Thursday, March 29, 2007

Book Review: How To Live A Low Carbon Life, Chris Goodall

This is a brilliant book. 300 odd pages bristling with facts, statistics and meticulous analysis of the make up of our average UK carbon footprint and how we can reduce it to a sustainable level.

Goodall - Green Party candidate, MBA and ex-director of Which? Ltd - covers Home Heating, Water Heating & Cooking, Lighting, Appliances, Car Travel, Public Transport, Air Travel, Food, Microrenewables and Offsetting - trying valiantly to put sensible numbers to each aspect and evaluating solutions. The facts are fired out thick and fast: a sky box left on all year has the same carbon emissions as the average Afghani, the top 10% of travellers are responsible for 42% of transport related emissions, a pressure cooker will reduce carbon emissions by 50% - it goes on and on. I will be using this book as a reference on a weekly if not daily basis for blogging, work and checking my own random thoughts.

While inevitably I have a number of minor quibbles (the lack of detail on Heat Pumps, the idea that Government can't address climate change, the zero tolerance on flying*), the only real problem I have is with the full title - "How To Live A Low Carbon Life: the individual's guide to stopping climate change" as this is what it is not. The layman is not going to wade through such exhaustive arguments, backed up by tables of statistics (but virtually no diagrams or pictures), in order to find out what actions they should take. So, I'll rephrase my first statement:

This is a brilliant book - for me and other eco-obsessives.

* I will explain myself in a later post...

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Monday, March 26, 2007


No it's not a dodgy '24' rip off for the innumerate!

It's a cool March morning here in Newcastle - the Beeb is saying a max of 11°C outside. I've just been up to see how my solar hot water panel is doing - the collector is at 36°C and the water in the tank is at 26°C, and this will continue to rise over the next few hours. That might not seem much, but it is about 20°C that the combi boiler doesn't have to heat the water - saving over a third of the energy required. Just imagine what it would be doing if our house wasn't pointing the wrong way (or in a valley).


Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Humble Bicycle Clip...

I've posted before about the joys of cycling. I've been a keen cyclist for years, but I rarely got on my bike if it wasn't the weekend and I wasn't wearing lycra and Goretex.

About a year ago I bought a couple of cycle clips and opened up a whole new vista - cycling in everyday clothes. This might sound pathetic, but it means that you can integrate cycling into your everyday life - you get regular exercise, you never have to worry about parking and you speed up journeys you'd normally take by foot. Then there's the joy of overtaking a fellow cyclist in lycra while wearing a pinstripe suit...

The other bits and bobs you should consider for everyday cycling:

1. A briefcase-shaped waterproof pannier. Mine is from Altura and has a padded insert for my laptop. I avoid rucksacks as they can make you unstable and, it has to be said, sweaty.

2. A decent lock - I prefer a flexible one to a D Lock as it is, er, more flexible.

3. A set of lights for the winter*.

4. A hi-visibility waterproof.

But I'll say it again, the revolution started with the humble bicycle clip.

* PS: I blogged about these LED solar bike lights before, but I've a bit of trouble since - not with the technology which works, but rather the battery compartment is a bit big and the batteries can get knocked off their contacts by bumps. I think I've fixed it with a bit of cardboard jammed between them, but it is a real shame that this great idea is let down by bad execution.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Playing Away From Home

I've started a new role as weekly green news pundit on

My first piece is on predictions for Gordon Brown's last budget.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Food Waste (W)rapped

The main green issue I was concerned with over the weekend was whether Ireland would snatch the 6 Nations trophy, but sadly, it almost literally slipped through their fingers...

Anyway, back to eco-living. The UK Government's Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) announced at the weekend that British households are throwing away around a third of all the food they buy, amounting to 6.7m tonnes every year.

I've blogged before on why waste food is such a massive environmental issue and what you can do about it, but WRAP have provided a simple 5 point leaflet, with some tasty sounding recipes designed to use leftovers - worth a look. As I work from home, leftovers usually become "lunch tomorrow". Of course I could have done this when I worked in an office, but it required being organised in the morning rather than running around looking for my keys.

