What have you done today to lower your impact?
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- simple pleasures - a cast iron pan
- Are you a citizen or a consumer?
- A little glimmer of sanity in government
- Human Impact!
- Video - Jamie Oliver's TED Prize wish: Teach every...
- It's not either/or
- Bill Gates on energy: Innovating to zero!
- Video - Oxfam - Follow the Money
- Monsanto Indian Farmer Suicide
- The next AKG podcast audio
- Worldchanging: Bright Green: Bill Gates: the Most ...
- The Sustainable Living Project podcast episode #2 ...
- Shooting our foot while ankle deep in acidic seas
- High temperatures beat lows - Gerald Meehl (NCAR) ...
- The black soldier fly and composting
- USDA Food Environment Atlas launched by Michelle O...
- Watchout for fake organic cosmetics
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Sunday, 28 February 2010
I think one of my personal challenges is to allow myself to happily live a lifestyle that is less sustainable until I can make it more so. For some time I've been chafing to get back to cooking with cast iron. Not only is teflon carcinogenic but it requires some nasty chemical processing and is energy intensive besides. It is also fairly short lived compared to cast iron, an ancient technology that can be produced at the village scale and will outlive you if taken care of.
I had some cast iron cookware in America, some was my mothers, some my grandmothers. I left it behind. As I've been moving around quite alot since then I've been reluctant to haul around cast iron cookware, getting by with what I could find in thrift stores and garage sales.
Then just yesterday I was emptying the household rubbish and saw an interesting handle sticking up from the depths of the dumpster. I reached in and pulled out a lovely little cast iron frying pan, just right for an omelette. And the coolest bit is that it has an extra long keep-cool hollow handle that has obviously been retrofitted since initial manufacture. Somebody loved this pan! The sad part is that we're living with Jacq's mum at her sheltered housing complex and stuff gets thrown out when the residents die or get too feeble to use it. I'm happy to give this little pan a longer life. As I rescued it from oblivion Jacq looked at me askance and said "you aren't planning on taking that to America are you?" Nah, I've got some waiting there for me. This sweet little pan will give me loads of joy till we leave, I will take it to Devon with me. Then I'll try to find someone to pass it on to.
So I realized this evening after using it for the first time how content I felt to be scrubbing my little pan with salt, carefully drying it and storing it away. The satisfaction of taking one more step, Ok so it's a really small one, towards sustainability. Just one more thing I don't have to give myself grief about, simple pleasures.
If you're interested here is a good starting point
Thanks to the Cast Iron Society for the image.
Saturday, 27 February 2010
Here is an Excerpt from part one;
"What’s consumerism done to us? How have we been changed by fifty or sixty years of that?
I think what consumerism has done to us is turned us into consumers. Which sounds like a silly answer but we all have roles in our lives, and we have multiple roles: I’m a father, and I’m a professor, a teacher, I’m an activist and I’m a consumer too, and our roles like our values end up influencing what we think is important in life, they influence our behaviour and how we treat other people. I think what’s happened over the last fifty/sixty years is that in order for our economic system to maintain itself, it requires people to enhance the consumer role – to think of themselves more as consumers and I don’t know how it is here in the UK, but when you’re reading the newspaper in the US you’re much more likely to see people referred to as consumers instead of citizens.
To be a consumer has a very different set of implications than to be a citizen. To be a consumer is to think about “what is it I want to buy?” So first off there’s a selfishness already involved in the role and there’s a set of behaviours implied by the role. There’s this sense that as that role comes to dominate more and more of how we think about ourselves and how our policy makers think of us, it leads potential solutions to problems or potential decisions to be “well what’s good for consumption, or what’s good to make a citizen?”, as opposed to what’s good for people. If you think about what a citizen’s role is, it’s to think about the whole of the community and “what’s my role in the community?”
You’re obviously still thinking about yourself, but you’re not thinking about yourself and what you’re going to buy, you’re thinking about yourself and who you’re going to be in relationship to others. There’s sort of a transcendent characteristic or aspect to that role. That I think leads us to behave in very different ways. I behave very differently when I’m being a consumer to when I’m being a citizen. The way that our economic and thus our political system is oriented now, is very much attuned to people as consumers and less to people as citizens and therefore it develops all kinds of policies that end up maximising the consumer role and not too much for the citizen role.
I think that’s part of why it makes it easy for people to think about “Do I want this?” instead of “well, how is it made, and how does my buying this impact people?”, and to think, “well it’s Friday and I’m going to stay home and watch TV”, rather than “I’m going to go out enjoying my fellow citizens cleaning up the river bank”, or having a meeting to help determine town policy about zoning and whether Tesco’s is coming in.
