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

Root Pouch – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I encountered Root Pouch for the first time at the Garden Press Event 2020 in the beginning of March that year and it immediately, for me, ticked a number of boxes in the green department.

Root Pouch distributed by Ikon International and they are fabric planting containers made from recycled water bottles and available from all good garden centers and also from Amazon. Personally I do not do Amazon because of the company's unethical practices in the treatment of their employees and others, but that is for everyone to decide for themselves.

Price – typical RRP Grey 3.8 ltr (1 Gal) – £1.05, 39 ltr (10 Gal) - £3.89

Better for the plant: The circling root from a black plastic pot will choke and harm a plant. The dense lateral root growth experienced in a non-circling self-pruning Root Pouch will not only easily provide the tree with healthy root uptake, but also offer the tree a strong supportive root structure to weather any storm, allowing the tree to grow for decades not years.

Better for the planet: Root Pouch is the only fabric pot company that manufactures its own fabric giving them full control of quality and consistency. Root Pouch uses on average 400 metric tons of plastic water bottles a year in making their containers. Giving single use plastics a second life.

Root Pouch only uses water bottles for recycling and diverted 1000 metric tons of water bottles from landfills and the oceans in 2019 and eliminates the need to create plastic pots using fossil fuels.

Root Pouch is the only pouch made from PET bottles and a textile weave for which the company has the patents. Other pouches more often than not contain unknown sourced plastics and no recycled textiles and their weave bears little in common with Root Pouch which has the optimal weave for Air Pruning/Entrapment.

The smaller pouches also make for great totes for the gardener (or even others) for tools.




© 2020

Wood in the kitchen

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Wooden implement are better on pots and pans and not just those Teflon or similarly coated ones. In all honesty you should avoid such so-called non-stick ones anyway.

Metal implements should, ideally, never be used in pots and pans, even in stainless steel ones. Plastic, on the other hand, often nylon, is not heat resistant enough frequently and tends to have “problems” and what we do not know is how such heated plastics in contact with food may actually affect our bodies and health. A wooden spatula, or even the edge of a wooden stirring paddle, can even be used for scrape cast iron or steel skillets and pots in case somethings has burned on (after soaking it a little, the interior of the pot or pan that is, not the implement).

When it comes to cutting and chopping boards wood is also way more hygienic than plastic and also much better than glass, which some people are using. The latter has one major problem and that is that it dulls knives rather quickly and the former that any groves caused by the the knives used are real good for harboring bacteria. Not so with wood. Bamboo is also an option but bamboo does not come in slabs but a bamboo cutting board is made with lots of heat and pressure and also some glue.

Wood is antibacterial by his very action in that it removes moisture from its surface are into itself, that is to say the body of the implement, in this case, and bacteria need moisture to live and multiply, and that holds equally true for the wooden spoon, the stirring paddle, the spatula, or whatever, and the cutting and chopping boards and everything else wooden in use in the kitchen.

Wood is a renewable resource and kitchen implements made by the artisan spoon/treen1 carver will generally made from prunings and other wood which often would end up in the chipper or otherwise disposed off. Hence such wooden utensils and other wooden ware tick all the boxes in the “green department”.

The one important thing to remember with wooden utensils and such is to never, ever, put them into the dishwasher and one should not even put them into the washing-up bowl with detergent. If it should be necessary then washing the working part of the utensil under hot water or by dunking it quickly into hot water and washing it and then thoroughly drying that part.

Because of its natural antibacterial properties wooden utensils will, generally, require nothing more than to be wiped clean with a kitchen towel and then, with the working part up, stood in holder of sorts or placed in a spoon rack, say, on the wall. They should not go into the “cutlery” drawer (or any other drawer for that matter).

Wooden kitchen implements, as well as wooden spoons, if treated well can last for centuries and can thus even become heirlooms. Imagine still stirring your porridge or stew with an implement that your grandmother may have used or even her mother.

While hand-crafted wooden implements, and other treen ware, are generally more expensive – a great deal more expensive – than mass-produced they, first of all, come mostly from sustainable woodland management operations or from local tree workers and tree surgeons and hence are local wood, local to the area where they are made. Secondly, as they are carved with the grain they are stronger than mass-produced, machined, products and due to the natural drying process, in other words the wood is neither pressure not heat treated, are not tainted with anything either. Furthermore they are hand-crafted and, as already mentioned, carved or otherwise worked, with the grain and thus retaining the strength of the wood.

© 2020

1Treen (literally "of a tree") is a generic name for small handmade functional household objects made of wood.


We will not go back to normal

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

We will not go back to normal nor should we. Normal never was. Our pre-Covid-19 existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, depletion,extraction, the exploitation of nature and man by man for ever greater profits.

We should not even long to return to this so-called “normal”. We have been given the opportunity now to create a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and Nature.

Normal, in fact, has not been for a very long time, probably not since the beginning of the industrialized age, the so-called industrial revolution, followed in the 1970s by the so-called “green revolution” in agriculture, which was not green at all and certainly was not good for most, also not as far as our food was and is concerned.

