What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Monday, 24 November 2008

Taking a break

Hello All,
I'm off on a sailing trip for a month and so will be out of touch. Please browse the archives while I'm away and read any posts that crop up from the other contributors.
I'll back around Christmas.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Ancient Forests petition

The Bush administration is bound and determined to do as much damage as they can before leaving office. They are trying to open up the tiny amount of ancient forests we have left to exploitation. Let them know this is unacceptable.
Sign the petition.

Thanks to the Rogue Valley Independent Media Center for the graphic

Who Owns Nature?

Greed knows no bounds. In the rush to commodify life, fewer and fewer corporations have gained control over more and more of our common heritage as living organisms on this planet. The ETC Group has released a report which you can download cataloging the extent of the situation. Or you can read a summary over at Organic Consumers Association.

"ETC Group's report highlights similarities between the current financial and food crises. "Corporate-controlled food systems, suffering from decades of deregulation, have resulted in a cornucopia of calamities making us sicker, fatter and more vulnerable," says ETC's Research Director Hope Shand. Ongoing food contamination scandals, the global obesity burden and ocean "dead zones" caused by fertilizer pollution are among the food chain disasters cited in Who Owns Nature? "Unhealthy and hazardous food products are constant reminders of a corporate food chain broken to bits," adds Shand.

Governments are working hand-in-hand with corporations to deny the root causes of the crises and sidestep structural reforms. "Despite the implications for democracy and human rights, no international body exists to monitor global corporate activity and no UN body has the capacity to monitor and evaluate emerging technologies," says ETC Group's Kathy Jo Wetter. "The ongoing food emergency and imploding global economy testify to the need for monitoring and oversight of corporations, as well as social control of powerful new technologies."

What to do? Buy local and non corporate, buy organic, or even better don't buy at all, grow your own, avoid F1 hybridized seed, seed swap, grow heritage varieties, lobby your government representatives to limit corporate power and excess.

Thanks to Diary of a Bad Housewife for the graphic.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Froggie in a pesticide mine

Amphibians are a bellweather species. Much like a canary in a coal mine they indicate the overall health of the environment.

When I lived in Bermuda I used to sit and watch the giant toads come out around sunset and snap up the giant cockroaches as they emerged from the septic tank vent pipe. I began to hear about the startling high numbers of these massive amphibians being found with extra legs, even extra heads. There are pesticides for sale in Bermuda which are made in the US but are illegal for use in the US. The pesticides for sale in the US are tested, minimally, for safety as individual chemicals, as if in a vacuum. Nothing in nature occurs in a vacuum. It has been suspected that the naturally resulting cocktail of chemicals derived from our love of poisons is far more dangerous both to the ecosystems upon which we depend and indeed directly upon ourselves than any chemical in isolation. Recent research bears this out. This is over on the Organic Consumers Association website where you will also find a link to the original research.

"PITTSBURGH, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists studying 10 of the world's most popular approved pesticides say, when combined, the chemicals caused 99 percent mortality in tadpoles.

University of Pittsburgh researchers said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved pesticides, when mixed together, can decimate amphibian populations even if the concentration of the individual chemicals is within limits considered safe.

Such "cocktails of contaminants" are frequently detected in nature, the scientists said, noting their findings offer the first illustration of how a large mixture of pesticides can adversely impact the environment.

Associate Professor Rick Relyea, the study's lead author, exposed gray tree frog and leopard frog tadpoles to small amounts of the 10 pesticides -- insecticides carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, endosulfan, and malathion, as well as five herbicides: acetochlor, atrazine, glyphosate, metolachlor, and 2,4-D.

He used each of the pesticides alone, the insecticides combined, a mix of the five herbicides, or all 10 of the poisons.

Relyea found a mixture of all 10 chemicals killed 99 percent of leopard frog tadpoles, as did the insecticide-only mixture."