Consumer society tells us what the optimal ways are to live our lives. That’s what any social system does, there’s nothing special about consumerism with regard to that. Christianity tells us how to live our lives, fascism told us how to live our lives… the particular way consumer capitalism tells us to live our lives is this way and through consumption and the maximisation of economic growth. Through working hard so you can have a lot of money and then you can spend it on stuff that you want to buy. Whenever you believe something’s important something else has to become less important and the value of consumerism and materialism crowd out other important things.
Has consumerism left us more or less able to respond rapidly to change? Are we less resilient? How can we know that?
I think to the particular kinds of changes which we’re likely to face here in the near future if climate science is right and if everything we read about what’s happening socially is right, I really think it’s left us less able to respond to those challenges and I think there’s a couple of different things that goes back to: one of them is that consumerism leads us (this is true of any social system) when we have a difficulty to think about certain ways to solve that difficulty and to not think about other ways.
If you take a look at people who accept that there is climate change or climate disruption and then they try to figure out how to solve that problem, consumerism says: “well, consume in a green way”, because that’s a very reasonable solution to the problem from a consumers’ perspective – we just need to consume different things and we need to decarbonise and we need to keep economic growth, but just have carbon clean economic growth. So we get locked into that set of solutions when we think about the problem of climate disruption from a consumerstic view point.
All the climate scientists I talk to and everything I read suggests that that’s important, but it won’t get us anywhere near the way to solve those kinds of problems. Plus, it’s not going to help habitat loss or the other environmental problems we have to do those things. That’s one issue – it tells us solutions which are far too partial.
Another issue is that because we know that materialism and consumerism and materialism in research is associated with behaving in less cooperative and more competitive ways and less empathic and more manipulative ways and less pro social and anti social ways. What all that suggests is that when push comes to shove, and there are significant problems that we face, we will have lost some of the interpersonal, social skills and community skills that are really needed in order to come together as a group and solve the problems and instead I think we’ll be more likely to continue our competitive mindset in ways that end up damaging us at the very time we need to work together to solve the problems. Because we don’t think about consensus and we don’t think about building a group and listening to everybody and treating other people like people instead of other objects to be manipulated when we take on that materialist mindset.
So that scares me. If things get really bad here we may have lost some of the important skills that we need to manage that and the aftermath. We have milk goats and my wife wanted someone to teach her how and there wasn’t anyone. A hundred years ago there’d have been all kinds of people to teach her. But we’ve lost a lot of the self sufficiency skills that we need. Instead we go to work to earn money so we can hire somebody else to do it because that’s good for the economy.
We’ve lost a lot of the skills that ultimately we’re going to need if we live in a more localised way and we live not in a self sufficient way, but in a group sufficient way."
Friday, 26 February 2010
"Question Time in a parliament occurs when members of the parliament ask questions of Government Ministers (including the Prime Minister) which they are obliged to answer."
Now, not only is this procedure a delightful demonstration of intelligent debate, for the most part, going on within government in full view of the public but the topic for today was Energy and Climate Change. When question number 16 came up "What recent research into the scientific case for man-made climate change has been commissioned?" The Minister for Energy and Climate Change Joan Ruddock mentioned ongoing research by the one of the world's foremost independent climate research organizations, The Hadley Center, as well as various governmental initiatives to keep abreast of the science. The most amazing bit of this was that the opposition conservatives, full of spit and vinegar on all sorts of other issues pertaining to energy in the UK, had not a single challenge or question! No demagoguery on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, no ludicrous proclamations that climate change is some sort of a hoax based on the psuedo science bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry or even more ignorantly because it's snowy in the winter, in short the well proven science of climate change is not even worth debating in the houses of government, there is more important work to be done. And the most incredible thing is that we are in the run-up to an election to choose which party will rule the country! What a breath of fresh air that is.
It is quite astounding how rational the governmental process can be when it is not bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists. When was the last time we saw members of the US senate or congress debating real issues in full view of the public? I would be willing to bet that most of them wouldn't be capable of it. Remember the prompter in George Bush's ear for the presidential debate.
Intelligent debate happens at question time here in the UK usually every week and the BBC is full of programs that involve investigation of critical issues by intelligent impartial journalists. The BBC still has a large science reporting staff. Fox propaganda wouldn't recognize real science if it tripped over it. CNN has drastically reduced it's science staff since it's early days under Ted Turner. It is no wonder that so many Americans don't believe in evolution or human induced climate change.
