Thursday, 9 February 2017

Plastic waste

It was distressing to read the story of a whale that kept stranding on a beach in Norway and had to be put down. It's intestines were blocked with over 30 plastic bags, many from the UK.

It is devastating how little respect we have shown for the ecosystems that support life and the other creatures who share our planet. I am as guilty as anyone of enjoying this convenient disposable lifestyle. Just because I put some things into the recycle bin, it still doesn't make my waste Ok.

So immediately I signed a petition or two, but this really isn't going to cut the mustard if we want to prevent a whole pod of whales dying from our plastic rubbish. And it isn't just whales. Surfers Against Sewage state that

Over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million seabirds die every year from ingestion of and entanglement in marine litter.

So I went to the supermarket with my bundle of canvas bags for my shopping, and marvelled at some of the beautiful shopping bags people were using since the 5p charge for carrier bags took effect. This has definitely been a positive change, but it was delayed for far too long. Several European countries had taken action more than 10 years earlier, Ireland being one of the first. 90% of consumers in Ireland switched to reusable bags back in 2002, so their waters would be much safer for marine life..... if it wasn't for England 'sharing' their plastic waste. Whoever pollutes the sea, creates a problem for everyone.

At the checkout I was offered a free carrier bag to pack my already plastic wrapped meat products in. I have been accepting these bags recently, because it is virtually my only source of bags and I use them as bin liners. I really don't want to start buying bin liners, so now the question is can I manage without any? Would it really be so bad to tip all my rubbish loose into the big black wheelie bin? Or can I reduce my non-recyclable rubbish down to virtually nothing? I don't think either of those are practical at present, but maybe I can find some kind of paper bin liner alternative?

I had automatically used a small clear plastic bag on my broccoli - now I know I can cut those bags out. My home grown produce travels home in my wicker basket packaging free, except for salad leaves which I put in plastic bags that I wash and reuse repeatedly. This is a good motivator to grow even more veg myself this year. A year ago I was buying the rest of my fruit and veg from the market early on a Saturday morning. Some of the stalls use traditional brown paper bags for cherries or apples, and even if they have plastic bags you can ask not to use one and bring canvas bags instead. I have other activities on a Saturday morning now, but I need to find another suitable time to support my local market.

I have grown a new and unsustainable habit. I drive my kids to clubs and to save petrol travelling back and forth, I wait in the McDonalds round the corner. Bear in mind that it is winter and my parked car is cold and dark, so the one cup of tea, that I eke out for over an hour, is just an excuse to sit indoors and use the toilets. The 'cardboard' cups are of course lined with plastic, making them non-recyclable. I have some lovely mugs I can bring, but the frugal side of me likes collecting the stickers on the cups, so that I get a free cup of tea for every 6 cups I buy. I will bring my own mug from now on, or maybe even look for a cozy coffee shop that is open those hours instead.

Bottled water still occasionally sneaks into our lives, mainly when there is not enough forward planning, but we re-use the empty bottles and once they are in a fairly distressed state they go to the allotment to become cloches or end protectors for support posts. (They aren't any good for storing an excess of home made comfrey tea fertiliser in, as I learnt the hard way. The decomposing comfrey tea forms gases, that caused the bottles to explode all over my shed, smelling unbearable for weeks.)

Luckily you can ask for free tap water in most restaurants or bars in the UK. We used to have these lovely drinking fountains in every town or village, but sadly they have fallen out of use. You can look up water refill stations near you in the UK using this handy website. None are listed in Loughborough yet, but there are plenty in London. It was a surprise to find that I can refill my water bottle in Lush for example, who are not a restaurant but sell bath bombs and lotions. It makes me think that there are quite a few places that I can ask for water in future.

Then there is the food packaging itself.Why can't nuts and lentils be packaged in paper bags like flour is? I have all these lovely jars to keep my food fresh, yet the products still come home from the shop wrapped in plastic, so I am still creating plastic waste. I would be quite happy to bulk buy things like oats in sacks, but my problem is where can I get them from? If I order them online they arrive smothered in bubble wrap. Does anyone have an answer to this?

On a more positive note, a young inventor Boyan Slat has a designed a way to collect the plastic at sea and recycle it. It is great that the young people can find ways out of the mess we have created for them, but I feel there is too much at stake to rely on this alone to save our oceans from all our plastic waste.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

If I were Minister of Energy

With a post title like this, it is probably worth pointing out that Theresa May scrapped the Department Of Energy and Climate Change in July and it became the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Just read that new department title is FOR business and energy. And the energy that they are FOR is more energy consumption to profit the Big Six energy suppliers, along with Fracking. Not FOR the energy efficiency measures that reduce consumption and fuel poverty, or make our industry more efficient and competitive. Climate Change has been completely dropped from the title, along with any pretence that this government gives a damn about reducing carbon emissions.