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Monsanto and Fertility

Many suspect that GM foods are not only dangerous for the ecosystems they infiltrate but are also bad for human health. Since the companies that produce these poisons are not required to adequately prove the safety of their products it is left to independent groups to do the research. Here is information about a study linking a Monsanto product with infertility. It's over at the Organic Consumers Association.

Avego Shared Transport

Support Organic Agriculture

The US needs a secretary of agriculture who understands the need for the regeneration of our most precious resource, our soils, and who will not speak from the pocket of the agribusiness.
As reported over at the Organic Consumers Association;

"Unfortunately, it is now being widely reported that former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is being considered for the Secretary of Agriculture position in the Obama Administration. Vilsack is a notorious cheerleader for genetically engineered crops and chemical and energy-intensive industrial agriculture--certainly no friend of organic food and farming. Tom Vilsack's appointment would represent a major disappointment for the Organic Consumers Association and its members. But there is still time to make your voice heard."

sign the petition

urge Obama to choose a better candidate!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Welcome Aran McKittrick

I'm very happy to welcome to Sustainable Living a new contributor. Aran brings a wealth of experience and a unique island perspective. I'll let him describe himself in his own words.

"I am an island boy by nurture having grown up in Bermuda but must admit its only been in recent years that I have become more acutely aware of the detrimental effects we have on our surroundings and each other.

Bermuda itself is a good modern day example as it starts to sink under the weight of its own affluence.
Hence my recent ambition to return to university after six years of working as an IT computer engineer to see how I could help the island shed some of that “weight”! I started out in Dublin where I studied a PG.Dip in International Development Studies at UCD and then moved to London last year to do a MSc. Environment and Sustainable Development at UCL which I have just completed. All good stimulating stuff for the grey matter!

So now I have a head full of “big ideas” and am enthusiastic to create/find future opportunities and people with which to share them, professionally or otherwise and this Blog sounds like a great place to start! When my newly discovered social-ecological conscience is not getting the better of me, my down time involves rediscovering my passion for playing and listening to music and sailing when and wherever I can. "

Coming to your neighborhood!

Here's a rather deep tool that highlights past, current and future effects of climate change,

Science Progress interactive map

Amaze your friends, hours of fun!

Thanks to Jennifer Biederman over on celsias for pointing this out.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The Venus Project

I like the ethos behind the Venus project quite alot. But I tend to be wary of projects and intitiatives that rely on advanced technology to solve our problems, it always seems to be just around the corner and in the meantime all we have to do is drive a little less, recycle, and eat less meat.

The one thing I totally agree with is that our culture needs to be totally redesigned. I just happen to believe we need to do it now with available technology that can radically change the way we live our lives. I expect there will be an intersection of the two approaches. In the meantime we need to do quite alot more than the minimum in our personal lives.

Green Chemistry and Engineering and green coal

Check out this excellent article over on celsias about the "other" waste products coal combustion is poisoning us with.
Green Coal? | Use Celsias.com - reduce global °Celsius

Of particular interest are the 12 principles of "green chemistry" and "green engineering" posted below for you to review before reading the article by Peter Montague. Here is his introduction,

"As we search for solutions to global warming and toxic contamination, we can compare technologies, intending to select the least harmful. In recent years, scientists have developed two sets of criteria that we can use to judge the "greenness" of competing technologies. The first is called "The 12 principles of green engineering " and the second is "The 12 principles of green chemistry ."

Both sets of principles were developed by teams of technical experts and published in peer-reviewed journals. They are now widely understood and endorsed. Most importantly, they offer ordinary people, as well as experts, a way to decide which technologies are worth supporting and which ones should be phased out or never developed at all."

The 12 Principles of Green Engineering

[First published in Paul T. Anastas and J.B. Zimmerman, "Design through the Twelve Principles of Green Engineering", Environmental Science & Technology Vol. 37, No. 5 (March 1, 2003), pgs. 95A-101A .]

Principle 1: Designers need to strive to ensure that all material and energy inputs and outputs are as inherently nonhazardous as possible.

Principle 2: It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is formed.

