All 12 entries tagged Environment

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April 28, 2009

Bye Trees!

Media companies love giving you bundles. Bundles of telly, phone calls, broadband etc.

But they’re not very good at realising you’ve got a bundle.

Here’s two envelopes of ‘stuff’ I got from BT this morning…

BT junk mail

One envelope contained a bill for my phone calls (4 pages). The other contained a bill for my TV package I get from them (3 pages).

And both contained the same junk mail. Much of it’s promoting products which I already have.

Couldn’t BT save themselves quite a lot of money by just sending me one bill, in one envelope, containing (if they must) one lot of junk?

=====

Footnote: BT is one of the contractors working on the NHS’s highly successful new IT system.

Footnote 2: BT’s slogan is, no word of a lie, “Bringing it all together”.


March 09, 2009

Beating the recession with a bit of gardening

Successional sowing of cress, grown in the lid of a tupperware boxPerhaps the greatest rip-offs in our supermarkets come from salad. At the moment (admittedly out of season), 100g of rocket salad will cost you anything from £1.20 upwards, and that’s on special offer. Not only is 100g almost always too much for what you need, it’ll normally go off within 48 hours.

Spinach is another rip-off. £1.24 or so for a bag of the stuff.

Well, I reckon you can grow the stuff, nearly all year round, for perhaps just 10% of the price you’d pay in the supermarkets.

First of all, you don’t need a garden to grow your own salad. In fact, all you need is a windowsill, and some seeds. They’re normally about £1.50 for a pack that will last you at least a year, assuming normal usage. But Lidl and Aldi are getting into the budget gardening business at the moment. A pack of seeds there cost between 29p and 49p, and they don’t seem very inferior to me.

Next, you need some eggboxes or used toilet rolls (the cardboard bit, naturally). Cost = nothing.

You will need some kind of compost. I’ve tried stealing topsoil from public places before, and it just doesn’t work. A bag of the stuff can be had for about £1.99.

Micro-rocket! Great in sandwiches.Plant the seeds in the compost, itself shoved in the eggboxes or toilet rolls. Then stick them on a windowsill which gets some sun.

You’re unlikely to get huge great clumps of herbs and salads, but the smaller leaves you’ll get will be full of flavour. Rocket, spinach, chinese cabbage (like lettuce), parsley and of course that childhood classic, cress, all seem to be winners, and I’ve been harvesting them since early February.

The best thing about all of these herbs and salads is the use-by date. There isn’t one. Kept cool enough, they won’t really go off until you pull them out of the soil.

The key to growing your own salad is what the seed packets call ‘successional sowing’. Basically, a few weeks after planting your first batch, plant some more. By the time you’ve eaten your first bits you’ll then have some more ready for you.

So, salad all year round. Very little cost. And an end to 48 hour use-by dates.

And you don’t even need a garden.


February 25, 2009

Less is more?

Amazon don’t seem to have noticed the campaign for less packaging in consumer products. This is the Kindle2 – their electronic reader thing that I’ve already said I don’t see the point of.

The Amazon Kindle2 - image from Engadget

It comes with a monumental amount of packaging, none of which seems to have a practical use, and little of which is likely to be recyclable.

I know this product’s probably saving a few trees that would otherwise have been turned into books, but this is just silly.

[More pictures of the packaging from Engadget]


January 16, 2009

Searching on Google about as damaging to planet as farting

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jan/16/carbon-sunday-times-google-clarification

Last week’s Sunday Times ran a prominent story explaining how two “typical” Google searches use produce as much CO2 as boiling a kettle, due to their enormous (and secretive) data centres.

But now, according to The Guardian, it seems that’s not entirely accurate.

The figure for each individual search is actually closer to a whopping 0.2g

Which is… er… not very much.

