Drink Up Before You Snack

Are you really hungry, or is it just your thirst talking?

Far too often we misinterpret feelings of thirst as hunger pangs, according to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (2006, Bantam). The result: We hit the fridge when we really should be wetting our whistles with some good ol' fashioned H2O, aka water, and here tap water will very well suffice. There is NO need to use bottled water which, all too often, is nothing but repackaged tap water anyway.

Our body - as a system - may not actually know as to whether we are hungry or just plain thirsty. Once you actually feel thirsty that is when you have dehydrated too much, which in the wrong situation could be fatal. It might be best, therefore, to have a nice glass of water before we start attacking the fridge or order that pizza.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008

Buying from Thrift Store and Charity Shop

Too many people think that they HAVE TO HAVE this or that new.


Charity Shops, for instance, does not always mean that the things are post-consumer, that is to say that they have been used before. Many items that I have bought there for very little money were brand-new with their tags still in place. It is also now, it would seem, once again, becoming fashionable to buy at the likes of Oxfam and other Charity Shops, very much like it was in the late 70's, when it was also fashionable to wear military surplus and buy used – advertise as such – at the American store “Flip Clothing” in London.

However, I'd rather go to a store that is run for a good cause (yes, some of the money ends up in overheads, and I know that the goods are donated to the stores) than to go to the likes of “Flip” (don't even know whether they still exist). At least some of my money that I pay for the good that I buy goes to a good cause, unlike at the commercial secondhand stores.

I must say that I spend a lot of time and also money – but then it does go to a good cause – in such Charity Shops, especially as I do not have a TV and in order to relax I read. This is where Charity Shops come into their own with their books section and I have even found some books there being signed first editions and others that I had wanted to obtain for review for one or the other magazine I edit, such as one particular one about the Gypsies in the South of France. I paid less for it – well, near enough – then probably the postage would have been to send a letter to the publisher to ask for a copy for review. I must admit I am awful with books, I buy them by the ton, but then again this way the go to a good home – mine – where they will be read and often used further as reference, instead of ending up in a landfill site. Because, let's face it, not enough people even think of passing their read book on to another outlet so they can be read again (and again) by someone.

As far as clothes are concerned the only thing I do not purchase are Charity Shops is underwear and socks. I even buy footwear there most of the time but then ensuring that it is little or not worn, and often real bargains can be had.

Only the other day I bought a pair of lovely “Transport-brand” boots for £5 the pair and they are nearly new. If they have been worn then by a security officer, the are a patrol-kind boot, indoors.

The Green (Living) Review would like to encourage people instead of buying new all the time to actually buy their clothes (and other items) used, often they are even new or as new, at Charity Shops, such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Cancer Research, for, while you are getting a bargain you are supporting a good cause. Our advice here goes even further then that is to use, ideally, more so even those Charity Shops that support local causes, such as in the North-East Surrey area where Green (Living) Review is based, the St Raphael's Hospice Shops and those of the Children's Trust. Think local!

While there certainly are worthy causes in the Charity Shop realm – all of them in the main – it would be much better if we would support our local charities and their shops before we would the big national and even international ones. Think local!

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008

European Union Sustainable Energy Week 2008

European Union Sustainable Energy Week 2008
28 Jan - 1 Feb 2008 Brussels and other locations.

See website for details

Europeans voice biodiversity concerns

Europeans are becoming increasingly concerned over the loss of biodiversity, according to the results of a new study. The Eurobarometer survey looked at views on animal and plant extinctions and the decline of natural habitats and ecosystems. The issues of air pollution, water pollution and man-made disasters such as oil spills were rated as the most important by respondents (27%), followed by climate change (19%).

While just 20% of Europeans in the survey felt that their lives were currently affected by the loss of biodiversity, 70% believed that it would have personal impacts in the future.

“Biodiversity loss is irreversible. Since the 1970s, the European Union has been committed to protecting nature, and we are working hard to realise our target of halting biodiversity loss on our continent by 2010,” commented Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. “Achieving this target requires everyone across the Union to work together to ensure that our ecosystems are sustainable and healthy. Complacency is not an option.”

And how right the man is. Biodiversity loss is indeed irreversible. However that does not mean that we should not go an try to arrest this loss. It must not be.

While it many be true that over the lifespan of our planed there has always been a loss of species here and there, often due to change in clima, natural change in climate, which, we must be prepared for, this current climate change could be too.

If the latter is the case we better learn to live with it and prepare to do so. This does not, however, means that we should sit back and take the attitude that it will not make a difference whether we recycle or whatever. I am not saying this.

