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

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Peak Oil explained in video

Organic Consumers Association has posted a series of video's that very effectively explain peak oil and the situation we as planet find ourselves in as a result. One of my favorite points is that in 1985 when OPEC began basing its production quota's on stated reserves, all members raised their reserves overnight by 2X sometimes 3X! And the numbers haven't changed much, after all these years of production. The fact is that even the International Energy agency predicts the peak in worldwide production as early as 2015 and there is growing evidence that production peaked in 2008.

For more detail about Oil, our dependence on it, our willingness to wage war over it, and our unwillingness to deal with it's depletion in a meaningful way watch the videos over at OCA.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Foraging in Bermuda - Surinam Cherry

thanks to scentofgreenbananas for the image.

About the size of a bing cherry but not as sweet, these cherries don't really taste like a bing cherry. They are slightly astringent. More of a shrub or bush than a tree, they are found quite often growing as hedge along the road or railway trail. As usual I never pick fruit growing along roads, I don't really want to consume any more hydrocarbons than I already do.

When we were putting in a raised bed garden out at the east end of the island my friend Emily presented us with some surinam cherry juice mixed with a bit of lemon. I suggested that it would be really good with some Black Seal, the local dark rum. With a little sweetener, stevia or agave syrup, this concoction makes a delicious and refreshing drink.

Emily harvests the cherries and squeezes out the ample juice by hand, simultaneously removing the bitter skins and seeds.

This plant is considered invasive by some in south Florida.

You can read more about this delicious fruit at Dave's Garden. Here is an excerpt from a comment by foodiesleuth;

"We have two large shrubs in our yard - they are about 10' tall and about the same size in span. They are covered in fruit at this time and usually fruit twice a year.
I do not notice too many volunteer plants underneath. The birds don't seem to bother them and we have no squirrels.

The taste is sweet with a slightly tart undertone. I like making flavored vinegars with it. Wonderful in mixed fresh green salads, with some crumbled feta and chopped toasted macadamia nuts.

3 cups cherries
3/4 cup distilled vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water

Cook until cherries are soft and mushy. Pass through a fine sieve, pushing as much of the pulp as you can through it. Beautiful ruby red color. Makes great gifts.

I have never noticed any larvae on the fruit. We have had a huge crop of them this year and I have been making many different preserves and vinegars.....Made a wonderful trifle with the jam, vanilla pudding and angel food cake."

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Sustainability or Resilience?

I recently went to a few lectures of a course the Bermuda Aquarium is hosting on the local ecology, sustainability and human economics.

In most cases the use of the term "sustainable development" seemed to be about finding a way to maintain an unsustainable level of development in a sustainable way. If this seems like an oxymoron to you, it did to me as well. This is certainly not unique to Bermuda. Helping businesses to find a way to do as little as possible to get a "green" label has become an industry in the US and the UK. But Bermuda is like a microcosm of the planet, isolated, with limited almost completely exhausted resources.

Bermuda is a high density island that lives an extremely high energy, as in fossil fuels, lifestyle. While driving small cars at mostly low speeds, practicing rainwater harvesting island wide and in some cases relying on the wisdom of their ancestors passive solar design knowledge, Bermudians are completely reliant on imports for almost everything. They generate electricity with imported oil, they exist on imported food and consumer goods (they do have some marvelous organic farms and a wonderful farmers market however), and they, much like Americans, are addicted to electronics, shopping, and high living. There is precious little open space, agricultural land is disappearing under condo developments, and what is left for growing food is often unused.

They do have an effective, well thought out, reliable and inexpensive mass transit system consisting of buses and ferries. It has reduced automobile traffic and increased opportunity for the citizens of the country to save money on auto related expenses. This system is an example of "sustainable development", one of the few on the island and stands as a model for many an American city.

So in this context, I pondered "sustainable development". In one instance the term was used by a planning officer who moments before admitted that the islands' lifestyle was already unsustainable.

There is a great deal of difference between "sustainable development" and developing sustainability. I believe the first, more often than not is impossible and represents a type of greenwash. A way to get projects approved as "sustainable" when the development can no longer come anywhere close to improving sustainability.

As David Fleming pointed out at the recent transition conference in the UK;

"... I asked him if he could explain why he sees resilience as being a better concept than sustainability. Sustainability, he said, is like the idea of an unsinkable ship, a nice idea, but completely unachievable, like, he added, a spouse that would always be completely faithful. The market economy depends on growth, and sustainability argues that we can grown AND sustain our ecology. The concept of sustainability allows us to grow economically and polish our haloes at the same time, to have our cake and eat it." - Rob Hopkins at Transition Culture

Perhaps it is time to shift to a new term, Resilience.

Here is an article on the subject by David Fleming from Transition Culture;

"**The Transition to Sustainable Resilience.**

**by David Fleming and Lawrence Woodward.**

Very big shocks are on the way. They include energy, climate, water and food, social fracture, displaced populations and pollution from unstable waste, especially nuclear waste. Sustainable development is not an adequate response to serial crisis. It is time now to move on to sustainable resilience. That means a political economy which can cope with shocks. It will need to be decentralised into relatively small-scale localised communities, so that:

• If one part is destroyed, the shock will not ripple through the whole system.
• There is wide diversity of character and solutions developed creatively in response to local circumstances.
• It can meet its needs despite the substantial absence of travel and transport.
• The other big infrastructures and bureaucracies of the intermediate economy are replaced by fit-for-purpose local alternatives at drastically reduced cost.

And that in turn opens up some new possibilities:

• Local closed systems conserving fertility and materials will become feasible.
• Local energy production, distribution and storage can be established, linked by local grids.
• Local social capital and culture can be rebuilt as a necessary condition for the cooperation and reciprocities needed to achieve the transition.

There are several degrees of sanity in this model. It is the only coherent response to the coming shocks. It is a realistic outcome of local initiatives. And such places will be good to live in, benefiting from the latest in technology, but not suffering from the latest in congestion and alienation. It has a chance of achieving the critical property of intelligent design: it is fit for the task. A large-scale economy which crashes very shortly after experiencing the first few outages in the supply of oil is not an intelligent design. Decentralised energy-efficient political economies, by contrast, have at least a chance. We need them now. We had better be quick about it

Being quick about it does not just mean starting soon; it means taking a route that can get there quickly. What matters now is to find the point of leverage – the point at which it is possible to steer the whole system by making it want to go the way you want it to go. The heart of the matter is energy. If we can find a way of moving down a steep energy descent, learning to get by with less and less energy, then we have the link to every other part of the system. It is like the child’s “cat’s cradle”: pull one string and all the rest come together. The low-energy economy has to be the localised economy; and localisation here includes a very substantial local contribution to the supply of food. It will not be possible to live within the energy constraint in any other way.

So, how to you make energy descent happen? By using Tradable Energy Quotas. Here are their main features:

• Every energy-user in the economy is included.
• The currency of the scheme consists of electronically-traded “TEQs units”, defined to represent specific quantities of energy, such as a litre of fuel; the definition may be based on (a) the global warming potential of the carbon released on combustion by that quantity of fuel, or on (b) actual quantities of the scarce fuels.
• All adults get a free and unconditional Entitlement to TEQs units. They can sell any surplus and top up their supply if they need to.
• All other users (e.g. businesses and public bodies) buy their units through a weekly Tender.
• There is a (rolling) 20-year TEQs Budget which reduces step by step, while clearly announcing the quantity of units that will be available in 20 years’ time.