Greed became normalized and has been for a very long time already, probably ever since people ended up with someone lording it over the majority.

And then, after all the upheaval of the two world wars and the aftermath we ended up with the consumer society that wend from bad to worse and we arrived today at a stage where were consume the resources of our Planet in such a way and at such a speed that even renewable resources, such as wood, cannot be renewed fast enough.

Products are being manufactured in such a way that repair no longer is feasible and we have to constantly buy the same product, not even, necessarily an improved version of the same, over and over again every couple of years of even less, leading to a mountain of waste that destroys our environment.

And we want to go back to “normal”? Really?

We should take this opportunity, now, to create something better, something sustainable. A new system which will benefit all creatures inhabiting the Earth and not just a few individuals who become super rich by exploiting both man and Planet.

© 2020

Going back to so-called normal after pandemic would be madness

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Instead of waiting that everything goes back to “normal” after the pandemic and all this economic madness restarts would it not better to consider doing things differently? To make things better rather than going back to “normal” because this so-called “normal” was not normal at all. Rather the opposite. But then again the system is not broken either, it was designed this way not to function properly.

How about instead of building ever more car parks to create parks and playgrounds.

Instead of more and more consumption to design and manufacture products again – yes, I did say again – that can be repaired and create a repair economy to boot, that is to say shops that specialize in repair of those things that we cannot fix at home.

Instead of events experience and instead of everyone for himself a spirit of Ubuntu, a together rather than competing against each other.

And there are so many insteads that the list could go on and on, to be honest. I think we can all add a fair few of them to this small list that I have put together here.

The truth is, and most people, I am certain, would agree, that the so-called normal we have had for so long was anything but normal. What is normal with shop till you drop and buy crap only to impress others and also stuff that gets tossed a short time after. That is keeping the economy, the way it has been designed for the last how many decades, but normal it is not.

Products have been designed, in capitalism, ever since World War Two or not long thereafter, to have but a limited lifespan and more and more they can no longer be repaired, not even by specialists. We are, thus, forced to buy the same product over and over again simply because after a couple of years they are broken and cannot be repaired, because they have been designed that way.

There was a time when most things could be repaired, often by the tinkerer at home even, or tinkering was not even needed but just to know how to repair or replace a switch, for instance. A simple screwdriver was sufficient to open the things and repair could commence. But that was not to the liking of the capitalists.

The point is that is we have to buy the same products over and over over time because they keep breaking and can't be repaired means that manufacturers do not have to be innovative and do not need to design and make new products, better products, but can just keep making the same over and over.
However, what this pandemic has also shown us is, and this is a great irony, that the world's economy is in danger of collapsing simply because people are only and have only been buying what they really need. It proves the point that nothing of the normal was ever normal.

So, do we really want to go back to that kind of “normal”? I would think that we truly and honestly consider the options the answer, from the majority, would be a no.

© 2020

Bicycle servicing

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I don't want to put anyone out of business but I cannot understand this thing about bicycle servicing. Some people seem to believe that their bicycle needs an annual service – from a specialist – just like their car does and often it is also being touted in such a way.

Anyone with a bit of common sense – I know that that sense is rare nowadays but nevertheless – can service his or her own bicycle. The exception where, frequently, a mechanic is required, is changing bearings and such. Everything else, including a full service should be in the capabilities of a user or, in case of a child, his or her parent(s). That is what makes owning and using a bicycle such a great thing, namely not having to have a specialist to hand for things like service and repair. Then again I am well aware that many people today do not even know what to do in case of a puncture to a tire. I know of people who have thrown the bike and got a new one because they did not know it could be repaired or how. Sad world we live in nowadays.

Servicing a bicycle is not really something, bar, as said, anything to do with bearings, that one really has to consult a physical expert for in a shop or such. If you really are stuck with something there is nowadays always the Internet and YouTube and there are also some good and cheap little manuals to be had on bicycle maintenance and servicing.

The main part of maintenance and servicing of a standard bicycle is keeping it more or less clean (says he whose bike is currently encrusted in mud which, I know, is not a good thing) and chain, and other moving parts, well lubricated by means of oil. While WD40 or 3-in-1 is fine as a very quick and temporary fix and for easing things if should never be used as a long term measure as it is not a proper lubricant.

If you want to look after your bicycle(s) yourself well a good toolkit should be obtained. The few little spanners (wrenches for our American cousins) that sometimes come with a bike or that you can cheaply obtain to be put on a bike are not what I am talking about but a kit that has all the right tools for every possible type of Bicycle and job in hand, including a chain tool. The latter you will want and need in order to repair, or shorten a chain.

While it is true that you should give your bicycle, whether you use it daily or just occasionally, a once over at least once a year. You could call it a service if you like.

The most important thing to check for – and probably replace too – is your brake pads. In fact you should check those frequently because depending on the quality of them and on how and how often you apply the brakes they do wear and some quite quickly.

