The beach on the northeast coast of England was as beautiful today as ever. Watching my daughter build sandcastles with granny and granddad, people walking their dogs or generally having some time out from the hustle and bustle of daily life, I remembered the good things about where I come from. However, for how much longer will it all be here?
Certainly, this coastline is going to be around longer than some islands in the South Pacific, but what I had taken to be immune to climate change is in fact proving to be quite vulnerable. It took us four attempts, in a three-mile stretch of coastline, to find a place where we could actually gain access to the beach. The reason: most of it is fenced off while new sea defences are being built.
Basically, the land is being eaten away by rising sea levels. Long before my parents were small, there were groins to stop the sea tearing at the land and walls along the town end of the beach to stop the water when it was particularly high. I had even witnessed it coming over the walls on a really stormy day. But the old defences are no longer enough.
It is going to take at least a year, if not two, to build the new defences of reinforced and higher walls to protect the town and reduce the risk of erosion. And these may well work, although people are complaining that the new walls prevent them enjoying the view of the sea. And they certainly can’t be enjoying the difficulty in getting onto the beach, which is a major attraction of living in this area….
At the very least, it is a distraction from the economic decline in this region and the last vestiges of an industrial society. As I stood on the cliff edge, where we were looking for a way down to the beach, I turned and saw that the petrochemical works still loomed as large as ever, however:
Turning back towards the sea, there were also the usual number of tankers (about twenty of them) waiting to dock and pipe in their cargo: petroleum.
A substantial amount of petroleum comes into the port, destined for the plant in the first photo above. I love looking out to sea and the tankers do fill me with awe on one level. However, looking down the coastline at the beautiful beach, fenced off from the public who demand the plastic (and other petroleum derivatives), which ultimately comes from the tankers out at sea, and the jobs from the factories behind their houses, I was acutely aware of the dichotomy.
The bi-products of petroleum are everywhere. Not just in the ubiquitous plastic bags, which get embedded in the sand, or the bottles we buy our ketchup in, which also have a habit of ending up on the beach. They are in our clothes, bedding, furniture, paint, carpets, cars (and not just the tank), in our pens, ink cartridges, mobile phones, garden equipment, street lamps…. we just cannot get away from them.
And while you might eschew the more obvious (e.g. the aforementioned plastic bag), how are you going to take home the tablets from the chemist or write a memo for your boss? How much of our lives will have to change to stop the degradation of our environment?