>Individual carbon trading is also attractive because it appears to reach aspects of human behaviour which seem to be immune to other policies and programmes. It can both enforce and incentivise individual responsibility amongst a population which has so far appeared unable and/or unwilling to constrain its collective urge to drive, fly, and consume more electricity. And by explicitly involving the entire population in reducing carbon emissions, it maximises the collective intelligence and imagination applied to the task.
Simon Roberts and Joshua Thumim, Centre for Sustainable Energy – Report to DEFRA “A Rough Guide to Individual Carbon Trading” (Nov 2006)

TEQs guarantee that the Energy Descent will be achieved. They are equitable, since everyone gets the same Entitlement. They are efficient, because they are based on an efficient market, and they give everyone 20 years’ notice to cope with the structural changes that will transform our whole concept of the supply and use of energy (see Appendix 1).

Planned transition is a key process. It requires:

• A view of where you have to get to.
• A timescale.
• A way of involving everyone.

The model that at present we are calling “transition towns” cannot at present fulfil these criteria. It is hard for them really to commit themselves to the deeply unfamiliar vision of the low-energy/local-food (lo-lo) economy which the coming climacteric of peak oil and climate change will demand, or to commit themselves to the timescale set by the oil peak. It is impossible for them to include everybody: it will be an achievement if as many as one household in ten becomes seriously involved. And they are working in the context of a dominant and mature market economy, so they do not have the advantage of being able to go with the flow of a consensus about a deep change in the way we live, move, work and think: people with expensive families and flourishing careers are simply going to carry on for as long as they can.

And yet, the educative process in planning transition towns, the cooperative networks that are formed, and their experimental and practical results, are important. The people who are actually doing it are pioneers. They are taking ideas off the page and starting to work out how to make them stand up on the ground. And they have the crucial and rare insights that a liveable future will look sharply different from our present understanding of what “sustainable” means, and that it will take some time to build a future that works.

The twenty years of the TEQs Budget is about the time needed to develop Lean Energy far enough to begin to cope with the deep reductions in oil and gas that are on the way. The task for transition towns would be made much easier, and the whole concept would be seriously effective, if a TEQs scheme were up and running. It would then be possible for them to focus on how to achieve the transition to which everyone had already become committed, rather than how to commit people to it in the first place. Twenty years is slow, given the imminence of the problems, but it is quick, given the scale of the change that is needed. If an actual energy descent in the form of a binding TEQs budget within which we all had to live were in place, transition towns could get things moving locally and, by example, they could massively help things along in other places, too.

And while we are thinking about speed, it is worth giving a thought to what would happen if the outages that can be expected around the time of the oil peak, and increasingly after it, occurred before any substantial progress had been made in reducing the energy dependence of food production – and in some areas at least, reducing it dramatically. The immediate sequel would be food scarcities, mainly because of the lack of transport. Food would not get onto supermarket shelves in towns in sufficient quantities to feed urban populations. If food does not get in, the people living in towns will come out to get it. It could be hard for orderly transition towns to keep their crops, and indeed many of their other possessions, intact.

There would have to be a response by the Government: a “law-and-order” response which could be fierce, but also, in many ways, welcome. The effect of the Government’s longer-term policy, in the form of intervention in agriculture, may be less welcome. During the World War II, the War Agricultural Committees (“War Ags”) had draconian powers over farmers. They could order them to grow certain crops in certain ways, and if the farmers refused, the committees had the power to sequester their farms.

There could, in the future, be a stand-off between local organic farmers who used little energy to grow for their local customers, and the officially sanctioned methods of farming for unconditional maximum yield: agriculture will undoubtedly have priority for the use of whatever energy is available, and Government will use the leverage this gives them over farmers. Government insistence on intensive, large-scale, GM farming as part of a corporately run food distribution system, backed with the full power of the state, is a prospect we must try to avoid.

We need now to move fast. A mechanism, such as TEQs, for providing the framework and incentive structure for the transition needs to be put in place. Local initiatives that engage people, as transition towns are doing, are indispensable. In fact, “transition” itself is a little bit misleading. Things are not going to be as leisurely as that. The time for waiting is past. The oil peak and the climate are waiting for no-one. The shift from sustainable development to sustainable resilience is profound. It will be one of the big new story-lines in history. There have been four so far. This will be the fifth.


David Fleming is Director of the Lean Economy Connection and originator of Tradable Energy Quotas. fleming@theleaneconomyconnection.net
Lawrence Woodward is Director of the Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm) lawrence.w@efrc.com.

Appendix 1. **Lean Energy.**
The three elements of Lean Energy are:
1. Energy efficiency: to achieve the decisive improvements in the efficiency of energy-services – and corresponding reductions in the demand for energy – made possible by the conservation and energy-saving technologies.
2. Structural reform: to develop the potential for local provision of energy, goods and services, according to the “Proximity Principle”. This major advance, which is difficult but necessary, and achievable only incrementally, will build local competence across the whole range of economics and culture. Deep reductions in travel and transport can be expected to come about rapidly and brutally as the oil market breaks down; adapting to them – and crucially, preparing for them before the event – will take longer.
3. Renewable energy: to design and build renewable energy systems to match the needs and resources of the particular place and site. Renewable energy programmes should not be started until (1) and (2) have been planned, at least in outline."

Monday, 25 May 2009

Not every barrel of oil is alike.

The impact of a barrel of oil varies greatly depending on where is comes from. Clearly, the eco-cide of the tar sands exploitation has a far greater impact than a barrel pumped from the ground in Texas. In fact a barrel of oil from the tar sands of Alberta generates five times more greenhouse gases in it's production. Unfortunately,as we feel more and more of the effects of peak oil the market for the tar sands oil will improve. All the more reason to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels as much as is humanly possible.

Just as barrels of oil differ in their impact so to do different companies. Apparently Shell wins the prize for the worst offender when it comes to producing the highest impact oil.

Read more about the differing impacts of oil depending on where it is sourced and what company produces it over at GreenPepper. Here is an excerpt;

"Shell tops the list for three reasons:
  • Its reliance on Nigerian crude oil, which is associated with huge levels of wasteful gas flaring
  • Its investments in highly energy intensive liquefied natural gas
  • Its massive gamble on Canada’s oil-bearing tar sands, for which the extraction process is so energy intensive that it produces up to five times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil

The bad news for Shell shareholders is that 30% of its total resources are now in tar sands. As the US moves to introduce carbon control legislation, and the world looks towards December’s Copenhagen summit for action to limit climate change, Shell is fighting a determined rearguard action - taking a lead in industry lobbying against similar measures being proposed by the Eurpean Union."

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Zero Carbon Britain

Zero Carbon Britain from Zero Carbon Britain on Vimeo.

Wales, the greenest country on earth?

Wales has made legally binding commitments to become energy self sufficient in 20 years through reliance on renewable energy. It will also reduce it's waste stream to zero by 2050. This plan truly embodies the term "sustainable development". While many countries and companies are attempting to brand their efforts as such, for the most part it is business as ususal with a slight nod to increasing efficiency where it can be profitable. There is a big difference between sustainable development and developing sustainability. Wales looks to be an exception to that rule.

Wales is fertile ground for such commitments to take root. Here are a few reasons I believe that is true.

• Wales has had a tradition of establishing it's differences from England, sometimes violently, for a long time. In the 70's they had a vigorous nationalist movement which expressed it's displeasure with negative effects of the increasing numbers of English holiday homes, rising house prices and erosion of communities, by burning some down. Devolution has allowed this urge to become legitimate and increased Wales' capacity for leadership. They have also kept their ancient and beautiful language alive.