Thursday, 25 February 2010
And here is the most amazing figure,
75% of all the ice free land mass on the planet has been modified by us!
As Dr. Iain Stewart,Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth, stated on his recent TV special How Earth Made Us, "We are now a geological force to rival the earth's natural forces".
In this clip he explores an amazing cave full of giant crystals which was, ironically, discovered by miners who drained the chamber of it's hot water.
Much of the following, including the inspiration and almost all of the bold text, is drawn from the series by Dr. Stewart.
We are capable, as a species of unleashing vast destructive power, and not just with weapons of war. We have turned our weapons upon the earth. Explosives are used to strip away whole mountain tops and destroy thousands of miles of streams in the Appalachians, open pit mines are now big enough to swallow whole cities.
As a species we move more earth and rock than all the forces of erosion combined.
In the 1930's 500,000 people were made homeless and 1,000,000 acres of farmland were devastated by the unsustainable farming practices that brought on the dustbowl.
25% of the world's farmland is now degraded.
But this beavering away at the earth pales in comparison to the forces we can mindlessly unleash from the earth itself, in Indonesia, exploration for natural gas has uncorked a boiling mud volcano that has displaced 30,000 people and destroyed 10,000 homes, enough mud flows from this engineering mistake to fill 50 olympic size swimming pools every single day, while the corporation responsible ducks and weaves with the assistance of the government.
"A new study has concluded that a volcanic eruption of mud in Indonesia's east Java was caused by human error.
An international team of scientists says there is no doubt that drilling at a nearby gas well weakened rock formations, triggering the crisis.
The company responsible for the drilling, Lapindo Brantas, claims the problem was caused by an earthquake."
In the eastern Pacific ocean a giant swirling mass of plastic debris, called the Garbage Patch, is now twice the size of Texas. This toxic waste is being found in every level of the food chain and no one is being held responsible because everyone is responsible, with our plastic water bottles, toothbrushes, razors, lighters, pens, and everything else made of plastic that we chuck away.
Not only are we using the oceans as a dumping ground but we have increased oceanic acidity by 30% since measurements have been taken.
We have so interfered with the natural water cycle of the planet that very few rivers reach the sea without major alteration, some, like the Colorado, never reach the sea at all most years.
There is now 5 times more fresh water stored behind dams than what flows freely in all the world's rivers. Far from beneficial, it is evident that our interference with the water cycle is making life worse for billions of people worldwide, and degrading vital wetland and riverine habitat.
In the final episode of his series Dr. Stewart detailed how in spite of being made by the earth over the last 50,000 years or so we have now turned the tables and are remaking the earth. He explains that we should have been deep in an ice age by now, which according to the geologic record should have started 7000 years ago. But around 11,000 years ago we invented agriculture, more specifically slash and burn agriculture. The added carbon dioxide overcame the forces of the relationship between the sun and earth which would have brought back the ice. And now the industrial revolution is vastly accelerating that process. CO2 and CO2 equivalent levels are higher now than at any time in the last 15 million years.
Our appetite for one resource outstrips all others both in consumption and in damage caused. We burn 1000 barrels of oil per second and the amount of oil we burn in a year took the planet 3 million years to make. When it comes to oil, our thirst for cheap abundant energy is leading us to "scrape the bottom of the barrel" - Dr. Iain Stewart. The Alberta Tar sands; the most expensive, most polluting source of energy on earth, producing 30% more greenhouse emissions than traditionally pumped oil, for every 5 barrels of oil produced it costs 1 barrel as opposed to traditional wells which deliver 25 barrels of oil for every barrel invested, the strip mining of which currently covers 50,000 sq kilometers. Most of the area mined was covered in carbon sequestering boreal forest. Most of this disastrous oil is burned in the vehicles of the United States.
And now to the most fragile of Earth's systems, the atmosphere. 55 million years ago there was a quick intense burst of global warming that remade the biosphere. To survive, plants and animals had to move toward the poles, those that could lived, those that couldn't died.
The overabundance of methane in the atmosphere brought about a warm period that lasted millions of years. The planet eventually compensated but only because the movement of the plates created the Himalayan range which altered the atmospheric and water cycles to such an extent that a long period of carbon sequestration took place bringing the greenhouse effect back into balance.
This period provides vital lessons for us today, read more about it at:
Global warming 55 million years ago caused migration to North America
Perhaps the most important lesson is this; the kind of changes that we ourselves are bringing about will take millions of years for the planet to sort out. Our civilization depends very much on the state of the planet we found ourselves in during the last 10,000 years. We have been assiduously destroying the balance the planet took millions of years to create and we will have to wait millions of years for the planet to repair our mistakes.
