Eco-living is the art of living your dreams while minimising your impact on the environment. Topics will include waste, energy, recycling, green building, transport, food, product reviews, book reviews and anything else to help readers live within ecological limits.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Climatologists are human shock!
You've probably heard the furore over the leaked e-mails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. If you are a climate denier/sceptic then this is the proof you've been waiting for that the whole thing is a socialist scam to enslave the world. Even George Monbiot says that heads should roll. Rejoice!
When you look at it, it's all a big fuss over nothing. Let's look at the "smoking guns":
1. One researcher says he's used a "trick" to deal with the "decline". This has already been misinterpreted by The Telegraph that the "decline" refers to recent years' temperature data when it doesn't. It refers to a way round a problem marrying historic tree ring data and actual temperature data. The whole "trick" was so devious the researcher published what he did and how he did it at the time in the prestigious scientific journal Nature and it was accepted as scientifically sound by their (very strict) peer review panel.
2. The censorship of research. This refers to the controversy in 2004 over the editorial policy in the journal Climate Research and again the row was very public at the time. Several editors resigned in protest at the acceptance of a number of (sceptical) papers which they felt did not meet proper academic standards. Academic politics can get quite bitter.
3. Freedom of Information requests. Again this has all been in the open, although I believe that in general data should be shared, even with people who will misinterpret it, deliberately or otherwise.
4. One researcher is frustrated he can't explain why 2008 was relatively cool. If you've worked in academic circles, there are always problems like this to solve.
What else do the e-mails tell us? That climatologists can be truculent, defensive and sometimes rude about others in private. Well, just like the rest of us then...
The whole fuss has got the denial brigade back in the media just before Copenhagen. You'd think someone had planned the whole thing.
Also, Nigel Lawson has launched a new "cross-party policy forum" on global warming which is going to carry out an objective review of the evidence. Except the board of trustees and scientific advisors are packed with the usual suspects from the denial circuit (Lindzen, Stott, Plimer - the best that money can buy). The banner of the website shows temperature data from 2001-08, nailing their colours firmly to the mast. Looks like the Heartland Institute on Thames, then.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Coming clean: my 10:10 commitment
I've been mulling for a while on what to do for my 10:10 commitment. According to the Carbon Detox method of counting, my carbon footprint is about 18% below average*, so I've done the quick wins and much of the more difficult stuff.
So, I've decided to:
1. Cut my meat intake to a maximum of once per day when I've got a choice.
2. Make a much bigger effort on the allotment this year so I'm both producing more food and providing a carbon sink in the soil by using permaculture and no-dig methods to build up humus (more on this as I get stuck in).
3. Putting another 4 inches of sheep's wool insulation in the loft and growing some climbers up the north wall of our house - the latter will provide insulation and a habitat for wee beasties.
* Actually, the method would now give me an even lower footprint since Jimmy was born as things like heating and car use would get shared between four rather than three, but that seems a bit of a cheat!
Monday, November 23, 2009
FoE Climate Change viral
Labels: climate change
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Book Review: The Transition Handbook, Rob Hopkins
Rob Hopkins founded the Transition Movement whose aim is to build resilience to the twin threats of peak oil and climate change in communities through a return to localisation of services. The model has been applied most prominently in Kinsale in Ireland, Totnes in Devon and Lewes in Sussex and is now springing up all over the UK and indeed the world. This book is essentially both a manifesto for the concept and a 'how to guide' for its implementation.
He starts by making a persuasive argument that peak oil and climate change cannot be addressed in isolation - otherwise a solution to one could worsen the other. The second section of the book is about presenting a positive vision of a resilient future and the third is on how to get there. Hopkins' background is in permaculture and it is no surprise that many of the examples in the book are of the local food, 'rustic' skills and vernacular building. The transition movement has also experimented with using local currencies to strengthen local economies.