The next thing is your chain and its tension – if you do not have a bike with a chain tensioner as with the derailleur system such as Shimano, that is. It should not be too tight but also not too lose. Theoretically a tensioner keeps the chain at the correct tension anyway so you don't have to worry about that in that case.

Two items, or three actually, you have to have on your bicycle to make it road safe (and that by law) and that is lights (front and back) and a bell. Check that those are in good order during your “service” too.

If you have never considered servicing your own bicycle there are some small and larger good books available and today you can find a lot of how to videos on YouTube, often even on the channels from bicycle manufacturers and stores.

In the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic and people trying to avoid public transport the bicycle is seeing a renaissance and many people have begun to dust off their bikes and headed for the bike shops – the few that are open – to get their bicycles serviced. However, with the time on had for some if not indeed many in all honesty money can be saved and the bicycle still being safe with doing the “restoration” and servicing oneself.

© 2020

First Brazilian supermarket where customers can exchange recyclable waste for food open

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

In the Brazilian state of Acre the first supermarket opened its doors where it is possible for customers to exchange recyclables for food.

This establishment, called TrocTroc, offers customers the possibility to exchange recyclables such as PET bottles, aluminum cans and plastic bottle seals for any product sold in the market.

Each kilo of recyclable material is worth R $ 0.50 in purchases. If the customer brings the waste already cleaned and crushed, facilitating its recycling, the bonus amount has an increase of 20%.

On the shelves are articles such as fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables – all produced locally, in order to enhance the region's rural producers.

In fact, it is not just them who are being empowered by the initiative. The TrocTroc was created by Marcelo Valado, president of the House of Indians Foundation – an international entity that fights for the respect and preservation of the indigenous culture and that, not by chance, left the supermarket in the care of members of the Ashaninka tribe, in order to foster local economy and enhance their customs of exchange.

Brazil, like many other countries around the world, has many vulnerable people, such as the homeless, and they could be helped if this kind of supermarket would catch on.

Many of the homeless, and other poor people, in Brazil and other countries get a little money from collection recyclables but are often dependent on the honesty, or lack of it, of middleman buyers. This kind of project could help on many levels.

© 2020

Beyond COVID-19, human rights can help save the planet

Council of Europe statement ahead of World Environment Day (June 5)

Strasbourg, 04.06.2020 – The Secretary General of the 47-nation Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers and Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, and the President of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, Rik Daems, have issued the following statement ahead of World Environment Day on June 5:

“Alongside the huge challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic, it is clear that climate change and damage to our natural environment pose an immense threat to our well-being.

“The European Convention on Human Rights, which turns 70 this year, helps to protect our lives, our families and our homes against environmental threats – and in all other circumstances.

“The European Court of Human Rights has already ruled in some 300 cases linked to the environment, covering issues ranging from dangerous industrial activities to waste management and pollution.

“Among other things, the Court’s case-law has helped to guarantee people’s right to pass on and receive information about environmental issues, to join forces with others, to take part in decisions which affect them and to challenge official decisions in court.

“We have also seen how the Convention can be used at national level to press governments to take faster and more drastic steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Moreover, the European Social Charter has been interpreted as covering the right to a healthy environment, leading to several important decisions and conclusions from the European Committee of Social Rights prompting state action on environmental issues.

“As countries across Europe emerge from lockdown and look to the future, we must make full use of the tools we have – including human rights – to help build and maintain a healthy environment for generations to come.

“We should also consider how to further sharpen those tools to make them as effective as possible.

“We therefore fully support the declaration adopted last month by the previous, present and future Chairs of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers calling on the organisation to start working towards a new legal text on human rights and the environment.

“Furthermore, we eagerly look forward to the High Level International Conference on ‘Human Rights for the Planet’, to be held at the European Court of Human Rights on 5 October, and the discussions on democracy’s contribution to saving the environment which are scheduled to take place at this year’s World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg from 16 to 18 November.

“We are convinced that respecting human rights and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand. We should make full use of, and further strengthen, the powerful tools that we have to help build a better future for us all.”

Source: Council of Europe Press Office

ARS long-reach pruner – Product review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The ARS-160-0.6 long-reach pruner is a cut and hold snipper, ideally suited for pruning of roses, for instance, but also for other tasks, including harvesting certain crops. It has a length, that is to say a reach of 60cm, to which you can add the reach of your extended arm, and a weight of 360grams.

Price, incl. tax: £57.89

Unlike other pruners where the cut twig or branch will drop to the ground, or lodge in the tree or shrub, here the cut piece is firmly held in the grips and thus can, and needs to, be lowered.
While this makes pruning somewhat slower it is more precise and does not leave debris handing in the plant or laying about on the ground.

An acquaintance of mine, a very avid gardener and manager for a volunteer team in a local park, who has purchased one of these upon my recommendation, is absolutely thrilled with this tool. What can one say more except that I, too, love this tool.

© 2020