The world has two energy problems

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The rich use too much of it, and the poor have too little.

Someone asked: "What's the higher moral imperative preferred? Poverty and reduced living standards commensurate with lower emissions or higher carbon emissions and all the benefits of a modern society?"

It is actually a valid and troubling point, made graphic in the above picture where carbon emissions are roughly proportional to income, and pretty much the only people living below the 2.5 tonne per year line are also seriously below the poverty line. This leads to the conclusion that we really have two energy problems, one of the rich, and another of the poor.

The lack of access to energy subjects people to a life in poverty. No electricity means no refrigeration of food; no washing machine or dishwasher; and no light at night. You might have seen the photos of children sitting under a street lamp at night to do their homework. The first energy problem of the world is the problem of energy poverty – those that do not have sufficient access to modern energy sources suffer poor living conditions as a result.

It's like the world lives in two bubbles, the pink one mostly in energy poverty, and the blue one where everyone is pretty much over the line, and the richer they are, the higher the emissions per capita. Also, as the people in the pink bubble make more money, they go blue.

The essential truth missing from economic education today is that energy is the stuff of the universe, that all matter is also a form of energy, and that the economic system is essentially a system for extracting, processing and transforming energy as resources into energy embodied in products and services.

Or, more succinctly, money is essentially embodied and operating energy and some experts believe that the solution is to find large-scale energy alternatives to fossil fuels that are affordable, safe and sustainable.

Without these technologies, they believe, we are trapped in a world where we have only bad alternatives: Low-income countries that fail to meet the needs of the current generation; high-income countries that compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs; and middle-income countries that fail on both counts.

Every country is still very far away from providing clean, safe, and affordable energy at a massive scale and unless we make rapid progress in developing these technologies we will remain stuck in the two unsustainable alternatives of today: energy poverty or greenhouse gas emissions.

It appear to be a very hard sell these days to believe and promote that there is a third alternative, a decoupling of energy from fossil fuels though increase use of renewables, and a decrease in demand through a culture of sufficiency, of using less. Maybe it is somehow fantasy-land, this believe, but the latter would start enabling the former. Without the latter the former is not possible, and that is where the problem lies.

Without a decrease in demand for energy and everything else, to be honest, it will simply not possible to move over to renewables and, as winter 2020/21 has shown, at least in Germany where the government advised people to stock up on candles, that, with the demand of energy with everyone being at home during the Covid19-pandemic and lockdowns, the renewables, upon which the German electricity network mostly, nowadays, replies just are unable to supply demand, with power cuts a result.

In addition to that we must find reliable ways of storing excess energy for use during the lean times. For off-grid homes this is more or less relatively easy by using battery storage, in many cases in the old-fashioned and well-tested lead acid batteries but on the large scale this is still a problem. Maybve it is also the large scale that is the problem.

© 2021


by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Photo for illustration purposes only

I am a very strange bird, so people would certainly say, in that I have a serious problem in that I am trying to find a reuse for almost everything. Whether the fact that I have grown up rather poor and in a Romani (Gypsy) family is the main reason for this I could not say but it certainly has contributed greatly to it.

As children we did not have much if anything by the way of bought toys, and other things, and so finding things that we could use, whether for play or in their more or less original use, was always a joy. To a great extent it has remained with me ever since that time, though I don't do much playing with toys anymore but the other part surely remains.

There is a saying that one man's trash is another man's treasure, or something to that effect, and that goes, as far as I am concerned, for any reusable and reworkable items regarded as trash, as much as for lost and not reclaimed things, and few people would believe what people actually toss out – also in parks and open spaces – or leave behind by accident or abandon on purpose, and how few ever inquire as to lost items, and that includes children's scooters, bicycles, rather expensive coats and other items of clothing, etc.

With the way that so many people nowadays behave it is no wonder that we have a problem with waste management for they either “need” to get rid off something they no longer want and just dump it anywhere or they just replace what they lose because they seem to have far too much money and no sense whatsoever. We have become a real throw-away society, and not just in Britain, of that I am sure. The problem is that there is no such place as “away” where things can be thrown. It is also a huge waste of resources.