• Much of the coal that the UK used to depend on was mined in Wales and when Maggie Thatcher shut down the industry in favor of North Sea oil and gas the economy was hard hit. Many of the methods developed at that time for increasing resilience did not die out due to some later economic boom, which never really occurred country wide.

• Over 30 years ago The Center for Alternative Technology, just outside of Machynlleth Wales, presented the UK with an energy plan that would move the nation towards sustainability and energy independence. They have now published a 30 year update called Zero Carbon Britain,
and are working on a plan for Europe. CAT is now offering fully accredited masters degrees relating to sustainability in the built environment and renewable energy technologies. I've just finished one of those.

• Due to this legacy of leadership Wales has a high proportion of citizens either actively working for sustainability or are at least sympathetic to it. The area around CAT is a particular magnet for open minded and progressive folks.

• Much of Wales is still rural and doesn't suffer from the degree of NIMBYism that England does. This has allowed it to benefit from alternative energy installations at every scale. Folks have been powering their cars with vegetable oil since the 70's, microhydro, solar hot water and PV are not uncommon, biomass boilers are increasing in number, and wind generation from microwind to wind farms are in evidence.

Over at Worldchanging you can read more about Wales' commitments. Here is an excerpt;

"We intend to reduce by 80-90% our use of carbon-based energy, resulting in a similar reduction in our greenhouse gas generation," said Jane Davidson, the Welsh environment minister, launching the sustainable development scheme at the Guardian's Hay festival. "We are committed to making annual 3% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from 2011," she added.

"This is about living within our resources while improving people's well being. It will require radical changes in Welsh society," said Rhodri Morgan, first minister for Wales, which is currently celebrating 10 years of devolution.

The report sets out a series of ambitious goals:
• to produce more electricity from renewables than the nation consumes within 20 years
• increase recycling rates from 36% today to over 70% by 2025
• send just 5% of Welsh waste to landfill sites by 2025
phasing out free plastic bags
• developing new marine and biomass energy plants

"Waste will be taboo. Heavy industry and power generation will greatly improve their energy efficiency," says the report, "there will be a consistent drop in energy and water demand."

Jonathan Porritt, the chair of the UK Sustainable development commission, said: "Wales will set an example for the rest of the world to follow. [Its] government is showing a serious commitment to making Wales a truly sustainable country."

Communities in south Wales will become part of one of Europe's few "low carbon regions", with 40,000 social housing homes equipped with solar, wind and heat-saving equipment.

Davidson said that £623m was expected to be spent in the next three years on improving energy efficiency in homes in Wales, which has some of the highest rates of fuel poverty rates. Most of the money will come from energy companies." - John Vidal

Friday, 22 May 2009

Get Former Monsanto Lobbyist off of the Food safety working group

"Agri-Pulse reported that former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor, who has been serving on President Obama's Department of Agriculture Transition Team, was "the leading candidate to staff the White House [food safety] working group." Michael Taylor, who now promotes himself as a food safety expert, is a lawyer whose accomplishments include shepherding Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) through Clinton's FDA as the Deputy Administrator for Policy." - OCA

Go to the Organic Consumers Association to send a message to Secretary Vilsack. Remove Michael Taylor from our nations' Food safety working group.

Peak Oil update

"World oil production (EIA Monthly) for crude oil + NGL. The median forecast is calculated from 14 models that are predicting a peak before 2020 (Bakhtiari, Smith, Staniford, Loglets, Shock model, GBM, ASPO-[70,58,45], Robelius Low/High, HSM). 95% of the predictions sees a production peak between 2008 and 2010 at 77.5 - 85.0 mbpd (The 95% forecast variability area in yellow is computed using a bootstrap technique)."

I found this chart over at the Oil Drum. It clearly shows the prediction that we are probably enjoying the peak right about now. Could it be that the rising oil prices we are currently experiencing, even though the economy is apparently still in the dustbin, are the first harbingers of far worse to come?

Sorry about the two grim posts from yesterday and today but every now and again I feel it is good policy to remind myself about what we are up against. While we luxuriate on the sofa, eating grapes. The Hydrocarbon Twins, climate change and peak oil, are moving their seige engines against the city gate!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Expecting Grandchildren?

For those of you with children in the house you can probably expect to bounce a grandchild on your knee at some point in the next 20 years. That grandchild, if it survives the repeatedly forecast flu pandemic, or the red level threat from terrorists, or the dire effects of lack of credit, will likely live to see the next century. Now, ignoring the fabricated threats the media wants you to be afraid of, take a look at the threats predicted by cold hard science.

" Results of the studies are depicted online in MIT’s “Greenhouse Gamble” exercise that conveys the “range of probability of potential global warming” via roulette wheel graphics (shown above). The modeling output showed that under both a “no policy” scenario and one in which nations took action beginning in the next few years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the odds have shifted in favor of larger temperature increases.

For the no policy scenario, the researchers concluded that there is now a nine percent chance (about one in 11 odds) that the global average surface temperature would increase by more than 7°C (12.6°F) by the end of this century, compared with only a less than one percent chance (one in 100 odds) that warming would be limited to below 3°C (5.4°F).

To repeat, on our current emissions path, we have a 9% chance of an incomprehensibly catastrophic warming of 7°C by century’s end, but less than a 1% chance of under 3°C warming."

Should we not act decisively RIGHT NOW we can kiss the greenland ice sheet goodbye, raising sea levels approximately 20 feet, and a good portion of the antarctic ice sheet, raising them perhaps another 50 or more, agriculture worldwide will collapse, water shortages will be severe. I'll leave it up to your imagination to project the social upheavals that will follow.

Please contact your representative in Washington and express your support for the Waxman Markey climate bill. It is a small but necessary first step. After you have done that, plan a diet that reduces your family intake of meat, plan a schedule that reduces your automobile use, plan a renovation that enables you to stop using air conditioning, build a solar hot water heater, get some solar PV panels. If we don't lead, who will follow? Do it for your grandkids.

Read more about the MIT research at Climate Progress.

The Powerdown Show

Here is a taster of a series of videos called the "Powerdown Show" produced by Cultivate Dublin as an educational set for communities embarking on a Transition initiative. Thanks to Rob Hopkins over at Transition Culture for this.

The Powerdown Show - Transition Towns and Energy Descent Pathways from Rob Carr on Vimeo.

Can Genetically modified crops feed the World?

Here is the text of the daily audio from the Scientific American 60 Second Earth podcast by David Biello

"Humans have been genetically modifying crops for millenia the old-fashioned way—selective breeding. But new techniques that insert foreign genetic material, say bacterial genes to produce insecticide in a corn plant, have raised health and environmental concerns. And that has prompted European countries, most recently Germany, to ban genetically modified, or GM, crops.

Proponents argue that GM crops can help feed the world. And given ever increasing demands for food, animal feed, fiber and now even biofuels, the world needs all the help it can get.

Unfortunately, it looks like GM corn and soybeans won't help, after all.

A study from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that genetically engineered crops do not produce larger harvests. Crop yield increases in recent years have almost entirely been due to improved farming or traditional plant breeding, despite more than 3,000 field trials of GM crops.

Of course, farmers have typically planted, say, GM corn, because it can tolerate high doses of weed-killer. And the Biotechnology Industry Organization argues that GM crops can boost yields in developing countries where there are limited resources for pesticides.

But it appears that, to date, traditional plant breeding boosts crop yields better than genetic modification. Those old farmers were on to something."—David Biello

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Energy Payback on Solar Panels

Let's put this one to rest shall we? People keep asking me if solar panels don't actually take more energy to manufacture than they will ever produce. NO, NO, NO!

