London gardens turn greyer

Londoners are paving over a quarter more of their gardens than a decade ago, according to a survey of changing land use in the capital.

The report, “London: Garden City?”, blamed recent trends in garden design for the sharp increase in the amount of hard surfaces such as paving or decking over the ten years to 2008.

Researchers from the London Wildlife Trust, in partnership with the Greater London Authority and Greenspace Information for Greater London, used aerial photographs to record the amounts of different types of ground cover in London, from plants to hard surfaces. It's the first study of its kind, and it's hoped it will generate a baseline to track future trends.

They found that London's gardens cover 37,900 hectares (146 square miles) – nearly a quarter of all the capital's land area, and including about 3.8 million individual gardens. But the amount of that land devoted to vegetation fell by 12% to 22,000 ha (85 sq m) in the decade to 2008, leaving just over half London's garden area given over to growing plants. Meanwhile the amount of hard landscaping increased by 26%, or 2,600 ha (10 sq m).

Building development remains a threat, and the report found 500 gardens were completely or partially lost each year in the capital. However it said the loss of green space due to development is relatively small in comparison to that caused by trends in garden design and management.

'It's never been more important that Londoners understand the value of our capital's gardens,' said Mathew Frith of the London Wildlife Trust. 'A well-managed network of the city's 3.8 million gardens supports essential wildlife habitat and offer important environmental benefits in response to climate change, including sustainable urban drainage.'

The report found that changes in planning regulations to slow down the paving over of front gardens in 2008, partly as a result of an RHS campaign, had helped, but said loss of permeability as a consequence of hard surfacing may have become an issue for back gardens too.

Source: RHS

New HQs for the EU in Brussels and Luxembourg

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

At the same time when the European Union and the Commission are telling everyone to make deep cuts in government spending, etc., they are going to spend £ 850 million on a new HQ in Luxembourg.

In addition to that on the very time they were holding an “austerity” summit in Brussels recently EU chiefs were also drooling over the plans for a new luxury £280million HQ in Brussels.

So, we are talking about two buildings that will cost, together well over one thousand million pounds Sterling, which equals the best bar of two thousand million Euro. Sorry, but are they mad?

Countries are forced to instigate austerity measures while, at the same time, the European Union bodies want new headquarter buildings in both Brussels and Luxembourg, to which all member states will be forced to contribute. I just hope that David Cameron will have the mental and political strength to say no to any request for money for that folly.

The European Union and its controlling bodies, the Council of Europe and the European Commission, are eating funds by the ton and no one seems prepared to put a stop to that. At the same time it is them that tell the countries of the EU to tighten their belts and to instigate austerity measures. The only one who do no reign in their spending are those EU bodies; they carry on regardless. This must be stopped.

© 2011

UK opposes EU ban on Tar Sands fuel

Why? Vested interests, of course.

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The EU wants to pass a law to keep the dirtiest transport fuel out of Europe, but shockingly the UK is blocking it.

EU law makers – not that anyone really elected them – are introducing – and this is a good move – an important bill which would impose strict pollution standards on car and lorry fuels and would effectively ban tar sands fuel, the world's most filthy and environmentally destructive transport oil. But shockingly,Britain and its government is opposing it.

The British government is bending under pressure from the oil industry and the Canadian government, who stand to make billions if they can get an ally to water down the law and remove the clause that bans tar sands. Neither of this is surprising for, while it was said about the US government that it was in bed with the oil industry, and under the two Bush presidents was the oil industry, the British government is very much undfer the thumb of the oil industry and other vested interest groups.

Who, after all, is involved in exploiting the Athabasca Tar Sands and in destroying the countryside... the likes of BP and other UK-based (and owned) oil and engineering companies. And as far as Canada is concerned, Britain still has a colonial commonwealth legacy there and will support its (former) dominion.

Tar sands fuel is nasty stuff. Oil companies destroy and degrade millions of acres of pristine Canadian forest and displace indigenous communities just to reach the unrefined bitumen. Refining it spreads cancerous heavy metals and sulphur through the air and leaves a barren, toxic landscape. The US Environmental Protection Agency says refining tar sands causes at least 82% more carbon pollution than refining conventional oil. But for Canada and the oil companies, the returns are lucrative – oil giants recently announced a $379 billion investment in them.

The EU wants to help stop this catastrophe, but the UK is standing in the way. The EU’s proposed Fuel Quality Directive would set a binding 6% climate pollution reduction target for Europe’s transport fuels by 2020. We need to make sure that our government - which likes to parade green credentials - doesn’t cave to tar sands oil interests.

Our political leaders should be securing a cleaner energy future for us and our children, not caving in to polluters that bring oil spills and climate change.

Diesel is a highly polluting fuel as it is, with its nano-particles which are responsible, according to studies, for much of the cases of asthma in adults and children that is sweeping the UK (and other countries) like an epidemic and the fuel derived from the tar sands will be worse even.

In a world with a safe and stable climate, using energy will not come at the expense of our natural environment. Canada’s tar sands are an out-dated approach to energy, where profit outweighs pollution. We have a chance to make a change now. We must make it clear to our leaders that we, as the people, will not stand for this and that we will not stand for profit before people attitudes.

UK undermining EU tar sands ban
Pollution fears as UK blocks European ban on fuel from tar sands
Why Europe could decide the fate of Canada’s tar sands
Canada tries to hide tar sands carbon emissions
US Environmental Protection Agency review of tar sands impact$file/20100126.PDF?OpenElement (pdf)

© 2011

Pest Predicament

The late summer can be a time when certain insects become more pests of humans than of plants! This can happen at the time we are using our gardens most for socialising and outdoor living. Harrod Horticultural provides you with safe and natural solutions for keeping these nuisance pests under control.


Ants are not really pests of plants but can ruin the garden environment if present in high numbers. Their nests or ant mounds in lawns make lawn mowing difficult and make an unpleasant area for children, especially if they are in bare feet. Ants will also choose patio areas as nest sites and can appear in high numbers under and on them. There are several safe ways of treating ants without the use of persistent and long lasting poisons. For lawn areas; try using nematodes against ants. These tiny microscopic worms can be used safely on lawns without damaging the grass or harming anyone using the lawn. Simply water the Ant nematodes (GPC-010 medium treats 16 colonies £9.75) directly into ant mounds or nests. The nematodes drive the ants out of the nests.

If ants are a nuisance on a patio or are coming into the house, try Agrothrin Ant dust (GPC-113 2 x 100g puffer packs £9.95/GPC-114 1 kg Agrothrin £14.95). This natural insecticide powder, derived from chrysanthemum leaves, can be placed under patios or can be blown through the edges of slabs with a special puffer pack. It can also be applied under fridges and stoves to prevent ants and other crawling insects building up in these places.

Lawn pests

Chafer grubs and Leatherjackets can reap terrible damage on lawns, not only with their feeding on grass roots, which turns lawns yellow but also the secondary damage they attract in the forms of animals and birds! Badgers, foxes and birds will all rip up lawns looking for these tasty grubs. Applying chemicals to lawns is not desirable at this time of year and there are not many to choose from, so the use of nematodes can come to the rescue again! Chafer grubs are the larvae of Chafer beetles, often known as May beetles. A new generation of chafer grubs will generally appear in lawns from early August, if left un-treated they will feed on grass roots until the winter comes and then start again the following spring. The grubs are white-grey in colour, as opposed to leatherjacket larvae, which are brown-grey in colour. Chafer grub killing nematodes (GPC-290 treats up to 100 sq m of lawn £29.95) should be applied before October. The nematodes are watered into the lawn and kill the grubs feeding on the roots.

Leatherjackets are the larvae of crane flies or Daddy-long-legs. The adults emerge from the lawn in great numbers from late August-early September and quickly lay new eggs in the lawn, which develop into new leatherjackets. This is the best time to treat them with Leatherjacket killing nematodes (GPC-285 treats up to 100 sqm £16.95/GPC-287- 500 treats up to 500sqm £74.95)). Apply from early September until the end of October.