As I have said in a previous article, we must do both. Prepare for the eventuality that Climate Change has nothing whatsoever to do with emissions from cars, industry and homes, but still continue to reduce, reuse and recycle, and to minimize our impact on the environment, to continue planting trees, and such. Hope for the best, that is to say work to, if possible arrest and reverse the climate change, and prepare for the worst, that is to say, pepare for the eventuality that Climate Change, a.k.a. Global Warming, is not a result of human activity but a natural phenomenon, one that, as the records seem to show, arrives around every thousand years or so in the cycle of our Blue Planet.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008

Magnolias - Bloom and Doom?

Over half the world’s magnolia species are close to extinction in the wild, says new report

Magnolias may be blooming in Britain’s gardens this spring, but in the wild it’s an altogether different story. Over half the world’s magnolia species are facing extinction in their native forest habitats, according to an authoritative new report from two leading plant conservation organisations.

The Red List of the Magnoliaceae, published jointly today by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and Fauna & Flora International (FFI), through the Global Trees Campaign (GTC), identifies 131 wild magnolias as being in danger of extinction, from a global total of 245 species.

The significance of this potentially catastrophic loss lies not only in the threat to the genetic diversity of the family, but also because they are a highly sensitive indicator of the well-being of the forests in which they are found. Magnolias are among the most ancient groups of flowering plants and have long been cultivated by mankind. Some specimens growing in the precincts of Chinese temples are estimated to be up to 800 years old. Still popular as ornamental plants in gardens around the world (although fewer than 15 species are common in cultivation), in the wild magnolias are a source of timber, food and medicines for local communities.

Speaking at the report launch in London, Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of BGCI and one of the report's authors, said: “We now have a choice. We can use the new information to conserve these important trees and restore their forest habitats or we can catalogue their extinction.”

“The second option”, she added, “would be a tragedy”.

Some two thirds of known magnolia species are found in Asia, with over 40% occurring in southern China. According to the report half of all wild Chinese magnolias are at risk of extinction. In the Americas, north and south, where magnolias are also found in the wild, a similar picture is emerging. In Colombia, for example, the report concludes that the threat of extinction hangs over 30 of its native species.

Underpinning the report is a comprehensive mapping exercise carried out at Bournemouth University. According to report co-author, Professor Adrian Newton, “The maps provide an excellent baseline for future monitoring and conservation planning at a time of rapid environmental change. Comparing species distribution with forest cover for a whole family of flowering plants gives us a unique snapshot of forest biodiversity.”

Drawing on the report’s findings BGCI and FFI are collaborating through the Global Trees Campaign to boost conservation efforts for threatened magnolias. Later this month, at the 3rd Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Wuhan, China (April 16 - 20, 2007), BGCI will launch a survey of botanic garden collections of threatened magnolias species. This will enable BGCI to identify precisely which threatened species are not yet held in ex situ collections (in botanic gardens and arboreta, etc.), and take action to ensure that integrated conservation measures for these species are developed and implemented.

FFI is already working to improve the status of the wild populations of the most threatened magnolia species in China. “We are aiming to restore wild populations of key magnolia species in Yunnan Province,” said Dr Georgina Magin, Global Trees Campaign Coordinator at FFI, “We hope to be able to extend this work to take action for other species, both in China and in other parts of the world.”

Also being launched at the 3rd Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Wuhan is China’s Strategy for Plant Conservation, designed to coordinate and strengthen the work already being undertaken by Chinese universities, botanic gardens and Government agencies to conserve Chinese magnolias. BGCI has been instrumental in assisting key Chinese agencies to develop the Strategy.

Can’t See the Trees for the Wood?

Botanic Gardens Conservation International

How many plants would you recognise in their natural habitat? If you are a botanist or a keen gardener, you’re answer would probably be “well, quite a few actually,” but research from the USA suggests that you’d be in a minority, especially if, like most of us, you live in a town or city.

In a paper to be presented at Botanic Garden Conservation International’s (BGCI) 6th International Congress on Education in Botanic Gardens, hosted by the University of Oxford Botanic Garden in the period of September 10 – September 14, 2007, US academics James Wandersee and Renee Clary outlined their theory of ‘plant blindness’, which they described as a failure to see or take any notice of the plants that occur in our everyday lives.

According to Professor Wandersee, this phenomenon is particularly noticeable in industrialised nations, where the drift to the cities means that much of the population has lost touch with any meaningful understanding of agriculture and nature. The implications of such behaviour to those attempting to arrest habitat loss, protect plant diversity and engender a sustainable way for humankind to live on this planet is obvious.

However, Professor Wandersee is optimistic that steps can be taken to reverse this process and argues that botanic gardens have a vital role to play.

‘Miracle’ cures face extinction

From a desert succulent that may ‘cure’ obesity, to a Chinese magnolia effective against previously untreatable cancers, hundreds of the planet’s most promising medicinal plants are facing an imminent threat, warn world’s experts.

Looming Health Care Crisis: A new global study reveals that hundreds of medicinal plant species, whose naturally-occurring chemicals make up the basis of over 50% of all prescription drugs, are threatened with extinction. Sparking off fears of a global health care crisis, a consortium of leading experts acting through London-based organisation, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), are calling for urgent action to help ‘secure the future of global healthcare’.