A new life cycle assessment adds yet another scientifically sound voice to that point. Read more in this article by Jeremy Faludi over at WorldChanging. Here is an excerpt;

" A recent life-cycle analysis published at the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) showed that in a nice sunny place like Spain, PV panels reach energy payback (when they've saved as much fossil fuel as it took to make them) in about one to three years, depending on the type of panel. Interestingly, the new thin-film chemistry cadmium telluride (CdTe) fared best at 1.1 year despite having the lowest efficiency (9%), while monocrystalline silicon fared worst at 2.7 years despite having the highest efficiency (14%). This may seem counterintuitive, but the explanation is simple: it takes a lot less energy to make CdTe film....If your climate is less sunny than Spain, there will obviously be a longer payback time; but most of the continental US gets as much solar radiation as the location in the study. (It got 1,700 kWh/m^2/year, which is 4.7 kWh/m^2/day...."

I must say however that PV observers have been predicting the dominance of thin film over cyrstalline panels for close to 20 years and it never seems to happen. I hope Mr. Faludi is right but this next bit is worth taking with a grain of salt.

"Though thin-film PV panels have been in the market for more than a decade, the new chemistries that are coming to maturity (mostly CdTe and copper indium gallium selenide, "CIGS") are fundamentally changing the game. They are still not as efficient, but they are good enough, and they are far cheaper (up to 1/3 the cost per watt), even before reaching true economies of scale from mass-manufacturing. Now we see that they are environmentally preferable as well, since they have faster energy payback times. In the years ahead, crystalline silicon will become relegated to satellites, mobile systems, and other applications where compactness is king, while thin-film PV will be the default style. Crystalline prices will stay high, but thin-film prices will continue to drop steadily until they hit grid parity (arguably they have already), at which point they will plummet because manufacturing will ramp up massively. CdTe and CIGS will ultimately be price-limited by the rarity of their ingredients; the next wave after them will be dye-sensitized solar cells, made from common titanium dioxide and organic dyes. It'll be probably ten years or more before those dominate, though, and in that much time, who knows what other chemistries will come along? In any case, keep an eye out for it: the future of PV is thin."

Non GMO when buying dairy

Here's a list of Dairy products, alternative dairy products and infant formula indicating it's GMO status.

Some U.S. dairy farms inject the genetically engineered hor-
mone rbGH, also called rbST, into their cows to boost milk
production—so be sure to purchase products with a label that
indicates cows free of rbGH or rbST. Many alternative dairy prod-
ucts are made from soybeans and may contain GM materials.
Dairy Products: Non-GMO
Certified Organic
Alta Dena Organics
Butterworks Farm
Harmony Hills Dairy
Horizon Organic
Morningland Dairy
Natural by Nature
Organic Valley
Radiance Dairy
Safeway Organic Brand
Seven Stars Farm
Straus Family Creamery
Stonyfield Farm
Wisconsin Organics

Produced Without rbGH

Alta Dena
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream
Brown Cow Farm
Crowley Cheese of Vermont
Franklin County Cheese
Grafton Village Cheese
Great Hill Dairy
Lifetime Dairy

West Coast

Alpenrose Dairy
Berkeley Farms
Clover Stornetta Farms
Joseph Farms Cheese
Sunshine Dairy Foods
Tillamook Cheese
Wilcox Family Farms
Midwest and Gulf States
Chippewa Valley Cheese
Erivan Dairy Yogurt
Promised Land Dairy
Westby Cooperative Creamery

East Coast

Blythedale Farm Cheese
Crescent Creamery
Derle Farms (milk with “no rbST” label only)
Erivan Dairy Yogurt
Farmland Dairies
Oakhurst Dairy
Wilcox Dairy (rbST-free dairy line only)

May contain GMO ingredients
Colombo (General Mills)
Kemps (aside from
“Select” brand)
Land O’ Lakes
Yoplait (General Mills)

Alternative Dairy Products
Imagine Foods/Soy Dream
Nancy’s Cultured Soy
Pacific Soy
Soy Delicious
Sun Soy
Stonyfield Farm O’Soy
Yves The Good Slice
Zen Don

May contain GMO ingredients

8th Continent
Milk or soy protein is the basis of most infant formulas. The
secret ingredients in these products are often soy or milk from
cows injected with rbGH. Many brands also add GMO-derived
corn syrup, corn syrup solids, or soy lecithin.


Baby’s Only
(certified organic products)
Earth’s Best
Gerber products
Mom Made Meals
Organic Baby
Plum Organics

May contain GMO ingredients

Good Start
Similac/Isomil " - copied from the NON GMO Shopping Guide from The Center for Food Safety which you can download here at realfoodmedia.com

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Story of Stuff

This nice little educational video has been called anti-capitalist and leftist. I guess dealing honestly with the impacts of consumerism, understanding how what we use has a stream of waste behind it, and the potential of continuing to treat the planet as infinite is somehow a leftist practice. Does that mean that delusion, denial, and intentional misrepresentation of the facts is a right wing practice. Does capitalism have to be practiced in such a way as to doom itself? I guess I never thought that understanding how the world works was either left or right, just good ole common sense.

Are you ready to take the No GMO Challenge?

Can you do without GMO'S for 30 days?

This may sound easy, easier in the UK than in the US where multinational corporate bullies have blocked labelling requirements on their psuedo food products. It is not easy to do, particularly if you don't purchase exclusively organic. But there are a few guidelines that will make it easier, for example;

"Very few fresh fruits and vegetables for sale in the U.S. are genetically modified. Novel products such as seedless watermelons are NOT genetically modified. Small amounts of
zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and sweet corn may be GM. The only commercialized GM fruit is papaya from Hawaii, about half of Hawaii’s papayas are GM.


No genetically modified fish, fowl, or livestock is yet approved for human consumption. However, plenty of non-organic foods are produced from animals raised on GM feed such as grains. Look for wild rather than farmed fish to avoid fish raised on genetically modified feed, and 100% grass-fed animals. Non-GMO Vital Choice


Many alternative meat products are processed and include; Avoid products made with any of the crops that are GM. Most GM ingredients are products made from the “Big Four:” corn, soy-
beans, canola, and cottonseed, used in processed foods. Recently, beet sugar from GM sugar beets has entered the food supply. Look for organic and non-GMO sweeteners, made with
100% cane sugar, evaporated cane juice or organic sugar. Some of the most common genetically engineered Big Four ingredients in processed foods are:
■Corn flour, meal, oil, starch, gluten, and syrup
■Sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose, and glucose
■Modified food starch*
■Soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate, and isoflavone
■Vegetable oil* and vegetable protein*
CanolaCanola oil (also called rapeseed oil)
CottonCottonseed oil
SugarAnything not listed as 100% cane sugar
*May be derived from other sources " - copied from the NON GMO Shopping Guide from The Center for Food Safety which you can download here at realfoodmedia.com

Saturday, 16 May 2009

How CEO's get more pay.

The daily audio is well worth a listen but this quote from Mr. Hightower's podcast is especially stimulating.

"Associated Press surveyed some 300 major corporations and found that the median value of such executive perks as chauffeured limousines, free personal use of the corporate jet, and memberships in exclusive clubs has risen to $170,000 last year. That's more than three times the income of most families!