Here’s the clarification on the Times website:

A report about online energy consumption (Google and you’ll damage the planet, Jan 11) said that “performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle” or about 7g of CO2 per search. We are happy to make clear that this does not refer to a one-hit Google search taking less than a second, which Google says produces about 0.2g of CO2, a figure we accept. In the article, we were referring to a Google search that may involve several attempts to find the object being sought and that may last for several minutes. Various experts put forward carbon emission estimates for such a search of 1g-10g depending on the time involved and the equipment used. (emphasis mine)

How many times has Google taken two minutes to answer one of your searches?

And here’s the top two paragraphs of the original story:

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.” (emphasis mine)

According to The Guardian, the Times is sticking by its story. Hmm…


February 03, 2007

Britain has Bird Flu… The best news I've heard in weeks

2,600 turkeys in Suffolk have died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu. This sounds bad. Humans have been known to die from this strain. Adam is scared witless by the thought of bird flu.

But the news of this massive outbreak, the first proper case in Britain, should be seen as a good-news story.

Why?

Because they were to be used in Bernard Matthews products.

Not only will it harm their immediate business (159,000 turkeys will have to be killed) but it will hopefully harm the entire basis of their food production business.

Factory-farmed birds make the fur trade and animal testing look like a picnic. So while this news will hopefully put people off factory-farmed chicken and turkey, it’ll also make people look towards free-range and maybe organic food, which isn’t just better for us, but better for the birds too.

Incidentally, it seems to be a good time to be a journalist in Suffolk. The biggest news stories of the past six months have both come from the same county.


December 18, 2006

If David Bellamy's an environmentalist, I'm a nuclear physicist

David BellamyI know nothing about nuclear physics. Nor, it seems, does David Bellamy know anything about science. Because he’s still banging on about the “myth” of global warming.

Now that’s fine. He’s entitled to have alternative views. But every time he appears on television (as he has today) he is labelled an “Environmentalist”. I can see where the second bit of the word comes from, but not the “Environ” bit.

He’s popped up today to say how environmentally-unfriendly wind farms are. I’ll repeat that sentence just so you’re clear on where he stands.

He’s popped up today to say how environmentally-unfriendly wind farms are.

Writing in 2004 in the Daily Mail, who know a thing or two about dodgy science, he wrote:

Global warming – at least the modern nightmare version – is a myth. I am sure of it and so are a growing number of scientists.

The only science he quotes comes from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, who Sourcewatch have written about. It seems they’re a bunch of serial nutters who lie about their credentials and are about as scientific as Lembit Opik.

George Monbiot had a bit of correspondence with Bellamy in 2004, and I agree wholeheartedly with what he had to say:

You claim that you are still an environmentalist, yet the harm you have done to environmentalism over the past few months is incalculable. May I respectfully suggest that you brush up on the science (and I mean all the science, not just a few selected studies of the kind you cite) and talk to some mainstream climatologists (not just the cranks whose work you champion) before writing any more on this topic?

More of the same, and Bellamy’s reply here

And may I take this opportunity to respectfully ask the BBC and others to stop putting Bellamy’s nonsensical diatribes on TV and find some credible opponents to wind-farms who can actually come up with an alternative idea.

I’m personally excited about the “offshore wind farms project” that’s been given the green light today. It’ll power up to 1,000,000 homes at a time. It’s only a small part of what’s needed, but at least we’re moving forward rather than watching our career slide into the abyss like David Bellamy.


October 03, 2006

Is a monolithic Tesco a bad thing?

Tesco has announced half-year profits of over £1bn today, double what they were getting only five years ago. As usual, the news generated as much fury in the media as when the big banks reveal how much they’re ripping us off by.

But should we be getting uptight about Tesco doing so well? For one thing, almost all of the growth has come from the supermarket’s 949 foreign stores, which are growing three times faster than the UK ones. Having said that, second-quarter sales in the UK alone rose 6.6% (up from 4.5%), partly through the growth of non-food items.