Principle 3: Separation and purification operations should be designed to minimize energy consumption and materials use.

Principle 4: Products, processes, and systems should be designed tomaximize mass, energy, space, and time efficiency.

Principle 5: Products, processes, and systems should be "output pulled" rather than "input pushed" through the use of energy and materials.

Principle 6: Embedded entropy and complexity must be viewed as an investment when making design choices on recycle, reuse, or beneficial disposition.

Principle 7: Targeted durability, not immortality, should be a design goal.

Principle 8: Design for unnecessary capacity or capability (e.g., "one size fits all") solutions should be considered a design flaw.

Principle 9: Material diversity in multicomponent products should be minimized to promote disassembly and value retention.

Principle 10: Design of products, processes, and systems must include integration and interconnectivity with available energy and materials flows.

Principle 11: Products, processes, and systems should be designed for performance in a commercial "afterlife".

Principle 12: Material and energy inputs should be renewable rather than depleting.


The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry

[First published in Martyn Poliakoff, J. Michael Fitzpatrick, Trevor R. Farren, and Paul T. Anastas, "Green Chemistry: Science and Politics of Change," Science Vol. 297 (August 2, 2002), pgs. 807-810 .]

1. It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is formed.

2. Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.

3. Wherever practicable, synthetic methodologies should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.

4. Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of function while reducing toxicity.

5. The use of auxiliary substances (e.g., solvents, separation agents, and so forth) should be made unnecessary wherever possible and innocuous when used.

6. Energy requirements should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. Synthetic methods should be conducted at ambient temperature and pressure.

7. A raw material or feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting wherever technically and economically practicable.

8. Unnecessary derivatization (blocking group, protection/deprotection, temporary modification of physical/chemical processes) should be avoided whenever possible.

9. Catalytic reagents (as selective as possible) are superior to stoichiometric reagents.

10. Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they do not persist in the environment and break down into innocuous degradation products.

11. Analytical methodologies need to be developed further to allow for real-time in-process monitoring and control before the formation of hazardous substances.

12. Substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen so as to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions, and fires.


Thursday, 13 November 2008

Organic Agriculture CAN Feed the World

In an excellent article over on celsias, Leslie Berliant draws from a new UN study that asserts that organic agriculture is a far better option in so many ways than industrial agriculture or genetically modified crops.

"The idea that developing countries benefit more from organic agriculture than they do from modern agriculture directly contradicts the assertions from companies like Monsanto that claim that it will take their technology (genetically modified seeds, pesticides and herbicides) to feed the 9 billion people expected to inhabit earth by 2050. But in this study, the U.N. finds that it is not new agricultural technology that will produce more, conserve more and improve farmers' lives, but some very old wisdom that will accomplish that. In fact, the study found that "the vast majority of the case studies in this research showed improvements to the natural capital base - their local natural environment - with 93 percent of the case studies reporting benefits to soil fertility, water supply, flood control and biodiversity. These improvements included increased water retention in soil, improvements in the water table, reduced soil erosion, better carbon sequestration and increased agricultural diversity. These improvements allow for growing more crops for longer periods and with higher yields. Take that genetically engineered crops!"

Read the whole article at:

Organic Agriculture CAN Feed the World | Use Celsias.com - reduce global °Celsius

Saturday, 8 November 2008


Imagine a freight train with every boxcar filled with topsoil, that train stretches around the planet. Now imagine it stretches around the planet 18 times over. That is how much soil we loose in the continental US per year!

I heard this figure quoted in an interview with Penny Livingston Stark with the Permaculture Institute. She said it came from the Natural Resource Conservation Service at the Department of Agriculture.

Thanks to Treehugger.com for the graphic.

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Transition

Here in the UK we have a movement called Transition Towns. It has spread to become an international movement and offers communities a path towards resiliency in the face of peak oil and climate change. The Organic Consumers Association has a Transition Movement of it's own with similar goals. Localization, community building, sustainability, regenerative agriculture, energy independence, all these efforts come together to increase resiliency and can be found synthesized into these transition movements.

