Heathrow gets go ahead for third runway – Greenpeace not happy

London Heathrow airport is in desperate need of a third runway.

Despite being one of the busiest airports in the world, all 481,000 yearly aircraft movements take place on just 2 runways.

Anyone who has arrived or departed from Heathrow has probably spent a decent chunk of time waiting in line for a take off slot, or received a complimentary 45 minute sightseeing trip making circles over London waiting for permission to land.

The UK government has been working on a proposal for a third runway for years, and finally agreed to grant building permission for it yesterday.

Of course, nothing airport related ever goes without some major opposition, and this one is no different.

Greenpeace is so strongly opposed to the expansion plans, that they purchased a chunk of land right in the village of Sipson. Sipson is one of the communities destined to become extinct when construction on the runway begins.

Their plan is to break the land up into smaller chunks, and sell it to as many people as possible, making it harder for the government to claim ownership.

Greenpeace argues that the third runway is not necessary, and they have a long list of reasons for being against this expansion.

Of course, environmental clubs like Greenpeace have a long history in trying to prevent new runways from being built, but very little history in actually stopping the construction.

A similar situation happened in the Netherlands in the mid 90′s when a local environmental protection club purchased a small plot of land just outside Schiphol airport and planted it full of trees. It delayed things a bit, but the runway was still built.

At the end of the day these actions just cost massive amounts of taxpayer money and clog up our legal systems, but it’s a noble cause and I don’t think anyone denies Greenpeace a little publicity stunt.

Star Island won’t make you change

It seems like every effort to “go green” requires a change of behavior. Hotels let you choose to use towels or sheets twice. Your parents instructed you to turn the lights off when leaving a room. These measures can affect change, but they usually don’t. Despite the clear benefits, people just won’t change. But, what if you could find a way to protect the environment without having to change any part of your life? This is the elusive goal of most eco-minded designers, builders and activists, but few have discovered the secret handshake.

David Sklar, it seems, has found the answer.

Star Island, located in Eleuthera, Bahamas, is designed to be carbon-neutral, even if you forget to turn the television off when you slip out to the beach. A unique combination of embedded power sources that harness natural forces and savvy architecture allow you to save the planet by doing nothing. Sklar’s project, which includes both resort and residential properties, is your ticket to guilt-free luxury.

The property is currently under construction in the Bahamas. Sklar, the president and lead designer, and his team at Dalu Design Group, envisioned a resort built around pragmatic environmentalism. Buildings account for about 70 percent of the factors that lead to global warming, he says, particularly around the consumption of energy. So, Sklar realized that a better design could have a pronounced impact on the environment. The key, however, is to affect conservation without thought. People won’t change, but you can change everything around them.

See artist renderings of Star Island, including an EXCLUSIVE shot of the pavilion.

%Gallery-41493%

Here’s where the essential tension lies. We all love fast cars, big rooms and oversized televisions. We like big and convenient and immediate. When traveling, we’re even worse. At home, my sheets are fine for a full week, but on the road, I can’t imagine using the same set two nights in a row. I have the same attitude toward towels. Conservatism doesn’t work unless I can have fresh sheets every night without damaging the planet. We all love big rooms, oversized television screens and fast cars. Even if we privately lament what we’re doing to the environment, we can’t let go of what makes us happy.

Fortunately, this is what Sklar has in mind. He believes you shouldn’t have to make these tough choices. A carefully considered engineering effort can deliver the lifestyle you crave without impairing the world around you.

Star Island does not tap the power grid to fuel the washing machines, lights and kitchens. The resort generates its own power. Don’t expect to see any wind farms or endless rows of solar panels on the 35-acre resort. The tools are built into the structures, with photo voltaic energy-generating roof panels, and water is gathered through a rain water collection system.

Once open, the resort will offer guilt-free villas, bungalows and homes, where visitors (or residents) can live guilt-free. The Star Island villas range from one to three bedrooms and include custom gourmet kitchens. And, they aren’t small, some reaching 2,000 sqft in size (much, much larger than my apartment). Restaurants and recreation (such as snorkeling) are available on site, a nice touch since you probably won’t want to leave anyway.

The amenities that Sklar promises are exactly what you’d expect to find at an upscale resort. You can dip into a private plunge pool at one of Star Island’s bungalows or refresh yourself in an outdoor shower. Of course, you’re never far from the beach, not to mention snorkeling and other on- (or under-) water activities. None of it happens with the help of oil, coal or split atoms.

What possesses a man to pursue green recreation and living with such zeal?

Sklar was not kidnapped by Greenpeace, and he didn’t have a mountain-top epiphany that changed his view of the world. Instead, he took his cues from his life. The experienced architect, who was “raised on fossil fuels,” as he puts it, realized when he looked at his son that the Earth would continue to be here well into the future. Even though he may not be around to suffer the most severe consequences of environmental mayhem, he understood that his actions would shape the world his son inherits.

Star Island began with this altruistic motivation … and a sense of defiance. Sklar sought to prove that he could create from scratch a top-tier resort that could operate without the support of a substantial, global energy industry. He plans to resist the convenient pull of traditional energy source and create an example to his peers, one that can be replicated. Sklar believes that Star Island can serve as a model to real estate developers and architects everywhere. If a trend emerges, he will have started a revolution in building design and construction.

But, we need to take this one step at a time. Star Island is still under construction. Houses have yet to be sold, and guestrooms need to be filled. Sklar doesn’t expect the warm, fuzzy feelings of environmentalists to get his business humming, though he certainly welcomes them. The call of luxury, he expects, will bring people to his resort, and their experiences will bring them back. Star Island is a business, after all, it just happens to be doing something great in the process.