"The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) works to make sure the UK has secure, clean, affordable energy supplies and promote international action to mitigate climate change."

The old mission statement replaced with.....

"The department brings together responsibilities for business, industrial strategy, science, innovation, energy, and climate change."

So there is no Minister for Energy and Climate Change in the UK, but if there was one, that was not tied in to business and industry growth targets, there really are plenty of things that they could do to reduce carbon emissions.

One of the cost effective measures to reduce energy would be to send the office workers home. If one person in the office works from home, they will still use energy for their technology at home and in winter some lighting and heating. However they will not be commuting and in summer it is most likely that their home will not have cooling (we don't tend to in UK homes) and the lights wont be on continuously.

Technology has come so far that we can work anywhere. There is really no need to have a separate 'office' to work in when documents can be stored on the cloud, conversations held on skype or facetime and work carried out on 'pocket-sized' portable devices. Wouldn't you rather work from a park bench or sat on the promenade in summer, than in a stuffy office space?

Now if all the workers in the office worked from home the benefits increase dramatically. That company may no longer need to lease a building or maybe just a smaller building that contains meeting rooms and hotdesks, but no permanent desk spaces. Instantly there are less corridors and toilets being lit all day, besides the massive saving in cooling and ventilating many of these densely packed office spaces, so a big energy saving.

Additional carbon savings would be from the reduction in traffic congestion - if you only had to go in to work for a meeting once a week, you would probably avoid first thing Monday morning, right. Traffic congestion is an appalling waste of energy, engines running whilst going nowhere, and a significant contributor to air pollution. Reducing the number of commuters will ease the situation for the people who can't work from home, like nurses, retail workers, police officers and politicians. And of course you could always hold your weekly meeting in your local coffee shop or curry house, which would benefit small businesses outside of the central district.

There is also a community benefit as it would bring more able-bodied adults back into communities during the day, making them a safer place for the elderly. Not to mention how many hours a week extra you could spend with your family or friends if you are not commuting. There are a whole host of other benefits, such as reductions in absenteeism, improved mental health, better work-life balance etc. but you get my point.

And if you think that you can't send people home because they won't get any work done, then you are soooo wrong. Trust me on this. I thought that I am getting a bit slow with work and not as efficient as I used to be, after 8 years working from home, but once I stepped back into an office environment I was vindicated. It is far more distracting working with other people. You are obliged to ask them how they are, get distracted by other peoples phone calls, then discuss any query/decision/irritation/success with everyone, just because they are there. At home you get distracted hanging the washing out or walking the dog, but in between you get to concentrate. There is also the incentive that if you finish all your work quickly you are free to relax, instead of watching the clock until home time.

And if you think you may miss the social aspect, just ask yourself if you have any genuine friends at work? If you do you will stay in touch, but chances are there are a good few people that you would happily not sit next to every day. Do you get up to speak to the people in the office next door or just email them? I rest my case!

It would be a win for the government because less investment would be needed on infrastructure if the roads are slightly emptier, and reductions in carbon emissions and air pollution would help meet some of our legal reduction targets. They could also see significant savings by sending government workers home. The demand for new office buildings would drop, and government support for converting them to dwellings, would help landlords to re-coup their losses and give a good opportunity to require energy efficiency improvements, along with easing the housing shortage.

This is really a biggie and is the next logical step given the way technologies are heading. It is the kind of solution the government likes because it doesn't cost them very much, just a bit of change management required. All it needs is some dynamic companies to demonstrate the potential for reducing their overheads or a Minister of Energy to promote the change! Please feel free to nominate me for that role ;-)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Stand Up Like A Mountain

Climate change gets so little attention in our news these days. There is such a blanket of opposition that it seems impossible for any positive actions to pierce through. After so many failed or toothless global treaties and a Tory government, that has tightened planning for wind turbines, yet overturned bans on fracking, it is a pretty demoralising topic.

The oil companies seem to have the upper hand with the media, but if this year has shown anything, it is that no one believes the media lies any more. People are making decisions on their gut instinct. Ask yourself how you feel about climate change and see if you feel that sense of unease, that sinking feeling in your chest. There lies the truth.