Source: Harrod Horticultural

Why the Cola Wars on the Better Plant-Based Bottle are Going Nowhere

Sprouting seeds by Kings Seeds & Suffolk Herbs

June 2011: Kings Seeds would like to make the following known, in light of the current health scare about E-coli in now two places in Europe:

All sprouting seeds supplied by Kings Seeds and Suffolk Herbs, whether for the amateur or professional use, are sourced from food grade sprouting seed suppliers. Therefore they are of high quality and suitable for all uses.

Thank you!

Source: Kings Seeds and Suffolk Herbs

Tapping into plants is the key to combat climate change, says scientist

Photosynthesis mechanics is the answer to solar energy

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Understanding the way plants use and store light to produce energy could be the key ingredient in the fight against climate change, a scientist at Queen Mary, University of London says.

Professor Alexander Ruban from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences has been studying the mechanisms behind photosynthesis, a process where plants use sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce food and release oxygen, for 30 years.

In a recent article published in Energy and Environmental Science, he analyses the complex mechanism by which higher plants absorb and store sunlight, the antenna of photosystem II. Higher plants, otherwise known as vascular plants, transport water and other minerals through the roots, stems and leaves. They make up most of the plants on earth today.

"The photosynthetic antenna absorbs the sunlight used in the process of photosynthesis. It is an incredibly efficient mechanism, enabling not only the absorption and storage of sunlight, but also acting as a protective shield to ensure the plant absorbs just the right amount needed," he explains.

"If we can somehow harness the capabilities of this magnificent mechanism and adapt these findings for the benefit of solar energy, our fight against climate change could become a whole lot easier."

Professor Ruban, along with colleagues Dr Matthew Johnson and Dr Christopher, took a closer look at the mechanics behind the scenes which enable plants to absorb sunlight.

"Plants have a remarkable ability to adapt to environmental changes around them. The antenna structure in vascular plants are able to act as a regulator – they are extremely intelligent," Professor Ruban said.

"The carotinoids, which are a group of pigments within the antenna structure, enable the antenna to regulate its absorption and shield capabilities. If we can channel this regulation and intelligence into the production of solar energy, then the future of the earth could be a whole lot brighter."

When the professor talks about photosynthetic antenna the uninitiated should read here, predominately, the word “leaf” or “leaves”, in plural, for it is the leaves, the green parts of a plant (or at times other colors but still the leaves) that do the photosynthesis, converting sunlight and CO2 into food, into energy, for the plant to grow.

It would be very nice indeed if we could replicate that natural process technologically but, to be perfectly honest, and I speak here only as a forester, I cannot see that happening. So we may be stuck with the photo-voltaic cells for many, many decades to come.

It is true, however, that plants can teach us a great deal and we would do well to take a much closer look at them, especially here trees. But then again, that is the forester talking; as regards the trees, I mean.

There is more in Nature that modern man like to admit for he thinks that he is the master of the universe and has the keys to the kingdom but, alas, this is, actually, not so. Man, whether modern or not, is but a part of the whole, and small part of the whole at that.

'Natural light harvesting: principles and environmental trends' is published in Energy and Environmental Science. DOI: 10.1039/c0ee00578a

© 2011

Bottled water: A natural resource that is taxing the world's ecosystem

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bottled water consumption, which has more than doubled globally in the last number of years, is a natural resource that is putting a heavy tax the world's ecosystem.

Even in areas where tap water is safe to drink, demand for bottled water is steadily increasing, producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy, and, as we will see in an upcoming article, the use of plant-based PET bottles is not better either.

The biggest problem is, however, as I have said many a times before, and that is the fact that it is not just the bottles that we must concern ourselves with when it comes to bottled water. The abstraction of water itself is what is causing real grief to the Planet.

Although in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can end up costing 10,000 times more. That is as much as 2.50 dollars per liter (10 dollars per gallon), bottled water costs nearly as much if not even more than does gasoline, and this does not compute.

The United States is the largest consumer of bottled water, with Americans drinking 26 billion liters in 2004, or about one eight-ounce (25 cl) glass per person every day. Mexico was the second largest consumer at 18 billion liters followed by China and Brazil at 12 billion liters each.

While, in a way, I can understand that Mexico uses lots of bottled water as, if it is anywhere there like in Spain and Portugal then the tap water may not be great. As far as the USA, and the same is true for much of Europe, such as Britain, Netherlands, Germany, etc., are concerned it is hard to understand how people have managed to fall for the bottled water scam buy the industry.

In terms of consumption per person, Italians came first at nearly 184 liters, or more than two glasses a day, followed by Mexico and the United Arab Emirates with 169 and 164 liters per person respectively. Belgium and France follow close behind and Spain ranks sixth. And it is with the European countries, as I said above, that I do have problems with though, yet again, Italy and Spain, and Malta – they don't have fresh water there, being the exception, as the tap water in some places in the Mediterranean are can be suspect.

The demand for bottled water has soared in developing countries between 1999 and 2004 with consumption tripling in India and more than doubling in China during that period. This has translated into massive costs in packaging the water, usually in plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is derived from crude oil, and then transporting it by boat, train or on land.

Making bottles to meet alone al the Americans' demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 US cars for a year. Worldwide, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year.

Once the water is consumed, disposing the plastic bottles poses an environmental risk, 86 percent of plastic water bottles in the United States end up as garbage and those buried can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. In addition, some 40 percent of the PET bottles deposited for recycling in the United States in 2004 ended up being shipped to China for reprocessing, adding another load of environmental impact to the batch. There are other ways of dealing with this material by now and even oil can be made out of those bottles again but...

The rapid growth in the bottled water industry has also, ironically, led to water shortages in some areas, including India where bottling of Dasani water and other drinks by the Coca-Cola company has caused shortages in more than 50 villages.

It said that while consumers tend to link bottled water with healthy living, tap water can be just as healthy and is subject to more stringent regulations than bottled water in many regions, including Europe and the United States.

In fact, roughly 40 percent of bottled water begins as tap water, and often the only difference is added minerals that have no marked health benefits. So, don't be deceived, opt for tap, in a reusable bottle.

© 2011

Austin company aims to become first package-free, zero-waste grocery store in nation

Austin company plans to open package-free, zero-waste grocery store before year’s end.

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

ingredients_small_logo1 Austin, TX, June 2011: The Brothers Lane team announced its intention to open the first package-free, zero-waste grocery store in the U.S. this week. The store, named

in.gredients, will allow customers to bring their own reusable containers to fill with local and organic groceries ranging from dry bulk and dairy to wine and household cleaners.

Touting itself as the “next step” in fixing a variety of problems in today’s food industry, in.gredients promises to be an alternative to supermarket-style shopping, featuring local, organic food products, offering cooking classes and gardening activities on-site, and hosting a variety of community-oriented events geared toward promoting healthy living.

“Truth be told, what’s normal in the grocery business isn’t healthy for consumers or the environment,” in.gredients co-founder Christian Lane said. “In addition to the unhealthiness associated with common food processing, nearly all the food we buy in the grocery store is packaged, leaving us no choice but to continue buying packaged food that’s not always reusable or recyclable.

Our goal is to reduce waste and promote health by ditching packaged and overly processed food altogether – revolutionizing grocery shopping as we know it.”

The new store challenges typical supermarket behavior, claiming impulse buys, out-of- season produce, and a lack of concern for waste contribute to unhealthy eating and spending habits amongst consumers. in.gredients’ business model will counter these trends by encouraging portion control, seasonal eating, and the reduction of energy used to transport food from farms to customers.

“We care about the health of our customers and our local food economy,” Lane said.

“We’re prioritizing ‘reduce, reuse, then recycle’ and maximizing farmer revenue. We want this to be a fun and insightful experience for everyone, and hope this can springboard new ideas about how we can make grocery shopping even more sustainable.”

in.gredients is actively seeking investors and hopes to raise the funds it needs to begin

operations through its crowd-sourced campaign on

in.gredients is being started by Brothers Lane, LLC – a small Austin-based company owned by the Lane brothers (Christian, Patrick, and Joseph) and brother-in-spirit Christopher Pepe. The brothers have started and managed successful businesses ranging from software to sustainability.

