Thursday, 26 July 2007

Recycling organic waste into compost

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in the early 1990’s launched an initiative to recycle domestic and industrial waste as compost for local farms. The Land Network was pioneering the use of recycled domestic and industrial waste as compost. This could have been a hugely popular and effective scheme, but due to the complex and weighty regulations, the uptake has been minimal. Instead of the projected 3,000 farms using the system, only 16 farms managed to get past the red tape and use the scheme last year. The point of the scheme was to use the 100 million tonnes of organic waste we produce each year to make compost for Britain’s farms. It was hoped that this would reduce the £1 billion a year spent on importing chemical fertilizers into the country. £1 billion adds up to a huge amount of chemical fertilizer, which in turn amounts to a massive amount of toxic chemicals introduced into the environment.

The scheme has many benefits. Local authorities can save the money that would be spent on dealing with the organic waste, the farmers save money because they do not have to pay out for fertilizers and the food grown with organic compost is more nutritionally beneficial. Reducing the use of chemical fertilizers helps the environment, because they leach toxic nitrates into the soil and pollute rivers and water supplies, and the transport of fertilizers across the world creates CO2 emissions. All in all this was a terrific idea that needs a little work to make it accessible to Britain’s farmers.

[Via The Telegraph]

Gadget swapping parties (not just for men)

Clothes swapping events have been going on for some time now, we read about them everywhere. This is great for all you ethical fashionistas, but what about us ethical techies? we want to do our bit to save the planet too! Well, now there is something for us too, Cadge-IT swapping parties. The concept of Cadge-IT is to get a group of guys to bring their unwanted electrical gadgets, power tools, sports kit, basically whatever they have bought and no longer want, have a few drinks and then swap stuff.
According to YouGov, each household has around £460 worth of unused products, which adds up to £9 billion nationwide.

That’s £9 billion worth of products buried and forgotten in people’s lofts and garages. Rather than waste it, swap it should be the message for everyone. It’s a simple and fun idea that will help towards reducing climate change gas emissions. Although the idea is aimed at men, I’m sure women will participate in our gadget parties before too long!

[Via The Independent]

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

African organic farms under threat

Starting Monday 23rd July, the Soil Association (SA) is debating the merits of banning the certification of African organic produce due to the CO2 emissions created by the aircraft that fly the produce to our stores. The SA is hearing views on the issue until September, when it will act to impose either a limited or total ban. There is pressure from UK farmers to impose the ban. If the SA imposes a ban on the labelling of African organic produce as organic, it will effectively destroy the livelihood of millions of people across Africa. There are a number of reasons why such a move would be immoral, and would do little to protect the environment.

The farmers in Africa that have worked for years to get organic certification create on average 30 times less CO2 than UK citizens (World Bank figures). They see the West as the main contributors to climate change, yet they are the ones being punished for it. London's Cranfield University in a recent study calculated that roses grown in Kenya saved more CO2 than if the flowers were grown in Holland. This is because of the greater use of renewable energy sources in Kenya compared to the high energy consumption in Holland. Even factoring in the CO2 from the air transport, the African produce has still created less CO2 emissions than the European produce.

Airlines attacked by MP’s

British airlines have been criticised by MP’s for not doing enough about carbon offsetting. Whenever I see politicians accusing others of ‘not doing enough’ about climate change the phrase about ‘pot, kettle and black’ pops into my head for some reason. Aircraft produce greenhouse gases, and until the engines that power the aircraft are developed sufficiently to produce less greenhouse gas emissions, there is not much the airlines can do about it. Carbon offsetting is both unproven and unreliable in reducing CO2 emissions. The government pushing the airlines to promote carbon offsetting will not necessarily reduce climate change. This just looks like another token effort to give the appearance of effective action.

The aviation industry is a contributor to climate change because people want the convenience of flying to any destination whenever they want to. We as a society and as individuals have to decide if we value our planet more than our way of life. The two are simply incompatible at the moment. The way we are choosing to live is damaging the planet, and the more our population grows, the more damage we do. It all comes down to how much we are prepared to change to save our future.