Join In!

Thanks to Daves Biofuel for the Peak oil graph.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Coal = Devastation

It's 10am, do you know where your electricity has been? Does your provider buy electricity from power plants using coal sourced from mountain top removal, MTR, operations. Coal is bad enough on it's own merits as a climate destroying fossil fuel but the "ecocide" of mountaintop removal is completely out of bounds even when measured against other rapacious corporate behaviour that has become so common in the last decade.

Contact your utility and demand that they stop selling power from power plants using coal sourced from MTR operations. Some universities have already done so, if I'm not mistaken North Carolina has pursued banning the practice but many of it's citizens still purchase MTR electricity. This Sierra Club blog has posted an estimate of 44% of coal burned in North Carolina comes from MTR operations. So while the state protects it's own mountains and communities it is willing to run roughshod over the mountain communities in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. This practice has devastated these communities. Read more about the poverty and sickness that follows MTR operations at Coal Isn't Clean If You Live There over on Celsias

Ultimately it's about an insatiable demand for something that once was and properly should be considered a luxury, something that can be produced clean and free from the sun and wind. Does it make more sense to invest in a new home entertainment system or a solar PV electricity system. Is the convenience of a clothes dryer in the sunny south worth sacrificing our natural heritage, a healthy ecosystem, our neighbors well being, and a stable climate on this planet for.

Contact the EPA and let them know you want this practice stopped, work with any number of groups fighting the Bush Adminstration and it's corporate owners over MTR, here's one to start with, the Petition Site, and as always reduce, reduce, reduce your demand.

Thanks to the Appalachian Regional Commission for the graphic at the top of this post.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Talk to Obama

The good folks over at Avaaz are putting together a campaign to encourage and support our new president and to keep him aware of what is important to us. Here is my letter to President Obama.

Dear Mr. President,

You face unprecedented challenges, several that threaten the very survival of our culture as we know it. Climate Change, Peak Oil, economic meltdown, corporate raiding of the commons, a food crisis. Millions of us are willing to work with you as we know you can't do it alone.

Climate change threatens us all and is the priority. We have the technology now to address climate change without the dangers of nuclear power, the contradiction and misdirection of clean coal, or the damaging effects of food based biofuels. We urgently need serious tax incentives and feed in tariffs for solar, wind, wave, tidal, small scale hydro and geothermal.

We also need to reform agriculture as it is a primary contributor of greenhouse gases. We know how to grow without poisoning our environment, our food , our people. We can organically grow all the food we need in a sustainable manner and sequester millions of tons of carbon in the soil at the same time. Bring back the victory gardens!

We need building codes that enforce efficiency and a plan for upgrading all the substandard housing currently in existence.

We must have much higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles now and a plan for converting to renewably charged electric vehicles within 5 years.

We must protect biodiversity, habitats, and clean fresh water. We must put an end to dead zones along our coastlines.

Our continued well being depends on these efforts. Will you commit to being the man to make this statement untrue?

"Politics is the art of shifting trouble from the living to the unborn." - George Monbiot

Best wishes to you sir,
Robb Worthington

Please visit Avaaz and sign up.

What's that light in my eyes?

Yesterday I was reminded of a song from the musical Annie, "The sun will come out tomorrow".

Today the sun has come out. A light is shining from America unlike any we have seen for almost a decade. We have seen how dark it can be when we get complacent and allow the minority to rule, from wholesale plundering of the commons to a deepening addiction to oil, a total lack of commitment to dealing with climate change, the gun as primary means of diplomacy.

Now we see America returning to the polls like never before, a firm democratic hold on the Congress and the White House. This really is an opportunity for change. Can we expect it?

This morning on BBC a man said that we should "remain mature in our expectations". This is essential. Obama faces challenges never before seen by any president, challenges made so much more difficult by the corruption and bungling of the last eight years. We need to keep our expectations high but realize that such a herculean task will take time and effort, from all of us.