With 70% of all newly-developed drugs in the United States, the world’s largest and wealthiest pharmaceuticals market, being derived from natural sources, it is clear that despite major scientific advances, the future of human healthcare is still overwhelmingly reliant on the plant kingdom.

“We are using up a wide range of the world’s natural medicines and squandering the potential to develop new remedies“ says Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of BGCI “And yet it is perfectly possible to prevent plant extinctions”.

There was a time when scientists predicted that developments in biochemistry would mean that most if not all new drugs would be simply synthesised in the lab, however in recent years it has become increasingly clear that this is unlikely to happen. For while scientists are able to artificially replicate several medicinally-active compounds found in plants, a overwhelming number of these are still eluding all attempts to copy them, or it is simply not commercially viable to do so.

Take the world’s most widely-used cancer drug, Paclitaxel, for instance. Derived from the bark of several species of yew trees, its complex chemical structure and biological function has defied all attempts of commercial synthesis, gaining it the reputation for being “the kind of drug that would be impossible to design from scratch”. Yet with, until very recently, an average of 6 trees needed for just a single dose, its use has decimated wild yew populations across the world, with 80% of the trees in China’s Yunnan Province, once famous for its yew forests, destroyed within a three year period. “The dramatic decline in a range of yew species, highlights the global extinction crisis that is facing medicinal plant species.” says Oldfield.

Nowhere is this dependence on medicinal plants more acute than in developing countries, with the World Health Organisation estimating that an astonishing 80% of the global population, some 5.3 billion people, rely on traditional plant-based medicine as their primary form of healthcare, and in many cases collection and sales of these plants provide their only form of livelihood. Yet it is exactly in these areas that these plants are under most threat, putting the rural poor at the sharp end of the looming healthcare crisis.

“The loss of the world’s medicinal plants may not always be at the forefront of the public consciousness, however it is not an overstatement to say that if the precipitous decline of these species is not halted, it could destabilise the future of global healthcare, putting many millions of lives at risk.” reports Belinda Hawkins the report author.

Descanso House,
199 Kew Road,
Richmond, Surrey

Tend to Your Garden in Winter

Although many of the perennials grown in the garden slumber through the winter months, the gardener is far from inactive.

In fact, winter in the garden can be as busy as any other season of the year.

Here are some essential gardening tasks that are recommend green fingers take care of when it gets frosty outside:

1./ Check in on your plants: Examine the greenhouse (or cold frame) regularly for any sign of pests or disease it could be harboring. Remove any dead flower heads, yellowing leaves, and other plant debris before mold starts to form, to cut the risk of infection.

Heavy snowfall can settle on conifers and evergreens with larger surface areas, causing the branches to buckle or break under all that heft. Knock the snow off to help reduce damage, because a torn branch leaves an open wound for infections in spring.

2./ Protect them from the cold: Insulate your greenhouse and cold frame with bubble wrap or similar insulation, because reducing drafts saves on heat loss and plant casualties.
Outdoor evergreens, container plants, tall plants, and plants introduced since the previous winter will need protection if the weather takes a nasty turn. (They can be severely damaged by wind, which can loosen roots.) Consider planting a windbreak or shelter to reduce the airflow.

Another problem caused by the wind is foliage drying out, which happens when freezing gusts draw moisture from leaves faster than it can be replaced. Erect a screen of woven plastic mesh or horticultural fleece on the windward side of vulnerable plants to reduce the wind's effects and protect the leaves. During heavy frosts, some plants may even benefit from being bundled up in protective fleece, which absorbs some of cold.

3./ Prepare the soil: Because winter frost can break down sticky clay soil better than any cultivation tool, it can be an ally when it comes to preparing heavy soils. This is the time to incorporate compost or other organic conditioners that will improve soil structure and boost plant growth.

4./ Deal with construction and landscaping jobs: Because sections of the garden will be bare, it's easier to see the garden layout and make changes for the coming spring. If the soil isn't too wet to be structurally damaged by foot traffic and wheelbarrows, you can take the opportunity to install or improve drainage systems.

5./ Handle repairs and maintenance, and that includes repairing handles: Consider the lack of vegetation a bonus, because this is an ideal time to drain and clean pools and ponds, as well as repair pond sides, walls, and liners. Or use this time to re-level, change the shape, increase the shape and size of borders, and reseed areas where growth is sparse. However, no work should be carried out if the grass is frozen, because footprints made on frozen grass can cause it to turn brown.