[Via The Telegraph]

Europe’s greenest city is in Sweden

The Swedish city of Växjö has been awarded the European Union’s award for sustainable development. Växjö is very likely the greenest city in Europe, with a level of 3.5 tonnes of carbon emissions per person, it is the lowest of any urban area in Europe. The average in Sweden is around 5 tonnes, and in the USA it is 20 tonnes. This puts into perspective how environmentally friendly Sweden is generally. The city decided ten years ago to become a fossil fuel free city and set itself a target date of 2050 to achieve this. Their electricity power plant runs on biomass, using woodchip and other wood waste from the local sawmills. The plant not only provides electricity, but the hot waste gas is condensed and purified then pumped around the town to supply water boilers and room heaters.

This is an incredibly efficient use of the local resources and shows the kind of joined up thinking that is needed to get the most out of our limited resources. The next step for the council is to get the local people to change from petrol powered cars to more environmentally friendly cars. I have no doubt the good people of Växjö will go even further in reducing their impact on the environment. Växjö is certainly leading the way to a greener way of living.

[Via The Independent]

The increase in rainfall is due to human activity

A new paper published in the journal Nature today has concluded that human activity is causing the global shifts in rainfall patterns and contributing to both the wetter weather and hot dry weather we are experiencing. This is something most people felt was true anyway, but this is the first important study to show the direct link between human activity and increased rainfall. The research was carried out by the Hadley Centre of the UK Met Office in conjunction with a number of national climate research institutes. The study looked at weather records from around the world going back to 1925 and used 10 computer models to predict the weather changes. The only models that could explain the recorded change in rainfall were the ones that factored in human induced climate change.

So there you have it, evidence that we have altered the planet’s weather systems and made our own lives more difficult. The worrying thing is there may be worse to come. Hopefully the government will take the flooding seriously enough to spend the money to improve flood defences and set up a flood response unit that can quickly send assistance to the affected areas.

[Via The Guardian]

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Energy firms want government money for carbon capture research

The main electricity generating companies involved in the development of carbon capture technology have asked the government to give them £1 billion to help with project costs. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of capturing the CO2 emissions from large producers like power plants and then compressing and storing the CO2 in deep geological formations or in deep oceans. The technology to capture the CO2 exists, but the actual storage of the compressed CO2 is new and untested. This is the area energy companies want the government to invest in. Although this will eliminate around 90% of the CO2 from power stations, the process itself is energy intensive, costly, and will produce its own CO2 emissions. Whether CCS gives an overall reduction in CO2 emissions is still to be demonstrated.

BP has already abandoned its plans to build an experimental hydrogen plant using carbon capture in the North Sea due to government inaction. Other companies are threatening to do as BP has done and shelve their plans for CCS plants unless the government coughs up the money. Should the government, and by extension us the taxpayers, give money to private companies to carry out research that will benefit them and make them money? I suppose if the government doesn’t meet the costs of the project, the companies could always put their prices up to recover the costs anyway. Either way, we end up paying for the whole thing. It CCS actually helps the planet, then maybe it is just worth it.

USA looks to new technology to reduce climate change

I know the accepted view of the USA’s efforts to reduce climate change is poor to say the least. And yes, I know it is pretty easy to take swipes at President Bush and his environmental policies, after all, he has steered the USA away from any global climate control treaties over the last few years. On the surface, it does look like President Bush is putting the US economy before the planet. Maybe there is truth in these perceptions, but, to give credit where it is due, the US Department of Energy (DOE) is spending money on research into new technologies that promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes.

One such area of research is CO2 sequestration. Nine specially selected projects have received a total of $24 million to develop technologies that will allow CO2 to be captured and safely removed from coal-fired power stations’ emissions. This is a fascinating area of research, and once the technology is fully developed, should make it easier for the USA to reduce its CO2 emissions without having to drastically change or impair their economic performance.

In combination with changes to the way people use energy, this kind of technology, if it comes online soon enough, can make a real difference to the growing problem of climate change. The beauty of this kind of approach is that it can be exported to big emitters like India and China and allow them the economic growth they need to sustain their populations whilst minimising their impact on global warming. Hopefully with enough research into ways of reducing CO2 emissions from existing processes and research into new energy sources, we may just beat global warming.

