EU’s ‘engine’ stalls in Volkswagen scandal

UEA expert alert – Dr Konstantinos Chalvatzis: EU’s ‘engine’ stalls in Volkswagen scandal

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

vw-golf-tdi-diesel-2009-001.jpg.650x0_q70_crop-smartPlummeting consumer confidence in diesel cars will benefit hybrid and electric vehicle sales, according to an expert in energy technology at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Dr Konstantinos Chalvatzis, a senior lecturer in business and climate change at UEA’s Norwich Business School, said the fallout from the Volkswagen emissions testing scandal will cause a lack of faith in diesel engines, “which has been earned over the past decade in Europe.”

Dr Chalvatzis said: “It is important to consider the environmental angle since this is really a scandal about vehicle emissions that will impact the debates about diesel/petrol and electric mobility.

“While in the past diesel engines were valued for their dependability and modest consumption, during the last decade they have grown to be very powerful and at the same time very efficient. This claim is now in doubt and this will be a huge advantage for manufacturers that have invested in hybrid and electric vehicles.

“The timing is also quite crucial at a time when numerous European cities, including many in the UK, have started looking into ways to discourage diesel vehicles. The VW scandal will only give them new arguments.

“VW has secured sales in a very aggressive market by providing false emissions and consumption data and putting its vehicles at an unfair advantage over those of competitor manufacturers. It is safe to say that other manufacturers will be looking into their legal options on this issue, including requesting compensation for lost profits.”

With other German auto makers – including VW Group’s Audi, Porsche, Seat and Skoda – feeling the knock-on effect, Dr Chalvatzis said the scandal could dent the country’s reputation for reliability and dependability.

“The German automotive industry provides directly and indirectly no less than 20 per cent of the German industrial income. Germany is arguably the ‘engine’ of the EU economy and any impact on Germany exports can damage the EU economy as well. For the UK, there will possibly be winners in competitive manufacturers.”

Dr Chalvatzis said VW will need to pay approximately $18 billion in fines – and that’s “without estimating compensation costs for consumers and other litigation costs from other manufacturers.

“The automotive industry should for sure be braced for heavier regulations, especially with regards to the way issues of air pollution and fuel consumption are being monitored and controlled. Some manufacturers, particularly Japanese, may stand to win customers, especially if they have not relied as heavily in diesel sales.”

Dr Chalvatzis, who is UEA’s representative to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, is also a visiting scholar at the University of Maryland, USA. He is interested in energy technology and industrial innovation, including transport, and the impact on business and the environment.

I must say that I do not share the take on electric and hybrid cars being the future, in any way, shape or form, and also the fact that this “cheating” by VW has come to light only just at this time – while it, apparently, has been going on for some time – when VW, against the US' insistence, nay demand, for EU sanctions against Russia, has just opened a new engine factory in Russia points to a far different reason for this. And this reason being a kind of punishment for the German economy by the regime in Washington, especially that, apparently, BMW is also being implicated now, which looks as if some more candidates are actually being used.

Back to the electric (and hybrid) cars, however, and my reason for believing that they will not represent the answer in regards to personal transportation – and yes, I have mentioned this many times before but it would appear that it needs repeating – is the fact that the batteries require rare earth for the production which, well, as the name suggests, are rare and their extraction causes serious environmental damage. And that is aside from the price of those batteries. The story might be a different one if one would use, but the weight is a problem here, lead acid deep cycle batteries.

The car, in whichever engine form, is about to become history, do not be deceived, and we will have to look at other, older ways, again, for personal transportation, and this will be good for our health and that of the Planet, and in more ways than just eliminating any pollution caused by them, whether in driving or manufacture of the cars or their components. Admittedly the manufacture of bicycles also comes with an environmental footprint but it is far smaller than that of making cars, especially those whose batteries require rare earths and metals. In addition to that human-powered transportation in use, such as the bicycle, does not generate emissions and pollutants.