Repair, sharpen, clean, service, and otherwise maintain tools that are used in your garden, whether the lawnmower, the strimmer, bill hooks, secateurs, etc. A well-maintained tool or piece of machinery will give you good service for many, many years and will make life and work easier.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008

M&S offers £5 for clothes given to Oxfam

Marks & Spencer, Britain's biggest fashion retailer, announced on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 that it, together with with Oxfam, was launching a clothes recycling scheme. Individuals who donate unwanted clothes to Oxfam will receive a £5 M&S voucher in return, with the exception of donations of lingerie, underwear, swimwear, hosiery and socks. To be perfectly truthful; the latter items, e.g. lingerie, underwear, swimwear, hosiery and socks, used, do not belong into a thrift store but into a rag bag or rag recycling scheme.

Marks & Spencer has teamed up with Oxfam to reduce the one million tonnes of clothing sent to landfill each year, and that's a lot of rags. In the so-called "clothes exchange", vouchers will be valid for one month against purchases of £35 or more of M&S clothing, homeware or beauty products.

But there is a snag, folks. Each bag of clothes donated to Oxfam shops must contain at least one item of M&S clothing, no matter how old. So, they are not all that daft, are they, giving away vouchers for any kind of bag old old clothes being brought to Oxfam. So, rather than being a great incentive in helping reduce the mountain of rags thrown into the by giving people incentive to bring in their used clothes to Oxfam it is, so it would appear to this write, not much more than just a nice PR stunt and gimmick. “Seen to be green”, is the motto here, apparently.

The clothes exchange will run for a six-month trial from January 28. Some 790 branches of Oxfam across the UK and Republic of Ireland will give out the vouchers, which will be valid for only a month. Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam, said: "Recycling and reusing clothes - and anything else we can sell - has always been central to Oxfam's fundraising, as well as being good for the environment." No one can deny the truth in the statement by Oxfam but, I am afraid that knowing some of the practices this charity has employed in the past to solicit financial donations from people this writer has his reservations as to how green the thoughts really are here.

A spokeswoman for Ethical Consumer magazine welcomed the M&S initiative, but called on the retailer to take the lead in "using recycled textiles for the new clothes they want us to buy".

The Green (Living) Review in addition to the call by the Ethical Consumer magazine would like to encourage people instead of buyin new all the time to actually buy their clothes (and other items) used, often they are even new or as new, at Charity Shops, such as Oxfam, but more so even in those that support local causes, such as in the North-East Surrey area where Green (Living) Review is based, the St Raphael's Hospice Shops and those of the Children's Trust. Think local!

While there certainly are worthy causes in the Charity Shop realm – all of them in the main – it would be much better if we would support our local charities and their shops before we would the big national and even international ones. Think local.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008

Scientists urge Government: tougher CO2 cuts

Monday 21 January 2008

WWF-UK has enlisted the support of Britain's leading environmental scientists to call on the Government to commit to tougher carbon emission cuts in the Climate Change Bill in an open letter to the Government in five major UK newspapers.
David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said: "The Government has a unique opportunity to set an example to the rest of the world by introducing groundbreaking legislation on climate change."

"Today some of Britain's most eminent climate and environmental scientists have added their voices to the growing calls for emission cuts based on the latest science - that means cuts of at least 80% by 2050," he said.

Open letter to Government: UK newspapers
The letter is written by the current Chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP), Sir John Lawton, and his predecessors, Sir Tom Blundell, Chair at the time of the 2000 report as well as Sir John Houghton and also the Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences Professor Norman Myers. The scientists have signed the letter in their personal capacity.

The open letter to the leaders of the main political parties is published in today's The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent.

The letter explains the need to cut the UK's CO2 emissions by at least 80% by 2050, outlining how the Government's current target of a 60% reduction in the UK's CO2 emissions by 2050 is based on an out of date report by the (RCEP) published in 2000.

Call for 80% CO2 emissions cut

Sir John Houghton, the first Chair of Scientific Assessment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said: "The UK has always been proud of its leadership in the issue of climate change. To keep in the lead, the Government needs to keep in step with the science that is now strongly pointing towards cuts in emissions of at least 80% by 2050 if we are to mitigate against dangerous climate change. Furthermore there is convincing modelling to show that these cuts are achievable and affordable."

Scientific reports

The recent report, 80% Challenge: Delivering a low carbon Britain, published jointly by WWF-UK, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), found that it is technically feasible and affordable for the UK to cut its CO2 emissions by at least 80% by 2050 - including our share of emissions from international aviation and without using new nuclear power.

Alternative solutions could lie in energy efficiency and a rapid roll out of renewable and decentralised energy, potentially combined with fossil fuel power stations equipped with working carbon capture and storage.

Recent statements by Sir Nicholas Stern, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the UN Human Development Report 2007/2008 also make clear that developed countries must make emissions reductions of at least 80% by 2050.

WWF-UK is also calling on the UK Government to include emissions from international aviation and shipping in the Climate Change Bill.


O2 reduces its impact on the environment by 196 tonnes of CO2 a year

At O2 they know that climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing society, and that every company has an important role to play in tackling it.