Seasonal produce, grains, spices, baking ingredients, oils, coffees/teas, meats, dairy, beer, wine, and household cleaners. All products will be organic, all-natural, and sourced from local vendors when possible.

The Brothers Lane are very much creative and innovative guys with a passion for making things better and have disciplines rooted in process and technology (Praecipio Consulting) and the creative arts (Patrick Lane Photography).

Their interest in food and sustainability and drive to make things better is the force behind in.gredients and they actually do have retail and grocery store experience and bring all of their collective knowledge, experience and passion to build a real game-changing business.

The in.gredients model, however, used to be the way all shops operated not all that long ago – about 40 to 50 years ago e still had them and before that they were the way things were done. London has not just the one that so often gets mentioned but there is another store at Borough Market, the name011011 of which I do not have, that even gives people discount if they bring their own containers.

This is very much like the time when we still brought glass bottles back to be cleaned and reused – against the return of the deposit – and making pocket money in the process. That time also may be coming back and therefore why not stores that sell things loose and by the yard, etc.

Yes, shops like that are more labor intensive and need more staff as gods need to be weighed and measured but it is a way that we need to be getting back to if we want to reduce (packaging) waste in stores and at home.

All those prepackaged goods consumer vast amount of materials of one kind or the other that then has to be dealt with in the waste stream and if that waste can be don e away with it will be a total win-win situation.

© 2011

Sankey Slimline Water Butt – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

1042-main_1 With a drought always, if would seem, nowadays, even in England, which was known as a land full of rainy skies and gales always, not far off, harvesting rainwater as and when it is in season, so to speak, is more important than ever.

Rainwater harvesting is also becoming a requirement in the building of new houses but that is then used for graywater systems and that is not what we are talking about here.

The rainwater butt has been a mainstay of gardens, especially allotments, for ever and a day and in those early days it was simply a barrel and may people still, to this day, improvise by using waste containers, such plastic 55 gallon drums, for example. There is nothing wrong with that; it works.

However, if you want something in which to collect your rainwater for your garden that looks a bit more snazzy then you won't go wrong taking a look at the range of rainwater butts from Sankey. They have a large range from slimline ones to those that look like terracotta pots. So, if you want a rainwater harvesting system that will look not like a water butt then Sankey has the answer in the same way for those that are not too concerned as to whether the butt is seen as what it is, namely a rainwater collecting barrel, though a barrel neither of those butts is, really.

The instructions are very precise and anyone should be able to follow them and successfully connect the butt to the downpipe.

The installation is easy and does not take long unless, like myself, you happen to have a downpipe that is several decades old and where the adjustment screws for the fittings have decided that they will not budge. Then, unfortunately, it can take about and hour to connect it up; it did for me.

The initial preparation, that is to say drilling out the hole for the connection pipe and such is very simple and straightforward, aided greatly by the guiding indent in the areas where the pipe is to be fitted. Only found that a 26mm drill bit, if it could have been had, would have worked better than the recommended 25mm one. Had to forcefully screw the connector piece into the butt itself.

Once the problem with cutting the pipe – due to the condition of this older downpipe – was achieved the rest was quite simple and the water butt is now also filling up slowly as we have had some downpours meantime. After all it is Wimbledon tennis and what would Wimbledon be like without rain in the London area and better still on SW17?

Check out Sankey's rainwater butts before anything if you consider buying a rainwater barrel of any kind.

© 2011

Gardening for youngsters

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Here is a summer season task that can keep children occupied the entire summer and should keep them out of mischief in the summer holidays.

Encourage and teach your children to grow their personal garden. It is fun and they’ll be able to learn a great deal dealing with growing vegetables from raising them for seeds to harvesting their own vegetables.

Children who grow their own greens also seem to be much more ready to eat their vegetables than do other children who are removed from the soil and the reality of food.

This job would require a few pre-planning and possibly will have to be began well ahead of time before school break up for the summer recess.

One of the simplest ways to begin a garden for children is to germinate the seeds indoors, teaching them how to sow them in plug trays and looking after them during their initial growing period.

After you have together decided what vegetables to grow the crops get started off indoors so they have got a better chance later they are moved to the outdoors.

Beans, radishes, and carrots are all simple vegetables to grow. Strawberries are a popular alternative to greens and are also thought to be an easy plant to take care of.

Have the children make and use homemade row markers for their vegetable garden by using wooden Popsicle (ice lolly) sticks of the flat board kind.

You could use pictures of the veggies, taken from the Internet and printed from PC and then laminated and glued on, or using just written names using waterproof labels. A good label maker such as the Brother P-touch GL200 (designed specifically for gardeners though obviously multipurpose) makes great labels for such sticks.

Give the child their own plot, whether it is an actually part of the vegetable garden that you may, hopefully, already keep, or a small (or even not so small) raised bed or a section with planters and make it the child’s duty to look after this on their own with you just there for advice. At such a plot the child or children will also be responsible for their very own weeding and watering.

This is any other excellent job that fosters independence and can supply the kids a sense of achievement come then end of the summer and fall – eating greens that they grew themselves in their own backyard, and I am sure that they will want to eat those greens and other vegetables.

Gardening can also be a great subject for homeschooling and the kids can also be encouraged to create their own “cottage and kitchen garden” proper where veg, herbs and flowers grow together.

© 2011

Gypsies to be pressed into forced slave labor gangs

Gypsies (and those receiving welfare) are to be pressed into forced labor gangs, supervised by police and militias

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Hungary, June 2011: According to information on the wires Gypsies are to be pressed into forced labor gangs in Hungary in the very near future. Those gangs will be supervised by police and militias and are “to ensure that Gypsies (and welfare recipients) do some work for their money.”

This is not very far removed from the way that the Nazis talked in the 1930s when Gypsies were rounded up and sent to labor camps.

In the next three years, the government of Hungary says, it will create employment for 100,000 Romani Gypsies in the country, the majority of which are welfare recipients, at least those that live in the countryside. They are to work in “charitable” and “community-based” projects in return for the payments that they receive.

The payment of any further welfare monies will be made dependent on people working in jobs in infrastructure-important building projects, as well as in agriculture and forestry.

Apparently those workers, who will be to 95% be Gypsy, who will be forced to partake in this so-called “charitable” labor program, will also be lent out to business against a fee, which the government will collect. It would appear that Gypsy slavery is back and by government decree.

Hungary claims, at the close of its EU presidency, that the program of integration of Romani People in Hungary has gone well during this period. How and where I would like to ask for all that happened was that the Orban government allowed the likes of Jobbik and others to intimidate Romani Gypsies in their villages with the police standing idly by. If that is Romani integration then I do not want to see anywhere where that is not being done.

It is quite difficult to believe that the government of Hungary could introduce something that so closely resembles forced labor camps or forced labor battalions of Jews and other undesirables in World War II.

However, at a press conference it was announced that “we don’t want to keep the workers under surveillance. …We are talking about instruction, direction, organization. Placing 300,000 people into work projects is a complicated affair that needs exactly the skills policemen have.” So, this is all true.

Police officers, obviously, according to Hungarian government understanding, well placed to instruct and direct those workers in the tasks that they are going to be assigned to. I find that hard to believe that they are capable of anything by way of instruction and direction but are indeed well placed to keep the workers “in line”, making sure that they do not run away.

What, we must ask, will happen if anyone does run? Will he (or she) be shot? It certainly would not surprise me if that would going to be the case.

Remember, everyone, that Hungary, the country who is intending such actions is, in fact, a European Union member state and it would appear that the EU will do nothing at all here. Thus I am starting very much to believe that the rumors we keep hearing as to talks between EU and Russia as to relocating (all) Gypsies in Central Europe to the Russian steppes are true.

© 2011

New strain of E-coli a biological weapon?

Is the new, extremely virulent, strain of E-coli making the rounds in Europe a biological weapon?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

June 2011: While this question of mine may sound like conspiracy theory but with the first outbreak in Hamburg, Germany and the one at the last weekend of June 2011 in Bordeaux, France, being that far distance from each other and probably with different farms involved can make one but think.

This question has been raised in some forums not long after the Hamburg issue and linking it to the fact that Al-Qaida has vowed to avenge the death of Osama Bin Laden and the events are not that far apart.