The dream of personal motoring which we have lived for almost a century now is coming to an end and not just because of the unsustainability of the the car, whether powered by an internal combustion engine or other means. Electric cars, due to their components, the raw materials for which are becoming rarer and rarer, will not become cheaper but dearer and, let's face it, also in many countries where on-street parking is the norm the charging of them overnight is not going to be a feasibility and thus those cars simply cannot replace the way we do things now.

The simple though for many unpalatable truth is that personal transportation of the future will be very much that of the past and we better get used to that idea and that rather quickly and adapt to it accordingly.

© 2015

Waste Less, Save More – UK town search

Waste Less Save More

At Sainsbury’s we want to know our customers better than anyone else and our values remain at the heart of our business.

Over the last year we have carried out research with over 5,000 of our customers to find out about the values that matter most to them when they do their shopping. Perhaps unsurprisingly we found that it’s the issues that are closest to home that take priority, and top of the list for our customers is to waste less food. This is primarily driven by the impact that throwing away food has on household budgets, with the average family in the UK spending around £700 a year on food that could be eaten but is thrown away.

We’re proud of the work we’ve already done to reduce waste, both ourselves and for our customers, but we know we need to be more ambitious, that’s why we’re launching our Waste Less, Save More initiative today.

Read more here.

Your organic fruits and veggies might have been irrigated with fracking wastewater


This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organics standards, written 15 years ago, strictly ban petroleum-derived fertilizers commonly used in conventional agriculture. But the same rules do not prohibit farmers from irrigating their crops with petroleum-laced wastewater obtained from oil and gas wells — a practice that is increasingly common in drought-stricken Southern California.

As I reported last month, oil companies last year supplied half the water that went to the 45,000 acres of farmland in Kern County’s Cawelo Water District, farmland that is owned, in part, by Sunview, a company that sells certified organic raisins and grapes. Food watchdog groups are concerned that the state hasn’t required oil companies to disclose all of the chemicals that they use in oil drilling and fracking operations, much less set safety limits for all of those chemicals in irrigation water.

A spokesperson for the USDA’s National Organics Program confirmed that it has little to say on the matter. “The USDA organic regulations do not directly address the use of irrigation water on organic farms,” said the spokesperson, who asked to be quoted on background, “but organic operations must generally maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality.”

Read more here.

Beat the Bag Tax with Ohyo and Felix Conran

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Ohyo BagThe makers of Ohyo, the collapsible reusable water bottle, originally named “Aquatina”, together with designer Felix Conran bring us now a new product that will not just be something to beat the plastic bag tax hits England on October 5, 2015, but that will also eliminate the use for a multitude of other bags.

The plastic bag tax hits England on October 5th when shoppers will be charged 5p per bag and Ohyo and Felix Conran have teamed up to produce a neat solution to this, namely the Ohyo Bag.

The UK-made Ohyo Bag is a bag that can you use every day for different uses but which can expand to accommodate your groceries. It is something of a transformer bag as it is:

• a tablet bag that increases in size to hold your gym kit.

• a travel bag that gets bigger to accommodate those last minute purchases.

• a backpack that adjusts for a long or short trip.

So, the Ohyo Bag is smart, desirable and can adapt to whatever the day throws at you and it truly is a case (or bag) of one size fits all.

Ohyo Bag launches on Kickstarter in late September with deliveries expected for Christmas.

Felix Conran, designer of the Ohyo Bag said “When Guy came to me with this problem, I was excited about creating a design that was both adaptable and desirable. The result is clever and surprisingly simple; the utility strips coupled with the gorgeous split rings allow you to make the OHYO bag yours!”

Although famously rejected by the dragons on the BBC programme Dragons’ Den (UK’s Shark Tank equivalent) for his original invention, Ohyo the Collapsabottle, Guy is delighted to have proved them wrong with the Ohyo’s widespread customer appeal, 700,000 sales to date, commercial success and international distribution.

“There’s only one thing worse than a bag of plastic bags under your sink, and that’s a bag of re-usable bags that you never remember to take with you. I invented Ohyo Bag to adapt to whatever the day throws at you.”