UK MP’s consider legislation to force employers to pay a ‘living wage’

A group of MP’s is calling on the government to introduce legislation to force UK companies to pay their overseas staff a ‘living wage’ and give them employment rights and protection. The MP’s want UK firms to offer their staff around the world the same kind of rights UK workers are accustomed to. This follows a report by the Guardian that highlighted the working conditions at factories in Bangladesh that make products for Asda, Primark and Tesco. Some of the workers earn as little as 4p an hour and are forced to work up to 80 hours a week. The workers reported instances of abuse by supervisors and sackings for being off work when sick.

These kinds of practices are outlawed in the UK, yet UK companies allow their suppliers to use such exploitative practices that they border on slavery. The government and retailers point to the Ethical Trade Initiative, which is a voluntary code of practice with guidelines of 48 hour working weeks, maximum 12 hours overtime and a living wage, but this is clearly not working.

I know retailers are in competition, and at the lower end of the market, price is the main attraction for shoppers, but at what cost to the people that make the products?
We in the UK and the rest of the developed world can afford to pay a fair price for everything we buy. We do not really need to exploit the world’s poorest people so we can save a few pennies on a pair of jeans. At the higher end of the market, where clothes can be extortionately expensive, is it really necessary to exploit the workers? When a pair of jeans can cost over £100, is it right to pay the workers something like 10p an hour?

Like many of the government’s voluntary codes pf practice introduced to allow companies to self-regulate, they simply do not work. It should be pretty obvious to anyone that in a commercial organisation the primary motivator is making as much profit as possible. Workers’ rights, especially workers that are beyond UK law, are an irrelevance. Surely the only reason UK companies outsource work to third world countries is the low production costs involved, one factor of which is the low wages they pay the workers. The only way workers’ rights can be improved is through government action and legislation to ensure UK companies apply the same rules to workers abroad as they do in the UK. Ideally there need to be legal minimum standards for all workers that are applied across the world.

[Via The Guardian]

Public transport costs rise as motoring costs drop

The benefits of going green are not lost on businesses and governments. Green has political capital right now. Green sells and green gets votes. The UK government likes to talk up its green credentials, to be in effect the government that cares for the planet. There seem to be new sound-bites and new initiatives to tackle climate change coming out all the time.

This may play well in the papers and on the television news, but in reality are these just more empty words and token gestures? Looking at the government’s transport policy, it would appear to be just another smokescreen to keep the public placated. In the last 30 years, the cost of travelling by car has fallen by 10% while the cost of travelling by train and bus has risen by 50%. Not exactly the best way to get people out of their cars and onto public transport! In the last 10 years, motorists have driven up to 270 billion miles a year, which any way you look at it adds up to a massive amount of CO2 emissions.

Is there a simple solution? As our population grows and people become wealthier, more people will own and drive cars. To compound the problem, there is the perception that public transport is more dangerous, especially for women travelling on their own, and of course there is the stigma of not owning a car and having to get on a bus or train. This is a complex problem, and will involve a culture change among many people. The car has been promoted as a sign of independence and status, for some people it defines who they are. The government can help by improving public transport generally and by making it cheaper and safer. They can even risk the wrath of motorists and increase the cost of driving, but that I think will be step too far for any government that depends on voters to stay in power. In the end it will come down to individuals making choices that either help reduce climate change or increase climate change.

[Via The Independent]

Sunday, 15 July 2007

London could be plastic bag free

London’s council leaders have put together a proposal to either ban plastic bags from shops or introduce a 10p levy. The proposal has been agreed by all 33 local authorities in London and will be put to parliament in November. This is possibly the best idea to come from the London Councils in a long time. Unfortunately, the government does not share the councils concern for the environment and is likely to oppose the move. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is also opposed to proposal. We use around 10 billion plastic bags a year in the UK, which adds up to a huge environmental impact.

