Friday, May 29, 2009

Electric spin...

Had a ride in this sharp little mover this week - the Mitsubishi i MiEV - the first plug-in electric vehicle to hit the shores of the UK. Lots of fun, quick acceleration, sharp braking (which helps charge the battery), almost silent too. And according to makers, it only results in 30% of the carbon emissions of its conventional equivalent. Range is about 100miles.

Very nice, but the range is a little for tight me as it stands as I do little city driving - a 150 mile range would give me much more confidence that I could get where I'm going and back again on a single trip.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009


BBC Radio 4 yesterday had some reporter doing his outside broadcast from a truck fest to jazz up a story that truckers are the people being hardest hit by the recession. He said "There's so much fuel burning here I can feel holes opening in the ozone layer above us!"


You would have thought that most journos would have sorted out the difference between climate change and ozone depletion by now, but apparently not. Barbara Ellen made a similar blunder in the Observer a couple of weeks ago.

Hint for meeja types: if you don't know what you're talking about, either find out, or, alternatively, SHUT IT!


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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Flowers all year around!

Just watching the brilliant Springwatch on the Beeb. Chris Packham (a worthy successor to Bill Oddy) is explaining that to support birdlife at this time of year (nesting), you need plenty of nectar to attract insects - the young birds need the protein to survive.

BTW - leaving some scruffy corners in your garden will help too.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Review: Carbon Detox by George Marshall

I was going to write a book on eco-living because most of them are so goddamn awful they make me want to scream. Well, that idea has now been dropped after reading George Marshall's Carbon Detox because it does everything I wanted to do and a whole lot more...

In extremely short, witty chapters, Marshall demolishes the standard message on climate change - "we're all doomed unless you switch off your 'phone charger and reuse your plastic bags" - showing just how preposterous this is. Big problems require big solutions and we should see that as exciting, fun and ultimately fulfilling.

The first few parts of the book take you on an elegant skip through the science and, importantly, the psychology, of climate change and its solutions. Marshall's skill as a communicator is extraordinary - he gets all the important points across with a light touch. The psychology part is particularly welcome - urging us to confront our internal deniers and make action work for us.

The practical part of the book is a simple carbon calculator and a serious of chapters on how to "drop a tonne" in different elements of your own lifestyle. He nails the issues that most commentators get wrong, eg the more you spend, the bigger your impact, and makes suggestions counter to the tree-hugger ideal: spend your money on employing people to improve your life, an expensive suit is more eco-friendly than a cheap suit and there's nothing wrong with the occasional carbon splurge if you've tackled the big habitual impacts. As he keeps repeating, "the only thing that matters is the carbon bottom line."

The final section is for those who want to "thrive" in this arena - make a career out of being low carbon and he uses a number of case studies.

There are a couple of points I would debate (eg he rates green electricity tariffs as zero carbon) and there are a number of typos, but I have no major criticisms. It should also be noted that, while this book is aimed at the individual, his approach to 'messaging' ("not another bloody polar bear") and engagement will be of great interest to professionals and activists who are spreading the word through public/staff awareness.

Verdict: Buy it, read it, read it again, buy it for your friends.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Monbiot takes a leaf out of Booker's Book

Deniers aren't the only ones to drop the odd clanger - George Monbiot raced to disprove a Christopher Booker factoid and in his haste picked the wrong figure - oops!

There is neat symmetry with Booker's own boob a couple of weeks ago.

Now can both of you please check your facts?

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Throw another planet on the barbie...

The sun is shining, the weather is sweet and like many people we've been having a few barbecues. These can be a eco-minefield - some charcoal can be from the clearance of endangered mangrove swamps, 'briquettes' and lighters are oil based etc, etc.

The greenest charcoal we have found is Great North Charcoal which is locally produced from sustainably coppiced woodland. But if you don't have a resource like this on your doorstep, some bigger brands are FSC accredited (eg "Big K") so shouldn't be too damaging.

Another little eco-trick (see above) is to use strips of waste tetra-paks (recycling facilities for these are rare) as fire lighters - you can't use the foil backed cartons and make sure you don't use the plastic spout or it could get nasty!

According to this study, charcoal has a carbon footprint than LPG. I don't understand this as charcoal is a biomass fuel so if it is harvested sustainably (as above), it should be almost carbon neutral. I assume the study used the fact that most charcoal is imported.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

50 cars = 1 bus

From the creative review blog.

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Booker backs down

This week's column by our favourite man-paid-to-be-wrong-about-pretty-much-anything, Christoper Booker, is somewhat more 'umble than last week's husbristic sneer-a-thon.

Greenhouse gases raise temperatures online
I am sorry to have misread some of Lord Stern’s figures on CO2, says Christopher Booker, but I'm still concerned that our Government’s leading adviser on climate change has such a wildly optimistic view of the supposed benefits of wind power.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

The greener, greener grass...

Lawns are great for allowing water to soak away (important given potential flooding of rivers in a warmer climate), but traditional lawn maintenance can be quite resource intensive in terms of energy for mowing, water and fertiliser. For the first, we've got a push mower and the second hasn't been a problem yet - that wet August last year watered it in without intervention from us and the garden is reasonably shaded.

For the last one we got some organic lawn food (see above). This is not one for the veggies - it seems to mainly consist of by-products from the meat industry (blood, hoof and feathers) and it does have a faint whiff the day you put it down. But a week later and the grass really is looking thicker and greener. Nice one.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Pigs, Productivity & Pitchforks

One of the godfathers of the permaculture/organic farming movement, Masanobu Fukuoka, once said:

"If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork."

We've had the first confirmed case of swine flu in our town, Newcastle upon Tyne, someone who'd recently visited Mexico. She's OK and so are his flatmates, and the infection numbers in Mexico are stabilising, but with a pregnant woman and a toddler in the house, it is hard not to worry a little bit.

And why has it happened? We create an industrial style of agriculture where disease flourishes without intervention, then export it to poor countries where costs are low and standards are lower (the two obviously relate) and on top of that we misuse antibiotics to promote growth further. And what happens?

It's another case of where our "success" in raising our standard of living in the West is coming back to bite us (cf climate change, AIDS, drought). Commentators in the press may sneer at the organic movement and say "it's OK for those who can afford it", but the question is, can we afford not to do it?

And, of course, once again, it is the poorest who have been hit hardest.

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