The first thing to say is that, as a book, The Transition Handbook is superb. Hopkins practises everything he preaches - a positive vision and a no blame culture - and his prose is clear, personal and anecdotal without ever being cheesy. The participation techniques he outlines are clear and effective - I pinched one (storytelling the positive vision) for a corporate workshop I was running last month and it worked a treat. The only things I felt were a bit underdeveloped were some more examples outside permaculture and local currencies - for example, I'm sure the Transition Movement could help persuade people to walk and cycle rather than driving, or roll out an extra layer of insulation in their loft. While teaching self-build skills is admirable, it will have little effect on carbon emissions in the short-medium term where action is required. This is a minor niggle - as I said the book is superb and I will be using it and its engagement and practical techniques more and more as time goes on.
On the Transition Movement itself, the argument for moving in this direction is compelling. The big challenge is whether they can extend their appeal beyond the people (including me!) who naturally flock to this kind of thing. It is no surprise that the Transition concept started in the UK in Totnes and Lewes - places with a long history of alternative living and thinking. Transition Brixton will be a key test of whether the man in the Pringle sweater, the woman in the M&S dress and the teenagers in the Kappa tracksuit will join the people in 'ethnic trousers' who have flocked to the movement. Again this is no criticism of the Transition Movement itself, more a reflection on the challenges ahead.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Can we flunk it? Yes we can!
No, not Obama this time, but Bob the Builder. I took my 2.75 yr old to the live show in Newcastle on Saturday (not my idea, honest, no really). The show was pretty well put on (although the young Muck fans behind me were to be disappointed), but it featured such a heavy-handed green theme it made me cringe. Bob and his team were set the task of building an eco-centre, featuring wind turbines, recycling facilities and the slogan "it's only rubbish if you can't recycle it!" repeated ad-nauseum. Pity they couldn't have provided any recycling bins in the auditorium - and don't get me started on the decidedly unrecyclable tat they were selling in bucket loads to the pre-schoolers as merchandise. Just a little more thought would have made it appear a lot less cynical. The Millennium Dome got slaughtered for this kind of not practising what they preach gaffe, you'd think people would learn...
Today (Sunday) we went for a greener trip - the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust at Washington. Unfortunately we got off to a bad start getting lost due to a road closure and some terrible signposting and, with the moans of hungry people in the car ringing in my ears, we ended up pulling into a garden centre with a coffee shop. We opened the door to my personal room 101 - a seemingly infinite array of gaudy Christmas tat extending as far as the eye could see, with Do They Know It's Christmas blaring over the top - Nooooooooooooooooaaaaaah!!!! Make it stooooop!
Anyway we got to the WWT with time to go around the inner walk - little Jimmy getting breast fed as we went (it really is a very mild autumn, denialists, isn't it?). Great place with loads of interesting birds and hides and some good interpretation panels (I'm a sucker for a good fact). Best one this time - 40% of all species which live on dead wood are under threat of extinction. This made me a bit smug as all the round wood that we can't burn at home I lay between the base of one of our hedges and an old stone retaining wall as a wilderness pile. I originally thought of this to provide somewhere for beasties to hibernate, but I didn't realise I was providing a habitat too. A great day out - despite Harry falling out with a goose - and a lot cheaper than BtB - we will definitely be back for a full day visit.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Turning over a new leaf...
My New Year's Resolution every year is exactly the same - to live life properly. This gives me a kick up the backside every January to stop cutting corners and take the time and effort on every task. That's very fulfilling in itself - I don't buy into this "modern life is so hectic" nonsense in the meeja. If you want the time to do something then you will find the time.
So, a bit early this year, I've decided to do my composting properly. Normally I just chuck leaves into the general compost heap, but this year they're going into a dumpy bag of their own to make leaf mould. Most of the work in a compost heap is done by bacteria who need heat and oxygen through turning. Tree leaves however are broken down by fungi who work in a cooler environment and don't like being disturbed. I'm paraphrasing Carol Klein here, but, unlike her, I'm leaving some leaves to decompose in situ which should improve the ecological value of the garden by encouraging microfauna.