Chauffeurs and jets turn out to be the least of it. Take Ray Irani, CEO of Occidental Petroleum. Not only was he paid $30 million last year, but he also was given $400,000 to cover the cost of his financial planners. An Occidental spokesperson explained that this perk was beneficial to the corporation because it helped Irani "keep his complete attention on the company’s business." What, is Irani so flighty that he can't focus on his job without worrying about his personal money? Maybe so, but – come on – with a $30 million paycheck, couldn't he afford to cover them out of his own pocket?"

Meanwhile the oil industry is posting record profits while fighting the cessation of monstrous subsidies and necessary carbon taxes. What planet do these guys live on?!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Moral Offsets for climate destroying behaviours?

As reported in the premiere medical journal in the UK;

"The Lancet’s landmark Health Commission: “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”

Lead author Anthony Costello says that failure to act will result in an intergenerational injustice, with our children and grandchildren scorning our generation for ignoring the climate change threat –- with moral outrage similar to how we today look back on those who brought in and did nothing to stop slavery."

- from Joe Romm over at Climate Progress

I see climate change as the greatest injustice humanity has perpetrated on itself and all other species. We are, to paraphrase Paul Hawken, stealing the future, selling it in the present and calling it GDP. By that reckoning, the behaviours that are leading to climate change are immoral. Do we not have a responsibility to our children and their children and theirs to cease and desist. Certainly, many of those behaviours are so trivial as to be inexcusable. Several come to mind; the consumption of bottled drinks, regular consumption of meat, using a clothes dryer, excessive automobile use, foreign vacations accessed by air, etc. These are practices that have a large impact and are very easily avoided. Knowing the trouble we are causing our offspring is it moral to continue them?

Many of us assuage our nagging guilt with recycling, turning off standby power devices, insulating our homes and other low hanging fruit of sustainability. These are laudable practices but they don’t in any way release us from the need to go further.

There are no moral offsets. The bible doesn’t say that as long as you don’t murder, a little coveting of your neighbours wife is OK. Similarly, if you are recycling, that doesn’t free you to drive an automobile indiscriminately, eat meat everyday, or buy your electricity from coal fired power plants. Surely, you might say, there is a continuum of morality when dealing with climate change. You could argue that by being connected to the grid you have no choice as to whether your power is from coal fired power plants, and in some cases this would be true. In the UK one can choose a renewable energy provider as your electric company. But if you are limited to coal fired power plants as your only choice of grid supplied electricity then what can be done? Much!

First, do everything you can to reduce your consumption of electricity.

Second, invest in sustainability. Go off grid with a standalone PV system to power your computer or your fridge, or both or more. Forget the simplistic paradigm of economic payback which plays into the business as usual solutions, accomplishes very little and not nearly soon enough. If payback is to be applied, then it should be applied universally, does that giant flatscreen TV have any chance of paying for itself? At least the PV system will do so at some point, and along the way you will have significantly reduced your carbon footprint. Going off grid has a multiplier effect, as you rely more and more on your standalone system you will begin to realize just how much electricity all your devices use. This will lead either to not purchasing more of them, the best option as this reduces the carbon costs and resource impacts of manufacture, or to relying on the most efficient option. A good example of this is shifting to a laptop rather than a desktop machine. In this way your investment in the system will payback in many ways, not just the in the grade school arithmetic of typical economics.

Third, work for change. Live it, do without a car if possible, and demonstrate that level of resilience. Plant a garden and share that technology with your neighbors. Show them how your PV system works and why. Give up meat except for special occasions. Campaign to bring a stop to the use of fossil fuel. Contact your government representatives about your views regarding dirty coal.

Fourth, give up the internal bargaining that you use to justify behaviours that are clearly risking the future health of the ecosystems that support us all and are guaranteeing a degraded planet as an inheritance from our generation.

The real bottom line is that if you are participating in an aspect of the economy that perpetuates the dominant paradigm of growth at all costs, profit before morality, and consumerism then that activity is part of the problem instead of the solution and needs to stop.

Certainly, we all use the calculus of moral offsets to justify our behaviour. My father gave tens of thousands of dollars to environmental organizations, money he earned by investing in the stock market, in companies that were creating the very problems he was donating to solve. To me this did not make sense then and still doesn’t. I believe we must all find ways of earning an honest living without endangering future generations of all species.

Some work, like teaching, social services, cleaning, food preparation and such which are not necessarily directly helping to solve the problem, must be done. But with a litle effort they can be a part of the solution. Other work is clearly questionable. Do we need fast food or bottled drinks? Of course not. They are eroding our health and the waste stream is laying waste to the oceans and the atmosphere. Do we really need more internal combustion vehicles? Of course not. Does this mean we need to force all the auto workers into the unemployment line, no it does not. We should re-purpose those factories and workers to build the renewable energy equipment and infrastructure that the nation needs to transition off of fossil fuels. Do we need to perpetuate our reliance on industrial agriculture, so heavily dependent on dwindling petro chemicals and precious fossil water? No we don’t, we must begin to transition to a more resilient, diverse and sustainable agriculture. One that doesn’t create dead zones in our seas from massive over use of fertilizers and livestock waste runoff. One that doesn’t produce facsimiles of food to replace fresh seasonal organic food, the type of food we evolved to thrive on, and in the process correct much of the ill health we suffer from. Do we need to continue to pour precious financial and natural resources into offensive military capability? Clearly this policy causes more problems than it solves and leaves behind a legacy of toxic waste and toxic relations, worldwide. If it is so clear that these activities and many others besides are unsustainable and downright threatening to our survival, why do we continue to participate in them?

In short, if it is unsustainable, we should stop doing it, NOW!

Here are some facts from the Lancet report as listed at Climate Progress
  • Even the most conservative estimates are profoundly disturbing and demand action. (p1697 col 1)
  • The 12 warmest years on record within the past 150 years have been during the past 13 years. (p1698 col 1)
  • Currently, a third of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of a shoreline and 13 of the world’s 20 largest cities are located on a coast. More than a billion people could be displaced in environmental mass migration. (p1699 col 1)
  • Estimates show that small increases in the risk for climate-sensitive conditions, such as diarrhoea and malnutrition, could result in very large increases in the total disease burden. (p1701 col 1
  • The carbon footprint of the poorest 1 billion people is around 3% of the world’s total footprint; yet, these communities are affected the most by climate change. (p1701 col 2)
  • Malaria, tick-borne encephalitis, and dengue fever will become increasingly widespread. (p1702 col 2)
  • Half of the world’s population could face severe food shortages by the end of the century because rising temperatures take their toll on farmers’ crops. (p1704 col 2)
  • As people migrate away from areas deteriorated by gradual warming or destroyed by extreme weather events, they not only place substantial demands on the ecosystems and social infrastructures into which they migrate, but also carry illnesses that emerge from shifts in infectious-disease vectors. (p1719 col2)
  • Extreme weather events are not always handled well by rich nations [i.e. Katrina]. (p1719 col 2)
  • Farmers use about three-quarters of the world’s water supply: to grow 1kg of wheat requires around 1000L of water, whereas 1kg of beef takes as much as 15 000L. American or European diets require around 5000L of water per person every day, whereas African or Asian vegetarian diets use about 2000L per person every day. The social and political challenge of shifting dietary practices is enormous, especially as populations start to eat more meat as they climb out of poverty. (1720 col 2)
  • Climate change will … have an effect on psychosocial health. Increased spending on appropriate counselling or sympathetic health promotion, and the initiation of such services in poor countries, could be as important as planning to reduce new disease vectors. (p1721 col 1)"

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Transition - 400 fruit trees in Kilkenney

I'm really enjoying video content online these days. Perhaps it's the predominance of mainstream US media here in Bermuda, with it's plane crashes, corporate welfare, fascist ramblings on Fox news, corporate drug pushers, and general sensationalism and addiction to celebrity and consumerism. I prefer content like this, just normal people getting on with the business of preparing their community for the future by increasing their resilience through the planting of fruit trees.

