Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How much does that ring on your finger weigh?

No, this isn't a picture of me standing on a beach on my hols, forgetting to hold in my stomach.

I'm actually standing on a huge toxic waste dump, forgetting to hold in my stomach.

This 'slimes dam' is on the outskirts of Johannesburg is 11km across and 150m high. It is being created to remove lots of little old dams of gold mine tailings from within the city itself which pose a safety hazard to the local populace. The company moving the waste was financing it solely by extracting more gold from the old waste using highly toxic mercury. From every 5 tonnes of waste, they got 1 gram of gold.

So the answer to my question is, if your ring is 24 carot (ie pure gold) and came from this process, its 'ecological rucksack' is a whopping 50 tonnes.

The ecological rucksack of the UK economy is 35 tonnes per person - that's 35 small cars' weight of stuff being shifted around every year just for me, you and every one of us. After 6 months, less than a tonne of that stuff remains a useful product - the rest has been thrown away.

Makes you think doesn't it?

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Monday, May 28, 2007

How to Make a Compost Bin in Under Two Minutes

I thought you might enjoy this quirky vid on how to make compost bins from the London Community Recycling Network. They appear to be using pallets for the sides, but I couldn't quite make out how they did the doors as this is one of the hardest parts - if you get it wrong the weight of the composting material will force the sides apart.

It's a good time to turn your heap. Yesterday I found that the envelopes I had put in my compost bin had been compressed into a hard pan, dividing the compost in two. More shredding and turning for me from now on...


Friday, May 25, 2007

New Nukes Near You?

If you live in the UK and you haven't seen the list of potential new nuclear power station sites then you can get them here. The top ranked sites are generally in the South East.

I'm generally against nuclear as a source of energy for the following reasons:

1. Safety - accidents can and do happen, no matter how good the design.

2. Waste - no-one has a convincing solution to the waste problem and politicians tend to add a little "provided this important issue can get resolved" caveat to their speeches. And then plough on regardless.

3. Transportation - There's also the little matter of getting the fuel safely from mines to the power station. If there are indeed hoards of rabid terrorists out there trying to make dirty bombs, as many would have us believe, shipping the raw material around the world in increasing quantities doesn't seem like a very good idea.

4. Sustainability - nuclear fuel is still a fossil fuel and will run out - estimates of how much we have left vary from 6.8 to 50 years depending on how you define what ore is suitable (you need to balance the energy required to extract the fuel from the ore against the energy it will produce). But all these figures relate to replacing electricity like for like and not using nuclear to replace other forms of energy eg heating homes which would slash that timeframe.

5. Expense - I have it on very good authority (I'm afraid I can't name names!) that we only have a civil nuclear power capability to make military nuclear capability more acceptable during the 50s & 60s and that nobody in their right mind would use nuclear as a source of energy on economic grounds. Ever since the nuclear industry has been given humungeous subsidies, orders of magnitude above that which has been given to the renewables industry.

But with the Government dead set on a "nukes plus 'newables" policy, it looks as if we might just have to live with "our friend the atom"...

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bag Yourself Some Loot

Post-Hindmarsh-I'm-not-a-plastic-bag-hoohah (criminally under-reported by yours truly), my friends at are running a poll on plastic bag use. Some lucky participant will win £50 of fairtrade jewelry, so why not give it a go?

To enter follow the link...

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Greener Apple (coming soon)

I'm writing this blog on a three and a half year old Mac PowerBook. I've always owned Macs, as they fit my self-image/delusion of a techno-anarchic-creative sorta guy (and they don't crash half as often as W*nd*ws PCs). Us Mac users are notoriously sanctimonious and downright snooty when it comes to our IT, so it came as a bit of a shock when Greenpeace launched a campaign against Apple for coming bottom in their scorecard of electronics companies for the second year running (see graphic).

Apple's brilliant, but notoriously brittle, CEO Steve Jobs reacted dismissively to the campaign at first, but something must have sunk in as he has now launched an impassioned defence of Apple's record, trailed on the front page of their website. The most significant part is a pledge phase out of the dodgier chemicals in its product range, Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) by 2008 - other computer manufactures have pledged to phase them out by 2009.

So I can go back to being smug about my Mac...

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Who ate all the pies?*

Given that the game was rubbish, there's been a lot of interest in the ecological footprint of the FA Cup Final - 3000 times the size of the Wembley pitch. The big contributions came, not from Motty, but from transport to/from the stadium and the colossal amount of processed food that the fans ate to take their mind of the tedium acted out by the overpaid numpties on the pitch.