The question would be though why attacking Germany, and now France, rather than the likes of the USA and the UK, who are somewhat more the leading lights in the fight against Al-Qaida.

While I have no answer here and am just putting up a few questions and some food for thought it is strange, in my opinion, that this same strain, it would appear, of E-coli, can strike in ares that have no link.

I guess we have to wait and see as to whether a believable answer is forthcomin g from the powers-that-be.

© 2011

Forests at your service

By Michael Smith (Veshengro), RFA, EcoFor

Recently the UK’s forests have come under attack from our Government, so says the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) in a press statement and continues that it hopes that politicians will pay attention to both the UN International Year of Forests and World Environment Day’s theme of Forests: Nature at Your Service, and recognize the value that forests provide when trees are kept alive.

The truth is, however, that, while the British government was intending to sell off some of the Forestry Commission lands there was no threat ever, in all truth and reality, to the British forests. The private forest companies in Britain are often do a much better job in managing the forests and woodlands that they own, and that in probably more than three-quarters of all cases.

The Forestry Commission also was never created to look after our forests, to begin with, and still does not, theoretically, have that brief. Its job was to produce timber – more than the private owners were willing to produce – for the nation, for the war effort. Thus we must see it all in perspective.

In other countries there is a much better system in place and the government forestry services in places such as Germany, France, Poland, etc. have a different brief and while it is also the production of timber on behalf of the nation the forest services are also the custodian of the nations' forests, all the forests, including the privately owned ones in many countries and cases.

Forests cover one third of the earth’s land mass, with 1.6 billion people depending on them for their livelihoods. They play a key role in our battle against climate change; are essential to supplying the water for nearly 50 percent of our largest cities; create and maintain soil fertility; and are home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects.

However, deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which forests would absorb if carefully managed. Legal deforestation takes place because countries can earn money and create jobs by selling trees and clearing land for agriculture. These are legitimate objectives for governments to pursue, but forests store vast quantities of carbon dioxide which is released back into the atmosphere when they are destroyed. Under the Kyoto Protocol it is more valuable to cut forests down than to leave them standing. The CIWEM believes that correcting this market failure will require recognising that protecting forests is not only an environmental concern but an economic issue that cuts to the core of a nation's development.

An investment of US$30 billion fighting deforestation and degradation could provide a return of US$2.5 trillion in new products and services. Furthermore, targeted investments in forestry could generate up to 10 million new jobs around the world. This vast monetary value demonstrates why conserving and enhancing our natural capital should be prioritized as quickly and robustly as other cost-saving measures that governments around the world are currently implementing.

Justin Taberham, Director of Policy at the the CIWEM, says: “Scientists have warned that without measures to keep forests intact, we stand no chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. A failure to act on deforestation could double the cost of avoiding dangerous climate change to 2030; failure to halt deforestation will lead to greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere exceeding safe levels, even if industrial emissions are reduced to zero. Forests need to become a universal political priority.”

Deforestation should not, and that is my view, be pursued at all for we need more forests than ever before in order to combat the green house gases that cause climate change.

Often the fact that from the industrial revolution onwards the CO2 level in the atmosphere has been rising and rising is being quoted. No one, it would appear, however, seems to be prepared to link that with the very fact that during the industrial revolution and ever since we have been causing wholesale destruction to the world's forests, in many cases clear felling them in order to establish town, cities and factories.

It is, therefore, no wonder that CO2 has been increasing and increasing ever since that time for it was the forests (and other trees) that kept the carbon level – pardon the pun – level.

Aside from destroying forests the world over in our pursuit for gain and resources we have also, and this especially ever since the Second World War, been concreting and tarmacking over the countryside and even our suburban gardens. We have destroyed the avenues of trees that lined virtually each and every (country) road in Britain and other European countries, often providing fruit for the local population in that the local residents had the right to those apples, pears, plums, cherries, etc.

Those very trees, and other plants, that were destroyed also, obviously, we sequestering carbon from the air and storing it in their trunks and branches and often they would store this for hundreds of years for after they died they would be made into furniture which would become heirlooms.

We need more trees and not just in forests, although we also need more forests, as we simply will need more wood, for a variety of needs and uses, including firewood and biomass once the oil has come to an end.

What, obviously, always is a great shame, is when an organization such as the CIWEM put out statements such as this press one of which I have included some of the material.

As far as I, as a professional and commercial forester, could see there was never a threat of destruction of the Forestry Commission lands that were under consideration to be sold to private forestry companies, such as Fountain Forestry, Tilhill, etc. None of them would have gone about felling the trees and then walking away. Those companies own large tracts of British forests already and manage them very well indeed, often better as does the FC.

No woodland or forest owner in his right mind will ever clear fell and then walk away from it. Woodlands and forests are managed to make a profit for the owner, present and future, for we must not forget that trees are a crop that we plant and, in the main, our grandchildren may harvest. But trees are a crop in the same way as wheat or potatoes are a crop.

Woods and forests that are not managed properly, unless they happen to be forests never touched by human hand, also also of no benefit to anyone. They need man in order to keep them going, and this is especially true for woods and forests that have been managed before and most particularly for the likes of coppice woodlands.

© 2011

Italian people say “no more nukes”

Berlusconi's plans tor return country to nuclear power crushed

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

no_nuke_webThe anti-nuclear movement won a crushing victory in Italy on Monday when well over 90% of voters rejected Silvio Berlusconi's plans for a return to nuclear power generation and if Britain but had a real democracy where referendawill be held, like in Italy and Switzerland, here the response would be the same or at least similar.

The result represented an overwhelming setback for the Prime Minister Berlusconi, who had tried to thwart the outcome by discouraging Italians from taking part. The referendum needed a turnout of at least 50% to be binding. Interior ministry figures projections indicated that more than 57% of the electorate had taken part. Greenpeace called it a historic result. Quorums were also reached in three other referendaheld simultaneously – the first time in 16 years that a quorum had been achieved in any referendum in Italy.

Official projections showed more than 95% of voters rejecting water privatisation and a law allowing Berlusconi and other ministers to cite government business as a reason for delaying trials in which they were defendants. The expected majority against nuclear power was 94%.

The Italian people have spoken out against three important things at the same time and two of them on a very important level, namely nuclear power and private water companies.

It would very much appear as if the Italians understand what to have in private hands and what not and utilities, and other essential services, do not fall into the category of private hands, and this is a good choice.

Britain has gone the wrong route ever since Thatcher when the utilities, as well as the public transport services, have been privatized.

While a monopoly is not always good neither is a cartel and many of the private companies seem to be operating as one for sure, be that in public transportation or in utilities or telecommunications.

Ever since our utilities and such have been privatized the costs for the services have gone through the roof and are – predominately – on the up and up with the services not necessarily getting better, such as the railways that have gotten worse in reliability than they were under British Rail.

We need the same kind of referendain Britain as the Italians were just allowed to vote on and I am sure that the government would be forced to make serious changes in a number of things. But, that is precisely why they will not allow such referenda.

© 2011

Not our problem that parents can't say no, says McDonald's

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

To be honest, the company may be right... it is not their fault if parents cannot say NO...

A Californian parent, according to certain sources, has filed a lawsuit against McDonald's, alleging that the company violates state laws by using toys to advertise Happy Meals directly to children. The plaintiff pointed out that her childrens' request for a Happy Meal increased when McDonald's offered Shrek themed toys in the meals.

“Children 8 years old and younger do not have the cognitive skills and the developmental maturity to understand the persuasive intent of marketing and advertising,” her lawyers wrote.

McDonald's believes the lawsuit should be thrown out because it isn't their fault that parents are unable to say no to their children. They say that their advertising has in no way misled the parent.

Advertising on TV obviously influences the kids and especially with McD's having toys that are always coming out in conjunction with major movie releases or such like. At times the toys can be educational, I do grant them that, but at other times they are a waste of resources, put simply.

Kids are constantly inundated with advertising, so it is better that you teach them about it, as well as teaching them about good nutrition. But the fact is, McDonald's is recognized around the world as a family restaurant, and children are a huge part of their market and so they advertise to them. If you don't want them to go, just say no. It's part of the job of being a parent.