Environmentalists and farmers will probably be up in arms. But are there advantages to having a dominant player in the market? Let me give you an example. Pressure groups can focus on beating one giant easier than tackling a thousand minnows. For instance, if you want better standards for cooped-up chickens, you’d have a much bigger impact trying to convince Tesco of the need for improvement than lobbying the thousands of butchers in the UK. When Tesco changes something for the better, they take between a fifth and a sixth of the grocery market with them.

True, the opposite can also occur. And despite Terry Leahy’s protestations, Tesco has had a major impact on the vibrancy of the British High Street. But we should give Tesco credit where it’s due. It’s commitment to Dolphin Friendly tuna (yes, even Tesco Value tuna is dolphin safe), minimum standards in agriculture, policies on GM and recycling is commendable, and has a big effect.

While we might shout at Tesco for being so dominant, we need to recognise that when they change something for the better, their influence spreads a long way. Not only that, but on many issues concerning the public, Tesco is starting to be a market-leader rather than a follower.

So well done to Tesco on making big profits: it’s not a natural reaction for Britons to praise such a feat. But Sir Terry Leahy mustn’t rest on his laurels. There’s many more battles which Tesco should be leading on.


September 15, 2006

If Tesco was a politician…

Michael HowardIf Tesco was a politician, who would it be? I think it’s Michael Howard. There’s something about their new commitment to locally-sourced food which reminds me of the Rory Bremner sketch that summed up Howard’s 2005 election campaign. “Don’t be afraid… I’m not going to hurt you!”

According to The Guardian Tesco is to open its regional buying offices to local producers and help them bring products to the market.

For many farmers and producers it’s a bit like sharing a bed with the Devil (or with a politician). Tesco has been the undoing of hundreds – if not thousands – of local butchers, bakers and greengrocers, such as in my home town of Tetbury where we’re left with one butcher, one baker and no greengrocer. Previously we had a total of six.

So should we be congratulating Tesco for its new ‘community’ initiative, or suspect that it’ll just be a niche initative which won’t undo the harm their supermarkets have done to locally owned retailers in the past decade?

From an environmental point of view, anything which reduces ‘food miles’ has to be a good thing. It makes no sense to drag carrots from Belgium when there’s perfectly good ones 500 yards from a Tesco supermarket. But Tesco’s plan is for “regional buying centres”. In theory, this means local produce made in Gloucestershire will have to be sent to Birmingham or Bristol, only to be sent straight back again. It’s not exactly progress. The way forward is for individual store managers to have local buying power, but that’s not the way supermarkets work.

Friends of the Earth have said they fear this may be just a ‘token gesture’, and I’m inclined to agree. While the environmental benefits may be welcome, this will do little to make our High Streets diverse and locally-owned. And it’s not exactly a great victory for David over Goliath.

As Michael would say: “Are you eating what we’re eating?”


September 04, 2006

Why's Blair passing up the solar–powered bandwagon?

Tony Blair’s rarely afraid of jumping on other people’s bandwagons. Whether it’s school dinners or aid for Africa, Blair follows as often as he leads. This often extends – especially before the 2005 election – to stealing ideas from the Conservatives. So why hasn’t Blair jumped on David Cameron’s most successful bandwagon, the environment?

The Director of Friends of the Earth says the Conservatives’ stance on the environment is as important as Labour’s Clause IV moment. But the key difference is that the Conservatives couldn’t do anything about Clause IV, whereas Labour could easily steal a lead on the environment if it wanted to. True, it would make Blair look weak, but it would also be the pragmatic thing to do. Blair boasts of his environmental record, but the reality is that he could do much, much more. The words “environmental tax” or “green tax” have never been spoken by Gordon Brown (which doesn’t suggest much for his presumed Premiership), and there is little support for individuals or businesses who want to go green, just legislation.

At DEFRA you have a very competent minister in David Miliband, but he too has offered little on the environment. So why?