O2's goal is to make energy conservation a way of life for their company and to minimise their impact on the environment. They have three main areas of focus:

1. To reduce and conserve the energy we use.
2. To source more of our energy from renewable sources.

Sabien Technology
helps companies reduce their carbon emissions, energy consumption and therefore save money. Based upon established technology M2G, Sabien's approach is proven to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption by up to 35%.

As part of their carbon reduction strategy and working with Sabien Technology, O2 conducted an extensive pilot that delivered average savings in energy consumption of up to 27%, O2 is now working to roll out the M2G technology throughout its UK buildings.

Paul Eggleton, Energy Manager at O2, said: "We have been very impressed with the performance of the M2G units. They have lived up to all expectations and because they are so easy to fit there was no interruption in service to the two trial buildings.”

"We are now rolling out M2G to other corporate offices in our portfolio and look forward to seeing significantly reduced gas bills.”

Sabien and M2G delivered

The pilot took place in two locations with 9 M2Gs fitted on 9 boilers used to heat the space and water of the offices. The results of the pilot demonstrated average energy savings of 27% and 16%. A positive return on investment at each site of less than 14 months and 7 months respectively, with annual carbon savings of 196 tonnes.

For more information on Sabien Technology and the M2G please visit us at www.sabien-tech.co.uk or call us on 0800 082 67 67.


Cities, celebrities, students, religious communities and environmental and corporate accountability organizations urge support for public water systems

A broad range of national and local organizations, cities, celebrities, student groups and communities of faith launched the Think Outside Bottle Pledge today calling on people to choose public tap over bottled water.

The Pledge supports the efforts of local officials to invest and build confidence in public water systems.

Momentum has been growing over the last year for cities and consumers to reevaluate corporate control of water sources, including city water systems. The explosive growth of the bottled water industry, fueled by misleading advertising, has contributed to a loss of confidence in public water systems.

However, scientific studies have shown that bottled water is on average no safer than tap water, and may sometimes be less safe, containing elevated levels of arsenic, bacteria and other contaminants.

What’s more, up to 40 percent of bottled water comes from the same source as tap water, which is highly regulated for its safety to consumers. In contrast, the bottled water industry is regulated by the FDA, which lacks the capacity to fully monitor bottled water plants and largely relies on bottlers to police themselves.

This summer the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution, with leadership from the mayors of San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis, supporting municipal water systems. U.S. consumers currently spend $15 billion a year on bottled water. At the same time, there is a $22 billion funding gap between what cities need to spend on water infrastructure and the money available to them.

In the face of shortfalls, cities in the U.S. and around the world are turning increasingly to private corporations to manage public water systems – sometimes at great expense to the public and to the overall quality of service.

Bottled water also takes a toll on the environment, and city budgets. Last year, at least four billion pounds of plastic bottles ended up in city waste streams. It can cost cities more than $70 million in dumping and incineration fees alone. Furthermore, making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil last year and generated more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The Pledge drive will continue over the coming months and be used to educate consumers about why they should choose the tap over the bottle.


Welsh wool will be used to insulate and warm homes and buildings throughout Wales in an initiative launched between Ty-Mawr Lime, the Brecon based company renowned for development a range of traditional environmentally friendly building products, and Second Nature UK.

Ty-Mawr have been stocking Thermafleece manufactured by Cumbrian based company Second Nature UK for several years but have always been keen to promote and sell a wool insulation product primarily consisting of Welsh wool. With their experience and knowledge of the market and their customers Ty-Mawr proved that there was a strong market demand to use Welsh wool as an insulation.

Christine Armstrong from Second Nature UK said; “Ty-Mawr have worked incredibly hard over the years to establish a market for Thermafleece within Wales, the volumes that they sell meant that it became a viable option to source and segregate Welsh wool for the insulation. We can now guarantee that 75% of the wool used within the Ty-Mawr Thermafleece comes from Wales.”

Joyce Morgan-Gervis, of Ty-Mawr Lime said: “We currently sell up to 10 tonnes of sheep’s wool insulation a month and now we will be able to ensure a market for the coarser grade wool from Welsh hill sheep which is highly suitable for insulation. Ty-Mawr Thermafleece is a more natural, safe and healthy alternative to mineral insulation and represents a huge saving in embodied energy. It has thermal and acoustic properties and can be used for roof, wall and floor insulation.”

Joyce added; “If just 10% of the 155,000 new homes predicted to be built per annum used Ty-Mawr Thermafleece it would use up all the wool from the breeding ewes in Wales!”

The news which was announced at the start of National Construction Week has been welcomed by Leuan Wyn Jones, Minister for the Economy and Transport - Wales, who described it as an important boost for the rural economy.

Posties plant trees to fight climate change

No longer is the postie just the person who gets your letters and parcels from A to B, the humble postie has joined the fight against climate change.