Defra have made an agreement with retailers to reduce the numbers of plastic bags they use by a quarter by 2008. A Defra spokesperson said “This agreement is working, with retailers offering shoppers reusable bags for life. We don't think a ban or a levy is the right way to go” The question is why not? In Ireland a levy of 20p per plastic bag has reduced the numbers used by 90%. The same Defra spokesperson said that in Ireland the use of bin liners has gone up as a result of the plastic bag tax. This seems a strange correlation to me, but they’re the experts. I think we Londoners should lobby our MP’s to get this 10p tax on plastic bags into effect as soon as possible.

[Via The Guardian]

Friday, 13 July 2007

Electricity firms are trying out new Smart meters

Four major UK electricity suppliers has signed a contract with the government to install 40,000 smart meters as part of a two year trial. The government is giving £10 million towards the costs of this. The purpose of the trial is to determine whether smart meters actually reduce people’s electricity consumption. It is hoped the smart meters will help people change the way they use electricity.

The smart meters will have a clip-on display unit that shows electricity use in real time. This means the consumer can see exactly how much each appliance is costing them to run. Whether this will make people change the way they use electricity remains to be seen. I’m sure people will be more likely to turn off lights and appliances on stand-by once they see how much it is costing them. The aim is to have every home fitted with smart meters by 2017.

The consumer watchdog energywatch believes this is inadequate and has asked the government to make all new and replacement meters smart meters. This makes so much more sense. Why install new meters and replace existing ones with ordinary meters, then in a few years time have to go through the whole process again and replace them all with smart meters. The only reasons I can see for this is that with the existing meters the electricity companies can give estimated bills and can make more money by over estimating electricity use, and if they install smart meters people will use less electricity so they will make less profit. It seems like a strange thing for any retailer to do, to ask their customers to buy less of their product! Maybe the government needs to bring in legal requirements for the use of smart meters.

[Via The Guardian]

People lead the way in saving the planet

There is a quiet revolution taking place, right under our noses. Change is happening throughout the land. As public awareness of climate change grows, more ordinary people are making changes to their lifestyle to at least try to save the planet. Although the effects are limited when viewed at an individual level, when taken as a whole, the cumulative results are much greater. Little things like people drying their clothes in the old fashioned way on a washing line rather than using a tumble dryer can make a huge impact on electricity use. An average tumble dryer creates 1.5kg of CO2. Taken over a year this figure is far from negligible, taken across the country the figure is pretty significant.

Using a washing line creates none. Asda have reportedly sold 1.2 million clothes pegs between January and April of this year, an increase of 1,400% on the same period last year, and ales of clothes lines and rotary dryers is up by 147%. So, it becomes obvious that every little change we make to reduce our carbon footprint is worth doing, no matter how small it may seem to us as an individual, because as a society if we all make these small changes, we can make a big difference to our future.

[Via The Independent]

Having too many children can damage the environment

I know that traditionally, having children is pretty much down to each individual and there has never been any statutory control in this area. A new report by the Optimum Population Trust has been published earlier this week that states families should have a maximum of two children, as any more is damaging to the environment. I know this smacks of interference into people’s lives, but maybe if people are being reckless in their behaviour and damaging the planet, which let’s face affects us all, there does need to be some kind of regulation in place.

The think-tank have worked out that over an 80 year lifespan, the average UK child will create the equivalent carbon footprint of 620 of return flights to New York. When you factor into the equation that each child will have their own children, the carbon footprint gets even bigger. As well as their carbon footprint, there is the use of the Earth’s resources, water and food. The fact that the world is overpopulated is open to question, some people would like to believe the Earth can support an ever growing population. The think-tank obviously believes the world is not big enough to support the human population as it stands, and as it grows, the world will struggle to support us all.

The report has been met by some as an intrusion into their freedom to live their lives as they wish. But, is an individual’s right to freedom of lifestyle more important than the good of the wider community? Where is the line that separates freedom of choice and global responsibility? The government will in the future have to decide where to step in to perhaps curtail personal choice for the greater good. Scary thought, but it may have to happen some day as resources become limited.