My theory is that DEFRA is simply too big. Many have called for it to be broken up in the past, but with the environment such a key issue I think it’s high time that we had a Cabinet-level Environment Minister and a separate Department for the Environment.

DEFRA seems bogged down in agricultural issues, and bunching the environment with ‘rural affairs’ seems to be a strange association to make. Surely environmental problems usually originate in cities?

Breaking up DEFRA would focus minds and allow new policy initiative to be made. Otherwise it’s inevitable that David Cameron will be able to steal a lead on the environment when it’s an area of policy that ought to be Labour’s strong suit.


July 20, 2006

Why don't we have 21st Century planning laws?

Last night's Property Ladder (yes I was a bit bored) got me thinking. The three people followed were all pretty nuts, but all wanted to create an environmentally friendly home. For some reason they thought they could charge £100,000 on top of the asking price because of this, which sounds not only daft but also bang out of order (clearly only insanely rich people – £400,000 for a 2–bed flat in the suburbs – can afford an environmentally friendly home).

But why is this the case? We all know that not only are many energy–saving devices cheap, but because they save energy you get back your initial investment over 10–20 years anyway.

The one that's been bugging me a lot recently is water butts. Why on earth are they not compulsory in all new homes? Especially ones with gardens.

Firstly, it would seem sensible to have water butts above ground level, so that when you turn the tap on (and attach a hose), you can get good water pressure. I've never seen this done, probably because it would be a hell of a lot easier to do when the house is going up.

Secondly, why in the name of John Prescott are we not building all new houses with toilets that use rainwater instead of the ludicrously expensive drinking water that we flush down there all the time? After the past two summers, I don't think people can deny global warming any more, and so we should expect hosepipe bans to become a regular part of life in Britain. I can't believe that installing a water butt in people's lofts would cost more than £100, and would probably be less if it took off and every new home had one.

The government seem to be doing bugger all about this. The new planning regulations that Prescott put through a couple of years ago were widely considered to be utter tosh. There should be rules that state you don't even need planning permission to build solar panels or very small wind–turbines on your property – and far greater subsidies for people to buy them (especially when you consider that the government intends to spend £bns on nuclear power anyway).

This isn't just an environmentalist concern any more – it should be the concern of everyone. Regardless of what damage we're doing to the planet, there are so many energy–saving measures that just seem to be completely sensible (the toilet–flushing one inparticular). I'm astonished that the government's been so left behind by not only public opinion but also by common sense.

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Please use the comments to shout at me / agree etc., but also add any other common sense things that I've missed out. I'll start the ball rolling with all new major road developments having to have dedicated cycle lanes alongside. I can hear the complaints from the drivers already (bloody cyclists), but at least this will get them off the road!


May 20, 2006

Environmental Disaster…

What was the cause of this environment disaster (a Category One disaster, no less)?

  1. Release of sulphuric acid into a stream in Devon
  2. Spillage of an underground tank full of Sunny Delight concentrate
  3. Naturally occuring dyes released from unusual rock formations
  4. It's not actually a disaster, it's a piece of artwork
  5. It's the result of David VandeLinde trying to brighten up the walk between Main Campus and University House.

The answer's in the Comments section.


April 08, 2006

When was the ground lost?

Listening to David Cameron give his Spring Conference speech in Manchester, the thing that strikes me is that he is walking all over traditional Labour territory without anyone fighting back.

On the environment especially, Cameron isn't promising policies, but an approach which Labour should have been advancing for the past nine years, but have failed to do so.

For the Conservatives to be so far ahead of the government on this issue suggests that something has gone hurrendously wrong in the Labour Party. Is it a conflict between the DTI and DEFRA? Is it the Chancellor putting his foot down? Have they simply taken their eye off the ball? Who knows.

But listening to Cameron (who so far has been impressive), I don't see how Labour will fight back against the Tories come the next election now that it is Cameron, not Blair/Brown, who rhetorically appears to be a policy innovator, even if that means stealing Labour's traditional clothing.


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