We need to get back to the mindset of about half a century or more ago when the majority of us would actively look for ways to reuse, repurpose and rework things that might have been regarded by some then and the majority now as trash.

Even producers of foods and other items had packaging made with an immediate reuse built in, so to speak, such as French mustard that came and still comes, at times, in glasses of the kind that are used in every French home, or at least those of the lower classes, for table wine. German mustard often used to come in small beer glasses and there were many other such examples.

However, it does not require, or it should not, instructions of how to reuse something. When I was growing up we rarely, as children, were given “proper” drinking glasses but were handed jam or Frankfurter jars to drink out of. It we dropped and broke them it was not a financial issue. In fact the “real” glasses were kept for visitors; we all drank from jars. In my home it is still that way today. Old habits rarely die.

I doubt that there is anyone who does not remember their grandmother having a biscuit tin full of buttons and others full of other sewing paraphernalia or a grandfather who did not have all manner of nails, screws, nuts and bolts, and whatever else, in glass produce jars in the home of workshop. The backs of envelopes were used for writing down things and for the children to draw upon. Boxes and tins from various sources were reused. Nothing was waste if there was a smallest chance of making use of it.

Time for a reset in this department and also for a rethink not just among the people but in industry and manufacture.

© 2021

No to bricks in the toilet tank!

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Some allege that putting a brick in the toilet tank can save water, and we are being told, time and again to do this, or to use the “Hippo” device, but doing that can keep your toilet from flushing correctly.

The best tip in that department, in order to conserve water, is still the adage, “If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down”, rather than flushing with a brick of such inside. Alternatively, but there is a cost involved in obtaining and installing, a dual flush system would be something to consider if one does not want to leave urine to sit in the bowl for a while.

The brick or the “hippo”, however, are best left out of the tank.

Another plumbing tip, avoid liquid drain cleaners. Liquid drain cleaners are sometimes bad news as they eat away at the pipes. Try a plunger or, if that does not work, better yet an auger.

© 2020

Campaign to Ban Disposable Face Masks Launched

The UK will consume 19.2 billion single non-recyclable face masks in 2021. Most of these will be sent to landfill, the weight equivalent of 5 Eiffel Towers. Some will end up in watercourses causing an environmental nightmare. A new campaign has been launched in an attempt to reduce this number.

“It’s really important to consider the wider impact of single-use face masks as they can’t easily be recycled and end up in landfill, in rivers and the sea – that’s why we are supporting a new petition on the Government to ban their sale to the general public”, explains Charlotte Green from commercial recycling company

It should be noted that the petition is specific in that it is not asking the Government to completely ban their sale, they have an important role in medical situations, and where use is controlled, they can be recycled - although this is not always easy.

What 19.2 billion single use face masks in numbers looks like:

  • 52,602,739 a day

  • 1,578,082,191 a month

“We are promoting the petition to raise awareness of the environmental problems created by single use face masks, and also to offer an alternative to those worried about the harm cause to wildlife and the impact on the environment in the UK”, explains Green.

The Petition will be discussed in Parliament when it reaches 100,000 signatures. The aim of the campaign is to hit this number before the end of 2020 in an attempt to slow down the consumption of disposable masks, and encourage washable alternatives.

A link to the Petition is available here:

“We know the consequences of their use, and funnily enough the alternative is actually cheaper – we just need to get the word out that single use face masks just get buried in the ground and that isn’t acceptable!”, concludes Charlotte Green from commercial recycling company

Ditch your Disposable Face Mask and save £190 in 2021

  • A single use disposable face mask costs 18p

  • Over a year using 3 per day this is £197.10

  • A washable face mask costs £1.40 (Pack of 5 is £6.99)

  • If you can use 5 masks by washing them, then over a year this is a saving of £190.