Ohyo ( manufacture Ohyo the Collapsabottle in Sheffield and manage the Find-a-Fountain campaign to promote free water sources in the UK – for more information visit

Guy Jeremiah, inventor of Ohyo the Collapsabottle, is also the inventor of the Ohyo Bag. Guy was famously slated by Duncan Bannatyne on Dragon’s Den, who threw the bottle back at him in rage. Guy’s more than delighted to have proved the dragons wrong. The bag has been designed by Felix Conran, a London designer and a third generation of the well-known Conran Design family.

The Ohyo Bag, designed by Felix Conran in London, is manufactured in London by Jas Sehmbi at Jas MB Ltd, and the bags are expected to retail at £79, however early bird purchases will be available on Kickstarter for £59.

A great concept as it does away with the need for multiple bags, which is a win-win situation itself, and it also means less stuff.

Once samples are available I hope to be able to give this bag a thorough testing and review it in the virtual pages of this magazine.

© 2015

Experience: foraging nearly killed me

‘We realised we were reacting to something we’d eaten, but as we tried to work out what, we became confused’

I went to Sicily to learn about Mediterranean horticulture as part of my degree. I’d agreed to work in an ornamental garden on a huge estate for six months, helping to grow crops for the local culinary school to use in their experimental Sicilian cuisine. One night a couple of months in, though, things got more experimental than I had bargained for.

I was sharing a cottage in the grounds with two other foreign students, an American and a Canadian. One evening, they returned from a foraging trip with some leaves they’d found on the estate, which they had identified as chard. They were already cooking when I got in from the garden. It was late and I was ravenous, and I ate at least twice as much of the boiled greens as either of the others. It was a good meal, slightly bitter, but that’s not unusual in the region and, seasoned with salt and a little lemon juice, it went down a treat.

For dessert, we had fresh blood oranges, but I took one bite and spat mine out – it was mouldy. The other two had the same reaction, but when we examined the fruit they looked perfectly fresh. Rinsing our mouths out with bottled water didn’t help, either – that had the same mouldy taste. We realised we must all be reacting to something we’d eaten, but as we tried to work out what, we became confused.

Read more here.

LA County Gets Rolling on Turning Ugly Vacant Lots Into Useful Urban Farms


LA has been pushing for tax breaks for owners of vacant urban lots who lease out the neglected land to people who want to farm on it, and now the LA County Board of Supervisors (which would have to approve the tax breaks before they could be implemented) is doing their part to make it happen. County Supes voted today to start hammering out the details of the eventual program that would allow for property owners to get at least a five-year property tax break on lots under three acres that are leased to people who want to grow food on them,says the City News Service.

The tax break would only apply for privately-owned lots in certain, to-be-determined areas of the county, and cities that fall within the boundaries would be able to choose whether they want to be part of the program or not, but some members of the LA City Council have already expressed their support for having LA opt in.

Read more here.

Rural Town Revamps Economy with Food Jobs: The Viroqua Story

Next to Wal-Mart on the edge of rural Viroqua, Wisconsin, a 100,000-square-foot abandoned industrial building is now bustling with new businesses and jobs from an unconventional source: The local food and farming sector.

It’s a turnaround for a small town that lost one of its largest employers and then bet on the growth of local food markets to enliven that vacant space and the area’s economy.

The Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua is also one of an increasing number of food and farm business development centers that are ratcheting up the economic development assistance.

Economic Engine

For Viroqua and southwest Wisconsin, the growing businesses at the Food Enterprise Center are a significant boost both for that abandoned industrial real estate and the regional economy, said Matt Johnson. He is editor of the Vernon County Broadcaster and a charter member of the Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA).

Read more here.

10 Amazing Food Co-ops Across America

Cooperatively owned grocery stores exist all over the country. Some have thousands of members and have been around since the 1970s, and some opened within the past few years to serve communities with unusual needs. Watch this video about the advantages of shopping at co-ops, and check this directory for information about food co-ops near you. Each co-op has a story – here are a few!

