Saturday, January 31, 2009

This made me giggle...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The light bulbs flicker at The Mail

The Daily Mail's ferocious attack on the tyrannical march of energy efficient lightbulbs seems to have flickered and died... a search today suggests that the last attack dog article on bulbs was on 10 Jan. And today they're proclaiming a breakthrough in LED technology which will be even greener than "unpopular" CFLs. Blimey!

But in case you think they're going soft, a column today proclaims recycling a waste of time and a con, despite the absence of any evidence to back this up - just based on a quote re incineration from Peter Jones. 77% of readers say recycling is a waste of time in an on-line poll.

For those overseas readers who are familiar with The Mail and it's rabid rants at everything modern or progressive, you can get a flavour from the satirical Daily Mail Headline Generator - my favourite "Can Gypsies Give You Cancer?" If only this was an exaggeration...

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Cheaper is not better in a recession

The papers are chock full of ways to save money in the recession and the reduction in consumption has been notcied at the petrol pumps and power stations. As I've said before, while this is giving some ecological breathing space, it is not the thriving low carbon living that most of us want to see. And we appear to be seeing a tendency to buy similar amounts of cheaper stuff - which is usually a false economy as cheap things often wear out quicker.

I believe we should be buying less stuff, but better quality stuff when we do. I'm currently dressed head to toe in YSL, which few people would think of as 'green', but this suit has lasted twice as long already as the cheap one I bought from H&M about 6 years ago. Quality beats quantity every time.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Book Review: The Big Earth Book by James Bruges

James Bruges' book is a fast paced race through a huge range of environmental issues - structured into four sections - the elements (earth, fire, air and water), money, power and life. Each section is further subdivided into short 2-4 page chapters on a particular subject. The breadth of these subjects is highly impressive - Bruges has taken the time to understand everything from the use of biochar to sequester carbon to the international monetary system to the social structures of elephants - and they are all expressed in a clear easy to understand manner. The book is beautifully laid out too, with some fantastic illustrations and pictures.

However, there is a fundamental flaw in The Big Earth Book - it is trying to be both an compendium and a polemic and it just doesn't work.

To be a polemic it needs a coherent thread of argument, backed up by carefully referenced research and evidence, but any threads are disrupted by the compendium structure. For example Bruges makes it clear in some chapters that he feels that the pursuit of economic growth is harmful, that GDP is unrelated to happiness and that some 'undeveloped' cultures are much happier than ours due to the way they organise their society and its meagre finances. On the other hand in other chapters he attacks the unequal distribution of wealth in the world and criticises the WTO on the basis that Mexico only managed 1% growth by following their policies, whereas Vietnam managed 5% by breaking the rules. This is having one's cake and eating it - GDP can't be evil and a measure of progress/equality at the same time.

To be an effective compendium, an objective view is required required, but this book is one-eyed in its pursuit of perceived sinners and their sins. The unrelenting cynicism for the establishment, political structures and the sustainable development movement ignores the fact that those structures are what we have to work with if we want to reform the system. An occasional unjustified sweeping statement undermines many of the arguments - for example to imply that Abraham Lincoln may have assassinated for his proposed reform of the banking system, rather than for his emancipation of black Americans, requires a better justification than "his assassination has never fully been explained."

Both aims are let down by the sporadic use of citations. While there's a biography for each chapter, there's a dearth of specific references for facts quoted in the text (although it has to be said that the 'life' section is better referenced than the others). This makes it impossible to verify the source and determine whether any statement is a measured fact, an opinion of someone else (and who that is) or Bruges' own views. This is a real shame as I learnt loads from this book and would like to be able to check back and quote the source of data and facts in my own publications and presentations.

This book will be great fuel for the indignant armchair activist - and a jolly good read if you want to broaden your view of the issues. However it is a flawed gem, undermined by its own ambition and subjectivity - which is a shame given the hard work, belief and passion that has clearly gone into it.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Heathrow: push comes to shove

Well, we all knew it was going to happen. The first big iconic decision for the Government in terms of slowing climate change and they flunked it. What annoys me even more is Geoff Hoon's lame 'environmental regime' for the runway:

1. "airlines using the new runway would be required to use the newest, least-polluting aircraft."

This will only make a difference if the restriction was placed on all runways in the London area, otherwise there will just be careful shuffling of the pack to put the more polluting planes on the other runway.

2. "the government was satisfied environmental targets could be met, as it would put an initial cap on additional flights from the new runway of 125,000 a year"

That's a cap? 340 a day? One every 4 minutes, 24/7?


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Friday, January 09, 2009

If you are a hardcore sustainability thinker...

...then check out my review of Sustainability by Design here.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Good things

Going for a walk, falling in love, kicking leaves, throwing snowballs, running, jumping, laughing, joking, kissing, chasing, teasing, talking, snoozing, keeping in touch, making love, lying in, putting your feet up, watching wildlife, gardening, mulling, climbing, building sandcastles, paddling, teaching your kids stuff, helping, jogging, camping, splashing in puddles, fixing things, visiting, cloud watching, playing poohsticks, listening, smiling, stroking, sunbathing, walking hand in hand, lying in the bath, hiking, writing, crosswords, a cup of tea, stretching, singing...

(add your own)


Friday, January 02, 2009

Looking back at 2008 and forward to 2009...

A Happy New Year to all! 

There were only two big stories last year and they've both had big Green implications:

First, the economy (stupid...). The global financial system turned out to be a huge house of cards: complex financial 'products' were outed as hot air, bad debts turned out to be worth less than the paper they were written on and the whole thing was so poorly regulated that a man with the wonderfully appropriate name of Madoff snaffled $50bn without anybody noticing. Some put all this down to greed, but I put it down to stupidity.

From a green point of view, the economic collapse may give the planet some slack as people stop buying so much, become more conscious of their energy bills and cancel that third holiday. But the resulting pessimism and despair doesn't square with my desire to see people 'thrive' in an eco-friendly way. Hopefully we can rebuild the economy in a greener and more socially responsible manner rather than running like lemmings towards a cliff. The biggest obstacle in the short term is the precipitous drop in oil prices which is undermining the cleantech/ renewables markets.

And the second big story was of course the election of Barack Obama. The skin colour thing is beside the point to me. When Ruud Gullit became the first black Premiership football manager, nobody commented on this fact because he was Ruud Gullit, one of the greatest players ever (pity the skills weren't transferable to management). Same with Obama - to me he was not 'the black guy', but the guy who had the vision and the oratory to sell a beautiful, green, fairer future for the US and the rest of the world. This is some achievement when the superpower's political system has been swirling in a cynical, anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-culture, small minded, lowest common denominator cesspit for the best part of a decade. Hope is cool again.

And the signs look good for the green industries. Obama has appointed a number of climate scientists to key positions in his new administration and has made some very clear and precise commitments on what he intends to do when in power. Let's just hope that he remains steadfast when the rubber hits the road (or doesn't as the case may be) later this year.

So 2009 is a hard one to predict - the economic situation and Obama's leadership give a huge opportunity, but it will be hard for any decision maker to go for the long term benefit over the short term gain. But of course we can all do our bit, not least when it comes to supporting those decision makers. Let's make it a green one!

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