, it would be no harm if the PD's and Fianna Fáil could sort out their ideological differences and ensure that we get 200 instead of 20 new buses for Dublin and ensure that there will be at least a few buses on that Quality Bus Corridor when it eventually opens. Joined-up government how are you!

Reducing the need to travel or travelling by slow mode is part of the approach to tackling climate change emissions. The author and visionary Mayer Hillman, however introduced me to the concept of the 'no mode' or telecommuting in the early 90's, an even greener approach, unless the server farms' electricity bills get too high.

Of course you can always buy your way out of it, but creating vibrant mixed-use communities where you can live, work and relax in the same area can reduce emissions, even if it would make the architect and planner Le Corbusier turn in his grave. Corb felt we should live in areas strictly segregated by zoning, and while that kept the people away from the polluted industrial areas of his day it simply increased the need to travel in the first place. There's few things better than not having to travel at all by having what you need located close by.

Alternative fuels will help reduce our oil dependence, but even an acre of soybeans only yields 60 gallons of biodiesel, according to Chevron's ads. Anybody for a one off house with 5 acres of soybeans or sunflowers? I was much more impressed with Arnie's test drive of the Tesla, a funky new electric motor. It wasn't the 0-60 in 4 seconds that did it for me, but the idea that you could simply cover your garage in photo-voltaic cells in order to charge the thing, even if that only works with California's sunshine.

Higher density living in apartments and terraced housing will provide alternatives to travelling long distances to and from work, particularly if there's jobs close by. However people are understandably annoyed if they feel that their open spaces are being taken away from them, particularly if there's an absence of consultation or local plans.

Meanwhile Victoria in Australia has a nice site that shows how to reduce your load on planet Earth, Martin Cullen please copy; although we may need to infiltrate the Cumann in order to sway his hand.