Learn a bit more about Star Island in the NY Times.

Climate activists arrested at Heathrow

With all the talk of biofuels and climate change in the airline industry, environmental activists have taken to airports as their protesting grounds. Last week in Sweden activists dressed up as polar bears at a Stockholm airport. This week the site of protesting is Heathrow Airport, where today four Greenpeace activists, who climbed on top of an airplane, were arrested.

Part of a larger group that was gathering in Westminster to oppose plans to expand Heathrow, the Greenpeace protesters hung a banner that said “Climate Emergency – No Third Runway” on a British Airways Airbus A320.

Although the environmental group saw their actions as necessary, the BAA, the British airport company, called the act “unlawful and irresponsible.” I wonder if they’ll ever be allowed to fly British Airways again.

A Canadian in Beijing: Hands in the Air at Beijing’s Midi Festival

One of my goals before arriving in China was to take in the live music scene here. That hasn’t been difficult in the least. In fact, it’s been difficult to balance getting up early for my part-time classes after taking in so much live music.

One of the prominent live music events of the year in Beijing is the MIDI FESTIVAL. Well, it’s prominent in the underground music world, that’s for sure. This festival takes places between May 1st and 5th in an urban park in the eastern Haidian district of Beijing. That’s quite close to where I live and I have been planning to attend this festival since arriving.

So I did.

Truth be told, I applied to perform at the festival when I was back in Canada. There was an advertisement via Sonicbids, an online submission service that I subscribe to and that enables the submission of one’s music for consideration for all kinds of events or services. I was not “awarded” a slot at the festival (although, it was a contest for a single opening and I’m sure there was stiff competition) and at the time I was relieved by this verdict, considering I would not have my band with me. While in attendance this week, however, I wished that I had known how to go through other channels to request a solo spot. I was truly missing the stage as I sat on the grass in front of it. And, I knew that my music would go over well there.

Perhaps next year?

The Midi festival is modeled after North American festivals. There are several stages with simultaneous music, food kiosks with greasy food, diverse markets (though both booths and sidewalk style, which is very Beijing), disgusting port-a-potties and cheap beer for sale in plastic cups. There’s lots of litter and sporadic tents set up on the edges of the site and, let’s not forget the requisite muddy sections in front of the main stage as evidence of hundreds of feet packed tightly against the stage, moshing across five days.

I was there on the final day, having just arrived home from Shanghai and deciding to take in at least one day of such an important musical event. Everyone who is anyone was there. It was a cool kids’ hangout and I simply had to go!

Unlike most visible grass in China, you can SIT on it at this festival and I spent a fair amount of time doing just that at the folk stage, feeling nostalgic about festival season in North America. Lawns in Beijing are not common and, besides, grass is considered dirty thanks to the regular deposit of urine, litter and dust. As a result, there are often “keep off the grass” signs or fenced off sections of what little grass I have seen. Seeing people sprawled across the expanse of green here at this public park was a very non-Beijing sight and it added to the nostalgia for home.

I went to the festival with Traci (see pic of us here, in our “cool” poses!) and she introduced me to several interesting people connected to the music scene in Beijing. I’m slowly making my rounds and finding that people are quite receptive to my interest in building my career here. Traci was also handing out flyers for an event this weekend called the “Maple Rhythm Beijing Concert,” which was a concert scheduled for after the Midi festival and featuring Canadian music. I was happy to see my friends’ faces on the flyers that were landing in the hands of the Beijing hipsters: Vinnick, Sheppard and Harte; The Jimmy Swift Band (no, there is no “Jimmy Swift” and we’re not related!); Alun Piggins; and The Road Hammers. (I have met the promoter for this event, too, and he is considering us for a tour next year – fingers crossed!)

I met up with other friends then and enjoyed a flip-flop between various stages. I took in some excellent Chinese and international bands from folk to hip-hop to rock, most notably “ZouYou” (or “Left, Right”) which was a Chinese progressive hard rock band with amazing musicianship and stage presence. Dave Stewart (from the Euthymics) was the Friday night headliner but he was unable to attend. In his place, he sent Imogen Heap and Nadirah X who each did a couple of songs and blew the audience away. I love Imogen voice and Nadirah X’s lyrics were incredibly powerful and politically potent. Another female artist, a famous Chinese pop-rock singer, also sang but I do not know her name. She garnered a huge applause from the audience when she took the stage, as though her presence were a big and welcome surprise. If anyone reads this and can tell me her name, I would really appreciate it. It was too loud to ask anyone and then it was too late.

Midi was co-sponsored by Greenpeace and I was surprised to see this, considering their radical environment actions and (I’m going to generalize here) the Chinese government’s typical aversion to radicalism! Between sets, the big screens showed hardcore live footage from recorded attempts to stop the transport of nuclear devices on ships, animal rescues, demonstration against polluting corporations, etc. It was incredibly moving to watch and the ten minute short was on regular repeat.

All of these performers (the three women mentioned above) finished off their set by collaborating on a song that was written for Greenpeace. It was empowering and got the audience excited despite the language barrier. The previous big screen visuals had helped to bring the points home without words being necessary.

I left the site late in the evening feeling filled up with music and reminded of how powerful live performance can be. Hands in the air in musical solidarity seemed to me to be another universal sign of camaraderie, belief, and commitment to being part of a movement. Whether or not our aims are the same, music has a cauterizing effect and brings people of all backgrounds and ideologies together, rocking in a crowded cradle of potential.

We can.