Employees from Royal Mail, Post Office Ltd and Parcelforce Worldwide are signing up to a newly launched scheme to offset their carbon emissions.

Staff who join the initiative will make regular tax-free donations directly from their wage packets to the Woodland Trust, enabling the charity to plant and look after thousands of trees in the UK.

Royal Mail has developed its own carbon calculator, “Ollie”, which asks employees about their home energy usage, car and air travel before calculating how many trees will need to be planted to offset their emissions.

They can also get tips on reducing their carbon footprint.

It is believed to be the first time a company's employees have been able to take part in such a scheme, and the Woodland Trust is challenging other businesses to follow Royal Mail's example.

Clare Allen, head of corporate partnerships at the Woodland Trust, said: "The excellent start this scheme has had with Royal Mail shows its employees are eager to do their bit to help the environment and reduce their carbon emissions.

"The Woodland Trust would like to thank them for their support."

Ms Allen added: "Planting trees creates vital habitats for more species than any other, traps pollution, generates oxygen, stabilises soil and forms a stunning part of our landscape.

"And yet woods are scarce, with only 12% of the UK wooded, compared to 46% on average in Europe."

The scheme is the brainchild of Dr Martin Blake, head of sustainability at Royal Mail Group.

"This unique product provides our people with the opportunity to ethically and appropriately offset their residual carbon emissions in what is the final step in a process of reduction," he said.

"What we are doing is spreading the word about a sustainable environment, not just giving people a way to offset."

It must be said thought what it would rather be nice if, instead of talking all the good talk that DR Blake was giving, he would encourage Royal Mail to really be caring for a sustainable environment by stopping the delivery of junk mail to people's letterboxes, the kind of junk mail that has no addressee on it but that is being carried by the postie on behalf of “post office advertising sales” or whatever that department may be called.

I know I have it heard being said by Royal Mail that has to carry such real spam mail (at least in cyberspace we can have spam filters and many of them actually work quite well) or that they would have to increase the postal rates otherwise. Firstly, Royal Mail keeps putting up the charges regardless because it appears not to be making enough profit for its shareholders, unlike New Zealand Post which, so I have been told, has actually reduced the charges twice by now and it making profit. But then, I guess, like with everything that is in the UK: while other postal services may be able to make profit and even reduce the rates this could never work in Britain because Britain is different.

It is all nice and fine talking about carbon footprint reduction of Royal Mail and its associated companies, but it is all nothing but hot air as long as Royal Mail keeps delivering unwanted bulk mail to households and businesses.

Michael Smith, January 2008

Recycling is blue

MEDWAY Council is stepping up its campaign to get residents to recycle their household waste.

As of January 25, the authority will no longer be providing black bags and will instead be distributing more blue recycling bags.

It is part of the “Think Blue, Not Black” campaign, which also aims to raise awareness about the amount of recyclable rubbish that ends up in landfills.

Nearly 70 per cent of rubbish currently sent to landfill sites could be recycled or composted.

Medway recycles more than 32 per cent of domestic waste, marginally above the national average of 32%, but needs to do more to meet targets to recycle and compost 40% of its waste by the year 2010/2011.

Is Nuclear the Option?

The British government has given the go-ahead for new nuclear power stations but the question that will be on many minds is to whether nuclear really is the option for our energy need, or should one better say, energy greed.

While even the eminent scientist who coined the very idea of “Gaia” and created the “Gaia Hypothesis” is now advocating the “nuclear option”, much to the chagrin of groups like “Friends of the Earth” and “Greenpeace”, the question is and remains: is nuclear truly a viable environmental option and especially a sustainable one.

First of all we must look at our energy consumption, especially in this instance that of electricity, and reduce the use of it, and here, mostly by using more energy efficient lights and devices, but also , and maybe more importantly so, by turning things off.

There is no need to have the entire house illuminated when you are only, at that time, and that is most of the time, spending the evening in the den/family room in front of the TV or the PC.

Councils too must learn to reduce. What good is it to have an abandoned school with all the lights turned on just in case someone breaks in and might hurt himself in the dark. I always thought any self-respecting burglar would carry a decent flashlight. Come on! They don't even have to worry about batteries for them anymore with all the cheap wind-up torches around now. The thing is that those self-same councils will forever admonish the residents not to waste energy, and even penalize them if they do, but what do they do. “Oh”, they say, “but it is just so we cannot be sued by someone breaking into that building and hurting themselves in the dark.” Sorry, but he or she should not have been breaking in in the first place. But, sorry, I digressed a little.

As said, we must, first and foremost, reduce our energy consumption by use of the right appliances and also, and especially, by turning things off. Not only will it be financially rewarding for those that do that, because of the monies saves, but it will reduce the impact on the environment.

Secondly we have to take a much closer look, in the UK (and some other countries, whether in Europe or abroad), at micro-generating stations; that is to say wind, solar and furnace powered electricity generation for individual homes, farms, city blocks.

