Saturday, 21 June 2008

Biofuels Contribute To Rise Global Food Rises

A review of the UK’s biofuels strategy has shown that the increased uptake of biofuels has contributed significantly to the rise in food prices around the world and has left more than 100 million people short of food. The report by a panel of government experts was chaired by Professor Ed Gallagher, the head of the Renewable Fuels Agency and is due to be published on Friday 27th June. The review was set-up by Ruth Kelly, the UK’s Transport Secretary in February 2008 out of concern about the rising cost of food products.

The report’s findings are not really a surprise, well not to anyone with common sense at least. What do politicians expect to happen when vast amounts of land normally used to grow food crops is diverted to growing crops for biofuels manufacture? In the USA, a third of all maize is now used for biofuels production and in the EU half of all vegetable oils are used for biofuels. This pattern is repeated in many other countries as poor farmers and large corporations alike work out that the profit to be made from crops for biofuels is far higher than for food crops. This has led to shortages and hence higher prices. While most of us in the West can afford to pay the higher prices, for people living in poverty already, this rise in prices is causing further unnecessary hardship.

Despite this obvious consequences of the rush to replace petroleum with biofuels, the UK government has already put in place a target of all petrol and diesel to contain 2.5% biofuels and is raising this to 5% by 2010. The EU is proposing a figure if 10% by 2010. The USA is also determined to expand the use of biofuels for oil security rather than climate change reasons and is pushing hard to maximise the domestic use of biofuels. Unless there is more research into the effects of increased biofuels uptake and a regulatory body to ensure growers, producers and suppliers of biofuels work in an ethical and sustainable way, we are going to do far more harm to our planet and our people. Already the growing food crisis is affecting many hundreds of millions of people, the social and environmental damage may not be obvious to us in the West, but to many displaced farmers and peasants the suffering has already began.

[via The Guardian]

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

ichapters Plant A Tree Scheme

ichapters is an online book store selling both digital and printed student textbooks. Over the last month they have worked with and to plant a tree for every eBook and eChapter sold via their website. So far they have planted 45927 trees. This is an amazing figure for a campaign that has only been running for four weeks.

Dr. Sarah Otterstrom, Founder and Executive Director of PasoPac√≠ said: “Today’s youth are aware of the global environmental crisis and want to act. This partnership provides an exciting way for students to participate in the solution… Trees are central to healthy life on earth. A single tree can provide a home to a multitude of species, filter water and provide fuel, shelter, and comfort for local people. Simply put, trees benefit people.”

What a fantastic idea this is, maybe other companies could follow ichapters example and contribute something to the environment. The only problem I can see with this campaign is it finishes on Friday 15th February. A great deal of good has been done by ichapters, in both raising awareness and reducing their carbon footprint, but why only do it for one month? Why not keep the Plant A Tree campaign going for as long as ichapters is doing business? We need to do so much more to protect our environment, token gestures are simply not enough. We all need to do something positive to reduce our impact on climate change and we need to start now.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Texas tops the most polluting state list in the USA

Unbelievable as it may sound, the Lone Star state (Texas for all of us non-US citizens) produces more greenhouse gas emissions than many countries, including the UK! According to the US Energy Information Administration, Texas released 670 million tonnes of CO2 in 2003, making it the seventh biggest polluter in the world, producing more than the second ranked state, California and third ranked state Pennsylvania put together. That’s a pretty big number for a state with 23.5 million residents. Granted Texas does have a high concentration of polluting industries, but 28% of these emissions came from vehicles. While the industrial component of these emissions will be difficult to change, the vehicular emissions should, in theory be much easier to reduce.

There are 20 million cars in Texas, 5 million of which are pick-up trucks. Driving smaller and less polluting cars would be a positive step in the right direction. In practice however, this seems like a step too far for the average Texan. In a poll last spring, only 4% of Texans included the environment as a pressing issue for the USA. The Texas governor Rick Perry has apparently expressed doubts over global warming being a man-made problem. With a state leadership in denial of global warming, the chances of Texas taking effective measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are slim to zero.

The attitude towards their cars is summed up pretty well by a Texan mother whose family of six have three 4x4’s and two pick-up trucks “I would definitely put size and safety over the emissions thing." I’ve never been to Texas, but I would imagine living in a US state with good roads and a serious lack of wild elephants and rhinoceroses, driving a normal fuel-efficient car is probably quite safe. Whereas the “emissions thing” is pretty much a dead cert to cause problems for everyone around the world, Texans included.

[via The Telegraph]

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Ocado gets even greener

Shopping on-line and having your groceries delivered to your kitchen has always been a greener option. One delivery van can replace 20 car journeys, so the saving in fuel and CO2 emissions is obvious. Ocado, the delivery service of Waitrose supermarket, are raising their game when it comes to being the greenest grocery delivery company. They are investing in a TV advertising campaign for the first time in a bid to win our hearts and minds. They already offer a ‘green’ delivery slot on their website, which means you can choose to use a delivery van that is already scheduled to deliver in your area, therefore saving even more fuel and emissions. Ocado already offers a carrier bag return and recycle service, but it is now introducing a brand new recycling centre on its warehouse site at Hatfield.

This follows last month’s introduction of biodegradable carrier bags. As the competition for the greenest home delivery supermarket picks up momentum, we can expect to see new innovations from all the major players. Tesco has recently been lauded for introducing an all-electric delivery van service and offering its customers the choice of carrier bag free delivery.

