Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Not Codding

As every fool know, the humble cod, key ingredient of that most British of dishes, the fish supper, is in trouble. Europe's attempts to regulate the fishing industry is a joke, with loads of dead fish being dumped over the sides of trawlers rather than brought ashore. We've replaced over-fishing for food with over-fishing for bureaucracy.

A couple of glimmers on the horizon:

1. The Guardian is reporting that top chefs are backing Greenpeace's campaign for sustainable fish. And we all know that sleb chefs are the Bonos du jour - cf healthy eating and animal welfare.

2. A sustainable fish & chip shop has opened in South Kensington, London to rave reviews. I'm in London today, but unfortunately won't get a chance to kit S Ken to check it out for myself.

Maybe the cod will overtake the polar bear as the eco-symbol of the year. Stranger things have happened!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Monday Morning Rant

Do you know what really gets my goat?

Apart from all the other stuff?

Smart-arsed, intelligentsia types moaning about maybe just having to change their lightbulbs to help the world stave off global catastrophe as if we're asking them to sacrifice their first born children. Euan Ferguson in yesterday's Observer wrote half a page patronising those who recycle before 'drawing the line' at efficient light bulbs as being dim, low wattage and 'yellow'.

What a Div. If he'd ever used a CFL, he'd know that they're just as bright (the low wattage comes from the efficiency bit Wuan) and, if anything, too white.

But, this is obviously such a compromise to his louche, wild-living-at-the-edge libertarian literary lifestyle, he just won't stand for it. Get a grip. You're a columnist for a Sunday supplement, mate, not Jack fricking Kerouac.

I could go on, but it's recycling day and I need to go and put my box out.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Book Review: "How Many Lightbulbs...

...Does It Take To Change a Planet? 95 Ways To Save Planet Earth" is a manifesto for environmental change by Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth fame. Possibly influenced by George Monbiot's extensive use of an analogy to the Faust legend in 'Heat', Juniper apes the 95 theses nailed to a church door by Martin Luther in 1517 to come up with 95 'solutions' to the world's problems grouped into 9 sections ranging from climate change to food to transport to globalisation to environmental justice.

Despite what it says on the blurb, this book is not radical (unlike say, The Age of Consent by Monbiot). Rather it is a comprehensive summary of well understood steps on the way to true sustainability. I would argue against the term 'solutions' that Juniper uses as the steps are often the required endpoints rather than the means to achieve them.

What sets this book apart from the multitudes of others is Juniper's ability to relate global environmental issues to a scale we can all understand. He calls on his love of ornithology to illustrate particular points and draws on his personal experience of international negotiations and protests to give insights into why things are how they are. Al Gore does not come out well - his blocking tactics at Kyoto are an Inconvenient Truth of his own. By contrast, the description of a meeting with Ken Saro-Wiwa in a London tea shop to discuss Shell's activities in the Niger Delta 3 years before he ended up hanging on the end of a dictatorship's rope made his sacrifice all the more poignant without the mawkishness that Monbiot can stray into.

This is not an eco-living book, with the 'solutions' aimed at national and international governments, but it should be of great interest to those who are interested in how changing their lightbulbs to efficient models relates to the wider world.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More carbon craziness

The Guardian is reporting this week that UK Environment Minister Phil Woolas has criticised India for not "putting its shoulder to the wheel" on carbon emissions.

Hold on a minute, India is 133rd on the list of carbon emitters per capita, compared to the UK's position of 37, producing about a eighth of the carbon per person.

What a cheek!

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Monday, January 21, 2008

The Story of Stuff

The video above is a trailer for "The Story of Stuff" - an on-line video about consumption and its effects on society and the environment. Great stuff and I learnt somethings I didn't know, like the deliberate planning of consumer society in the post war years. The full thing is 20mins, a little bit US-polemical, but worth watching.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Which type of green are you?

DEFRA has released a weighty report dividing the population into the following 7 segments (with my slightly less subtle interpretations of what they mean):

1. Positive Greens - 18 % of us - will do as much as they can.

2. Waste Watchers - 12% - naturally dislike waste but not environmentally motivated.

3. Concerned Consumers 14% - would like to do more, but struggle with lifestyle choices.

4. Sideline supporters - 14% - concerned, but not acting.

5. Cautious Participants - 14% - will follow the crowd.

6. Stalled Starters - 10% - don't know much about the environment.

7. Honestly Disengaged - 18% - Jeremy Clarkson.

Which are you?

The report also sets 12 headline goals running from "install insulation" through to "eat food locally in season". It then plots which of these goals each type of person is most likely to be persuaded to achieve and by what method.

Interesting stuff... but I'm sure the reactionary and the paranoid will have a field day - "They're trying to brainwash wash us into this liberal-lefty green stuff!"

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Monday, January 14, 2008

How do you know what you're buying? read the label of course!

Lucy Siegle wrote this interesting piece on the plethora of eco-labels in Observer on Sunday. It is very interesting which labels have resonated with the public and which have fallen by the wayside.

In the report on Greenwashing I mentioned recently, the authors chided 57% of 'green' products they reviewed for only reporting a limited number of green benefits (eg recycled content) and not covering the whole impact. However, if you look at the labels that have caught the public's attention (soil association organic accreditation, FSC for timber and the energy ratings on white goods), they do just that. On the other hand, the more comprehensive labels like the EU 'daisy' have pretty much died a death.

