15th March: Yacht Carbon Offset have again mentioned us in their newsletter, the latest of which is available here.

We have been proud of our association with Yacht Carbon Offset for some years. They have been kind enough to offset our carbon emissions which have varied from vessel to vessel and never been large; most of our work involves sailing. With Blue Mermaid, emissions are even smaller as there is no auxiliary engine or generator installation. We rely mainly on solar panels but do use a bit of carbon fuel for the outboard motor, cooking and heating, so even an engineless vessel has an issue. We are delighted to be counted among partners to be found here on their website: Partner Projects – Yacht Carbon Offset  

As I cleared the cinders from the coal fire at home at the end of the recent cold snap it brought home just how far things have changed in the last few years and seemingly at an increasing rate. When young heating was all solid fuel; a boiler for hot water and open fires in each room, though seldom were more than two heated. Each day the cinders were sieved and any remaining unburnt were put back into the scuttle, the rest being sprinkled on the garden which seemed to benefit somehow. Otherwise it went in the dustbin, collected each week by the two man team employed by Brightlingsea Urban District Council. The bin was seldom more than half full and was carried by the binmen from the back of your house. These days our bin is twice as big, collected fortnightly and usually full. Every other fortnight double that volume goes in pink bags for recycling, made up of packaging virtually non-existent fifty years ago. The last time we ordered coal we were warned house coal would no longer be delivered due to environmental restrictions though smokeless would. It prompted a look at where the nation is with coal and how it would affect heritage. Amazingly the last mine producing Welsh steam coal is due to cease next year and heritage railways have already started importing steam coal in expectation. The last deep mine in England at Kellingley closed five years ago. It was well placed for surrounding power stations now either closed or run on biomass and imported coal. Last year an application for an opencast mine in Northumberland was rejected by the Secretary of State because of environmental considerations, and only last week the government halted the proposed mine for coking coal for the steel industry at Whitehaven; informed no doubt by concern over likely protest at COP26 in Glasgow in November. Things have come a long way since Nye Bevan called Britain a nation built on coal and surrounded by fish, at the time pointing out how odd there was a shortage of both! The “first industrial nation” is now seeking its energy from other than coal, and this really is a seachange in how we think of our world. There is a lot of work to do yet but the curve which we felt we were ahead of when we started the Blue Mermaid project is now very firmly with us.

There is a lot still to do for both the government and Sea-Change. For the government the challenge is complicated: there will be some energy from carbon for a long time if not for ever, to supplement wind and solar when they cannot keep up. Steel still needs coking coal as it is impossible to get enough steel from recycling; and of course the coal is imported and burnt already, so in that sense the Cumbria mine is “neutral” as stated in the initial decision in favour by the local authority. It is understandable coal is out of favour and the UK is ahead of much of the developed world in this respect, having shifted much of its manufacturing emissions abroad and encouraging the burning of biomass from the USA in power stations on the basis new trees are planted and the result is carbon neutral. The emperor’s cloths for now mask the fact biomass and coal emit roughly the same CO2 and it takes many years for a sapling to sequester as much of it as the mature one felled. Yacht Carbon Offset uses projects around the world with a more rapid impact than trees for this reason. Maybe mining could offset with the added benefit of burying the emissions back in the ground, much as has been suggested for waste from nuclear. I have a feeling these things may eventually be made to work though they do not yet and it is expensive.

The Blue Mermaid may be ultra-low carbon in terms of her emissions in operation, but there was a lot of carbon emitted in her building. If we are to truly save the planet, we should find a way of offsetting all of that too. Taking just the hull, there were 60 tons of steel. If I am right we would need to plant over 3000 trees just to cover that, without the rest of the vessel materials and manufacture. It would be a very interesting project for a student to quantify this and see how we could fund it. Then maybe we could find a sponsor to help fund it.

Richard Titchener