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.
Monday, 22 February 2010
Sunday, 21 February 2010
Friday, 19 February 2010
"At TED2010, Bill Gates unveils his vision for the world's energy future, describing the need for "miracles" to avoid planetary catastrophe and explaining why he's backing a dramatically different type of nuclear reactor. The necessary goal? Zero carbon emissions globally by 2050."
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
"While still in England and waiting for Jacqui’s US visa, we are doing the initial planning for our off grid permaculture based lifestyle and educational project in the suburbs of Hickory North Carolina.
We hope to demonstrate that a low impact, ethical, resilient, comfortable, healthy, and convenient lifestyle is possible in existing suburban developments. You can keep track of our progress on this podcast and at our blog, Sustainable Living at sustliving.blogspot.com
Our project will be sited on 1/3 of an acre with a 1950’s era, brick and timber framed, 1800 sq.ft, 2 story home. It has grid supplied electricity, gas, sewage disposal and water. Since we bought the property we have installed double glazing and loft insulation, and have done some landscaping to reduce moisture under the house. It has been rented out for 8 years while we have been living in the UK and Bermuda.
We plan to occupy the site in the spring and are currently studying the basics of permaculture design in the hopes of making fewer mistakes at the outset. Eventually we will attend a permaculture design course that is based in the same growing region.
The Permaculture tip for this episode is from Permaculture: A Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future published in 1990 by Bill Mollison
The “Principle of Self Regulation - The purpose of a functional and self regulating design is to place elements or components in such a way that each serves the needs, and accepts the products, of other elements.” Thus “to enable a design component to function we must put it in the right place.”
As we apply this planing principle in our garden design, the siting of veggie gardens, fruit trees, biomass crops, compost heaps, leaf mould piles, water features, glasshouses and chicken coops will all require careful observation of the interaction between existing structures and environmental conditions. For example: a compost heap generates heat which can be used to warm a greenhouse or a chicken coop.
We will gradually transition to an off grid lifestyle which adds additional planning considerations regarding energy, waste and water. The placing of the energy systems will be governed by existing structural orientation, solar exposure and available wind patterns to which we will have to adapt.
Extensive collection of rainwater will require changes to the roof which is laid with asphalt tile. Dealing with waste onsite will require a whole series of design decisions which will be influenced by local regulations, relations with the neighbors, and our own ability to reduce waste producing consumption.
Some of the first design questions we are considering in detail relate to food production and initial structural modifications to increase the efficiency of passive cooling and heating.
Currently the clay subsoil is covered in a thin layer of topsoil, hosting lawn, shrubs and a few shade trees. How will we quickly create the large amounts of soil needed for growing? We will need a fast composting process with more inputs than our own property can provide and are considering a kitchen and garden waste collection scheme with our neighbors. This should foster an ethic of co-operation with our neighbors, a key principle of permaculture.
But how will the neighbors respond to this project and the obvious changes in the appearance of the property that will follow? What can we do to manage that issue? As we hope to spread the permaculture ethic, it is important to keep the neighbors happy. We are looking at where to put hedges and fences to screen less attractive items like biogas digesters, materials storage and compost piles. Any hedges will need to have productive qualities including biomass, habitat, and fruit, and fences will need to be durable but ultimately biodegradable; we are considering, bamboo and blueberries for this.
Next, Hickory is very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. What is the first thing we should do to reduce energy use in the house? Fortunately, we have excellent solar exposure along 3 walls of the house and this plentiful supply of energy needs to be properly utilized. In the summer we will need to utilize the excess solar gain on the south side of the house to produce ventilation, drawing cool air in from the North side. The first structural change will likely be the addition of a shade structure along the south side of the house that will block the sun in the summer but not in the winter.
This shade structure will also provide vertical growing space for climbing plants like cucumbers and grapes, further shading the area immediately surrounding the sunny side of the house. This interface between shelter and growing area will be the subject of our next episode when we’ll discuss the permaculture concept of zones.
And that’s it for this episode. If you have any questions about our project or this episode please leave a comment here at the Alternative Kitchen Garden Site or at our blog sustliving.blogspot.com."
