by Michelle Larson
One of the first things you will notice as you approach the island of Bermuda from the air, is the magnificent turquoise blue ocean shores, but also that all of the structures have pristine white roofs. It is incredibly picturesque, though after discovering the genius in the purpose…quite inspiring. Every home on this 21 square mile paradise is topped with row after row of slate stone and then uniformly white washed. The horizontal scalloping slopes are engineered to catch the rainwater and create a cascade into a drain system that collects and fills a large tank beneath each home. This pure clean water is all that each household has to fulfill all of their liquid needs; showering, flushing, cleaning, drinking, cooking, feeding plants, etc. Houses have been built utilizing this system since houses have been built in Bermuda.
There is not a rainy season, per say, in Bermuda. The rain comes when it comes, so conservation of this precious resource is taken very seriously. Rich or poor, everyone skimps on water. Showers are short and not usually a luxury that one can take advantage of everyday. If a bath is desired, the water does not go down the drain, but rather used to wash the car or water the garden. While I was visiting, it rained hard for a short time during three of the five days. Tanks were topped off and excitement was exuded for the “good rain” and plans for long showers or washing bedding or draperies ensued. There is a run-off system for overflow, but no one wants to let any of this stuff go to waste so their imaginations go wild with wonderful, watery ideas. For many, this water does not get treated in any way. It’s pure rainwater, clean as it comes from the sky. Some have purifications systems, but most feel that it is not necessary. How cool is that? No chemically treated, chlorine tasting, (or worse) water that has traveled from who knows where to get to you through who knows what?
Coming from California, where water is scarce and a drought is always threatening, I couldn’t help but be awe-inspired by this incredible exercise in capturing and conserving our one, can’t-live-without, natural resource. We hear on the news daily that we need to be rationing; watering our lawns every other day and only at night, taking shorter showers, turning off the water while we brush our teeth and only washing a full load of dishes or clothes. But honestly, most people don’t pay any attention to this. They figure, someone else will cut back on their usage and make up for my wastefulness. While millions and millions of dollars are being spent on research and development for converting sea water into safe drinking water; pools are filled, landscapes watered in excess until a river runs down the streets into the sewer, and 40 minute showers are taken twice a day unnecessarily when we could just practice the simple art of using only what we need.
You just never know where your scope of sustainability will expand, but I, for one, will be much more conscientious and grateful for the spring of life that magically comes from the tap whenever I need it. And I will not take for granted that it will always be there.
Other ways that Bermudians are leaders in sustainability and the fight against Global Warming:
There is a one-car-per-household law. No exceptions. No matter your status or situation. Again, brilliant! The solution for multiple adults needing transportation in one home in Bermuda? The motorbike. It is typical that the woman of the house drives the car and the man drives the motorbike; and when a child reaches 16, he or she will also begin driving a motorbike. People aren’t much into cars as status symbols on the island either. The cars that they do have are very small and efficient, consuming little gasoline and giving off low emissions. The roads are narrow and there really isn’t room to navigate two lanes of gas-guzzling SUVs anyway.
One of the largest industries in Bermuda is tourism, and the rule applies to tourists as well. No rental cars are allowed, only motorbikes can be rented. This works two-fold – the traffic is managed by the amount of cars permitted on the minimal roads that lead from one end of the island to the other, and the island maintains cleaner air with less pollution and more probability of securing life on the islands that are completely surrounded by coral reefs, which are in danger of being destroyed by Global Warming. If the coral reefs begin to deteriorate due to higher tides allowing less carbon dioxide and light that the coral needs to thrive, the islands will become increasingly susceptible to a tidal wave washing everyone and everything away, forever. This kind of environmental catastrophe is being studied by underwater engineers, and the people of Bermuda are taking it seriously.
The residents and tourists also take advantage of the public transportation available, either by land or by sea. The bus is cheap and goes everywhere, but more fun, and visibly stimulating, is the ferry system that many people ride daily to work or to school or to site see. There is nothing prettier than the view of Bermuda from the water. The azure waters gradate from a deep and dark, bright indigo to a translucent blue-green to a crystal clear turquoise that takes your breath away. Being on the water is a great way to get where you need to go.
They have rules at school too. Bermudian schools do not serve meals, no cafeterias, which I’m sure means better nutrition for the kids and it saves money all the way around. I love this! My youngest son is 16 now and can come home for lunch, which is great, but for the last dozen or so years that I have had children in school I have always packed their lunches. The school newsletter that now comes daily via email announces the lunch menu for the following day and I read it and nearly weep. One of the latest gourmet delights was: chili cheese tator tots. I am speechless. So, with this as my gauge for school meals, Bermudians have it figured out, and on top of that…no child is allowed to bring a lunch to school in any type of bag or container that is not either completely recyclable or even better, reusable. This is teaching kids about good health and taking care of our environment in one well-rounded lesson. A+ Bermuda.
I am lucky enough to have friends on this wonderful and special place in paradise and I visited the homes of a couple of them who have children. I was really impressed with these kids overall - responsible, polite, considerate and super smart, they seemed to understand how fortunate they are to live where they live and enjoy a quiet, slower paced kind of life. But it was the little things that stuck with me. While two of the young girls were outside playing on swings that look out over a vast expanse of blue, where the perfectly-puffy clouded sky meets the beautiful blue ocean, the 8 year old says, “Mommy we are going to play outside so we don’t use electricity.” I did a double take, “was that a child who is actually aware of the fact that electricity is not only a precious resource, but that it also costs money? WOW!” While the water is free, power is expensive on the island and the kids understand this. TV watching, video games and computer time are limited and nothing is left plugged-in that is not necessary to function.
Necessity is the mother of invention, but if, like the Bermudians, we never knew that we could use our resources irresponsibly and in excess, would we be different? I think the proof is evident in a place that was miraculously discovered by a shipwreck 400 years ago and still survives and thrives 700 miles from anywhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.