It seems like such a significant time and such a charged atmosphere, yet into the arena come the Native American Tribes, protectors of the water and mother earth. It is the biggest tribal gathering in 100 years that has come together at Standing Rock to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is passing through their treaty lands close the Sioux reservation and under the Missouri River.

You can get an idea of the Dakota Access Pipeline compared to the Keystone XL pipeline that got denied here. It seems to have had a lot less publicity though. I was also shocked to find that there are an average of 560 'incidents' a year in the US regarding oil spills. So it is not a matter of if there is an oil spill, but more like when.

I know what you are thinking, it seems so hopeless for this small unarmed group to stand up with prayer against the wealthy oil companies with their political power and militarised police force. But it is really when things look completely hopeless, yet we do it anyway, that there is a chance of success.

This is the part where David defeats Goliath or Harry Potter thwarts Voldemort. Where Gandhi defeats the British Empire. Or where a small team like Leicester City become champions of the Premier League. So lets support the Water Protectors anyway, even if it may seem a bit hopeless.

Image from The Guardian, 28 Sept 2016
The carbon emissions have reached that critical point of over 400ppm where we are standing on an edifice with only catastrophic climate disasters ahead of us. Do you want to close your eyes and keep going or stand up and save the world?

So I will be praying with Standing Rock on Sunday December 4th at 4pm in the UK. Already I have been asked what good will my prayer do from here. Truthfully I don't know, but I am going to do it anyway and I really hope that you can all join me with this and support the Standing Rock Water Protectors in every way that you can.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Black swan events

"Markets brace for 'black swan' impact of US presidential election" was the headline for a business article on RT on Monday.

A black swan event is supposed to be an unpredictable event, a surprise that changes our current reality, that we were not expecting. A curve ball that comes out of nowhere. An example would be the attack on the twin towers, which caught most of the world by surprise and sparked a huge number of changes, from military action to the curbing of civil liberties.

When you have an election with just 2 main contenders, the foreseeable outcome is that one of the 2 candidates will win the election - there is nothing unpredictable about that. Unless you are closing your eyes to the possibility that your chosen candidate may not win, in which case you deserve to be in for a shock.

The financial markets should be prepared for either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump to win the US elections. If someone else wins, then that would be a black swan. For instance if Bernie Sanders ends up as president, because Hilary is suddenly out of the running, then that would be a black swan event. But Trump winning is a predictable outcome....unless you have rigged the election so that he can't win, which would then make it a black swan if he won.

Reading between the lines the financial markets are warning of trouble, whoever wins the election. You can count on them blaming the presidential election for causing instability, whichever candidate wins.

Monday, 31 October 2016

War - the most stupidest crazy thing ever

This year my son was in the school production of "Oh What a Lovely War!". It was chosen to commemorate the former boys from the school who lost their lives in WWI, including the son of the headmaster at the time.

I remember watching this film when I was at school and thinking that war is the most stupidest, crazy thing ever. If you just watch a few minutes of the play, take a look at the young performers and know that, if they had been born 100 years earlier, many of them would have been old enough to serve at the front line, before the war was over. How scary is that?

My history knowledge is shockingly bad, but I still know there were several lessons to come out of WWI. One of those was that everyone expected the war to be 'over by summer', and yet it dragged on for 4 years. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was the same - all 'over by the summer' in theory, but the reality was completely different.

The release of the Chilcott Report this summer was great news for those like me, who were furious that Tony Blair led the UK to invade Iraq. The BBC have a summary of the main points here, the first 3 of which are below.

  • The UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before all peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort
  • Military action might have been necessary later, but in March 2003, it said, there was no imminent threat from the then Iraq leader Saddam Hussein, the strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time and the majority of the Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring
  • On 28 July 2002, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair assured US President George W Bush he would be with him "whatever". But in the letter, he pointed out that a US coalition for military action would need: Progress on the Middle East peace process, UN authority and a shift in public opinion in the UK, Europe, and among Arab leaders

  • I felt this all along, did you? That we invaded Iraq because Tony Blair wanted to be best buddies with George Bush, with souped up 'intelligence' and undermining the UN security council's decision. Many people could see this, which is why there was the biggest protest in UK history, but frustratingly it didn't have an impact. What would have had an impact? Tony Blair made the commitment to go to war in July 2002, would anything have been able to stop him?

    As much as I would like to see Tony Blair face justice, he is the least of our worries now. The lies, finger-pointing and propaganda are all churning again, have you noticed? Same posturing and misinformation, just a different target.