In addition to that we need to look at other options, aside, I mean, from wave, hydro, solar and wind; namely the generating of electrical power from waste incinerators, as it is done in other countries such as, as I understand, in Sweden, for example, and in Germany.

Before “Friends of the Earth” and such like begin screaming again about we must recycle rather than incinerate I am talking here about incineration of that waste that cannot be recycled or composted and would end up, yet again, in the landfills. Yes, there is and always will be some left that cannot be reused or recycled, how ever much we might like and try.

Another is to use the gas generated by those landfills and other such places, such as sewerage works, namely methane gas, as source for power stations. It can be done for it has been done, though on a rather small experimental stage at present only in the UK.

In Germany, for example, also micro-generating is very much in and the reward for those that do are great. It would appear that in those countries rather than hitting people over the head that do not and cannot recycle, generate their own power, etc., they reward those that do handsomely. Time, maybe, the UK (and others with the wrong attitude) learned a lesson from that. Then again, we know, that we will be told in the UK that while those things all may work very well in countries such as Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and others, it could not work in Britain as Britain is different.

However, we must make such things work and if that means changing the governments and the attitudes of business and industry, etc. then so be it.

None of the alternatives, so often held up as the be all by many of the environmental movement, e.g. wind, wave, hydro, and solar, will be able to provide for our energy greed in the UK (and elsewhere). Yes, I did say greed. We must use simply less, and this, obviously, not only in terms of electrical energy. While me must use all the alternatives to coal and oil and even natural gas, all of which are non-renewable, we also must look at options other than wind, solar, and water. Fast growing tree crops are also not the option. However, there are the waste products of various industries, especially forestry and timber, that could well fire some power stations.

Dr. Jame Lovelock, the inventor, so to speak, of the Gaia Hypothesis, says that we must embrace the nuclear power route for electrical energy production, also as far as CO2 reduction is concerned. And if Dr. Lovelock has gone so far as to say thins then the truth is that the alternatives cannot and will not meet our current and increasing energy consumption.

Aside from accidents, enter Chernobyl – an event that will hardly ever be forgotten – and possible terrorist attacks on nuclear power station, what concerns most people, I am sure, and I would see myself included here, is the safe disposal of the spent fuel from the fission reactors. If nuclear fusion would be the means of generating energy then the story, so I understand, would be different.

This then, brings to mind the question as to why has no one developed fusion further? Some years ago, apparently, a fully functioning small station was created in the then still USSR. Is it simply because there is no reprocessable fuel to be had from fusion for to make into weapon grate plutonium?

Some rather searching questions need to be asked here, methinks. Food for thought...

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008

Free low energy light bulbs for Londoners

The people of London are being given a chance to trade in their traditional light bulbs for energy efficient equivalent one in a joint scheme run by City Hall and the private sector partners.

From Friday, January 11 to Sunday, January 13 those wanting to get their hands on the free low-energy bulbs can pop into any of London's B&Q DIY stores and swap up to two old incandescent bulbs for energy efficient versions.

The scheme, which organisers have dubbed a “light bulb amnesty” (though one must say that is probably a rather silly title), is expected to be the first of many initiatives aiming to encourage the public to make small lifestyle changes which can add up to have a significant impact on carbon emissions.

It is a shame though that the same changes are not made in City Hall itself if we consider the waste and pollution that the New Year's Eve firework constituted. Apparently the London Assembly and its Mayor are of the “do as we tell you but don't do as we do” persuasion.

According to City Hall's calculations, if every home in London switched to low-energy bulbs, the capital would slash emissions by 500,000 tonnes of carbon while making a savings of £139m on energy bills.

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, told reporters that this kind of initiative could encourage people to take the first step in making their life styles greener.

"We can avoid catastrophic climate change not by changing the quality of our lives but by changing the way we live," he said.

While the energy benefits of the bulbs are beyond doubt, the amnesty does clash with a comment by the Environment Agency in a BBC interview warning about the potential health and pollution risks associated with the bulbs, which contain a small amount of mercury.

Let us face it, folks, this is NOT just a small comment about a small amount. There seems to be an official warning in circulation that, if such a light bulb is accidentally broken that the room is to be vacated for 15 minutes. This is, I am afraid to say, not very awe inspiring as to the environmental benefits of those bulbs.

Oh, sure, the do save money as they consume less energy and in the same way also reduce pollution and such and thereby help the environment but... what about the mercury?

Asked about the unfortunate timing of the EA announcement, Mr Livingstone said: "We shouldn't get too alarmist about this. Every now and then there's a scare on mercury.

"I expect every adult of my generation is wandering round with a large amount of mercury in their fillings. 20 years have gone by and we're all still here.

"The truth is that mercury is released in the production of anything by the power plants. Much more is released into the atmosphere through the extra energy used by [non energy efficient] light bulbs."