Thanks to Rob Hopkins over at Transition Culture for this wonderful video.

400 Fruit Trees Project, Kilkenny from Future Proof Kilkenny on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

NPR allows Monsanto propaganda on it's programs

It's distressing to hear that NPR is allowing false and deceptive advertising on it's programs. Of all the corporations I consider to be doing serious harm I can't think of one that is lower on the ethical scale than Monsanto, they are even with Exxon for sleaze factor. Read more in this article by Meredith Niles over at Grist. Here is an excerpt;

"The real problem with the Monsanto ads is that they are not “honest or accurate,” but rather quite simply false. The premise of the ad is more or less that Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seeds are going to save the world from environmental catastrophe and human hunger. All while the corporation made more than 11 billion dollars in 2008 amidst a world food crisis. The catch phrase, “Produce more, conserve more” even has its own website, which conveniently links directly to Monsanto’s website section on “sustainable agriculture”. But the reality of Monsanto’s seeds and the company’s ethics and commitment to fighting world hunger have nothing to do with producing more or conserving more.

Let’s get a few facts on the table. Eighty-five percent of all GM seeds are engineered for herbicide tolerance. Most of these crops are Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” cotton, corn, soy, and canola seeds. What this tolerance means is that the plant can actually withstand significant amounts of pesticides being sprayed on it—in effect promoting pesticide use. In the past farmers were motivated to spray judiciously since their crops could be adversely affected. Farmers growing GM seeds don’t worry about this, and as a result there has been an increase in pesticide use in the United States since the introduction of GM seeds. The most comprehensive independent research done utilizing USDA data demonstrates that since the introduction of GM crops in the United States, more than 120 million pounds of additional pesticides were used. This seems to be a growing trend as well, as the active ingredient in Roundup Ready crops—glyphosate—s becoming less efficient and creating scores of resistant weeds, resulting in increased use.

In 2008 Monsanto’s total sales for Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides was more than $4 billion—up 59 percent from 2007. Perhaps more importantly, its gross profit from such sales was nearly 2 billion dollars- up 131% from 2007. So, what is Monsanto conserving more of? Certainly not biodiversity, human health, wildlife, pollinators or the soil, which are all adversely affected by pesticide use.

The claims of “producing more” that Monsanto touts in the NPR ads are also completely unfounded. Not a single GM crop has been commercially introduced that is intended to increase yield. Agronomists and plant scientists made far greater advances in yields through conventional breeding methods in the 20th century than they ever have with GM crops. In fact, there have been several studies which show that there are actually yield losses associated with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans. What biotech companies have been effective at doing is crafting media messages that persuade the average person to believe that their crops increase yield and that without GM crops we simply couldn’t feed the world.

In fact, GM crops account for less than 3% of total agricultural acreage globally. Five countries in North and South America account for more than 90% of total global acreage, with the United States, Argentina and Brazil making up 80% of total global GM crop acreage. In Africa, only two countries-South Africa and Burkina Faso-allow the commercial planting of GM crops, which are minimally grown. Less than 3% of the cropland in India and China is planted with GM crops, and in India most of that is cotton- not food. This leads me to my next point- four cash crops- soy, maize, cotton and canola make up almost 100% of GM crops planted worldwide. Of these commodity crops, most are used to make biofuels, processed foods, animal feed, and vegetable oils-they are not fed directly to people in their whole form. The bottom line? GM crops are not feeding the world, and they are not enabling us to produce more."

James Howard Kuntsler OCA interview

Check out this interview with Kerry Trueman over at Organic Consumers Association
about why JHK almost became Vegan and some typically irascible observations about our western car crazed culture. Here's an excerpt;

" JHK: Americans eat so many meals in cars because: 1) The infrastructure of daily life is engineered for extreme car dependency, and 2) because the paucity of decent quality public space and so-called third places (gathering places) for the working classes (and lower) -- and remember, it is the working classes and poor who are way disproportionately obese. The people portrayed in Vanity Fair magazine are not fat. I suspect that the amount of time Americans spend in their cars is roughly proportionate to the amount of time French people spend at the table.

Fast food is not a new phenomenon in the USA, however. Frances Trollope's sensational travel book of the 1830s, The Domestic Manners of the Americans dwells on the horrifying spectacle of our hotel dining rooms, where people bolted their food with disgusting manners. Americans have been in a tearing rush for 200 years.

KT: In The Long Emergency, published in 2005, you predicted with astounding accuracy how the subprime mortgage meltdown would unfold. Your latest novel, World Made By Hand, takes place in the near future after a massive flu outbreak that originated in Mexico. Um, what should we start worrying about next?

JHK: Worry about the "recovery" that never comes and the insidious collapse of our institutions and arrangements that will proceed from this. Worry about lost incomes and vocations that will never come back (e.g. marketing exec for Target, Inc.) and the need to find new ways to be useful to your fellow human beings (and incidentally perhaps earn a living). Worry about finding a community to live in that is cohesive enough to stave off anarchy at the local level. Worry about building the best garden you can and making good compost. Worry about how difficult it is to learn how to play a musical instrument at age 47.

KT: You recently wrote "there's no way we can continue the petro-agriculture system of farming and the Cheez Doodle and Pepsi Cola diet that it services. The public is absolutely zombified in the face of this problem -- perhaps a result of the diet itself." OK, so how will we stock our post-peak-oil pantries? Do we really need to start hoarding rice and beans?

JHK: Get some kind of a hand-cranked home grain mill. Personally, I think it is indeed a good idea to lay in a supply of beans, lentils, rice, oats, other grains and don't forget salt, boullion (soups can sustain us with any number of ingredients), dried onion flakes, spices (chilies and curries especially). Our just-in-time, three-day's-worth-of-inventory supermarket system is very susceptible to disruption. And we're very far from establishing workable local food networks in this country.

The fragility of petro-ag is being aggravated by the collapse of bank lending now. Farmers need borrowed money desperately. Capital is as important an "input" as methane-based fertilizers. I think we could see problems with food production and distribution anytime from here on.

KT: You're an avid gardener -- do you grow much of your own food? Do you worry that you'll have to guard your greens with a gun if our collapsing economy sends the mall rats outdoors to forage after the food courts run out of pretzel nuggets?

JHK: I don't grow any grains. I have successfully grown potatoes, but won't this year (I'm renting my current house and its accompanying property). This year, I'll be planting mostly leafy greens -- collards, kale, chard, lettuces, plus some peppers and tomatoes (pure frivolity). It is not hard to imagine that food theft will become a problem. The trouble, though, is that the sort of people liable to do the thieving are exactly those with the poorest skills in cooking. You have to know what to do with kale to make it worth stealing. It may be more like kitchen theft: "... what's that you got on the stove, pal?"