Monday, 15 February 2010
We hear constantly about the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the various high tech engineering nightmares designed to remove them after the fact, all to avoid any discussion of changes in our modern convenient lifestyles. What we don't often hear about is the ongoing accelerating destruction of the oceans upon which all life on the planet depends, one of the reasons being that to remove carbon from the atmosphere after the fact rather than to avoid putting it there in the first place, by changing our modern convenient lifestyles, is part and parcel of the very same geo engineering projects bandied about in the media which unfortunately by their very design condemn the oceans to the ever increasing damage we are subjecting them to. This is because the oceans are constantly removing CO2 from the atmosphere, so the CO2 we might remove with our technical fantasy would only be after the oceans have removed as much as they can. And that is the problem. As detailed in this post over at Open Alex, here is an excerpt. Click on the link for the whole post.
Corrosive Oceans and the Aquatic Food Chain
"... New York Times science writer Karl Zimmer ... on what carbon emissions are doing to the chemistry of our oceans. Increasingly acidic oceans have the possibility to undermine much of the marine food chain. ...
"The acidification of the ocean today is bigger and faster than anything geologists can find in the fossil record over the past 65 million years. Indeed, its speed and strength ... acidification is taking place at ten times the rate that preceded the mass extinction 55 million years ago ... may spell doom for many marine species, particularly ones that live in the deep ocean."
"... much of that carbon dioxide does not stay in the air. Instead, it gets sucked into the oceans. If not for the oceans, climate scientists believe that the planet would be much warmer than it is today. Even with the oceans’ massive uptake of CO2, the past decade was still the warmest since modern record-keeping began. But storing carbon dioxide in the oceans may come at a steep cost: It changes the chemistry of seawater."
"... scientists have run laboratory experiments in which they rear organisms at different pH levels. The results have been worrying ... The extra hydrogen in low-pH seawater reacts with calcium carbonate, turning it into other compounds that animals can’t use to build their shells."
"These results are worrisome, not just for the particular species the scientists study, but for the ecosystems in which they live. Some of these vulnerable species are crucial for entire ecosystems in the ocean. Small shell-building organisms are food for invertebrates, such as mollusks and small fish, which in turn are food for larger predators. Coral reefs create an underwater rain forest, cradling a quarter of the ocean’s biodiversity."
Friday, 12 February 2010
Day-to-day variability means we still get record cold days, but the record highs are far exceeding the lows.
Gerald "Jerry" Meehl is an NCAR senior scientist. His research includes connecting the solar cycle to subtle changes in weather and climate on Earth; examining the consequences of global warming, including heat waves, droughts, storms, and other weather extremes; regional climate change; and El Niño and other influences of the tropics on global climate. "
Thursday, 11 February 2010
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
As published over at Organic Consumers Association
"The Worst Fake "Organic" Cosmetic Brands Revealed: OCA Spreadsheet Summarizes "Organic Cheater Brand" Personal Care Product Hazard
The OCA has prepared a spreadsheet summarizing "Organic Cheater brand" products and their Hazard Rankings according to the Environmental Working Group's "Skin Deep" Cosmetic Safety Database. The tabs at the top of the spreadsheet list various brands horizontally: click each tab to view that brand's product scores from the Skin Deep" database. By far the majority of fake organic products score in the "Moderate Hazard" category. Conversely, Dr. Bronner's Skin Deep product scores show that the vast majority of true NOP certified organic personal care score in the safest "Low Hazard" category. A couple of brands, Jason "Pure, Natural & Organic" and Nature's Gate "Organics", even had some of their fake organic products score in the unsafest "High Hazard" category.
Perhaps even more disturbing, two of the "organic cheater" brands who are the subject of OCA's Complaint to USDA NOP, have reneged on their signed promise to provide product and ingredient information to Skin Deep so that their products' safety can be assessed. Those brands are Eminence "Organic" Skin Care and Head "Organics". Another two brands, while they have not reneged on any promises, have also decided to not submit product and ingredient information to Skin Deep: Ilike "Organic" Skin Care and Surya Sapien "Organic". As noted in the Complaint, all these brands utilize surfactants made in part or entirely from petrochemicals as primary cleansing ingredients, which contain no organic agricultural material whatsoever. Eminence in particular deceptively claims that Alpha Olefin Sulfonate, the primary cleanser in its "Organic Stone Crop Bodywash", is from a "plant source," when in fact this cleanser is commercially available only in pure petrochemical form.
Both Nature's Gate and Eminence do produce a few true USDA NOP certified organic products under their respective brands. However, the vast majority of their product lines are not certified under the USDA's National Organic Program, because their main cleansing and moisturizing ingredients are generally based on conventional or petrochemical, rather than organic agricultural, material. As a general rule when shopping for organic personal care, check for the USDA seal to be sure you're buying true organic personal care rather than fake organic products.