That is putting aside the fact that the stuff is NOT food and calling the places restaurants is really pushing it. The burgers have no more nutrition, or at least so it would seem, than a damp piece of cardboard, and that is what they appear to be in the first place. The stuff, especially the fried, is also addictive due to the use of some ingredients such as and especially HFCS.

Time parents learned to say no to McDonald’s and that, maybe, just maybe, we all boycotted the outfit.

© 2011

Bonn climate talks end with zero agreement on important key areas

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Progress made on technical issues, so it is said by the governments, but non-government groups criticise slow and convoluted pace of negotiations

Two weeks of tense global climate talks, which were rather kept quiet in most of the media in Britain, wrapped up on June 17, 2011, with countries insisting they had made progress on technical issues but accepting they were still nowhere near agreement in the three key areas of finance, greenhouse gas emission cuts and the future of the Kyoto protocol.

Several countries have stated loud and clear, Canada amongst them, that they will not sign a Kyoto follow on agreement, and thus we seems to be at a worse state than we have been for a long time.

Non-governmental groups said they were deeply frustrated at the snail pace of negotiations and whole days lost while countries debated the agenda of the talks.

Bolivia, which was isolated at the end of the Cancún talks when it insisted on deeper emission cuts, said it was worried at the lack of ambition. "There have been some small advances in technical issues, but no advance at all in the key issue of pledges for emission reductions. If there are no new pledges [soon], we face a very difficult situation," said Pablo Solon, ambassador to the UN in New York.

"The developed countries are not moving. The problem we face is that we are on a path to [warming of] 4-5C. That is the reality. That worries us very much. The problem is the lack of ambition," he said

Quamrul Chowdhury, a negotiator with the G77 group of developing countries, said that the talks were like the end of a long cricket test match with both sides playing for a draw. "No-one wants to lose anything at this stage."

"Europe should use its power to secure a second commitment period of Kyoto, even if only as a stop-gap before the creation of an entirely new global deal," said Mohamed Adow, senior adviser on global advocacy for Christian Aid.

But we can very well bet our bottom dollar that that is not going to happen and that simply because there are way too many powerful lobbying groups that do not want a proper agreement and who want their industries to continue with the BAU model without any regard for the future of this Planet, aided and abetted by our supposedly elected representatives. Time we changed the model, mehtinks.

© 2011

Couponing: a way to cut the grocery bill

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The headline to this article is as much a statement as a question and both are valid.

Couponing is a serious activity for some people and some really manage to spend very little on their groceries – in the USA at least – using only coupons.

I have even heard of some people where the stores, nigh on, pay them but then that is “extreme couponing”.

However, I am one of those who (1) most of the time forgets to take the coupons to the store in time, before they expire, and (2) I would suggest to use coupons only if you really generally would make use of the products “on offer”.

You can save a lot of money using coupons, especially in places where there are lots of offers on coupons – such as if you happen to live in the US. In Britain we don't get all that many offers and definitely – or I haven't seen them as yet – there are no couponing websites for British stores.

However, such savings only work if you would otherwise buy the particular products. Getting something just because you have got a money off coupon for it might not be a good idea, in general, if it is savings in the long run that you are after.

My biggest problem is, as said already, that I tend to end up with coupons I want to use and then never take them to the stores with me. Not a good move, I know. Maybe I need to get better organized and have a wallet where I put such coupons in so that I have got them on me.

So far we have, theoretically, looked at the statement concealed in the headline and now I want to look at the question as to whether couponing is a way to cut the grocery bill.

As mentioned above, in the United States of America at least, some people do manage to buy most of their stuff via coupons paying very little if anything for their weekly grocery shopping. That is all fine and good and if you can do it then that is a great bonus and there the statement holds true.

There are, however, also people that will use coupons to buy things that they otherwise would not just simply because they have a money off coupon.

If you can buy a store own brand, basics range or other generic product cheaper than the branded one even if you use the coupon for 70cents off or whatever then it is not a good idea to buy the branded item regardless of the coupon. Some people will do that, however.

Therefore, couponing is great when you really would buy those goods anyway but if you are going to buy them just because you have a money off coupon for this or that product that you would not normally buy then that is wasting money.

It is a little bit like the disclaimer on “slimming foods” that states: “Can help you to lose weight as part of a calorie controlled diet”. Coupons can save you money, lots of money, only if you choose wisely.

© 2011

Headed back toward the double dip?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The weak May jobs report figures are just the latest sign that the recovery has stalled and that the USA are headed for a serious double-dip recession. Is it time for Washington to intervene?

The May jobs report is a disaster – the weakest reading since September. Non-farm payrolls grew only 54,000 last month, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Private employment rose only 83,000 – the smallest growth since last June. Government payrolls dropped 29,000 and the overall jobless rate rose to 9.1 percent.

Together with plummeting housing prices, falling wages for non-supervisory workers, a paltry 1.8 percent growth in the first quarter, and a precipitous drop in consumer confidence, the picture should be clear to anyone able to see clearly.

The recovery has stalled and while the US are not in a double dip yet, but the odds are increasing.

But is it but the USA that are in such dire straights? I should think not. In Britain things are not better either, despite what the government is trying to tell us with massaged figures.

Heavy job losses in the public sector, pay freezes for at least the next two years, which, in fact, amount to serious drops in pay, with the public sector not taking on those that have lost jobs in the public sector, is just one of the signs.

Prices for everything are on the up, and that relentlessly so, and thus the real value of any pay packet is being reduced more and more almost daily. It is basic food stuff the prices of which are rising more than the costs of luxury items and thus the poor are proportio9nally worse affected and thus worse off.

Consumer confidence is at all all time low and people are not buying, causing the economy to shrink further.

On top of that the Euro zone is in serious trouble and it would appear that, unless the countries of that zone are going to bite the bullet and are prepared to keep bailing out the failing and defaulting nations, the Euro could unravel. This might not, to be very honest, be all that bad a thing and many Germans, for instance, would rather have the Deutsche Mark back today than in a year or never. I can't say that I blame them.

Britain did the best thing by staying out of the Euro and thus the Euro zone. It is just such a shame that we don't have the political will to hit the European Union on the head and leave that club of total madness.

Whatever our politicians may like to tell us, we are still not out of the woods yet, as far as the economy and the recession is concerned and we could go into yet another dip, and a very deep one at that. So let's keep our eyes open and our money with us.

© 2011

Poverty in Romani settlements to become a tourist attraction in Slovakia

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Speculation has been circulating for some time that tourism in Slovakia could be developed around organizing visits to Romani settlements.

Now Petr Duda, Mayor of Veµká Lomnice, a village in the Tatra mountains, is planning to turn local Romani settlements into a kind of tourist destination and attraction and his doing his best to push the plan through in the nearby settlement of Nový Dvùr, where 1,600 people are eking out a living in abject poverty in total substandard conditions, without clean water or sewerage.

“This would be an organized tour of the Romani settlements here in Veµká Lomnice,” Duda explained to the Czech Radio news server “The reason is to get people to realize what kinds of conditions Romani people live in here. On the other hand, it could motivate the Romani people to improve their living conditions on their own.”

In other words, they are doing this in order to shame the Romani residents in those areas who also may not have the means to improve their living conditions. Therefore, instead of helping them to help themselves the Romani People in those areas are now being turned into a circus attraction by idiotic politicians.

I guess that the mayor is trying to find a way of making money from the misery of the Romani residents in the area and the problem is that there will be enough idiotic tourists, especially from abroad, that would want to visit such Third World conditions in an EU member state in the same way that they would travel to places in the Third World for the very same reason.

The most important question that we must ask, I am sure, is what eh European Union and the European Commission are doing about this idea? Are they going to make any attempt to put a stop to such exploitation of the conditions of an entire people?

© 2011

No Planet B

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

We must save the Earth simply because there is only this Planet for us; there is no Planet B, no Planet to which we can all fly to on huge spaceships.

But it is not only Climate Change, as in the effect of the various greenhouse gases, etc., that we must combat. There is also all the other damage that we have done and are still doping to the Earth. All the pollution of air, water, soil, etc.