German government warns its citizens of the dangers of Wi-Fi

While our government plays down the harmful effects of electromagnetic fields or electro-smog, and even ignores the advice of its own Health Protection Agency chair Sir William Stewart, the German government is advising its citizens to avoid using Wi-Fi and mobile ‘phones as much as possible. Their advice goes further, and warns people of the dangers of electro-smog from other household electrical products. The German Environment Ministry is recommending that people minimise their exposure to Wi-Fi radiation and is “actively informing people about possibilities for reducing personal exposure”.

The German equivalent of our Health Protection Agency, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, is calling for caution in the use of electrical equipment. A representative of the office said Wi-Fi should be avoided “because people receive exposures from many sources and because it is a new technology and all the research into its health effects has not yet been carried out”

With access to the same research and information, the German government has drawn the opposite conclusion from our own. It looks like the German government is putting the interests of its people before the interests of big business, whereas our government is more concerned about big business and is happy to sacrifice our health to keep us buying increasing amounts of technology and appliances.

[Via The Independent]

Moom natural organic hair remover

I know this is not the kind of thing you would normally expect me to write about, but I was passed this item by my partner Dawn. Well, I cannot say I have ever used it, or am ever likely to either, but the product does look good. Moom is a natural hair remover, it is organic and contains only natural ingredients – chamomile, sugar, lemon juice, essential oil and water. The range comes in organic Tea Tree Set for normal/sensitive skin, Organic Rose Set for mature/dry skin and Organic Lavender Set for extra sensitive Skin. Oh and there is M4Men, for men I suppose. The sets sell for £14.99 and there are also Facial Kits for £4.99. Moom is supposed to be less painful than waxing and leaves the skin softer, smoother and hair free for up to eight weeks. Great stuff, and it is not tested on animals, the ingredients are organic and no chemicals are used, their packaging is kept to a minimum and the jars are recyclable. You can buy Moom from the Moom website or good high street and on-line beauty and health food retailers.

Friday, 4 January 2008

China plans to use more non-grain crops for its biofuels

China is planning to increase the use of biofuels, aiming to use 2 million tonnes of bioethanol and 200,000 tonnes of biodiesel by 2010. By 2020 China hopes to be using 10 million tonnes of bioethanol and 2 million tonnes of biodiesel. This is pretty much in line with other developed countries, but the difference is that China is not going to be using corn as the basis of its biofuel production. Chen Deming, the vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission said: "In the future, all the biofuel production will use non-grain crops." The problem is that using corn and other food crops for biofuel reduces the amount of staple food crops available globally, which means higher prices and less availability, especially for the poorest communities.

This is what is happening in places like Brazil and the USA, but China will not do this according to Chen Deming, who said "By doing this, these countries have increased corn planting and decreased soy acreage, thus raising agricultural prices. Our land is precious, we will not do this," Chen said. China intends to use less productive land to grow crops for biofuels. Good on China, they’re doing something positive to reduce their CO2 emissions without causing food shortages or higher food prices.

[Via Reuters]

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Is nuclear power the way forward?

According to the UK government, nuclear power is the way forward for our future energy requirements. The supporters of nuclear power say it is far more environmentally friendly than many other forms of electricity generating methods. Nuclear power is cleaner, produces less carbon emissions and will eliminate our need to import energy, so the theory goes. Unfortunately, the whole picture may not be as rosy as the nuclear power supporters would have us believe. There are drawbacks to nuclear power that need to be taken into consideration.

For example, Greenpeace believe that pouring so much money into nuclear power will cut off funding for research into renewable power generating technologies. And then of course is the issue of the nuclear waste created by the nuclear power industry. Nuclear waste needs to be disposed in a safe and environmentally friendly way. Is this really possible? The issue of an industrial accident at a nuclear power plant is always a worry, but now we have the added threat of a terrorist attack too. The problem is, not enough money has been put into renewable energy generation, so now we are left with few choices. I really think the government never had any intention of investing in or using renewable energy on any kind of scale large enough to make it viable. To me, all their talk of renewable energy just seems like a PR exercise.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

How long does it take Woolworths to change a lightbulb?

The answer surprisingly, is four years. Well, not just any lightbulb, but the high energy incandescent ones that are sold in Woolworths’ stores. Woolworths has agreed to take all high energy consuming incandescent lightbulbs off its shelves by 2011, which seems a ridiculously long time given the urgency of climate change. Greenpeace staged a protest outside Woolworths’ London HQ as part of their campaign to get Woolwroths to take these inefficient lightbulbs off their shelves by 2008. Robin Oakley from Greenpeace said: “We're here to tell Woolworths that their customers want them to move a lot faster. Removing power crazy lightbulbs from the shelves should be a first, quick step on the road towards offering truly sustainable products across the board. Instead, Woolworths are doing the bare minimum, while most of their competitors are going much further.” For example, Currys have agreed to remove all high energy incandescent lightbulbs by 2007, Habitat by 2009, Sainsburys and Asda by 2010.

Oakley added: "The scientists are telling us that we have less than ten years left to really drastically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, but Woolworths are telling us that it takes four of those years to change a lightbulb. If the company really cares about offering their customers value for money they should only be selling CFL bulbs, which save households around £50 every single year.” Good point, but he problem is the cost of the CFL bulbs. For some people on low incomes, the initial cost of the energy efficient lightbulbs can be prohibitive.

[Via The Guardian]