In other words, the public wants simple, clear guidance on their products rather than full life cycle assessment style studies. The downside is that the product's designers and manufacturers could hide big environmental impacts behind a lesser benefit.

I can understand the desir for simplicity and clarity, but we have to be very careful we don't get the wool pulled over our eyes.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

The Humble Microwave

When we got our new kitchen installed 4 years ago, a number of people looked at our shiny built in microwave and said something along the lines of "Oh, I thought you were into natural stuff".

OK, when I want to heat up some of yesterday's leftovers (pesto and spinach pasta...) at lunchtime, the micro wave will zap it in 3 minutes at 900W, whereas my oven will take 10-15 mins to warm up at 2000W. I think the natural world will thank me for my little silver box...

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Big Green Challenge Launches

The good people at the Big Green Challenge asked me to publicise the details of the application procedure:

Today marks the opening of the application process for the Big Green Challenge and I wondered if you’d be interested in writing a follow up post on this? We want to get as many people as possible working together to develop home-grown ideas into carbon-cutting initiatives, so it’d be really great if you could help spread the word!

Initial applications must be submitted by 29 February, after which the top 100 will be whittled down to a short list of ten finalists, each of whom will receive £20,000, mentoring and support to put their ideas into practice. The group with the most imaginative and successful approach at the end of the competition will win the lion’s share of £1 million. Those interested in taking part in the Big Green Challenge should go to to find out more and submit an application.

Looks like a pretty good bet to me, so if you've got any good ideas, why not give it a go?

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Where are the energy protestors?

Has anyone noticed the price of road fuel? In 2000 the price was much lower than it is now and the country was brought to a near standstill by a coalition of farmers and truckers. Yet similar protests in December failed to garner more than a handful of protesters around the country.

This weekend, the papers were predicting a 15% hike in domestic gas and electricity. This will pitch many thousands into fuel poverty (where more than 10% of the household's income is spent on energy bills) and will make for an uncomfortable winter for many.

It is natural to attack the energy industry for this and the Government has started talks with them to try and reduce these prices. Of course the only long term solution is to reduce the amount of energy we need through better insulation, getting used to wearing a jumper rather than superheating our homes, and more efficient vehicles. For some reason the connection between costs and consumption (cost = consumption x price, duh) doesn't seem to catch the notice of the press.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Greensumption Video

This vid is very provocative and entertaining, but it is wrong in a number of places including linking the Prius to ecological damage around the Nickel factory. The Mail on Sunday ran this story earlier this year and had to retract it.

On the bigger picture - if only the big problem was too much green consumption. Global damage is being caused predominantly by non-green consumption (the lady's family would probably buy 7 non-hybrids instead).

Anyway, enjoy it, let it make you think, but don't take it as gospel!

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My Green New Year's Resolutions

1. Switch off more lights

2. Insulate a few more coldspots in the house

3. Help out on the allotment more

4. Buy a bigger proportion of second hand stuff rather - including for presents

5. Holiday in the UK (although that train ride across Canada is whispering seductively in my ear)

6. Rebuild the compost heap to its former two bay glory

7. Break up the old concrete drive in the garden and grass it over with some wildflowers sewn in

Can anybody think of anymore - for themselves, or for me (if you think I've missed owt)?!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Yes, I'm back at the keyboard at last after a decidedly ecologically dodgy festive period (flying, eating, drinking, excessive presents for small child). But now we're into the (hopefully) abstemious month of January (more exercise, less food), it seems like a good time to have a look back at 2007 from an eco-point of view.

In my Review of 2006, I was able to quote big events, like the Gore Movie and the Stern Report, as significant steps forward. Unfortunately, looking at 2007, while there were more proclamations of intent (domestically zero carbon homes by 2016 and legally binding carbon targets, internationally the Bali conference) there seems no significant shift from intent to action - emissions, waste and the over-consumption of natural resources continue to rise, and all our leaders do is simply pin the blame on China (where we have shifted our dirty industries). The UK Government has made a right mess of subsidising microrenewables - most of the grants have gone unclaimed and yet there seems no move towards the 'feed in tariff' that has seen the uptake of renewables boom in Germany (along with the industry).

In terms of big names, Al Gore's Live Earth concerts were a peculiar fish - nobody quite seemed to understand what they were for and the restrictions put on reporting by the BBC made the events a bit surreal (the Foos were great tho). In the UK, George Monbiot continued to rant at all and sundry and published the excellent Heat. We sadly lost Anita Roddick, who, love 'er or hate 'er, pulled the green consumerism market out of the grip of the yoghurt weavers and onto the high street.

The good news from the year comes from the private sector - our supermarkets are in a green oneupmanship battle, and we seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough in solar photovoltaics funded in part by Google which could make solar electricity as cheap as that from coal. But some sectors of industry are still trying to spin their way out of trouble - I reported on this awful attempt at justifying battery hens and just before Xmas I saw two adverts for 4x4s at the cinema that portrayed the urban streets as tough places requiring tough vehicles for survival - an obvious attempt to deflect the ridicule heaped on the drivers of 'Chelsea Tractors'.

So, in summary, 2007 saw plenty more promises and precious little action. Hopefully 2008 will provide a good bit more of the latter...

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