Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Many 'greens' not so green...

With the Guardian reporting last week that many people who saw themselves as Green actually have the largest carbon footprints. They should read eco-living myth no 1 and eco-living myth no 2 to understand why that is...

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Eco-Living Myth No 2: Small things matter

Despite what you might read in the press and many books, you will not save the planet simply by reusing your plastic bags, switching off your TV at the plug or putting your recycling out. You should do them, of course, but that's not eco-living. In fact these things are pretty much mainstream now.

In the West our ecological footprint is huge and small stuff won't make much of a dent. You will only cut that footprint significantly by hitting the big ticket items:

1. Food: buy local and organic, less meat, avoid processed foods, use leftovers and plan your purchase of fresh food to avoid waste.

2. Transport: walk, buy a bike, use public transport, work close to home (or at home), holiday locally (cycle touring is a top option).

3. Heating your home: insulate, insulate, insulate. Set your heating controls to what is comfortable wearing suitable clothes.

4. Consumerism: buy second hand, buy quality over quantity, spend your money on services (haircuts, pampering, sports, renting DVDs etc) rather than stuff, don't buy anything at all if you can help it.

So, yes, do the small stuff, but you're not eco-living unless you're doing much more than that.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Book Review: Ready, Set, Green - Graham Hill & Meaghan O'Neill

I'm getting my book, the Green Business Bible, edited and it is a painful experience. All the bits you think are clever get kicked out as they usually mean nothing to the reader, or worse, would distract or confuse them. You get asked to justify your sweeping statements and changes in tone are hunted down and mercilessly shot. It hurts you to protect your readers.

Ready, Set, Green by Treehugger.com's Hill and O'Neill is another eco book which needs a really tough editor (they're in good company - the mighty Jonathan Porritt has far too many exclamation marks in Capitalism as if the World Matters - ie more than zero). While there's plenty of good stuff in there, too many things really bugged me:

- The subtitle is 'Eight Weeks to Modern Eco-living' - why eight weeks, apart from you've got eight chapters? Most of the small stuff ("save the planet in 30 minutes or less" ) could be implemented immediately (8 days?), and the "so you want to do more" things would take you at least 8 months.

- The sudden appearance of unexplained jargon like "anthropogenic emissions" and "secondary raw materials" jars with the matey tone.

- There are some real humdingers like this definition of an ecological footprint: "Put simply, it is a calculation that works to ascertain planetary limits, like a spreadsheet of environmental checks and balances". Not simple and doesn't really make sense. It is also inaccurate - a footprint it is actually a measure of how the impact of our lifestyle compares with planetary limits, not the limits themselves.

- the references to the books Cradle to Cradle and Biomimicry appear to be there to show off the knowledge of the authors, not add to the effectiveness of the message.

- the things in "save the planet in 30 minutes or less" won't save the planet by a long stretch.

All this is a shame as the book is packed with good ideas and interesting facts. Get an editor, a really tough one, and this could be a good book.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Green, Green Grass...

After 5 years of resembling a building site, we finally got our garden in shape this summer. This was a good opportunity to flex some green muscle.

We broke up a lot of concrete and replaced it with grass - a permeable surface which absorbs rain. You may think this is insignificant, but, as I write, half of Newcastle is under water and people are being evacuated from their homes. Our drainage and rivers cannot cope with the rapid run-off from hard surfaces, and this is our small contribution to reversing the trend of concreting over front gardens.

The benefit of all this rain is we haven't had to water the lawn and I'm going to try and feed it with homemade fertiliser next year. The grass cuttings will also balance the hedge clippings in our very dry compost heap - I've bought a push mower for when it dries out enough to cut.

Other green features include reclaimed flag stones, a retractable double washing line (we never have owned a drier anyway) and several bird feeding stations. We'll be stocking it up with more wildlife friendly plants in the next year.

The eco-bandit in all this greenery is the pressure treated wood deck. We would have preferred a stone patio, but the cost was prohibitive.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Eco-Living Myth No 1: Going Green Will Save You Money

I read this again and again - "save the planet and save money"! Hurrah! Fantastic! What could be better? Friends of the Earth even published a book called "Save Cash and Save the Planet" (I like their priorities).

OK, some eco-living options will save you money: buying a smaller/more efficient car, cycling, insulating your house, switching to low energy lightbulbs etc. Others won't: organic food, higher quality clothing, microrenewables etc. But all of this misses the point - eco-living is about your whole life, everything you do and everything you consume, not just how much you spend on, say, fuel.

An example: in 2003 I wrote off my Ford Ka (40mpg) and replaced it with a VW Golf TDi (55mpg). The Golf cut my fuel consumption by 28% and saved £250. Fab. But if I spend that money on a flight to New York, then I've just doubled the emissions from the Ka. To reap the benefits of that fuel efficiency, I have to either donate the 'saving' to a green cause or spend it on very low impact goods or services (eg an antique chair or a haircut).

So saving money is irrelevant to the eco-living debate, as it just goes back into the pot. What is important is that, overall, you purchase fewer high impact goods and services (air travel, meat, concrete) and instead go for their low impact equivalent (cycling, local veg, locally sourced wood). So don't listen to the "save money" brigade and look at the big picture instead.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Meat the Press

I still find it funny (peculiar and a little haha) that when someone in a lofty position something that everyone has known for over a decade, it can still make the headlines. Today the Observer led on the chair of the UN's IPCC telling us that we should eat less meat to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (meat is reckoned to be responsible for about 20% of manmade sources of ghgs). I remember discussing this earnestly with a group of treehuggers over a bottle of wine on a woodland conservation holiday in about 1995. It's a bit like the furore when Sir David King said climate change was a bigger threat than terrorism - stating the bleedin' obvious to the rest of us, but 'controversial' in the eyes of the meeja.

Anyway, chez Kane had already decided to cut the beef a bit. Made a lovely spicy aubergine and bean stew topped with bulgur wheat last night to kickstart the new resolution. Mmmmm...

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Home again...

The problem with holidaying at home is you are beholden to the Great British weather system and, boy has August been wet.

We started off with a week in Fort Augustus at the south end of Loch Ness - damp but fun and my son now has a remarkable interest in ornithology for being 18months old. Okay, so he can only identify a robin so far, but, hey, I'm proud. I also managed to sneak out and get a day's cycle along Wade's Military Road.

For the last week we've been living practically underwater in the Lake District. I did get a 12 mile hike around the Fairfield horseshoe where I got battered by the elements. It did brighten up on the way down and by the time I got to the pub, I could have been standing on the top in a T-shirt, rather than huddled in a shelter in hail as I was...

Suddenly flying off to the Costa del Sol has its temptations!