[Via The Guardian]

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Personalise your style with Armour Sans Anguish

We all want to be a one-off and now you can be with Armour Sans Anguish (clothing without sorrow), the brainchild of two fashion forward girls called Tawny Holt and Julie Edwards, who are both passionate about one-of-a-kind, recycled and sweatshop free clothing. Deconstructed vintage style is their forte and looking through their collections (which get snapped up pretty quick), Armour Sans Anguish excel at it.

Julie is a consummate pro when it comes to repurposing old items, having acquired the skill of thriftiness from a very early age. Tawny majors in Cultural Anthropology and Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz and has always loved making things.

Online eco-store BTC Elements are currently selling a beautiful Armour Sans Anguish, 'Layered and Lovely' reconstructed tulle dress, created from reclaimed and secondhand fabric, for $200. If you're a fan, get purchasing now, before it sells out, like all their other beautiful creations.

[Via ethicalfashionista]

Live Earth saves the planet

If music be the food of love for the Earth, then play on…The whole world must have known about Live Earth, but unfortunately most of the world was watching something else on their television sets. The idea of rock concerts across seven continents simultaneously broadcast to a potential audience of 2 billion people to get across the message that we all need to do our part in saving the Earth is a worthy one. We can only applaud the efforts of Al Gore to take the message to as much of the world’s population as possible. Getting the audience to add their names by text or email to a worldwide petition is inspired.

The number of music stars that gave their time freely must show how much they care about the environment, mustn’t it? I mean, their lifestyles are so green and ethical aren’t they? Maybe I’m being cynical, but I tend to think that what matters is action rather than words. Being on a stage telling people to save the planet is easy, taking the steps to achieve it are much harder. I’m sure doing this concert will do wonders for their eco credentials and no doubt the television exposure must have been worth a fortune in PR

The only problem is, names on a list will not change the world. After the concert, people will still get into their cars to drive home via a fast food restaurant to eat processed meat products and go home to their normal lives. What will change because of this concert? How many people will change their lifestyle because of Live Earth?

The problem of rising global temperatures is so huge now that only drastic action by everyone is going to make the difference. Token gestures just will not cut it I’m afraid. Are we prepared to make the changes, even if they mean sacrificing our lifestyles? I think not. People are too comfortable with their way of life to take the steps needed to save the Earth.

UK farmers want to lead the way with biofuel crops

Where many environmentalists see the surge in biofuels as something to be cautious with, the UK’s farming industry wants to expand into growing crops for biofuels. British farmers see this as an opportunity to go from a subsidised farming industry to a competitive and successful market-driven one. The UK has already fallen behind the USA and other European countries in the uptake of biofuel crops and green fuels in general. The National Farmer’s Union’s vice president, Paul Temple was dismissive of fears that using food crops for biofuel would push up food prices, saying that it was “absolute nonsense” put about by food processors. He went on to say “This is a big win for both urban and rural economies because we already produce significant exportable surpluses at the bottom end of the market…biofuels offer farmers the chance to move out of the subsidised economy to the market economy but the UK has been slow out of the blocks compared with Germany, France and America." Great for the farmers, and the taxpayers that subsidise them, but what about the world’s poorer communities?

His view is at odds with a United Nations report prepared with input from all 30 of its organisations. The report believes the rush to expand the use of biofuels will not only increase deforestation, but will push small farmers off the land and lead to serious food shortages and increased poverty among the world’s poorest communities unless the whole thing is carefully managed. Judging by past experience the biofuel revolution will not be ‘well managed’ but will instead be profit driven rather than environmentally driven.

[Via The Guardian]

Advocates For Animals takes on Tesco

Why is it that animals are loved by most people, yet their suffering is tolerated by the majority? We all recoil at the RSPCA adverts on the television that show cats and dogs in awful states, yet how many of us think about the farm animals that are kept in the most torturous conditions? When people tuck into their breakfast eggs and bacon do they think about the suffering of the animals they are eating? Advocates for Animals is one of Britain’s leading animal protection organisations and provides a voice for animals. They campaign against animal cruelty in all its nasty, horrid forms.