At Food Conspiracy Co-op in Tucson, Arizona, community members teach courses; local nonprofits and schools apply for donations; and workshops on water harvesting and native trees take place. In 2013, the Co-op installed a rainwater harvesting system behind their kitchen with a grant from the city of Tucson. The plan is to build an urban micro farm.

Viroqua Food Co-op is located in Viroqua, a town of 4400, in a rural area of Southwest Wisconsin called the Driftless. Like many co-ops on this list, before opening as a store in 1995, Viroqua began as a “natural foods buying club,” a group of individuals who worked together to procure healthy foods for their families. According to a 2005 USDA report about successful co-ops in rural areas, it benefited from the guidance of local residents who’d been involved with CROPP, a local organic marketing cooperative which helps farmers transition to organic production.

4th Street Food Co-op in Manhattan, New York takes its member participation seriously; the store is staffed entirely by members. Working memberships, which require you to work 2.25 hours a week, pay off in the form of a 20% discount. Refrigerators, lights, and electronics are powered by New Wind Energy, and they have a committee that vets products in an effort to stop carrying products owned by multi-national corporations.

Kokua Food Co-op is, according to its website, the only natural foods co-op in the state of Hawaii. The Honolulu store serves up raw, vegan, gluten-free baked goods, hosts movie and poetry nights, and has eight flavors of kombucha on tap!

Read more here.

Making do with less

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

It is not so much of making do with less than using what you have and having fewer possessions, especially gadgets and also simpler things.

I am not talking about minimalism here but just reducing the unnecessary things, and there have been times that I have myself been guilty such as buying kitchen gadgets which are then used but a few times and that is. Afterwards they then just sit about somewhere doing nothing. But such and other gadgets are only one part. But I also do not mean throwing out what you have in order to unclutter unless uncluttering is absolutely necessary. Making do with less also means, obviously, making do with what you already have without adding any more to it.

Doing with less also means using the car less and using your feet more instead and the bicycle. You have one, haven't you?

When it comes to a bicycle it does not have to be the most “state of the art” (where is this state, this country, anyway?) one but an old one – done up – will do just as well, maybe even better. And a simple bike, especially a single-speed one, is much easier to maintain.

Such a simple bicycle can easily from an old derailleur gear change one by simply removing the gear changers, shortening the change so that the drive train runs true from either the middle or the outer crankshaft cogwheel to one of the smaller ones on the back wheel cluster. There is no need to buy a simple speed back wheel nor, in all honesty, a conversion kit.

There is no need to buy a new bicycle. An older or even old one can often be found for little money at a variety of places and mostly they but require a little TLC to get them back on the road and save you money and get you and keep you fit at the same time.

Reuse, because we can't recycle the Planet!

All too often people are obsessed with having to have the latest “toys” like as if they had never grown up. Then, maybe, they haven't. At least that is definitely how it does appear. They also seem to have been fiddling with those “toys” all the time, even when they are talking with another person.

I never did, as a child, have many toys. The toys that we did have when I was a child were either hand-made, found ones, or those handed down to us from others, and may be that has given me an edge here as not always to be looking for the latest “toy” but to make do with what I have got and also with what I find and what I can make from trash, for instance.

This is something that, for the sake of the Planet, and also as a preparation for changes in our world that are coming, we all must consider doing, that is to say making use of what we have and that includes reusing and upcycling some of the “waster” that we generate.

There is so much that we can change without having to shell out a single cent only no one seems to realize that and many people seem to think that living a simpler life actually costs them money, in the same way that they believe leading and living a greener life does. And by making do with less this can be achieved easier than with any green gadgets.

Reuse and upcycling is the name of the game as well as repair and not buying unnecessary stuff. Many things that you may need or want you can easily make your self by repurposing, reusing and upcycling and thus living a simpler life and making do with less by way of purchased possessions.

All too many people seem to be permanently buying something new, be this clothes, shoes, gadgets, or whatever, even though they already have enough of everything. I am not talking here about those that don't have enough to live comfortably but about those that have more that enough.