On my main food composter, I'm not only adding shredded brown envelopes this year, but I'm using a small pitchfork (which was in the house when we moved in) to mix the material as I go along. Already the composting is happening faster and better. I've also just insulated the worm bin to help them through the frosts.
All this compost will be used to top-dress the flower beds next year. We did this earlier this year and we've had the best display that we've had in the nine and a half years we've lived here.
Monday, November 09, 2009
Blind faith or sound science?
The case of Tim Nicholson, who successfully sued his employer Grainger plc for unfair dismissal on the grounds that he believed too deeply in environmentalism akin to a religious belief, has generated more in column inches than it arguably deserves. But, never one to eschew a bandwagon, here's my take on faith vs science on climate change.
To start with, most if not all of the commentary is oversimplistic in order to make a good headline. To get a sensible understanding of this situation, we've got to split the 'green position' into three.
First of all, take the science of, say, climate change. I once heard a Met Office climatologist tell an audience "I often get asked at parties whether I believe in climate change. I respond that you might as well ask me whether I believe in mountains. It [climate change] is simply a physical fact." Estimating the likely impacts of man-made climate change is where the real scientific debate takes place and that is a matter of observation, modelling, debate, peer-review and all the other objective processes of scientific endeavour. Faith does not, and should not, get a look in.
Secondly, there is the deeper value-driven belief system when it comes to the environment. Everyone (OK, almost everyone) is an environmentalist. Who isn't amazed by the splendours of nature - the Grand Canyon, wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti or an eagle in flight? This taps into a deeper part of our soul - our attachment to our natural habitat. This is subjective and will manifest itself in different ways for different people. This is the closest environmentalism comes to faith.
Thirdly, there is political outlook. There is no doubt that the physical phenomenon of climate change is convenient for those with an anti-capitalist, anarchist mindset - just look at any major protest. Despite claims to the contrary, you rarely see many men in Pringle sweaters or women with blue rinses at a Climate Camp. That's not to knock those protesters, but they would have to admit themselves they tend to come from a particular mindset. People's politics change, so this can't be faith either.
Many of the commentators on the Nicholson case, deliberately or otherwise, have mixed up these issues. We get told that if we don't get in step with "the climate change orthodoxy" we get howled down (who by? go to any online debate on climate change and see who is doing the howling). Let's get it straight. Man-made climate change is a scientific fact. The enthusiasm or tone of argument of those who promote action on climate change does not undermine that fact or make it an article of faith.
I would like now to throw the "faith" issue back at the climate change denial brigade. I went to a very academic and quite religious school in Northern Ireland. On the subject of evolution we got a very schizophrenic education. We'd go to Biology and get the science in an objective and rigourous manner, then to Religious Education, where a man in a dog collar would try and disprove that science using what I now recognise as some very dodgy scientific arguments and some stuff he simply made up. Reading the ramblings of a climate change denier like Christopher Booker of the Telegraph (who also happens to be a creationist) reminds me of my old RE teacher. They start with an assumption they are right (faith), ignore the core evidence (blind faith) and pick out (or make up) a few 'facts' which they say bring down more than a century of climate science (self delusion). Straw men are set up to be knocked down, experts are derided and laymen are quoted as soothsayers. Despite this, they get the book deals and the newspaper columns - just like many other huxtsers in other lines of human endeavour.
So, whether greens are coming from a scientific or a political angle, it cannot be argued that climate change is "eco-fundamentalism". The only fundamentalism in the green debate is from the denial brigade. Fact.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Mr James William Kane...
...aka Jimmy was born on Thursday at 8:30pm weighing in at 8lb 10oz. He's great, his Mum's recovering well and his brother keeps wanting to buy him presents, so I'm a very lucky man.
So posts here will continue to be a bit erratic for a bit. But eco-living wise, we're mega-recycling stuff from boy#1 most of which has been used by another kid or kids in the meantime. He has inherited his big bro's reusable nappies although we are using some disposables overnight as they do let the lil'un sleep better.