Which brings me unfortunately onto the topic of battery hens. We all know how cruel the treatment of chickens is on factory farms, yet supermarkets still support the practise of keeping chickens in tiny cages with barely room to move. One of Tesco’s egg suppliers has been exposed by Advocates for Animals for keeping up to eight chickens in wire cages that are legally only permitted to hold a maximum of five. It is bad enough that chickens are kept in cages for their entire life, unable to stand up properly or to stretch their wings or legs, but to cram even more into these tiny cages is criminal.

Advocates for Animals has launched its ‘Go Cage-Free’ campaign to try to persuade Tesco to stop selling eggs from caged hens. The campaign will focus on educating the public about the plight of caged hens and visiting Tesco stores in 16 towns to spread their message.

The supermarkets have the buying power to dictate to farmers how they treat their livestock. It is about time supermarkets used their clout to ensure that all farmers they deal with treat their livestock with humanity and stop the barbaric practises of factory farming. If supermarkets are unsure about this issue, maybe we can help them to decide by not buying eggs from caged hens. The supermarkets depend on us for their profits, so if we spend our money ethically, they will have to change their policies. We can make the difference!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Reducing farm animals methane production

The easiest way to reduce climate change gases in the atmosphere is for all humans to become vegan. That is pretty much a very simple and painless way to reduce global warming gases. Obviously this is not going to happen, so scientists are working on ways to make cows and sheep produce less methane. Did you know that a quarter of all the methane produced by human activity comes from farm animals?

There are differing approaches to this problem around the world. In Germany for example, scientists at Hohenheim University have developed a plant-based pill that is combined with a special diet to reduce the methane cows produce by converting it to glucose. In New Zealand and the UK, the approach taken is to get farmers to grow different types of grass that have high levels of sugar. This diet of sugar rich grass changes the way bacteria in the animals’ stomachs break down plant material into waste gas. The problem with this type of grass is that it is more difficult to grow, so scientists are trying to make a genetically modified version which is hoped will be easier to grow. Which in effect is getting GM crops into the food chain through the back door.

The obvious answer to this particular methane gas problem is for people to stop eating meat and dairy products. The complex and expensive answer is to change the animals diet with pills and GM feed. Guess which one is more likely to happen?

[Via The Guardian]

The darker side of the biofuel ‘green’ revolution

Biofuels have been touted as the green alternative to petrol for some time now. A number of governments, ours included, have set targets for the uptake of biofuels in the next few years as a means of reducing their countries CO2 emissions. Unfortunately in doing this they have opened the door to unscrupulous and unethical businesses to exploit both the planet and people. Just one example of this is taking place in Uganda. The Mehta sugar corporation wants to expand its sugar cane plantations for biofuel production.

This may sound like a good thing, but that is far from the truth. The Mehta sugar corporation wants to expand its operations into the Mabira Forest Reserve. At the moment the reserve is protected by law due to its importance to the country’s eco system, the forest is home to 300 bird species and many rare primates, and the forest stores CO2.

The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni said that handing the forest over to the Mehta group would create jobs and boost the competitiveness of the sugar industry in the area. Again the conflict between the environment and the needs of the economy area at odds. Can there ever be a convergence of economic need and environemntal need? I think there can, but the element of greed has to be removed from the equation. I believe there can be compassion and ethical conduct in business. There have been protests against this in Uganda, and in April three people were killed at a demonstration. The push for biofuels is creating the conditions for exploitation of the world’s forests and increased hunger in the developing world as more agricultural crops are sold for biofuel production, creating food shortages and inflated prices.

Is the West’s drive to convert to biuofuels actually going to reduce the global levels of CO2 or is it merely reducing emissions from some countries so they can meet their targets and increasing emissions in others? The overall net effect may be a rise in CO2 emissions if we’re not careful.

[Via The Independent]

Monday, 9 July 2007

Ethical fashion goes mainstream with the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail, one of the more conservative and traditional newspapers has an article today entitled ‘Meet the eco stylists’. Not something I would normally expect to see in the Daily Mail. The article features three of the UK’s top eco-stylists, Dawn Mellowship, Elizabeth Laskar and Jocelyn Whipple talking about ethical fashion and its importance to today’s woman. Mellowship is also the UK's first online eco stylist and will style a complete wardrobe or a single outfit. With prices as low as £5 for one styled outfit, anyone can afford to be ethically styled. The fact that the Daily Mail is running this article shows how far ethical fashion has come in the last few years.