If you want to know more about ecological footprinting, I did two posts on it when I first started this blog:

1. Part 1: What is an ecological footprint?

2. Part 2: What is your ecological footprint?

* I apologise to non-UK readers for the number of obscure soccer references in this post. If you don't know who Motty is then I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Fancy a day at home? Tell your boss it's good for the planet

I've been doing a little bit of research on the environmental implications of telecommuting (as part of a bigger study). It looks as if working from home not only leads to a big cut in car use, but your house probably takes less energy to heat (and, more importantly, cool), and you start using local amenities more. So, provided daytime TV is not too much of temptation (quite the opposite in my case), why not bully your boss into giving you a day or two a week working in your PJs?

If you want a bit more detail on this, I've had an article published on Management Issues that summarises the findings.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

DeSmogging the Climate Debate

The DeSmog Blog can help you sort your climate expert oranges from your dodgy-denier lemons. Oh, and apparently the North Atlantic Conveyor isn't regarded as being at risk any more from climate change. Phew.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Whatever the weather...

When I had a go at Mark Durkin's Great Climate Change Swindle, I wasn't in a position to comment on the science. If the programme is still nagging away at you then have a look at this sober review of its scientific arguments from the chair of one of the IPCC working groups.

In the meantime, Professor Mike Hulme, of the the well respected Tyndall Centre in the UK, has said today we should be careful not to exaggerate the effects of climate change. He has carried out a study on communications which suggested that people shown doom-laden messages tended to believe the problem could come to a head further into the future. These people also felt there was little they could do to affect the planet's future.

The bizarre thing about all this is that I sometimes find myself almost wanting climate catastrophes to occur in order to vindicate the eco argument - then I have to remind myself that I'd be as one-eyed as Mr Durkin would like me to be. Other times I pray to the gods that climate change isn't happening so I can rack up a few (more) airmiles... So hurrah for the Prof's timely reality check in this oft-overheated debate.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Shrimp Fishing Damage

I'm probably breaking a gazillion types of copyright here, but this picture of seabed damage caused by shrimp fishing off the coast of China is making people around the world sit up and think about where our food comes from.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Belated Awareness of Compost...

Having now found out it was Compost Awareness Week in the UK, I thought I'd better go out and have a look at how my heaps were progressing. My compost area as three bins and at the minute, they're looking like:

OK, so it's not strictly composting, but my worm bin is definitely producing the best final product. On the other hand I'm having a bit of trouble keeping my worm population up, leading to a rather sedate production rate. I think it's because I'm not applying anti-acid as freqently as I should. During the summer I use the worm juice from the sump as plant food, during the winter I put it on my other heaps.

If you want more details on the worm bin, check out my review.

This is my main compost bin. I emptied it almost completely last year so the current compost is immature. I put most of our food waste plus brown envelopes, kitchen roll, paper bags and small shredded cardboard boxes in here. I'm not too fussy as I'm interested to see what rots and what doesn't. From the look of things I'll have to give it a good mix this weekend.

These bins are very good if you have a small garden as they keep everything neat and tidy.

This is the bad boy of my compost system. We have lots of privet hedge which doesn't compost very well, so I bung it in here with all the garden waste, plus worm juice and, erm, wee. Basically I just let it take its time and see what comes out.

The main area of our garden is currently a building site following our home improvements, but when it is finished we'll have a bigger lawn and therefore plenty of grass clippings. I live in hope that the mixture of 'hot rotting' grass and the slower, woody privet will then provide the perfect mix for this heap.

You've probably guessed that I made it myself! This is the cheapest way to compost - all you need is one or two 1m x 1m x 1m containers made out of scrap wood or pallets. It used to be a twin bay system so I could turn one side into the other. Unfortunately half of it had to go to fit some scaffolding in during the work on the house. Looks like I've got another project on my hands...

BTW: the type of compost you produce in the garden is strictly speaking a 'soil improver' which will help with the structure of the soil, retain moisture and provide some plant food. It can't be compared with garden centre 'composts' which have additions of chemicals (N, P & K) to boost plant growth.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Don't Stop the Rot, It's Compost Awareness Week

You can't say I don't have my finger on the pulse... actually you can as I only found out today that it is The Compost Association's Compost Awareness Week, and there's only two days left. You can see their basic home composting tips here.

I don't whether it reflects badly on me or the Association that I only heard in passing at an event I was at this morning...