This, to me, is rather a far too flippant reply by Ken Livingstone, London's Mayor, and one should be rather concerned about a mayor who has such an attitude. While it is true that many of us adults, especially those of a certain generation, have a mouth full of mercury fillings, mercury is dangerous, very dangerous indeed, to human (and animal) health and that is the reason that mercury is now being phased out in tooth filling, and therefore we should not be complacent about its presence in said light bulbs.

Mr. Livingstone went on to say that it was important for London's borough councils, responsible for waste management, ensure that facilities are in place to ensure the safe disposal of bulbs and make it easy for the public to use them so that doing so becomes second nature.

The safe disposal of the bulbs is but one problem, is it not. The warning, that I mentioned earlier, should be something that should concern us too.

Surely there must be a way of producing energy efficient lighting, as in light bulbs, that do not have mercury in them. We hardly here are using mercury vapor lamps, are me. So, how about it, people out there light bulb manufacturing. I am sure you can come up with something safe(r).

While B&Q is hosting the amnesty, British Gas is supplying the bulbs.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 9, 2007

Action Bikes Epsom - Advert

The Halfords Experience

New Years Eve 2007 – I had intended to buy a new bicycle to use as a steed to go to and from work rather than using, all the time, my good Raleigh Pioneer Classic touring cycle; one of those that were still hand-built, some years back, in Nottingham, England.

Knowing from their website that Halfords had some deals going on some bicycles I went there intending to buy one there and then in the local store. That, however, was not to be. While there were about ten of the bike I wanted to buy on display, fully assembled, standing in various locations around the store and the “Bikehut” area I was told, in no uncertain terms that I could no buy one straight away but it would take a couple of days for them to assemble one for me. Mentioning that they had fully assembled ones of the kind that I wanted on display and that I was happy to buy one of them I was told that “we cannot sell you one of those”. I then requested to speak to a manager and was told that there was no manager available and anyway, they everyone was busy – period.

Customer service – what customer service? This is how you lose a sale was my comment on leaving the store.

While Halfords will sell you a bike – if you are prepared to wait a couple of days while they put it together for you, their “Bikehut” staff do not seem to be trained competent enough to be able to take a fully assembled bicycle “off the shelf” and get it road-ready – something that should and does take no more than five to ten minutes – and thus make for happy customers.

Needless to say I do not think I will be using Halfords again in a hurry.

As I wanted a new bicycle, however, on the day I walked further in to the town of Epsom, Surrey, to the local cycles shop, Action Bikes, in Upper High Street.

I can do nothing but heap praise upon the two young gentlemen in the store for their service.

I had been looking for a bicycle for around the £100 or below and the one at Halfords I had my eye on was about £90. Telling one of the guys at Action Bike what I was looking for he immediately showed me a Falcon “Nevada” mountain bike for just a penny under the hundred. Great.

My question as to whether I could take it with me right away was met with the reply: “Sure! Just give about ten minutes to check it over and you are ready to go” and so I did.

This proves, yet again, that you can buy bicycles – or whatever – in a catalog shop or a hypermarket or a place like Halfords but proper bicycle service you will only get from a dedicated cycle shop and proper maintenance and repair only from properly trained competent mechanics who live and breathe bike, like do most of those in proper bike shops.

Action Bikes – Epsom (see advert), can be found at 21-23 Upper High Street, Epsom, Surrey KT17 4QY. Tel. 01372 744116.
They are open every day, seven days a week, with the exception of a few statutory holidays.

Tell them you saw them mentioned here on the Green (Living) Review.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008

London's New Year Firework Extravaganza Definitely NOT Green

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who wants to basically force every Londoner into a green, environmentally friendly lifestyle (something, that one must applaud in a way) allows, nevertheless, the use of fireworks to the tune of more than one million pound sterling (US$ 2,000,000 plus) to pollute, with smoke and noise, the London environment on the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2008.

This definitely is not green nor environmentally friendly. The impact on the London environment will have been enormous with one explosion per second. One can just about imagine the stench of gunpowder that will have been lying over London for hours to come.

No, I am not a spoilsport nor a killjoy but, aside from the environmental impact a lot of good – for the environment and for other needy causes – could have been done with this over one million pound sterling of, so one can only assume, London Council Tax Payers' money. Am I glad I am no Londoner.

Just like the annual waste of money for the same things, namely extravagant fireworks, at the occasion of the Thames Day each year, in the days of the GLC. The jump from Red Ken to Green Ken does not appear to have worked that well. Or is it that Mr. Livingstone hopes to go out with a bang, seeing that his job is up for grabs, I understand, this year. Maybe the London electorate will let him know how they fell about the waste of funds that went up in smoke.
I sure would not vote for him (again) if I were a London voter; for someone who is a “do as I tell you but not as I do” politician. Then again, are not most politicians like that?

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008

Action Bikes Epsom - Advert