Ethical fashion has not only improved in quality and style, but its image has changed dramatically from the realms of the eco-warrior look to more haute couture and high street fashion, with the range and choice increasing all the time. The benefits of ethical fashion to the environment and to the poorer communities that are usually exploited by the fashion industry are immense. Hopefully articles like this will take the message that ethical can be fashionable to many more people. Eventually we may even get to the point where men’s ethical fashion actually goes beyond ethnic baggy trousers and slogan T-shirts and actually becomes stylish and fashionable.

Hydrogen powers car trial in Norway

In a sign of how far ahead of us many Scandinavian countries are when it comes to climate change, Norway has set up a project called HyNor. Over 40 organisations are involved in the project, including Statoil, Norway’s largest oil company. The project is aiming to have hydrogen filling stations along a 360 mile stretch of road along the south coast. HyNor is using thirteen hydrogen powered Toyota Prius cars to evaluate the feasibility of hydrogen powered vehicles. The advantage of hydrogen powered fuel cells is that the only waste product is water. There are no harmful chemicals or toxins or CO2 emissions.

There are two ways of extracting hydrogen, one is to extract it from fossil fuels, the other is by the electrolysis of water. With either method, electricity is needed to extract the hydrogen. Opponents point to the CO2 emissions created by the electricity generating plants, as this is an energy intensive operation. What they fail to point out is that getting oil out of the ground, transporting it and manufacturing petrol from the oil also produces CO2 emissions, even before the petrol is used in cars. The better option is to use electrolysis. This only requires water and a ‘clean’ electricity supply to make the operation carbon neutral. In Berlin for example, hydrogen is being extracted at a plant using electricity from a hydroelectric plant. This technology has lots of potential, but there has to be more progress on renewable electricity as well.

Imitation Is Life vegan fashion show

Marc Bouwer is one of the worlds leading fashion designers. He is well known by the Hollywood set as the man that dresses celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Paris Hilton, Shania Twain and Mariah Carey, his creations add glamour and style to many red carpet events around the world. He is an influential designer in the world of high fashion, so, when he decides to go ethical and stop using any animal skins or products in his designs it’s big news. Bouwer stopped using fur, leather and wool from his collections once he became aware of the horrific conditions the animals were kept in. Thanks to PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals) he saw videos of animals being subjected to the most painful and barbaric treatment, such as conscious cows having their hooves and lips cut off.

This is not an unusual practice in the world of animal farming, this is not some rare occurrence, animals are routinely kept in conditions that cannot be described in any other way but torturous.
Bouwers 100% animal-free clothing line ‘Imitation Is Life’ premiered at New York Fashion Week. Bouwer proved that fashion does not have to be part of the animal trade, fashion can be as glamorous and exciting and beautiful without the cruelty. Hopefully more designers will follow and distance themselves from cruelty and make an ethical statement as well as a fashion statement.

Fairtrade men’s clothes at Marks and Spencer

In my quest to find stylish and fashionable clothes, I have found my way to high street favourite Marks and Spencer. They have a limited but growing range of certified fairtrade clothes that actually look pretty good, and are quite normal. By normal I mean the kind of clothes I would wear rather than the hippy/ethnic type stuff that looks like a throwback to the 60’s. They may not be at the cutting edge of fashion, but they are pretty wearable. They have a Harrington jacket for £39.50, which I quite like. It looks stylish and well made, and equally as important, it looks like a normal jacket. Having the fairtrade certification means that the jacket is manufactured in a traceable chain, which has set standards of care for all the workers in the manufacturing process.

Are Biofuels the 'Holy Grail' for transport?

For many people, biofuels are the perfect choice for a greener transport system. They give us independence from the Middle East and all its problems and they are a green alternative to petrol and diesel. That is one side of the story. Like all stories there is another side, a darker side. Some people paint an altogether different picture. Biofuels are creating third world hunger, hardship to farmers and causing the destruction of the world’s remaining rain forests. This is pretty much the reality of the rush to make money from the boom in biofuels. Once again ordinary people are being sacrificed in the stampede for profit. The EU leaders and Brazil’s president joined forces to urge for an international market to ensure biofuels are produced in an ethical and environmentally sound way.