Source: Press Office

Water now a traded commodity


Now water is traded on the stock exchange

Since the beginning of the week, water has been traded on the Chicago Stock Exchange for the first time. Farmers and investors can insure themselves against droughts and water scarcity - or they can place bets upon it.

Hedge funds are driving prices upwards without scruple or remorse

The linked article here is, unfortunately, in German but...  

Working with wood; a Gypsy tradition

Photo description: Bottom: Veshtike Rom spatula, Left to Right: Bertike style spoon (oval bowl), Romanian Roma spatula, traditional Gypsy clothes peg (clothespin), Veshtike Rom stirrer, Veshtike Rom spoon (round bowl), Top: Honey/jam spreader (jam spreader does not, actually, have holes)

The Romani People (Gypsies) have had a knack of making a living from many activities in which they used the materials that were and are found in the environment around them, be this wood or others. Some of those activities today have died out, others continue, such as spoon carving and basket making.

Carving spoons, and the making of other kitchen and household items from wood, is just one of them, another is making baskets from osiers (thin branches), grasses and such.

Neither of those activities are invention of the Romani People, that is true, but the Rom carved – pardon the pun – themselves in many places a niche here and then, later, also in the recycling field well before recycling was even cool and a word.

The various different Romani groups, when it comes to carving spoons, and other kitchen utensils, developed their very own styles which, for instance, differed from the styles of the general Russian (and other) spoon carvers and also those of the Scandinavian ones.

On the other hand, however, the Romani craftsmen and even -women, created many of their own designs of spoons and kitchen utensils from wood, such as the stirring woods and spatulas, which are so very different from those that are found in Western Europe per se.

Designs and styles of the spoons vary too from group to group. The Romanian – and “Balkan” in general – spoon carvers make the bowls, while egg-shape, with the point towards the from while the Bergtike Rom in Poland have the “tip” of the egg towards the handle and the Veshtike Rom spoon has a more or less round bowl, similar to those of the Doukhobors (a Russian sect).

It was also the Gypsies, the Rom, who seem to have been the first, though whether it can be proven is another question, to have created the clothes peg, or clothespin, as our American cousins call it. When exactly the current design of the Romani clothes peg, and with that I mean the one made from a stick and banded with tin, has come about I cannot say but it will have been, I should guess, when strips of metal could be found or made.

When it comes to the Gypsy clothespins there are then also at least two design variations, at least among the Romani People in Western Europe, both Sinti relations. The Romanichals in Britain, and from Britain, use a strip of tin, which is affixed with short nails (pins) near the top end, in general, while the Manouche in France tend, at times, to use wire which is wrapped around and tightened with pliers of sorts. The latter version has a slight safety issue in that there tends to be a little bit of wire sticking out to the side.

Among the designs of wooden kitchen tools designed and made by the Rom craftspeople are many that have never been known before as such. The ever so useful stirring wood (stirring paddle, or stirdle, as I have termed it) is just one of them, as is the rather narrower trapezoid shaped spatula, narrower than the traditional Western European spatulas, both of Rom Polska origin apparently.

The Romanian Roma of the lowlands have a different spatula design, which is akin to the stirring paddle but more of a triangular shape, and the honey and jam spreaders, in both design variations, follow the stirring paddle, or the Romanian spatula design, depending on the makers, but are much smaller, obviously.

Other wooden articles were also made by Romani woodworkers and the wooden flasks that were so very common in Romania were, in general, made by very skilled Rom on a foot-powered lathe. Alas, today, there is probably not one maker left and those that are turned out today are badly made in factories.

“Wood, Leather & Recycled” produces wooden spoons and other wooden kitchen utensils, plus some other wooden and carved products, including also Gypsy clothespins.

Wood, Leather & Recycled

Autumn season in the garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

It’s time to pack away the flip-flops and bring out the boots, scarves and gloves. Temperatures will soon be dropping, meaning gardens and outdoor areas will need to be adapted to the new conditions. Preparing a garden in advance of the season changing will give certain aspects such as plants and shrubbery time to settle into their adjusted environment as well as offer gardeners peace of mind when the cold creeps in.