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

New Urbanism vs. Suburbanism

While James Howard Kuntsler calls the suburbs "the greatest misallocation of resources in human history" the New Urbanists are working for a new vision for livable cities. I don't believe that we should be building suburban sprawl any longer but we can capitalize on the existing situation. I see a the lawns of American suburbia, after having lived in the very walkable city of Sheffield England with it's tiny garden plots, as a wonderful opportunity to grow local food.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Smart Grid basics

With all the talking and funding going to the smart grid I though it might be good to include a basic explanation of the technology. Follow the link to OpenAlex for an excellent discussion on the topic.
Here's an excerpt;

"Our current energy system is an enormous one-way conversation: our electricity use tells utilities how much power we want; they either give it to us or the grid goes down. Making
the utilities’ job even more difficult is the fact that individual energy use is highly uneven. Home electricity use can increase by 700 per cent in the space of minutes as we arrive home to cook dinner, and by 300 per cent every time we boil a kettle of water. The end result is a costly and inefficient system. Generators have to be built, maintained and fuelled to meet these spikes and then idle for much of the rest of the day. Some estimates show that the top 10 per cent of our generation capacity is used as little as one per cent of the time.

Smart grids offer an alternative to this dysfunctional set-up. The new grid is made up of a series of components: Smart meters provide minute-by-minute billing, allowing the utility to give clients incentives to shift major appliance use to times when electricity is plentiful, and therefore cheaper. Smart-switching allows clients or utilities to automatically disable non-essential appliances at times when the grid is under strain. Visual displays mounted in your kitchen can show you when electricity prices are high, how much each of your appliances is using, and remind you to reconsider the way you are using power.

Overall, this helps even out energy use throughout the day and significantly reduces both peak energy demand and the increased generation capacity needed to meet it. Just making
the way we consume electricity more visible to us can reduce overall consumption by 15 per cent."

Get Smart: Reprogramming North America's Largest Machine

Climate Change: Dire Consequences for California's Agriculture

The US is heavily dependent on food from California. As the article linked to below points out, that food supply is seriously threatened by climate change as the snowpack on the western mountains disappears. The question is, will this threat get translated into aggressive action to mitigate GHG emissions? Will every effort to make substantive progress get undermined by corporate lobbyists looking for sweetheart deals for their industries regardless of the consequences?

Fossil fuel use must be curtailed or we don't have a chance. Leave it in the ground.

Contact your representatives and express your concerns.In the meantime you can reduce your own consumption, of everything. I'd also suggest you get that garden planted and your compost heap started!

Climate Change: Dire Consequences for California's Agriculture over on Celsias

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Food Choices and Health

I found this Op-ed over on Thoughts on the Table. With all the emphasis on health care reform these days it is well worth considering the connection between our diets and the abysmal state of our health in the US. We must break the grip big pharma has on our hospitals and healthcare. We must learn to take care of ourselves as if we knew how, because we do!
Here's an excerpt;

"Fresh, local vegetables are healthier than processed foods. We should have them in our hospitals. Access to nutritious food should be factored into policy as preventative care.

There are several significant reasons why this hasn’t happened yet. First, four companies control 80 percent of America’s beef production. Two companies process 75 percent of the precut salads in the country. The voices of such companies are powerful in Washington. Second, pharmaceutical companies aren’t big on preventative health care. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are in cahoots. Third, the industrialization of America’s food system destroyed much of the infrastructure that would have allowed large institutions to source locally. In almost any region of the country (except perhaps California), it is difficult to coordinate the arrival of enough locally grown food at a hospital kitchen. Fourth, our policymakers aren’t prone to holistic thinking, and so we are left struggling to find something other than band-aids to help heal our environment, our economy, and our health. We don’t usually consider the complex options that might help cure, all at once, these ailing elements of our society. And finally, we need a leader. We need someone in Washington who will commit to introducing healthy food into hospitals, and who will integrate nutritious food into our health care plans." - Annie Meyers

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Ventilation and indoor air quality

This is #11 of my posts for the Sheffield Star Green Scene

Ventilation is the intentional use of windows, ventilators, and fans to replace stale air with fresh air. Infiltration is the unwanted leakage of air through cracks in the house fabric and around windows and doors.”
(Harris and Borer 2005 p.182)

Indoor air quality can be severely impacted by many of the modern materials used in our homes. This is not just an issue of bad smells and humidity. Carpets, paints, glues, cabinetry, furniture, cleaning and body care products, and even some insulation materials contain chemicals such as formaldehyde that have been shown to be carcinogenic. These products can be made out of all natural materials and care should be taken to source these options, however the chances are that your home contains something that is off gassing volatile organic compounds that are doing your health no good. Some areas have problems with radon gas coming from the earth below the house. This gas is dangerous and must be ventilated. Studies have shown that air quality next to roadways is very poor, even dangerous. Additionally, many people are allergic to mold and mildew to some degree which can produce unpleasant to severe symptoms.

As you seal up your house, reducing infiltration, you are also reducing air exchange. This can affect indoor air quality and moisture buildup and thus mold and mildew. In the most efficient of homes, such as the passive house designs from Germany the ventilation is actively dealt with through a heat exchanger to remove the old moist air while transferring it’s heat to the new fresh incoming air. These systems can be retrofitted in older homes but can be expensive. There are ways to maintain air flow without such an investment. Clearly there will be loss of heat with ventilation but some flow is necessary and you can reduce the losses through careful management of ventilation.

It is important to maintain air flow through your chimney to insure that the integrity of the construction doesn’t deteriorate. This will help insure adequate ventilation to any rooms that have fireplaces. But if you have been quite thorough at blocking ingress of outside air around windows, doors, floors, and services then you may need to find a way to allow a trickle of air to flow in. It is important to control where that air comes from, for instance, in the winter bring it in from the south or warm side of the house. We built a south facing conservatory onto our victorian terrace and used it to preheat the air we allowed to flow through the house while simultaneously blocking air from the north or cold side of the house. Fortunately, the south side of our house was not the road side, thus we avoided bringing in car exhaust. Similarly, try to ventilate at the warmer times of the day and not during high auto traffic periods. Unless you have severe air quality issues this level of control should suffice.

Another of avenue of ventilation is the hood fan on your cooker or bathroom. There are small heat exchanging systems available for these single room options. (Harris and Borer 2005 p.188) Combustion of natural gas produces several dangerous by-products which can cause lung irritation and exacerbate asthma and bronchitis. Be sure to use the fan when you cook with gas. Moisture buildup in bathrooms stimulates mold and mildew growth. Unfortunately using an electric fan, either on the cooker hood or in a bathroom, uses electricity and while it may be necessary while cooking or showering, they should be avoided if possible.

In a typical victorian terrace with a loft renovation you can take advantage of the stack effect. As warm air rises to the top floor it will pull air in wherever it is available. Through careful control of outlet and ingress you can create air flow with minimal losses. This method can be helped along with clever use of ductwork and fans if necessary. If you insure that the incoming air is preheated in a south facing conservatory or is at least sourced from the warm side of the house, it will minimize heating losses and may help to heat the house as it passes through.

Harris, C. and Borer, P. 1998 - The Whole House Book; Ecological Building Design and Materials 2nd edition,

Friday, 8 May 2009

From defunct playset to resilience boosting raised beds

As promised here are the before and after shots for the raised beds I put in for my sister. The playset was due to come down and go to the dump and it made sense to reuse the wood, redwood, to increase my sister's family resilience. As you can see I have also installed a solar clothes dryer for her. She did the stone work for the patio. You can also see that the corn, beans, turnips, chard, onions, cucumbers and lettuce are well on their way.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Eat cheaply, eat nutritiously and sustainably.

It has long mystified me that those with limited income to spend on food choose to spend it on junk food; soda's, processed foods, anything with high fructose corn syrup in it, white breads, and fast food. You would think investing in nutrition; fresh, seasonal, and organic food, makes more sense. You can purchase and eat less because the food you eat is so much more nutritious. The paradox is that the poor in America tend towards obesity and have high rates of diabetes due to these food choices. I believe this behaviour is down to intentionally deceptive media and poor nutrition education. Here is a story over at Organic Consumers Association about a couple that tried to exist on the government food stamp minimum while eating only SOLE food; that's sustainable, organic, local, or ethical food.