    In an interview with the BBC on Hardtalk 20th June 2016, General Ben Hodges, the head of the US Army in Europe, said that since "...Russia invaded Ukraine..." they are now a threat, and the NATO drills that were being held in Poland, shown in the programme, were staged against the "Red" enemy.

    Russia invaded Ukraine ???!!! Have I missed something?

    The invasion of Iraq was pretty obvious, it was talked about beforehand and announced as such. The media filmed the allied air force bombing Iraq, then we saw the tanks roll in, and the regular army invade and overthrow the government. It would be difficult to describe it as anything other than an invasion. But in Ukraine....... there were protests and a coup, which led to President Yanukovych fleeing, and further internal divisions and fighting.

    I can't imagine that Ukraine's closest neighbours could just sit back and watch without having some hand in helping their favoured side, but that is not the same as sending in the airforce to bomb key infrastructure, and rolling up in a convoy of tanks. There wasn't even a definitive sign of uniformed Russian troops 'invading' and the Russian government, though acknowledging that civilians were in Ukraine aiding the rebels, vehemently denied sending any troops to the country. Once the OSCE was in place monitoring the situation, they pretty much backed this up, finding no evidence of Russian troops or weapons crossing the border.

    I am pretty sure that the media would have reported on a Russian invasion, as they did seem to enjoy pointing the finger at Russia, by using words such as 'Russian-backed seperatists' and 'Russian aggression'. Maybe I just missed it, but just like the 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' in Iraq, the evidence of an invasion seems a bit thin on the ground. Finding a handful of Russians in Ukraine bearing arms cannot be called an 'invasion'. There are a handful of Brits that have joined IS, but that doesn't implicate the whole country as terrorists. Please feel free to dispute this and share any links that show the contrary, because a Russian invasion is a pretty serious event, and if we are drilling NATO soldiers for WWIII with Russia, based on the 'invasion' of Ukraine, then I would like to be totally convinced.

    What about Crimea? To me this provides even less evidence of an invasion. Imagine for instance that England decided to invade Ireland. "Over my dead body!" cry my Irish followers and they are right, it would - literally - entail a massacre of the Irish before they would concede to becoming part of England. Then there would still be strife from resistance fighters, suicide bombers and the like.

    So I really don't understand how Russia can 'invade' Crimea with no bloodshed, uprising or resistance, and within days persuade 80% of all registered voters to vote to become part of Russia supposedly against their will, then to live happily without any signs of a counter insurgency. Unless of course it wasn't an invasion, and the people of Crimea, who are made up of 60% Russians anyway, requested that they get taken back under Russia's wing to protect them from the instability, fascism and violence that the media was displaying in mainland Ukraine.

    Making up an invasion, with a few dodgy satellite images, photos of soldiers in unmarked uniforms that are claimed to be the enemy but could be from either side, weapons manufactured by the enemy but used by all sides, and US Generals calling it an invasion, really isn't enough proof for me.

    And a war against Russia is one that would definitely not be 'over by summer'. Unlike Iraq who had their military destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War, and had severe economic sanctions in place for years after, Russia has a strong military force and plenty of WMD which Europe is well within range of. Plus China has announced that they support Russia's actions.

    Russia's military might has been demonstrated in Syria. The US started the bombing campaign in September 2014 (with no UN approval or any go ahead from the Syrian government - yes I am intimating another illegal war) and IS continued to grow in numbers and area controlled. It was only after September 2015, when the Russians announced they had been asked for support from the legitimate Syrian government, and commenced a mission against IS, that IS has been retreating and is now reduced to only 25% of their former size. Notice how the media is a lot quieter about IS now?

    Of course instead of saying "Good job old chaps" we have painted Putin as the bad guy and accused them of bombing civilians and of humanitarian atrocities. See how easily we can forget that IS were beheading, torturing, raping and enslaving the Syrian population. This is the same IS that was formed as a direct consequence of the Iraq invasion, according to documents from the Chilcott report and the recent admission of the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

    I can understand if you have missed all this going on, when the farce of the US presidential election is far more entertaining and worrisome. I mean which of the 2 main candidates is least likely to start a war? Hacked-off Hilary, who has openly blamed Russia for all the leaked emails and supported all the previous invasions, or Tantrum Trump, who seems to offend people every time he opens his mouth and displays a temperamental and unpredictable nature. I wouldn't want that choice.

    Just don't assume when your politicians talk of countering Russian aggression by sending more of our young men and women to be stationed on their doorstep, that they have your best interests at heart. Question everything and look for 2 sources of evidence. Because we are all losers in the stupid crazy war game.