Sunday, September 30, 2007

Dry Stone Walling

Over the last, erm, 15 months, I've been building this dry stone retaining wall in the garden. I didn't think of it as an eco-option at first as stone is non-renewable, but then I compared it to its brick equivalent and realised:

1. stone has a lower embodied energy than brick

2. no mortar = less energy intensive cement manufacture

3. the gaps provide refuge for wildlife

The bonus is the source of the stone - Ladycross Quarry near Hexham. The stone is quarried by hand and the already quarried areas are converted into a nature reserve as they go along. It is a truly beautiful development - I have never heard or seen so many birds in one place in this country.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Global climate change awareness at a high

The Beeb has surveyed more than 22,000 people in 21 countries about their awareness of, and attitudes to, climate change. The headline results were:

- 79% of respondents agreed that "human activity, including industry and transportation, is a significant cause of climate change".

- Nine out of 10 people said action was necessary, with two-thirds of people going further, saying "it is necessary to take major steps starting very soon".

Looking at the results in more detail, only in India did the "human cause" view drop below 50% with the majority of the remainder views being "don't knows" rather than "non human cause". Spain, Italy, South Korea and Mexico all scored over 90%, with China weighing in at 89% - significantly more than the US's 71% and the UK's about average 78%.

With the US starting to look as if it just might start joining in international climate change action, this survey will hopefully remind our global political leaders that people want action and they want it now.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

The worst way to travel?

I broke my 15 months no-flying run this week (longest period since I was knee high to a greenfly). Love miles, I'm afraid - we only had a short window to see my brother in Belfast so flying it had to be.

I had forgotten what a bloody awful experience a modern airport is. You have to be there several days before take off to join a queue that wouldn't have been out of place in Soviet era Moscow, except with the added delight of luggage trains squeezing past with their annoying beeps. Then at security you have to take most of your clothes off and get your laptop out to go through the machine (and the bloody metal detector still bleeps - must be the alien implant). Once you've got dressed again, you go and sit in the noisiest shopping mall in the world before being summoned to a distant gate and you can actually get on board.

I had a bit of turbulence too on the way over resulting in some good squealing - I don't think any of it was mine. At Belfast airport, the baggage handlers were obviously on their lunch break as it took 30minutes to move the bags the 30 yards from the plane to the carousel.

On the way back we made a complete horlicks of the liquids/plastic bag thing (what is it actually meant to achieve?) and got sent to the back of the queue in disgrace.

I couldn't help wondering at the fact that people choose this method of torture over trains for domestic journeys - at least I had some sea to cross.


To get to London by train, I walk to the station, grab a coffee, walk onto the train, stow my luggage, sit down, open laptop, log on to wi-fi and pretend to do very important work when I'm actually on Facebook. At King's Cross I get up and walk off in the centre of the city. The choice is an easy one...

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Arnie loses car fight

Hidden away in today's media is the disappointing (but hardly surprising) news that the state of California has lost in its attempt to sue 6 major car dealers over environmental damage from their products. The legal action, the first (and presumably last) of its kind, demanded millions of dollars in compensation from General Motors, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Chrysler and Nissan. The judge ruled that the issue of whether carmarkers were accountable was a political, not legal, matter.

The Governator himself seems to have kept his head down on this one. Maybe because once upon a time Mr Schwarznegger persuaded GM to produce the avariciously thirsty civilian Hummer so that men with identity problems could play tough soldiers in suburbia.

But imagine what would have happened if the case had succeeded. A stack of copy cat actions would surely follow as the smell of money wafted around the world. The car industry could have been Terminated.

Hasta la vista, etc


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Supermarkets still after your green pound...

Tesco have announced today that they're funding an Institute of Sustainable Consumption at the University of Manchester. Sounds like they're spending big bucks on it too - one Prof, 5 academics, 20 researchers and 30 Phd's - a cool £25m.

Great, but, hold on, you've got the UK's biggest retailer, which takes about £1 out of every 6-8 out of our wallets, asking a team of 56 people to redesign consumption patterns - are they really going to say the answer is:

"Return to lots of independent retailers within walking distance of their customers' homes and whose buying power is not crushing our indigenous farming industry making it rely on state handouts and intensive unsustainable methods of production."

or, more succinctly,

"Abolish all the features of the system that made Tesco so rich."

Meanwhile, internet grocer Ocado is claiming that each of their delivery vans takes "20 cars off the road". Hang on, the Department of Transport claimed the figure was 3*. Could Ocado be overstating it slightly? Surely not.

* as quoted in Heat.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Happy Birthday to Us

One year old today!!!

Thanks to all our readers for sticking with the blog. Remember - please send me any suggestions of green dilemmas or problems that you'd like to see discussed here.


Anita Roddick RIP

Very sad news today that Body Shop founder Anita Roddick died last night at the age of 64.

I never met her personally, but I have spoken to several people who had worked for her at different times. "Force of Nature" seems to sum her up on many different levels - her unwavering commitment to the environment and trade justice, and her personality and business style. Rumours abound of multiple teams of Body Shop staff doing the same project because she had simply forgotten she had already asked someone to do it. She was also withering to anyone who dared question her or her business's integrity.

But none of this detracts from her colossal achievement - to put a 'green' business emporium on almost every high street across the Western world, mainstreaming environmental and ethical concerns into the life of the ordinary consumer. No one has done it since.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sanctimonious Slebs? No Thanks!

The Guardian is reporting today that plans for an all-day save-the-planet-athon on the BBC have been dropped. Speculation is that some Beeb suits felt that it would breach their impartiality guidelines.

Forget impartiality - the idea should have been strangled at birth on the grounds of good taste. Who really wants to be lectured on consuming less by multi-millionaires like Ricky Gervais and Graham Norton?

The do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do contribution of slebs like Chris "Beemer X5" Martin and Sienna "Air Miles" Miller have hardly done much to move the debate forward, have they?

And let's not forget the embarrassing exhortations from Madonna at Live Earth.

Urggh. Shiver. Thank the gods it is not going to happen.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Informal Recycling Industry of Cologne

One strange feature I noticed when I was in Cologne was a significant number of reasonably well dressed people 'bin hoking' as we used to call it when we were kids. I was wondering what they were after until I perched on a wall by the river to give the boy his afternoon drink. Beside me were two empty beer bottles. After a bit a middle aged lady walked up and asked if they were mine. When I said no, she added them to her collection in two large carrier bags.

Germany introduced a compulsory deposit scheme in 2003 and as a result, single use bottles and cans are worth 25c. I assume the people I saw were making their living by collecting the deposits - there seemed to be loads of them doing it.

If we have any German readers, I'd be very interested in your views on the pros and cons of this.

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