If you haven't come across WRAP before, the quango was established in 2000 to improve markets in recycled materials and originally had a very limited remit. Once derided as "Waste of Resources And Public money", they seem to have raised their game in the last couple of years, with Chief Exec Jennie Price popping up all over the place to get the recycling and waste minimisation message across. They are also building up a decent selection of publications.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

One for the Ladies!

OK, so I've got absolutely no personal experience of this one, and never will have, but three women I know swear by the 'mooncup' as an alternative to disposable sanitary towels and tampons. None of these women are ardent eco-warrior/tree hugging types, rather they find the cup much more practical. You simply insert it, go rollerblading/windsurfing etc (as menstruating women do according to Bodyform), remove it, wash it and repeat until done when you put it away til next month. At £18.99 the manufacturer claims it will pay for itself in 6 months and will last for several years.

Before you ask, I haven't seen a detailed life cycle assessment of this product verses the hundreds of disposables it will replace, but I would expect it to be many times better by any measure you care to choose.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

That's my boy!

Anybody watching the local BBC or ITV news in the North East of England today would have seen my little boy Harry modelling real nappies for Grow Up Green at Newcastle College. Actually he wee'd on the merchandise - bad behaviour not even Naomi Campbell could match.

This was a great event and I'm sure it will do a lot of good for getting the "reusables are better" message across.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Soggy Log Blog

This log maker was one of the Xmas presents I mentioned back at the end of December. The fact that I'm blogging about it in March tells its own story.

The idea is soak newspapers overnight, squish them into blocks and, when they're dry, burn them as fuel. The 'when they're dry' part of that statement is critical - the instructions say put them on newspaper to dry and change the paper daily for a week. This seemed a bit of a faff, so I put them under cover outside where the wind would get around them and left them. And waited. And waited. Seven weeks later they seemed dry. But they didn't burn well at all - rather they turned straight to ash in the heat of the fire.

OK, so I didn't follow the instructions fully, but I can't see the newspaper having made that much difference. I'm not impressed, but I'll give it one more go (and do it properly) before I consign it to the 'Green Graveyard'.

In the meantime if anyone else has had more joy with one of these, please post your tips in the comments.

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A Century!

This is my 100th post!

When I started this blog last summer I was worried that I'd run out of stuff to blog about in a couple of weeks. 6 months, 100 posts and many thousands of readers later and there's still plenty more to come.

If there are any particular topics you'd like to see covered then please add them to the comments. Any other feedback will be much appreciated.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Great Global Warming Swindle: Postscript

If you want to see more about the backgrounds of the 'experts' on last night's programme, then check's summary.

In addition Zoe Williams in the Guardian pointed out that the "ex-editor of New Scientist" held that post briefly during the 1960s - if that's his best qualification, then...


Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Great Global Warming Swindle C4 tonight

Ummm. Interesting programme.

I have to leave the climatology/sun spots/oceanography arguments to the experts, but many of the programme's arguments were full of holes, for example:

i. The assertation that 10,000's jobs are dependent on global warming - well surely many, many more are dependent on a high carbon economy, so the idea that the establishment has a vested interest in global warming is laughable.

ii. They criticise the research history of many of the IPCC scientists, yet I don't recall seeing a peer reviewed paper ripping apart the theory of man-made global warming.

iii. They say that there is a huge CO2 emission from 'dying vegetation'. Vegetation grows in annual cycles so the CO2 from dead vegetation is reabsorbed in the spring - the Carbon Cycle. Can't say the same about volcanos, I must admit.

iv. That the whole thing is a Thatcherite/Hard Left conspiracy to defeat the miners/big business. Well the US Govt has long been sceptical and therefore must be free of these prejudices - so how come US scientists tell their Government that global warming is man-made?

v. They state (correctly) that there is a lag between CO2 and temperature to prove one argument, then repeatedly state that economic growth and global temperature patterns do not coincide over a period of decades - you can't have your cake and eat it.

vi. That the global warming conspiracy is keeping billions in poverty. I've never heard any environmentalist argue that the poor shouldn't have their fair share of resources - the unfairness is due to the current orthodoxy. Quite to the contrary, the pinning of the global environmental problem on the West is a constant theme amongst campaigners - as the programme pointed out when they were trying to make a different argument. I found this line extremely offensive.

