Winter Planning

Simon Nurse, Head of Operations at Capital Coated Steel and Editor of IESME (Industrial Ecology and Sustainable Business) asks should we planning for harsher winters ahead?

The weather continues to wreak a heavy toll. For the third day running, temperatures remain plunged well below zero. The crystal beauty of Tuesday’s coating is Friday’s hangover of disruption and travel woes. For businesses across Wales this carries a heavy burden. Speaking from my own experiences, the difficulty in receiving goods and despatching materials against a backdrop of a reduced workforce causes real problems for industry. One can only imagine the accumulative financial burden across all sectors of Wales; loss of business, costs of gritting, school closures, accidents. The list of troubles is long and troublesome. Little surprise therefore that The Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors called for ‘common sense to prevail’ and to ‘keep Wales running’ despite the temperatures remaining below freezing across most of the country (Western Mail, January 8th). Most of the ire from these organisations is directed at Councils in general and schools in particular. Absent children causes absent parents and it appears – from the outside at least – there is a lack of consistency in the manner in which school closures are handled. Undeniably it is a difficult decision to make; both child and employee safety need to be managed, however the schools play a vital residual role in keeping the wheels of the economy moving – it is parents that provide the motion behind them.

The Snow falls, the ice hardens and stress levels rise. But parking our own difficulties for a moment, please spare a thought for the troubled people of the Huancavelica region in the High Andes, a people hardened to extremes of climate and the hardships they bring. For the fourth year running, the cold has arrived early, decimating livestock populations and bringing an unwelcome flood of respiratory illness. The neighbouring district of Puno recorded 300 infant deaths from the cold in one month alone (Guardian Weekly, 08.01.10). Climate science is a notoriously difficult and – for some at least – controversial business. These exceptional winters, a recent trend in an area that has witnessed significant glacial melt impacting on the local microclimate, may or may not be as a result of global climate changes, but this will come as little consolation to these devastated communities who witness local and global inaction on what could become the defining issue of the century.

The jury is very much out on the finer detail of climate science. Its huge complexity and cross disciplinary nature makes accurate prediction hard to come by. Some models suggest that Wales has much harder winters on the horizon, more akin to the snowy beauty of Northern Canada, than our relatively balmy, Gulf stream heated mild and wet affairs. As I write this blog, I’ve been forwarded a ‘winter maintenance’ e-mail from the council indicating the rationing of gritting services and indicating the routes that are to be prioritised. I for one, will be hoping that these models are wrong and that we continue to bask in a traditional mildly miserable, though infinitely more tolerable, damp and dark winter. It may be prudent however, for policy makers to factor this consideration into long term winter planning. Whilst we can forgive and forget these current micro crises, future disruption and economic pain may prove to be a much more difficult pill to swallow.

Simon Nurse is Head of Operations at Capital Coated Steel and Editor of IESME (Industrial Ecology and sustainable business)

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