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Want an eco-friendly holiday? Get on your bike!

With all the controversy over flying and carbon, guilt free holidays are becoming all the rage. Due to new sprog, this is the first year in a long time I won't be partaking of my favourite option - 4-5 days cycle touring. There's nothing that makes me happier than cruising along a country lane in the sunshine scaring the wits out of the local wildlife. If you fancy making me jealous and trying a trip this year, my tips are:

1. Follow a formal route. Every time I try to make one up, I usually find out why there isn't a cycle route in that particular direction and curse myself all the way up the 1:4 hill I should have spotted on the map. In the UK, the routes developed by Sustrans are the best. They're well thought out, take in local beauty spots and it's usually quite easy to find accommodation near the route. Their 'Stirling' maps are excellent - get them from their on-line shop.

2. Get cycle fit. No matter how fit you are generally, if you want to do 50-60 (80-100km) miles a day (or more!) with full paniers for 4-5 days, your joints and muscles will need proper preparation. If you are fit, I'd advise about four 30-40 mile (45-65km) Sunday rides spaced out over the weeks beforehand. If you're not fit, then maybe you should do short rides this year and build up for a long one next.

3. Eat a good breakfast. I used to do the whole 'easily digestable carbohydrates' thing (toast, banana etc), but would flake out early afternoon. Then I discovered the joys of a full English breakfast first thing - I can run all day on the fat and grease with just a small lunch and a steady stream of flapjacks. Conversely, I find a big lunch saps my energy.

4. Buy waterproof panniers. Ortleib are regarded as the best, but are very expensive. I've found Altura panniers a good compromise between performance and price. Don't try getting away with rucksacks, bum belts etc. You WILL regret it.

5. Get up early in the morning. I like to be on the road by 8:30 am at the latest. This gives you time to get where you're going, take the occasional side-trip (planned or otherwise), make any running repairs, and shower/find somewhere nice to eat in the evening.

6. Have fun!

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Monday, May 07, 2007

The Monday after...

Apologies for a few days' absence, but I was involved in the local voting jamboree Thurs/Fri (followed by too much booze at a somewhat food-free 'lunch' on Friday after the count).

One of the big issues in the elections across the country was the introduction of 'alternative weekly collection' of bins - recyclate one week, residuals the next - which has been shown to increase average recycling rates from 23% to 30%. Problem is that it is just too tempting to attack - one leaflet throught my door claimed it would put us at risk of bubonic plague. Councils changed hands just on this issue alone.

I owe an apology to Max Hastings as well. Given his numbskull piece on windfarms a few months ago, I had him down as a rabid anti-environmentalist. But today he calls for swingeing taxes on airlines to address climate change. I didn't, however, like his 'sod the poor' approach as the fast rise in flying is amongst the well off. I'm not a Tory, but, as I've said before, I did like their idea of a 'one tax free flight a year' allowance which would target the guilty rather than the carbon innocent.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Train, Train, Train...

I love train trips, I really do, and I hate flying. Travelling by train is a true journey, an experience in itself, but flying is an ordeal - crap food, no sleep, cramped conditions - ending in disorientation as you stumble out of a tin can into a whole new country. I've published several accounts of train journeys, including the biggie of them all - the Trans-Siberian Railway, but I've never had anything good to write about a flight.

Flying has just got political. On the eve of the Scottish, Welsh and English local elections, you may have seen spoof ads in the papers today for 'Spurt Aviation', attacking Labour for being too close to the airlines. It takes a bit of digging into Spurt's website to find it is funded by Greenpeace, airportwatch and The Tories suggested whacking a bigger tax on every flight after one tax-free flight a year, which would only have hit the rich (the average number of flights by UK citizens is 0.75 per year), but retreated swiftly as the right wing press harrumphed that it would hit 'the ordinary traveller'.

Both George Monbiot and Chris Goodall both ruled out flying altogether in their recent books. But what struck me in their analysis was that distance is the main factor rather than mode of transport. Flying long distance results in similar emissions to driving and only twice that of taking the train. I've mentioned Bab Haddrill's overland trip to Australia before. While I'm sure it was fun, it apparently resulted in half the carbon emissions of flying directly. You could argue that in climate change terms, her journey was worse than someone flying to Goa to lie on the beach for a fortnight before flying back.

So, having done my long distance trips in my youth and now having small sprog in tow, we're doing our holidays in the UK this year, plus a train trip to Cologne for business. I'm really looking forward to that.

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