OK, so maybe the programme makers threw in all this rubbish to pad out the programme to an hour and a half, and diluted these scientists' message of dissent, but at the end of the day:

- If 'we' are wrong we still end up with clean, secure, sustainable energy use with reduced congestion, better local air quality, improved community cohesion and we won't have world war III when we hit peak oil.

- If 'they' are wrong, it IS the end of the world.

So therefore I'd rather wait for the message to come directly from the research community than believe a rubbish TV programme like this.

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Renewables Cash Dash Goes Crazy

If you want to install some renewables at home, then the UK Govt offers a subsidy via the Low Carbon Buildings Programme. The programme is quite restrictive as you have to meet strict efficiency requirements first, and then you can only get certain products installed by approved installers.

The money is doled out monthly on a first-come-first-served basis. This is causing a mad dash for the cash - in January the money had all gone by the 12th, in February it ran out by noon on the first day, and this month it took just 75 minutes for the allocation to go.

This scramble to get the grants shows just how popular microrenewables have become, but it is frustrating for the large numbers of people who were depending on the grant when they were costing their own scheme.

When I got my solar panel I was aware of the pressures and didn't bother applying, preferring to take the hit rather than go through the paperwork when there wasn't much chance of success. The decision is yours...

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Green TV

If you live in the UK, you're spoilt for choice on TV tonight.

On eco-living, Panorama (8:30pm BBC1) has Justin Rowlatt living greener for a year. For those who miss it, or for our non-UK readers, the programme should be available on-line for a week afterwards.

Clashing with this is Dispatches: Greenwash (8:00pm Channel 4), where George Monbiot tears into the UK Government's Climate Change efforts (no doubt with some relish). You can read the gist of this in the Guardian: the headline article and a piece from Monbiot himself.

Later in the week is a documentary entitled The Great Global Warming Swindle (Channel 4, Thurs, 9:00pm), which I'm sure will stimulate some debate. The central argument is that the warming effect is due to solar activity and CO2 emissions are following temperature and not the other way around. This is a common argument, but why isn't there a body of peer-reviewed scientific papers to back it up? Surely the achievement of proving global warming is a natural cycle would make 'Science', 'Nature' or one of the other most prestigious journals? We'll just have to watch & see...

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Green Politics, UK style

According to the Guardian, the Green Alliance (which represents nine green groups including Greenpeace, WWF and the National Trust) has set the big three UK political parties a challenge to back rhetoric with action - accusing all three of not walking the green talk.

The Alliance's standards are:

· To achieve a 3% year-on-year reduction in UK carbon emissions;
· To provide global leadership in ensuring a fall in carbon emissions by 2015 and restricting global temperature rises to 2C;
· To make it cheaper and easier for individuals to reduce their environmental impact;
· To protect and enhance the environment in British towns, countryside and seas, and
· To make the tax system greener.

Now is it just me or are the last three of these the sort of aspirational statement that they're criticising the politicians for hiding behind? You would certainly find it hard to judge a party's policies objectively against them. The second standard could never be committed to by a sane person - 'ensuring a fall in [global] carbon emissions'? So basically we're down to the 3% year on year reduction in carbon emissions... I for one am not that impressed.

While we're on the subject, you may remember Friends of the Earth's 'Big Ask' campaign for a climate change bill (with racy viral marketing). Well now the first objective has been met, they're launching a new one to ensure the bill has teeth. If you want to take part then click here.

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