We must rectify all of this if we want to have a change of survival on this Home Planet of ours, the only Home Planet that we have got. It is our survival an d that of our children and children's children and of all the natural world depends on whether we are prepared to do anything about this.

The way things are going, however, it would appear that mankind, in general, governments, industry and people per se are not really interested in doing anything on this level.

Developed nations and the majority of business in those countries are intend on trading carbon credits and other carbon trading indulgences in order to be able to continue with the business-as-usual approach, initially on the back of the poor countries, but in reality on the back of the Earth and future generations.

They will destroy the very Planet upon which our lives and that of our children and our children's children depend for short term gain and profit regardless of the consequences.

We can see this in the pursuit of biofuels and other such “commodities” where they will rather be able to produce those than food and rather have billions starving in the end so that the cars and trucks can keep running. Somewhere along the line this business model stinks to high heaven.

There is no Planet B and the way we go the Earth may become uninhabitable in our very lifetime. We must pull in the reigns now and reverse the course. It must be done NOW and not tomorrow or a year or two down the road and this U-turn begins with each and every one of us.

© 2011

Climate gabfest ends without agreements

Developed countries not serious at UN climate talks, say Friends of the Earth

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Climate gabfest that has been held in Bonn, the former West German capital, and which was being kept rather very quiet in most countries ended without any real agreement whatsoever.

It was already becoming obvious from very early on that the likes of Canada – and others – were not prepared to create a Kyoto follow-on agreement and therefore it is hardly surprising that my predictions have come true. The predictions that this was, yet again, nothing but a nice little gabfest without any of the big players even as much as having the intention to create anything proper.

Many civil society organisations accused developed countries of not being serious about continuing with an international climate change regime and at a briefing hosted by Friends of the Earth International, several analysts provided insights into the first week of negotiations.

“The delay this week on agenda issues was very important in looking at the role of Cancun in climate negotiations. It was agreed at the time that Cancun was one train-stop; not the end of the line. But some rich countries aren't serious about negotiating climate change internationally and they're using procedural tricks to get their way.” Meena Raman, negotiations analyst from Friends of the Earth Malaysia said.

“In Bangkok it was an agenda prepared by an American that held up negotiations, here it's one prepared by an Australian – is that a coincidence? Taxpayers in developed countries must be outraged that their bureaucrats are coming here and playing tricks like this instead of negotiating in their national interest to stop climate change.” Ms Raman said.

The truth is that taxpayers in most countries, in Britain for sure, have been kept rather in the dark by government and media alike as to the fact that there even was yet another round of climate talks happening.

“Three countries, Japan, Russia and Canada, have announced they are not intending to fulfill their legal obligations for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. They have announced to the world that they are not serious about international climate change law and that their word does not count for much. Will anyone believe an international commitment from Japan, Russia or Canada again in the future?” Lim Li Lin, Kyoto Protocol expert at the Third World Network said.

“This is a serious matter and legal options should be explored to hold these countries accountable.” Ms Lim added.

“In Copenhagen in 2009 developed countries promised to provide US$30 billion to get a fast start on projects to protect communities in developing countries from climate impacts and to start reducing climate pollution. That money was meant to build trust and as as stop-gap until the institutions were ready to deliver the far greater sums necessary in the long-run, several hundreds of billions of dollars.” Janet Redman, Director of Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, The Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington D.C. based think-tank said.

“Recent reports show that developed countries have committed to only about half of that, and evidence is emerging that less than 20 percent of pledges are new or additional to existing promises for development finance - if they were serious about the threats to vulnerable communities and about these negotiations developed countries would have already disbursed new, additional and public money,” said Ms Redman.

“The one area where talks are progressing, on establishing a new finance mechanism known as the Green Climate Fund, there are still serious concerns about the World Bank as its trustee, given that the Bank has serious potential conflicts of interest due to its role in financing fossil-fuel based projects, and its practice of mixing roles as a banker, financial advisor and project implementer.” Kate Horner, senior analyst at Friends of the Earth U.S. said.

I am also sure that on another level where talks are progressing is on the exchange mechanism for the green indulgences, the carbon credits and such like, which will enable the developed countries to continue with the BAU model on the backs of the poor members of the world community.

We must do some real work and work on some real reductions; not play with indulgences which will defer our sins to some trees planted somewhere or such like. That is the same that was happening with the Catholic Church in the 16th century and the practice that Martin Luther stood up against. We must stand up against the green version of indulgences and demand that they be scrapped.

They will not benefit the Planet but only those that can make money from trading them in the same way as they trade stocks, shares and commodities, on the world banking market. This must not happen.

© 2011

Sowing and growing legumes

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Legumes_web Something interesting I have learned from someone the other day about legumes, that is to say beans and peas, in this instance, and the sowing and growing of same.

At the 2011 London Green Fair, which has evolved from the Camden Green Fair, I met Mark Ridsdill Smith of Vertical Veg and he gave me a few interesting pointers as to beans and peas.

Britain, while having many varieties of Runner Beans, Broad Beans and one or two other types, does not have many types of bean seeds for gardeners in the merchant catalogs. It appears as if they either have no knowledge of the others or do not wish to offer them as not to confuse the British growers.

In North America, and especially in the USA, there are literally hundreds of different types – we don't even want to speak of varieties – of beans to be had from seed merchants, both conventional and heirloom.

The answer that Mark gave me to this dilemma is to purchase bags of pulses, especially beans – special ones – from Health Food Shops. Those will have been, in the main, grown organically and thus make viable seeds.

Mark also confirmed something that a former colleague, Victor Evans, former gardener at Nonsuch Park, told me, namely to soak bean seeds and those of peas overnight or even 24 to 43 hours with several changes of water. This will have them start to sprout before you plant the seeds and you know that each and every seed you put in is a viable one.

I might even give this a try with beans, such as Butter Beans, bought from supermarkets, and also Pinto Beans. They are cheap enough to buy so that a few for a trial, if it goes wrong, are no loss.

On the other hand, when you buy beans and peas at a Health Food Shop they also do not cost all that much; in fact they are a great deal cheaper as packets of bean seeds. And, as this seems to be working, this is but a great win situation as one can get a pound of seeds for the price of a packet of seeds this way.

I can't wait to try this out...

© 2011

Is the EU about to ship all Gypsies in member states to Russia?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

According to reports that were being circulated in Spring 2011 by Russian news agencies the European Union is in discussion with the government of the Russian state to do just that.

According to, the possibility of an agreement by which Europe’s Roma will be dispatched to the Russian Federation and possibly Ukraine was going to be the subject of upcoming discussions between the EU and the Russian Federation, a step France and several East European countries support but the Germany reportedly opposes.

The first public mention of this, said, was a “Komsomolskaya Pravda” radio program on April 12 when Roman Grokholsky, a leader of the Roma community in the Russian Federation, said that in his view, “Russia for economic reasons could accept [Europe’s Roma]. It is an enormous land”

Apparently European governments have concluded that is “neither technically nor economically” feasible “to deport all the Roma to Romania or Bulgaria as was done in the past: the sizes of these countries do not allow that and local nationalists are protesting ever more loudly against” that idea.

So, it would appear if the Russian reports can be believed that “behind the scenes” discussions are taking place between the EU and the Russian Federation to relocate all European Roma (for that read Gypsies, in my book, probably including all Sinti and Kale as well) to Russia.

This smacks of the creation of a new Pale, as once existed for the Jews of Eastern Europe, in the steppes of Russian, the Ukraine and Poland and also of the once Gypsy enclave of Transnistria, the place where the SS had a field day rounding them all up, as well as in Bessarabia.

When I said years ago that I could see the writing on the wall as to the true aims of the EU's Gypsy policy I was being told that I was paranoid and that the EU and its aims were good for us, the Romani People. I am now beginning to think that I am about to be vindicated if the stories coming from Russian sources are to be believed.

When we have “leaders” such as Roman Grokholsky then we certainly do not need any enemies, that is for sure. How much money is he being paid to play right into the hands of the authorities with his statements?

Let us all be watchful and ready to fight this.

