Saving the planet

Added on February 18th, 2020 by Lorne Smith
Posted in Conservationism, General, Greenkeeping

Can GB&I golf help save the planet?

The answer has to be yes but we must be careful of those with commercial self interest and those of extreme ideological views.

FineGolf readers will recognise that over the years FineGolf has been supportive of The R&A’s policies advocating fine turf and improved pace of play. Indeed, in 2018 we praised The R&A in following FineGolf’s recommendations on changing the Rules of Golf in line with what FineGolf published in 2010.

Although the R&A was less successful with their earlier educational ‘course’ website in communicating with golfers, now under Martin Slumber’s leadership £650,000 is being invested in a new initiative called “Golf Course 2030” in an attempt to influence golf down a ‘sustainable’ path.

It is not easy to interest golfers and the accompanying golf media in ‘boring’ golf course policy, but FineGolf is succeeding by appealing to golfers’ hearts, and how their enjoyment is enhanced by playing the running-game on firm, fine turf.

The issues are quite simple. Conservation Greenkeeping provides golfers with more enjoyment and is a philosophy with which everybody in GB&I can agree, except perhaps those who are making money from the opposite direction or are ideologically against golf.

At the recent Greenkeepers’ annual Harrogate trade show, The R&A presented to a full house an excellently presented report on ‘Golf Course 2030’s first year’, where the structure of a number of funded research projects were explained in outline.

It is certain that some defences for golf are needed against the inevitable future attack from the likes of Extinction Rebellion-type activists, who have indeed recently unfairly criticised an environmental policy and organised a demonstration at a golf club near Brighton.

Accurately measured sea level rise at North Shields from 1900 to present. Click to enlarge

Their predictions of cataclysmic sea-level-rise needs to be answered with sensible facts showing historically a steady rise of about 1.4mm per year (after tectonic shifts are calculated) with no recent increase.

It would be nice to think that we can all sit back and leave it to The R&A. Nevertheless, FineGolf discovered a quote from the leader of one of the 2030 projects who is being given £90,000, that gives concern and therefore asked a question about ‘climate alarmism’.

The quote that triggered that question was “Many (golf courses) are already seeing the impact of coastal erosion and flooding brought on by more storms and rising sea levels as a result of climate change.”

Natural England’s policy of losing 4 hectares of dunes to the sea since 2014, left Royal North Devon undefended from a westerly high-tide storm surge in 2018.

That quote is a misleading statement when one looks objectively at what has happened (Click HERE for detail) at some of our finest historic seaside courses, for example Royal North Devon and Borth & Ynyslas the two oldest golf courses in England and Wales respectively.

Natural Resources Wales justified their policy of banning B&Y from returning pebbles to the beach to improve defences, by saying they were contaminated from being thrown on the fairways by a storm.

FineGolf is unaware (admittedly we have no access to its inner thinking) of what The R&A has done to help these courses defend themselves from the real, immediate threats that are posed by the policy of politically motivated quangos, most of which have only been around since the late 1980s. Meanwhile these golf clubs have managed their special sites excellently, for the benefit of all, for a century or more.

The Clubs are now having to legally kowtow to these quangos, who for example have stopped some clubs from building sea defences against the occasional coincidence of high-tide, storm-surge erosion when courses have consequently flooded.

An aspect of solving the practical issues is to take the decision-making power away from the centralised, ideologically driven quangos and instead rely on the more reliable knowledge that exists at the local level.

A relevant example of this in the wider context occurred when the DEFRA Secretary of State, Owen Paterson MP put the control of the Somerset Levels back in the hands of the local experts, following the devastation of the wildlife and people’s livelihoods in 2014. This situation arose from flooding that was worsened because the Environment Agency had an EU re-wilding policy of letting nature take back control and had stopped the pumps from being repaired as well as stopping the regular dredging of the rivers. Read full story in Daily Mail and how the Levels have not flooded in 2020.

Is it almost as though the present government minister downwards and amplified by the BBC, that the repeated use of the catch-all phrase ‘climate change’ posed as the reason for flooding, is used as an excuse not to secure those defences for which they are responsible?

Flooding in 1946/7 and 1960, to name just two previous periods before the global warming scare started around 1990, was worse than recently, and it is good to hear of the government’s recent pledge of extra funding for flood defence, while some are calling for the £70billion renewable energy subsidies to be re-directed to flooding adaption and mitigation.

History shows that golf clubs, in co-ordination with local environmental bodies, know best how to protect and enhance their special sites with the available resources. Golf as a whole usually gathers around to help when there is an emergency, such as occurred at Royal Portrush G.C. in 1983, which funded the defence of the eroding cliff behind the fifth green.

It is through gaining the commitment of golfers that ‘The R&A 2030’ initiative should be judged. It will not work by relying on top-down bureaucracy influenced by lobbying from self-interest groups.

To be successful a ‘save the planet’ policy needs to be driven from how to create more enjoyment for the golfer.

The clever thing is that perennial fine grasses give firm surfaces and the finest greens performance, which is shown in all surveys to be the golfer’s prime wish. Perennial fine grasses arise from conservation greenkeeping, based on aeration and reduced use of water, fertiliser and chemical inputs, resulting in reduced costs. That is the way to defend our sport from its ideologically motivated enemies while helping, in line with the wider society’s ‘person in the street’ wish to save the planet. What is not to be liked?

It is true that the world has been on a warming trend since the little ice age when the Thames froze over a few centuries ago and that there has been a reasonably steady well measured temperature increase to a total of 0.85 of a degree since 1880, with the trend ‘paused’ from around 2000. Man-made CO2, which comprises some 0.0016% of our atmosphere, may have some influence on this complex event. Nevertheless, should we not remember that 37% of this man-made CO2 comes from two countries (China 30%, India 7%) who have no intention of reducing their use of fossil fuels? In fact, these nations prefer this affordable and secure energy to help create wealth and reduce poverty. America gives 14% which is reducing since the fracking revolution has reduced coal use. Should we not ask ourselves, before being too altruistic, what effect any reduction in the 1% of man-made CO2 that GB&I produces, will really have, apart from undermining Britain’s international competitiveness through increased energy costs and fuel poverty? Is that not the definition of virtue-signalling and rather like pee-ing into the wind?

Nevertheless, we in GB&I golf can, with good common sense, set an example to all by using our precious resources to support conservation greenkeeping and secondly, by not only tackling those in the quangos who are off-side, but also obtain a legal change in responsibility.

The R&A with its large funds and connections should not be afraid to lead the local defence of the sport and use its well honed careful methodology to protect our golf courses while helping save the planet.

That will be the way to deliver change where it matters at golf club level, a change which harmonises with the wider society’s ‘person in the street’ direction of travel on saving the planet.

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