Cleaning up leaves

With increased wind speeds and colder temperatures, outdoor spaces will soon be covered in leaves and debris from trees. While you may be tempted to sweep them up or even blow them away with a power-blower the thing to do it, at least wherever possible, to leave them be. Better for the wildlife and the garden itself too. Where you do wish to remove them sweep them up, put them into bin liners and in no time you will have great leaf mold to add to your garden beds.

Get ahead of the weeds

In the summer, seeds will have landed in and around outdoor areas and they will eventually develop into weeds and you may well be tempted to apply weed killer to the garden to keep on top of the initial growth. However, weed killer – more often than not glyphosate – is not a sustainable and ecological way to go and even so-called “safe” alternatives, such as the use of vinegar and such like are not as safe as promoted.

To be perfectly honest the best and greenest way to manage weeds in your garden is doing it the old-fashioned way, that is to say manually. Even the often recommended green way of using vinegar is not a green way.

Keep an eye out for damaged hedges and trees

Prior to wind speeds picking up, checking any branches, trees and hedges could be vital for people’s safety in the garden. If any appear damaged or are starting to rot, they can potentially blow off and cause damage to a property or even harm a person.

Should a tree be on the boundary of your property where, especially, the public might pass by, then ensuring that there are no branches that could, potentially, cause a problem to passersby is extremely important because, theoretically, any branch falling and possibly injuring someone could leave you open to litigation. If you can prove that you have taken all possible precautions to avoid such you might just about be in the clear in case something does happen.

In addition to that clear the beds – especially the vegetable ones – of plant remains and prepared the soil for the winter and the next growing season by adding leaf mold and compost, spreading a layer of about two inches at least. Do not dig or fork this in but leave the worms to do their business by carrying the nutrients down into the soil while at the same time aerating and loosening the soil. Come spring just sow or plant into the beds without further ado.

© 2020

Normalize Repair. All forms of repair

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

"Please, can we normalize clothing repair?!" visible mending piece on a pair khaki jeans. (Photo caption)

Although, presently, we still mostly associate wearing mended or repaired clothes with poverty and not being able to afford something new, I firmly believe that together we can change this stigma and introduce something new; loving and caring for our clothes, and other things, as an action and conscious choice to save our Planet and stand up against wasteful and unethical "norms" in our society and the industry.

It was not really than long ago that repairing clothes and, obviously, other things was the norm, and not just for those on the lower end of the scale, and patches on the knees and elbows were common. To mend and repair was also cheaper than buying new and that was important to almost everyone but especially those not so well off. But when it came to kids almost everyone had mended items of clothes. You'd grow out of them anyway in due course. But that was before “cheap” clothes and “fast” fashion.

When I see how people actually deal with clothes today it makes me shake my head in disbelief. Anything from hats, including woolly hats, over T-shirts to coats are being left behind, children's and adult's, in parks, for instance, and no one even as much as inquires made as to whether they have been found and taken in. Aside from that not that very old, in other words almost new to actual new, children's scooters and bicycles, for instance. And the same in those cases in that no one actually asks whether they have been picked up by staff. Some people have far too much money and absolutely no sense. No wonder they can't make ends meet when they behave like that.

We have become such a “throw away society” that it is almost beyond belief and this attitude reflects also on and in other aspects of society and life. Nothing is valued anymore, not even, at times, life itself.

Hopefully repair, the normalization of repair, the way it once was, can be part of our future again and that cannot come soon enough.

But in order to achieve this, we have to talk about it. Buying and wearing secondhand clothes is cool (pardon that phrase), repairing your clothes the same, and the same goes for wearing the same outfit again and again.

However, we also have to acknowledge my privilege here that many of us are able to choose to repair our clothes and buy and wear secondhand by choice. Some people do not have that choice. They are forced to by circumstances and it should not be a stigma to attach to them.