© 2011

Happy Birthday KeepCup

KeepCup has turned 2

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

birthday1 Motivated by the amount of disposable cups thrown away in their cafes everyday, brother and sister, Abigail Forsyth and Jamie Forsyth created the KeepCup to create a more sustainable environment.

The KeepCup is designed, tooled and made in Melbourne - Australia's coffee capital - and is the world's first barista standard re-usable take away coffee cup, and appear to remain the first and only one to this very day.

We now have, yes indeed, compostable one-way cups on the market from a variety of makers but they still are a waste and cause waste and need to be treated in the waste stream in a special way. They also release decay gases during their process of composting, whether in a facility or in a landfill and it is the latter ones that we are running out of, in Britain at least. Thus, KeepCup is the better solution.

Since it's launch in 2009 the KeepCup has been purchased by business and government to help deliver their sustainability policies, and individuals wanting to make their own personal difference (and enjoy a great coffee or tea while they're at it).

So if you love a coffee, you'll love the KeepCup. And you'll be helping out the environment at the same time.

The company’s mission is to reduce the enormous amounts of discarded take-away disposable coffee cups and replace them with an eco-friendly version that still allows for a delicious coffee and allows the barisata to simply fill the reusable cup without having to use something else into which to put the coffee first and the decant it into the customer's take away cup, as is often the case with other reusable cups and mugs.

In just those two years so far that they have been in existence Keep Cup estimates that 300 million disposables have been diverted from landfill by use of the reusable plastic cup that is KeepCup – well done to all you Keepers!

xs_range3Now a new size, the XS, has arrived for those that want a very small cup of coffee on the go and this one looks a real cutie too.

Once again, Happy Birthday KeepCup!

© 2011

Cycling commuters winning the war on petrol prices

Cycling commuters are winning the war on petrol prices as national Bike Week begins this weekend

By Michael Smith (Vershengro)

!cid_2_4255269436@web121716_mail_ne1_yahooCycling commuters in Hyde Park (J Bewley/Sustrans

As Bike Week kicks off this weekend (18th -26th June) across England and Wales , it seems that cycling commuters are the big winners in the war on petrol prices according to latest figures from UK charity Sustrans.

The latest annual usage figures for the National Cycle Network show that over 215million cycling journeys were made in 2010 and just over a third (34%) were commuting trips. With today’s petrol costs of £1.36 a litre, if these commuter journeys had been made by car they would cost over £35million pounds in petrol.[1] Saving money was cited by 66% of all users of the Network as one of the reasons why they used it.

Malcolm Shepherd, Sustrans’ Chief Executive, says: “Local journeys make up sixty seven per cent of all trips. Enabling people to make them without having to use their cars not only helps people financially, but also helps tackle the increasing burden of more inactive lifestyles on the UK’s health service. That means providing good quality cycle paths as well as education about how to get cycling locally.”

He continues, “Local government must invest wisely and see cycling as an obvious way to get around and a key part of local transport networks as well as the benefits it has to other sectors like health and the environment.”

As well as offering financial savings, the National Cycle Network also has significant environmental and health benefits. If all cycling commuter journeys made in 2010 on the Network replaced a car trip, the potential carbon dioxide saving would be 63,000 tonnes. Nearly three million people used the National Cycle Network last year with the total health be nef its to those people being valued at nearly £400,000,000.

Other highlights from the annual usage figures show that walking and cycling journeys by women were up 13% from the year before with women making 40% of all journeys on the Network, a quarter of all trips were daily trips and leisure trips made up 45% of all journeys.

The fact that cycle commuting and, and this is greater still, local journeys by bicycles, such as the school run and the trip to the shop for a pint of milk, is great news and it is certainly also visible.

Routes through parks are busier than every with people cycling to work, mothers and fathers taking their kids to school, school kids cycling to school on their own, etc. and this is a win/win situation for both the people themselves and the environment.

The people save gasoline money, get fit and the Planet wins because the emissions are reduced.

Let's hear it for the humble bicycle and cycle use...

© 2011

Niagara Falls business turns plastic into fuel

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Imagine, if you please, turning scraps of plastic into usable fuels. Some creative minds are making the idea into a reality, and it's happening right in Niagara Falls, New York State, USA.

Currently, some 30 million tons of waste plastic in the U.S. goes to landfills. Plastic is made from oil, and now a company called J.B.I. based in Niagara Falls has found a way to convert the plastic back to oil.

This is no ordinary ribbon cutting of a new business. This may very well be the inauguration of a new era that converts waste plastic, like packaging from meat plants and scrap from auto factories, to usable gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil, and natural gas for cooking and heating.

JBI President and CEO John Bordynuik said, “The fuel reproduces cleaner than the fuels currently found in industry, due to the fact that plastics is already a highly refined hydrocarbon.”

Plastic items we are all familiar with at home can become raw material for the process. The plastic is shredded first and then heated up into a gas. The processor, through a special catalyst, cracks the hydrocarbon chains in the plastic and separates out usable fuel.

“There's your fuel there That's it. This is heating oil right here. This is Number 2 Spec Fuel Oil,” said Bordynuik.

It gets filtered and then pumped right into a tanker truck outside the plant. A factory in Canada will use the product to make plastic pipes. Niagara Falls is hoping the plastics-to-oil manufacturing process will expand and create more green jobs.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said, “Every waste hauler in the United States, Canada, and a lot of other places, is going to have one of these units located on site, because now they can take plastic they would otherwise pay to landfill, and they can convert it into fuel to run their vehicles.”

The creative development for the process started in this lab less than two years ago. A couple of pints of oil could be produced a day. The current plant produces 109 barrels a day. In two more years, the goal is to produce 20,000 barrels a day, and there's no shortage of plastic.

Bordynuik said that in one week alone they receive 18 pallets of plastic, which is about 40,000 pounds. While that is a lot of plastic, to JBI it's a lot of fuel. In fact those 18 pallets equal out to 109 barrels of fuel, the equivalent of 4,400 gallons of diesel.

The natural gas that is produced produced is used to heat and run the process and JBI created 40 green jobs to run the plant.

Green jobs are the jobs of the future and we do well to invest in them.

This is – yet again – proof that we do not have to go the biofuel route; a route that is no good for the environment, and in more than one way, and to us.

Turning plastics into oil (again) and then making that into fuel is real recycling for it goes back in a cycle from plastic to its base material, oil. What could be better aside from doing without petroleum-based products?

© 2011

Learning is not a product of schooling

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

“Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” - Albert Einstein

As connection speeds increase and the ubiquity of the Internet pervades, digital content reigns and the Internet is seriously revolutionizing education. And in this era, free education has never been so accessible. The Web gives lifelong learners the tools to become autodidacts, eschewing exorbitant tuition and joining the ranks of other self-taught great thinkers in history such as Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Paul Allen and Ernest Hemingway.

And it is not just the lifelong learners, which means those that have finished “school” but the young could be started on the route of lifelong learning here as well, and that without the need for the brainwashing institution called the “school”.

I have been one of those very lucky ones that I forgot all about going to school and never actually set foot in one of those buildings in anger. I learned to read and write being taught by a friendly adult and after that was given access to a library second to none.

It was there were I “graduated” to some extent and I can vouch for the fact that learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire learning and knowledge.

What was a university in the real old days? It was a place where people went to “read” a subject and primarily this was “reading” books on the subject at the libraries of those universities. Lectures came later.

With today's facilities things are so much easier. One has to be but careful not to take everything that is being found on the Internet as 100% the gospel truth and one needs to use discernment as to what is true and what may not be.

Entire university courses and lectures are now found on the Internet, for instance.

10 years ago in April 2001, Charles M. Vest, the MIT President at the time, announced that the university would make its materials for all its courses freely available on the Internet. This initiative, found at OpenCourseWare, has enabled other teachers and lifelong learners around the world to listen and read what is being taught at MIT. 5 years later, in April 2006, UC Berkeley announced its plan to put complete academic courses on Apple’s iTunes U, beginning what is now one of the biggest collections of recorded classroom lectures in the world. One year later, in October 2007, the school launched UC Berkeley on YouTube. According to Benjamin Hubbard the Manager of Webcast at UC Berkeley, the school has had well over 120 million downloads since first sharing videos online, which they began doing in 2001.