"Siobhan Phillips proves that eating sustainably and ethically can be done on a budget - even on a seriously limited budget. She and her husband embarked on an experiment to eat only SOLE foods - sustainable, organic, local or ethical foods - "on the government-defined, food-stamp minimum: $248 for two people in our hometown of New Haven, Conn." Even more courageously, the two started this experiment with bare cupboards!

No, Siobhan didn't go on an all-vegetarian diet - though she did have to pass on the grass-fed steak. "Instead, I bought a small free-range chicken for about $9 and a scant pound of local ground beef for about $6, knowing that this, along with some sustainable canned fish, was our allotment of animal flesh for four weeks." That meant she really, really had to stretch the chicken, not only using up every piece of meat but also saving the fat and boiling the bones for broth.

But by buying dry beans in bulk, baking her own basic bread, and discovering thrifty cookbooks and international cuisine, Siobhan got to have her Chinese fried rice and Italian risotto and spicy biryani and eat them too. She says it didn't take much more time than usual - and she didn't have to give up her morning cup of organic fair trade coffee or fair trade cocoa desserts either.

Siobhan says her method won't work for everyone: "I relied on the sort of reasonably flexible schedule that is a luxury in far too many households, and I started with some basic cooking knowledge." But they sure sound like they'd work for me - and many other MNN readers. Read her article for more details on her frugal and tasty ethical eating - which she says she plans to stick to - save for the occasional pepperoni pizza."

The difference between just growing your own and doing it as part of Transition

Lots of folks are putting in veggie gardens these days, that's wonderful. So much more can be accomplished when that simple act is part of something larger, namely a Transition Initiative. An article over at the Daily Camera puts it thus;

"Last month, 18 people came together in Louisville to dig up a yard to become a vegetable plot.

That's not too unusual nowadays: Boulder County nurseries report a surge in interest in home vegetable gardening, and a revival of World War II-style Victory Gardens is a trend nationwide. What makes this particular patch of dirt different is that it's part of an effort called Transition -- whose members have a goal considerably more comprehensive than supplying local families with fresh produce. They envision nothing less than a community that has made the transition away from fossil fuels to a sustainable, locally based economy, able to largely feed itself and create local jobs.

The Transition movement, which got its start in the United Kingdom, is a model being implemented in 150 communities in various countries, including locations in the United States. Transition Boulder County was the first Transition initiative in the United States, getting its start in May of last year. It is an extension of Boulder County Going Local, a re-localization group that has been in existence since May 2005. What's different about Transition, says Michael Brownlee, who heads the Boulder County group, is that it offers a more comprehensive plan to accomplish its goals.

The plan includes 12 steps, such as forming an initiating group, raising awareness, networking with existing groups, staging a large community event called "The Great Unleashing" to draw in the wider population, forming working groups from that event and working in the community to create an "energy descent action plan."

While the model might sound a little vague and squishy to outsiders, it's purposely designed that way to let each community come up with a plan that includes as many people as possible.

"I think more people are open to the reality that really deep change is necessary now," Brownlee says. "These are not minor adjustments in lifestyle, but changes in commitment that our whole society begins to take on. ...

Changing behavior

Last year, when gas hit $4 a gallon, Transition folks were not surprised.

Many had been sounding the alarm about peak oil -- the point at which the world's oil supply reaches its high point, thereafter becoming increasingly expensive to extract. Many expect a "long emergency" in which the United States and other developed countries will be forced to make a wrenching adjustment to the end of the cheap fossil fuel on which much of their economic growth has been based.

After gas prices rose, however, they began to fall again as the global financial system, which was based on unsustainable credit, nearly collapsed, causing a deep recession. While the price of oil is lower, Americans have been left with a queasy feeling that their lifestyle may be in for a major readjustment.

"We thought peak oil would end the party," says Todd Siegel, initiator of Transition Boulder. "It's a lot more difficult to get the message out in a down economy. People are worried about trying to make their mortgage payment and put food on the table."

But, he says, "I believe it's all related and still as important as it ever was."

That's because the key idea behind Transition is building a sustainable community that is better able to insulate itself from globally driven shocks, whether they're caused by oil prices or problems in the financial markets. The Transition movement's advocates believe it can offer an orderly, community-based process to make the changes needed to live with fewer resources.

However, Siegel says, that doesn't have to mean a dreary, deprived life.

"I wouldn't say Transition is about transitioning to a spartan lifestyle," he says. "It's not about reverting to a more primitive state. It's about understanding the limits we face. If we preemptively decide to make the transition, we can take all the good stuff with us and move into the future that way."

By "good stuff" he means things like advanced medicine and technology, but probably not two-car, big-house families that gobble up huge amounts of precious energy. He envisions more multi-generational households with close community ties." - Cindy Sutter

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Fear and loathing fighting Big Dirty Coal

For the sake of a few jobs are we really willing to sacrifice mountain communities and the very mountains the live on? Here's an update on the situation in West Virginia as reported by Ben Block over on World Changing.

Here's an excerpt;

"Maria Gunnoe raises her children in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Her grandfather toiled for 32 years in the coal mines to buy the property where she lives. She helped build the house that her son and daughter now call home.

Five years ago, a flood unlike anything her ancestors experienced nearly wiped Gunnoe's home off the map. A spring rain turned the docile Big Branch Creek that transects her yard into a barrage of black water. The flood ripped Gunnoe's Rottweiler from his collar and carried him downstream. Her family stayed indoors, praying the house would withstand the current.

"There is nothing more intimidating than a 60-foot-wide, 20-foot-tall wall of water coming at you," said Gunnoe, whose property has flooded seven times in the past nine years. She blames the 486 hectare (1,200-acre) mountaintop removal mine that has been leveling the ridge above her home.

Gunnoe, who was honored last month with the 2009 Goldman Environment Prize for North America, has become one of the most fearless opponents of mountaintop removal in her state. Her campaign against the powerful coal industry has helped attract international attention to the damaging mining practice. ... "The people of Appalachia are being sacrificed for energy in this country," said Gunnoe, a grassroots organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). "The work I do with fighting mountaintop removal coal mining was inspired because I am a mother. I do not and will never support any aspect of the coal industry, simply because I've seen it kill people I care about."...

OVEC sued the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007 to stop any new mining at a mountaintop removal site near Gunnoe's home town of Bob White. Days before the hearing, Gunnoe gathered 20 local residents who were scheduled to join her in testifying against the mine site. But more than 60 coal miners also showed up at the community hall to harass the protestors to stay silent.

The day of the testimony, more than 100 people packed the courtroom, with a divided gallery split between miners and
environmentalists. Among the community witnesses, Gunnoe was the only resident willing to challenge the industry directly.

Her testimony helped sway U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to rule in the coalition's favor. "Money can be earned, lost, and earned again," Chambers wrote. "But a valley once filled is gone forever."

The mining company involved in the lawsuit released a notice stating that the ruling could result in job losses for at least 39 miners at the site and another 180 at a related underground mine. Soon, Gunnoe found her face across her community on "wanted" posters labeled "Job Hater." A neighborhood store started collecting signatures for a petition against Gunnoe. Her daughter's dog was shot dead.

Friends heard rumors that Gunnoe too would be shot, and that her home would be burned with her children inside." - Ben Block