This normalization of repair does not just go for clothes. It should and must go for everything that we have and also simply keeping those things that we have that still work in good order instead of buying new just because we can or because a new version of the product has come onto the market.

Furnishing a home with secondhand is also something that falls into this department and everything, bar a couple of things, are fine when purchased secondhand; mattresses are one of the few items that best are not obtained secondhand, for reasons of hygiene.

While this was and is very much the domain of those that are the poorer in society it would do the Planet no end of good if we all looked at that a little more. Then again, on the other hand, if we all did it secondhand might be priced, by the unscrupulous traders, out of the range of the poorer people.

And, most import of all, whether as regards to furniture or all other things, is to no longer treat things as “throw away” items, even if they were not all that expensive, look after them somewhat more (again) and make them last by, if something happens, repair wherever possible.

© 2020

Electric cars wont save us and the Planet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

There are, despite what governments and especially industry try to tell us, far too many points against it, and I know that I have said many of those things before.

Aside from everything else and the fact that they have become cheaper nowadays it is in no way certain that they will ever get cheap enough for everyone who wants to or especially needs to drive to afford one.

The cost of the raw materials for the batteries are one point and those costs are not going to go down as demand increases; the opposite will be the case, unless other kinds of materials are found from which to make (more efficient) batteries.

There is a reason for raw materials that are currently used to be called rare earths, rare minerals and rare metals and the word “rare” should be the dead giveaway. It is true that battery designs and components may change over time but in the short term, considering that many governments want to ban gasoline- or diesel-powered cars and vehicles by 2030 or even earlier, though some have set a later target date, this is not going to happen.

Then there is the problem that presently – though, obviously, the designs may improve – the lifetime of the battery is around three years, give or take, although some manufacturers claim that their batteries are better in performance (though I do not believe this, as yet) and the costs of a replacement around one-third of that of the price of the vehicle. Alone for a £1,000 E-bike that is £370 for a new battery. For that price you can get a fairly good “ordinary” bicycle that has no such issues.

Switching power sources also does nothing to address the vast amount of space the car demands, which could otherwise be used for greens, parks, playgrounds and homes. It doesn’t stop cars from carving up community and turning streets into thoroughfares and outdoor life into a mortal hazard. Electric vehicles don’t and won't solve congestion, or the extreme lack of physical activity that contributes to our poor health.

Also, when it comes to reduction of “carbon emissions”, electric vehicles are not carbon neutral and that not even remotely. First there are those emissions created by manufacturing them and indeed already beforehand in the extraction and preparations of the raw materials for the making of those cars. And then there is the switch from one exhaust, that of the vehicle, to the other one, namely the smokestack of the power station. In addition to that governments already fret that the electricity grid will be unable to cope with all those electric vehicles being put on charge overnight or maybe even at other times.

Even a switch to bicycles (including electric bikes and scooters) is only part of the answer. Fundamentally, this is not a vehicle problem but an urban design problem. Or rather, it is an urban design problem created by our favored vehicle. Cars have made everything bigger and further away.

Because of the car, in all honesty, and, yes, today also because of Internet shopping, the high streets of our towns and cities have been turned into places where coffee shops, sandwich bars, bars, restaurants and whatever else congregate but hardly any “real” shops can be found today.

Supermarkets have moved, very often, away from the walkable and cyclable centers and areas to out-of-town locations and many other shops also have gone into the out-of-town malls. There are some that reversing the trend, like some of the German discounters in the UK, such as Aldi and Lidl, who are deliberately trying to have their stores sited within towns and cities and not to out-of-town locations and on industrial parks. And the same is true for all the discounter stores in Germany that I saw years ago, whether Aldi, Lidl, REWE, or others.

Some countries on mainland Europe are a little different as regards to towns and cities and their centers especially as, unlike in the UK, and often also the US, people actually still live in the centers of those towns and cities. The center of London (UK), on the other hand, is, after the offices close, almost a ghost town as far as people living there are concerned; almost no one does.