The sun was shining through the murk when I awoke this morning. To keep it's warming rays upon our cold shoulders we must all pitch in and get the job done. Get active, be prepared to sacrifice, be vigilant against continued corporate and lobbyist influence.

Think Globally, Act Locally has never been more important advice than it is this morning. The most local action takes place in your own home. Without action at that level any action at the political level will be insufficient.

Let's get to it!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

It's simple, dress sensible

Sustainability usually comes down to personal behaviour at some point, we can lobby for renewable energy, support organic agricultural policies, protest coal fired power plants but most of us are also looking at how we live our lives. Some of us make big changes, some of us make small ones. Here is one that is really easy.

Dress sensibly! When it is cold wear layers, even in the house. This will enable you to use less fossil fuel to heat your house. You can turn your thermostat down. One of my personal axioms when I go camping, climbing, walking, whatever, is that it is always easier to stay warm than to get warm, just as it is always easier to stay dry than to get dry. Stay dry and warm and you will need to expend less energy getting warm and dry. This applies in the household as well.

I'd like to suggest that you extend this to teaching others how to properly layer clothing for maximum warmth. This is particularly important for the elderly. Every year in Britain thousands of pensioners die of causes related to fuel poverty. They can't afford to heat their homes properly. Many use blankets to stay warm but when they move around are not dressed properly. Every winter my wife and I have to remind her mother to wear sensible clothing both when she goes out and in the house. She'll turn on the heat while wearing a thin cotton short sleeve t shirt and thin acrylic cardigan, no long johns, no cap. Meanwhile I'm wearing long johns, fleece pants, a long sleeve heavy cotton t shirt, a fleece overshirt and quite often a cap. Old habits die hard, if we weren't there to remind her, as we won't be next winter, she would wear what comes out of the drawer instead of searching for the right clothing for the conditions.

No matter how many times we suggest it I don't think she will ever wear a cap indoors. Like the lady in the picture she is more concerned about how her hair looks than her heating bill, thankfully she doesn't wear pearls. This not something we expect to change but we can set an example and gently encourage her to bundle up.

Monday, 3 November 2008

If It's Black, Can It Still Be Green?

Greenwash Sucks!

If It's Black, Can It Still Be Green? | Use Celsias.com - reduce global °Celsius

Posted using ShareThis

Thanks to Rising Tide for the killer graphic.

Watch it and vote!

I once voted for Nader because I believe in the need for a true multiparty system in the US. We ended up having the election stolen from us that year because the race was so close. This time around the stakes are so much higher. Please Put OBAMA in the White House. We can build diversity from the ground up. Vote Green locally, not nationally where it can do no good and can do lots of harm. Eventually if we work locally long enough we can build an effective green party. Now is not the time to send a message that most will ignore and may cost us dearly. Vote OBAMA!

3rd Free From Power Day

Sorry to say this FFPD has been a total failure on my part, moving house, living in two places at once, and excessive busy-ness are the excuses I claim. All of which are characteristics of the modern hurry up consumerist lifestyle I had hoped FFPD would help me overcome. Can't win em all, I will attempt to do one next weekend to make up for it.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Free the Unborn!

This is not a post about right to life or abortion. This is another excellent article by George Monbiot over on Celsias.

Here's a quote from the text by Mr. Monbiot that should serve as a clue to it's overall content.

"Politics is the art of shifting trouble from the living to the unborn."

Free the Unborn! | Use Celsias.com - reduce global °Celsius

Posted using ShareThis

Make sure your vote counts!

This race is still tight and getting tighter. If the last several elections hadn't been so close the republicans couldn't have stolen the White House and we might not be in the mess we are today, at least not as big a mess. While we can't change the influence corporate lobbyists have on our "democracy" at this point, or the flawed electoral college approach, we can at least try to insure that voting, the sacred right of all citizens, is respected and protected. Shenanigans are already showing up.

Be sure your vote counts by looking at this site;
10 ways to make sure your vote counts