However, even those that do not – almost – have two pennies to rub together also fall for this and are prepared even to go into debt in order to afford all those things that everyone else has, as they think. If I have to go into debt to buy something then I cannot afford it and I will not try regardless if the neighbor has this or that that I may not have.

How many clothes or shoes, for instance, does one need or how many cellphone, TVs or whatever? You can only wear one pair of shoes at any one time and one set of clothes. But, apparently, they have to have at least one pair of shoes for every day of the week and at least two to three sets of clothes per day of the week. And, ideally, all of those clothes and shoes have to be respectable designer brands.

Then there has to be a pair of pajamas for every day of the week it seems and on and on it goes. That also means that there is a great deal of laundry that must be tackled at the end of the week or several times during the week even because of the sheer amount of it and that means energy and water usage by the ton.

We are being told, at least by those who buy all of that, that they need a suit for work, then a set of clothes for after work, and then something to lounge about in in the evening. And you have to have some good special clothes for going out to restaurants and such (and that also seems to have to happen several times a week), and on and on the excuses go as to why they have to buy all of that stuff and why they have to have it all.

We have become possessed by our possessions and while this may not be true for everyone, thank god, it seems true for a great majority, unfortunately. This all comes to the detriment of resources, of the Planet, and everything else.

Apparently there also has to be a TV set in every room of the house, and everyone has to have their own PC, their own this device and that, and on and on the list goes.

There is another way but it is almost as hard a sell as voluntary poverty, and in a way it is part of it, and that is to make do and to live well with less, especially with buying less unnecessary stuff, as said already.

With simple reuse, repurposing and upcycling you can make many of the things that you may need (and want) yourself without spending another single cent often. But most have become so accustomed to and, dare I say, brainwashed into having to buy everything that they need and want. And whatever they may need and want has to be able to be purchased now, there and then. It is, apparently, not possible to wait until one can actually afford it or look for a substitute to repurpose or a way to make this or that oneself.

Among some it has not become fashionable to drink from jars, glass jars, but they have to be designer recycled jars, it seems. To do what was common when I was a child, a definitely with my folk, to reuse a glass jar that had products packaged in them when you bought those products and which cost nothing bar what you paid for them (hidden cost) when you bought the products packaged in them, appears to be impossible. But at the same time they will toss such jars into the recycling bin doing their bit for the environment.

For those that are minded to do it there are so many ways to make things for themselves (and even for others) that it baffles me that there are so very few of us actually doing it. What was once, and that is not even that long ago, so common has now become something a rare a common sense and think of the rarest mineral. Not so long ago most people didn't even consider buy what they could make for themselves in one way or the other. Today, however, they do not think about the simple ways, only about buying, even if they cannot afford it. And, if they cannot buy it because they have not got the funds they bemoan that fact.

Sometimes, I must say, I despair of humanity. We believe to be so advanced but there are times that I am beginning to think that all that technology and the consumerism that we have brainwashed into has stifled everything else. We have lost, it would seem, any sense of resourcefulness and of the make do and mend attitude that existed not so long ago.

© 2015

Surgeon General's prescription for health: walkable communities

step it up


It's not easy to walk in much of North America; most people now live in suburbs that were designed for cars. Now the US Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, is calling for a change.

Walking helps people stay both physically and mentally healthy. It brings business districts to life and can help reduce air pollution. However, there are barriers to choosing even this simple form of physical activity. Many of us live in neighborhoods that can present barriers to walking. Important places, such as shops, schools, parks, or senior centers, may not be near enough to reach by walking; there may be no sidewalks; or there may be concerns about safety. Lack of time can be a barrier, as can health problems.

He is also calling for a redesign of our communities.

People should be able to walk almost anywhere. Designing communities to encourage pedestrian activity will make it safer and easier for all users, including those with mobility limitations and other disabilities. For example, streets can be designed to include sidewalks and improve traffic safety, and communities can locate residences, schools, worksites, businesses, parks, recreational facilities, and other places that people regularly use within walkable distance of each other.

Read more here.