The problem for using alternative transport to the car in British cities, and more so even the countryside where many of the towns do not have much of shopping either anymore, and there is a lack of other places such as post offices, banks, etc., is all geared towards the car. Even more so, obviously, in the rural USA where, without a car, you can't even get to the “nearest” store. Doing a 50 mile round trip to get your groceries is not really feasible on a bicycle and not even with horse and buggy.

There was a time when in the rural areas – in the US – the “general stores” abounded, and where not all that far away, necessarily, from where people lived. But all those have gone to the wall ages ago aided and abetted by the car and the likes of Wally World. Obviously, the governments also had their fingers in the pie, so to speak, paid for by the car lobby.

In order to truly change the situation we need to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, and return to the way some things were in times past when places, shops, work and all, were easily accessible and there was no need to travel long distances. The electric car and other electric vehicles will only perpetuate the situation and move the carbon emissions to locations other than the car when it is driven.

© 2020

Green Products

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Whether products are touted as green, environmentally friendly, eco, or whatever or not consumerism is still consumerism and bad for the Planet. Also many of those products are not at all as “green” as they are claimed to be. In fact there are times when the opposite is true, actually.

Far too many products that are being touted as green, as environmentally friendly, and so on are not, necessarily, as claimed but they are green-washed, as I refer to them.

Bamboo products, for instance, are some, for starters. Bamboo, in the way products are, traditionally, made from the material in the countries where bamboo grows is one thing but as soon as the stuff is made into, say, flooring or clothing then the “green” goes out of the window, regardless of the fact that bamboo is a grass, really, and grown and matures rather fast.

Bamboo flooring requires heat and pressure and glues, and is nothing but laminate flooring, and bamboo fiber, as in clothing, is rayon by all but a different name and made in exactly the same way using lots of energy and chemicals. Green neither of those two are but they are being sold to us as being environmentally friendly and all the rest.

And bamboo products are but a small example of this dilemma and issue.

Another one is the failure in communication over recycling and reuse in that people thrown glass jars – yes, I am back at a very old example – that could very well serve as storage jars into the recycling bin and are very proud with themselves for buying recycled glass (how recycled is that glass really) storage jars (green, you know) at exorbitant prices.

Or a similar thing when they want a pencil/pen bin for the desk they spend almost $10 for something that is basically a glorifies tin can while throwing – yes, I am at it again – a cleaned produce tin can into the recycling bin; something that would do the same job equally well.

The message of the three “Rs”, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has, it would appear, become one of “Recycle, Recycle, Recycle” as the first thing everyone – well, almost everyone – seems to think of is the recycling bin. There should also be more than the three “Rs” in that list, and “Recycle” should be the very last option of all. It has, however, become the very first. Rather than reducing the comment you near is “but it can all be recycled”. Somewhere along the line there has been a serious communication breakdown, though this seems to have been aided and abetted by governments.

A great many of those “green” products are also not very green and environmentally friendly when one considers the environmental footprint their manufacture and their shipping, more often than not, like most stuff nowadays, “Made in China” and then shipped from there to point of sale (and then, obviously, to you and me, the consumer).

Most products today, whether they are conventional or green, are made, even if from recycled materials from our own countries, made in places such as China and then are carted across the globe, to the country as recyclables and back to us as finished products.

If we want really and truly green and environmentally friendly products we should insist that they are made, whether recycled or made from natural renewable materials, locally, in our own countries or at least in one of the neighboring countries and not on the other side of the world and we also must insist that products are durable and repairable.

The greenest products, however, we can have are those that we have already or reusing the things that cross our paths daily.

Instead of buying recycled glass storage jar we should consider using large glass jars from produce, such as pickles or whatever, and instead of recycled drinking glasses how about repurposing suitable glass produce or jam jars. In fact, they work very well indeed. When I was growing up that was what we, as children, were given to use instead of expensive glass jars. And, in fact, in general even our parents used such glasses, such jars, as drinking vessels.

© 2020