What is needed is strict and enforced regulations to ensure the rise in demand for biofuls does not lead to more of the worlds rainforests being destroyed to make way for biofuel crops. The saving in CO2 from cars using biofuel would be more than offset by rise in CO2 from the deforestation. The other and equally important point is how the biofuel crop producers, the farmers and farm workers are treated. The whole process needs to have standards in place to protect workers rights, to ensure fair pricing and to ensure biofuel crops do not displace food crops and increase hunger in poorer countries. Whether such a policy can be enforced or even agreed remains to be seen.

[Via The Guardian]

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Trees cut down in Australia by angry farmers

In a conflict growing in bitterness, farmers across Australia each cut down one tree on their land. The farmers are threatening to raise the number of trees they fell each day, so that by the end of the week more than 128,00 trees could be cut down in one day. The cause of their anger is the government’s refusal to review the land-clearing laws that prevent farmers from felling trees on their land. The problem according to the farmers is that by banning them from clearing trees from their land, they are losing acres of usable farmland, making many farms unviable. The government response is that the trees are needed to soak up CO2 and without the law, huge areas would be cleared to make arable land.

This is a sensitive and difficult issue, with no obvious possible resolution. On the one hand, the trees are vital to help combat rising levels of CO2 and on the other the farmers’ livelihoods are on the line. The farmers claim that the destruction of their farming capacity will cause food shortages in Australia.

Even with the law protecting the environment, illegal land clearing is a big problem in some Australian states. A WWF study in New South Wales estimated that in 2006 alone, 80 million reptiles and 13 million birds were wiped out because their habitat was destroyed. Again this highlights the problem that is being faced by politicians everywhere, how to balance the needs of the planet with the needs of ever growing populations. This is an issue that will not go away and will need to be resolved at some point.

[Via The Times]

Many people are still sceptical of climate change

Strange as it sounds, many people still do not believe global warming is a serious issue that they need to deal with. A poll by Ipsos Mori on the BBC News website shows that many Britons still believe the problem of climate change is being overstated by politicians and scientists. Even more worrying is that 56% believe that scientists are still questioning the human impact on climate change. The situation is being exacerbated by people’s belief that politicians are using the issue of climate change as a means of increasing revenue through new and extended taxes.

Such cynicism is to be expected after so many years of political spin on any number of issues. We live in a period where politicians are viewed with mistrust and pretty much everything they say has to be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’, nothing coming from government is ever as clear-cut or simple or as wholly truthful as they would have us believe. I do not think that this is the real problem though.

The real problem I think is that many people want to carry on living their lives in the same way as they have always done. Making lifestyle changes is difficult for most people. People are used to having electronic gadgets to make their lives easier and more pleasant, having cars to allow them the freedom to get around, taking holidays anywhere in the world, along with everything else that is contributing to global warming. So for many people, any excuse they can find to doubt global warming will help them to justify their lifestyle. I think it is more a way of avoiding having to do anything rather than a genuine belief that global warming is not real and is not a threat.

Somehow though, the general population needs to be made aware of the reality of global warming. Time is fast running out for us to be able to reverse the changes to the climate.

Junky Styling wardrobe re-style

Junky Styling are an amazing and innovative fashion company based in London’s Brick Lane. Started by Annika Sanders and Kerry Seager, it is an outlet for their unique style of clothing. Taking second-hand clothes and remaking them into trendy and cutting-edge fashion items is their fortė. I have been trying to source ethical clothing for my self via the internet without a great deal of success recently. I mean, if I want ethnic or hippy style clothes, there are plenty of suppliers, but trying to find something a little more fashionable is proving virtually impossible.

The answer could be Junky Styling’s Wardrobe Surgery, a service that takes your existing, or bought second hand clothes and remakes them into something fashionable. You can give your design input and the clothes are cut to suit your body type and size. You get to work with the designers and unleash your own creative genius too, which sounds like great fun.