Both Yale and Stanford have followed suit, and even Harvard has jumped on board in the last two years. Open Yale features free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars, supported by funding from the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation. Outside of the U.S., some of the most selective universities in India have created a vast body of online content in order to reach more of the country’s exploding student population. At Stanford, you can freely “attend” The Stanford Mini Med School featuring 3 year long series of courses by more than thirty distinguished faculty, scientists and physicians.

The world’s encyclopedia is as weightless, free and instantly accessible as Wikipedia, which is quickly gaining legitimacy in the education sphere. Using the Internet, you can learn a new language or delve into the depths of metaphysics with just a click of a mouse. The Web has unlocked the keys to a worldwide virtual school, potentially leveling the playing field for students around the world.

Having said that, however, as regards to Wikipedia, we have to be careful with some material as, in theory and practice, (almost) anyone can put up an entry on Wikipedia and/or edit other entries. It is, therefore, possible to manipulate and distort the truth. Then again, not all books bring honest truth either.

The availability of (free) lectures and other contents is absolutely, as far as I am concerned, amazing and with help from such sources you and I will never learn out and continue learning – so at least I hope – to our dying day.

Theoretically, everything that is out there on the web in knowledge in one way or the other can help us, depending on the subject matter, to continue learning and studying.

I am now in my 50s and I am still learning in my favorite subject categories and many other matters too and it is this availability of materials, mostly for but the cost of the Internet connection, the I would want to have anyway, that makes leaning no so much fun.

Einstein was right as to the learning process and school and schooling definitely overrated.

© 2011

Mom, are we poor?

A child's view of the recession

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

child_poverty_sepia Now, when I was a child we were poor and we were on the road but, then again, I am of Gypsy stock. Shoes and even clothes were at a premium and as to toys, well, what toys. That's probably why I am a pack rat now.

On the positive note, however, I wish to say that the poverty of ours was something that did teach me the value of things and of money. Waste not want not was always a motto that I still adhere to this day.

We knew as kids that we could not afford this or that and that was it. We did not whine and beg for things that could not be afforded and, in addition to that, many of those things would just not have been practical on the road.

“Mom, are we poor?” is not a quote from a Dickensian novel but it is a question that is in the mind of and even spoken out by children in many places in Britain today. Poverty, not that it ever went away, is back and in some cases back with a vengeance and that simply because it hits people who have never experienced having little or nothing.

Research have been conducted by looking at the recession through a child’s eyes and has revealed that many children in Britain have become very aware of the 'R' word, and this is beginning to impact on the next generation of shopper and their behavior.

“Mom, are we poor?” is what mums and dads up and down the country are starting to hear from their children and it has been found that the recession is really starting to hit home with the younger members of the family.

Around 71% of junior school children understood the term credit crunch which is not really surprising in this age of pervasive media and it will also come as a no surprise that children are fully aware of the economic crisis that surrounds them. What is interesting, however, is how parents are reacting to this. They are clearly divided into two camps; those who want to protect and those who see the opportunity to educate.

I would suggest that protecting their little darlings – sorry for my sarcasm – from reality is futile and a very bad idea. First of the kids will become suspicious of things when things are being hidden from them and second they will realize something is up anyway and that may make them rather worried. Be open with them and teach them to live within the means available and teach them also to save.

Parents, and here especially mothers, who want to protect their children tend to see their role as one of preserving childhood innocence, shielding them from the harsh realities of the outside world. They are making lots of personal sacrifices in order that they can still give their kids everything they feel they deserve, which is the entire wrong approach. It will not help the kids to come to terms with reality.

Some mothers (and fathers) make sacrifices so that their children can go to their regular ice skating competitions and make it to the latest school trip, so that the children do not realize that, actually, they can no longer afford to send their kids to all those things.

But children must learn to face realities in the same way as adults must, for they will be adults one day and if they have had everything given to them all the time they will never learn the value of money and the value of things.

Many of those sporting activities cost money and a great deal of it, and even more so if you have more than one child going to such activities, but none of those are necessities. The kids can get their exercises in much cheaper ways. It does not have to be structured activities, whether ice skating and competition, soccer practice and games, etc. A bicycles, even a second hand one, is a great exercise tool and the local park also has lots to do.

If the kids were used to such activities then they will have to be told that, yes, as a family it is no longer financially possible to do such things. School trips, obviously, do fall into a different category, as many of them are part of the curriculum.

When it comes to gadgets kids also have to understand that it does not have to be the very latest laptop, games console or cell phone, and they need to be taught to look after what they have.

Parents pretending to their kids, when they already as as to ‘can you afford it’ that all is hunky dory with by pretending that they can afford what the child might want are doing their children a great disservice.

Children must come to understand that poverty is no shame but has, in the main, something to do with circumstances beyond their parents' control and their own control, and it is only the parents who can communicate that to them. But, when the parents are ashamed to admit the fact that they cannot afford this or that then the children will see poverty as a stigma.

On the other hand, what is poverty and who decides it? Is it not also a thing of perception.

There are many folks that live off grid, for instance, and who homeschool their kids and whose children wear homemade clothes (or none in certain conditions) and definitely go barefoot most of the time. Those children and their families would be regarded as poor, in some cases dirt poor even as there is little spending money every available but they are not poor in many other things.

When we measure poverty only by disposable income and the poverty of children only as to how much pocket money (allowance) that they get and how many activities they attend, etc., then we do everyone a disservice.

The mothers who take a more educational viewpoint are less concerned with sheltering their children and more keen to lead by example. They are really proud to see their children exhibiting money saving behavior.

Such behavior can, however, only cone to the fore as and when children are exposed to reality and taught the ways of saving, of looking after their things and of making do and mending, instead of always wanting new.

Are foreign holidays, or even going away holidays in this country, really a necessity? They aren't. Local parks can be great places to spend the days of one's holidays, and trips in the local area to forests, and other sites of interest can be much more valuable than the beaches at the Costa del Sol.

The trips top McDs and other such places which do not provide real food either are not a necessity either and neither are they any good for the children and their health. Grow a food garden and get the kids really involved and you will all have fun and healthy kids.

Not being able to afford to do all those activities also might just slow down the hectic life of families somewhat and actually may make family meals together a possibility once again.

When a child asks “Mom, are we poor?” and the truth is that the family is then the answer should be “Yes, but it does not matter!” and then the teaching should begin of how to live a life that demands less.

This is also a good start for living a greener life, a life that has less of an impact on Mother Earth. Poverty is no shame. It happens and for some it is even a choice.

© 2011

BiogenGreenfinch food waste plant gets green light in Hertfordshire

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Food_waste BiogenGreenfinch has, finally, been granted planning permission for an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant near Baldock, Hertfordshire, and one can but wonder what is taking things always so long in Britain.

The 45,000 tonne per year facility will process food waste from retailers, manufacturers and households to produce renewable electricity for up to 3,600 homes and a bio-fertiliser for nearby farmland.

BiogenGreenfinch and the owners of the farm, Wallington Farms have worked closely to plan for the use of the biofertiliser on local crops.

CEO Richard Barker said, “The anaerobic digestion plant will be built at an excellent strategic location near to the A1. We look forward to working with local food waste producers on this exciting project.”

Anaerobic digestion, creating methane gas, the same, basically, as so-called “natural” gas that we heat and cook with at present, using waste food (and waste farm products could also be used here) is one of the best ideas around and it has been around for some time already.

Every landfill releases this gas, methane, which is GHG many times more powerful than CO2 and still we um and ah about in government and do very little about it.

One can but guess that there are not enough brown envelopes about in the renewables industry as there are in the fossil fuel industry.

Finally, thank G-d, Britain is also getting anaerobic digestion plants as are alsready very common in other EU countries, especially in Germany.

Britain used to be the innovator in things but now this country seems to be always lagging behind because it is either NIMBYs that get their way – aided by big industry (proof of that was the issue with a wind farm in Berkshire where the local lobby group had so much money to throw about that it was obvious whence it had come) – or just simply by government insisting on pilot project rather than going to a country where such things work and learn there.

© 2011