GREEN FESTIVALS 2008 - Advertisement

Coca-Cola Aims for 'Water Neutrality'

Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) released a report recently detailing the evolution of The Coca-Cola Co.'s water management strategy.

The report, "Drinking It In: The Evolution of a Global Water Stewardship Program at The Coca-Cola Company" follows the company's efforts to achieve "water neutrality" across its worldwide operations while facing challenges from global water quality, availability and access.

During the past five years, so it is said in the report, Coca Cola has begun developing a more holistic look at its water strategy because of three issues: it has acquired water brands; communities in India protested as regards to a Coca-Cola bottler there because of appropriation and pollution issues; and it began reporting water issues as a material risk to investors.

The company, Coca Cola, they say in the report, created a survey for its plants and bottlers to gather information on efficiency, compliance, watershed, supply reliability, supply economics and social and competitive contextual information.

By the year 2007, the Coca Cola developed an integrated water strategy focused on plant performance (water use efficiency, water quality and wastewater treatment), watershed protection, enabling access to clean drinking water and working to drive global awareness and action to address water challenges. Its system-wide goal is to return all water used in its operations back to nature. Its mantra: reduce, recycle and replenish.

For the year 2008 Coca Cola has set itself a goal of becoming the most efficient company in the world in terms of water use in the beverage industry. It plans to be fully aligned with global wastewater treatment and reuse standards by the end of 2010. It will support projects and investments that focus on rainwater collection, reforestation, protecting water sources and local access to them and the efficient agricultural use of water.

I am not sure as to whether one should laugh or cry here. This is nothing but GREENWASH of the highest order. One can but wonder how much Coca Cola did pay the so-called researchers who did this report. This about a company who uses tap water and “reverse osmosis” and then sells it at huge profits in cans and from a company whose operations in India have lowered the water table by meters and this lowering of the water tables and other issues are the cause of drought conditions in the area where they have operated.

Anyone believing in Coca Cola's green credentials must have just fallen off the turnip wagon or, alternatively, be the recipient of large substantial hand-outs from the company or its agents.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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Why use a bicycle for getting about?

Lots of people ride their bikes for lots of different reasons. Here are a few that might persuade you to do it too:

First of all it is good for your body as riding a bike offers many health benefits. Here are just a few:


  • increases the fitness of your heart
  • increases your strength
  • increases your balance and flexibility
  • increases your endurance and stamina
  • increases the calories that your body burns

Cycling can be done by people of all ages, from childhood up even through the adult years when achy joints don't allow for more stressful exercise like jogging. It is also a much better exercise than is jogging. I have yet to hear of someone who after having ridden his bike had a heart attack. However, I have encountered more than one case where joggers, returning to their cars after having gone for a run in a Park, suffered a major cardiac arrest. In a number of cases those were, though in their forties, fitness instructors for the military and the police.

Secondly it is good for your state of mind

Riding a bike is proven to be a stress releaser. Regardless of if you are riding purely for pleasure or for a specific purpose, such as going to the shops or to school or to work, you will arrive at your destination feeling relaxed, energized and happier about the world and yourself. Unless you have ridden in the traffic in London or New York, I am sure. Cycle road range is known too.

Plus, being out on your bike is just flat-out fun. The more time you spend on two wheels, the harder it is to really take yourself too seriously. The kid comes out again, Ye haw!

Thirdly it is good for your community

Being out on your bike is good for the people around you as well. You are able to go the places you want to go and yet you put one less car on the road.

You do not bring with you the noise that a car generates and are actually able to interaction with people as you move. One of the reason that I do recommend cycling also for the likes of police officers and park and countryside rangers.

From my bike I can wave to a neighbor, say hi to a kid, smell someone’s dinner cooking and be a warm and friendly human presence on the streets, and as a community officer approachable by those around me.

Also, and this is quite a significant fact: operating a bicycling does not harm the environment. There is no polluting exhaust released, no oil or gas consumed; the energy and materials used to make one automobile could be used to create a hundred bicycles.

Another factor if simply convenience

There is an undeniable convenience factor you’ll discover when riding a bike. You do not need to worry about parking spaces and whether you have to pay for them or not. Traffic jams also are irrelevant to you as a cyclist, as are congestion charges, as the one introduced in London.

Cars, certainly, I admit, make better time on longer trips but you will find that for many shorter trips, or trips through heavy traffic, that you can travel just as fast or even faster by bike than you can in the car. I have been there and done it. In fact, I must admit that I do not own a motor car or any other motor vehicle so I am biased, maybe, but I have whizzed past long line of cars again and again and have arrived at the destination much earlier than did they.

Another reason to bike is for your wallet

It costs at least between 30 and 40 pence per mile to operate a car, depending on the vehicle. This is based on expenses like gas, oil, maintenance, etc., that go up when you drive more. And with the current increase in the price of oil this cost is likely to rise even further over time. This figure does not include the other, more hidden, costs of vehicle ownership such as road tax, MOT and insurance; let's not even talk of depreciation of the vehicle itself. These factors make the actual per mile cost to operate a car much higher.

When you ride your bike, you are doing a lot of good things, many of which are for the benefit of others, the environment, etc. But in the end, the one who benefits the most is you, through better health, peace of mind, increased confidence and self-reliance.

So get that bike out and get cycling. You may not, on your own, save the world in the process, but you may just be having lots of fun trying!

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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M&S tops green issues marketers’ poll

UK marketers have overwhelmingly named Marks & Spencer as the UK’s greenest brand in Marketing Week’s latest investigation into the profession’s views on environmental commitment, carried out together with YouGov. The online survey was carried out between February 20 and 29.

By a huge margin, M&S is seen by marketers as the brand that has made most inroads on green issues in recent years.

The fact that M&S announced that it would levy a small charge for its plastic bags on February 28, might have given it a significant green publicity boost.

This undoubtedly contributed to its strong showing in our survey, although the findings appear to also reveal a residual belief in the retailer’s commitment to saving the environment. This may be carried over from the launch of its “Plan A, because there is no plan B” campaign last year. It may also bear witness to the retailer’s standing as a responsible high street operator.

Others did not perform as well and some that we might has expected to be leading lights, such as the Co-Op, for instance, did not do all that well in the overall showing. Then again, I think that the strength of the Co-Op lies in it ethical commitments, rather than, necessarily, in how green it may be. For the time being at least.

One striking theme of the survey is the strong performance of car brands.

Honda is regarded as the most environmentally responsible automaker, taking sixth place with 17 mentions in the list of those with the best green reputation.

But on the measure of those that have made the greatest inroads into green issues in recent years, Toyota takes fifth place and Honda comes sixth. Evidently the hybrid electric/fuel powered models launched by these Japanese brands have earned them the green esteem of marketers.

One of the most surprising aspects of this survey was the relatively weak performance of brands that could have been perceived as “deep green”. The Body Shop barely scrapes into the top ten on recent inroads it has made, just pipping the Co-operative brand, which makes much of its ethical credentials, to ninth position. As I have said already above, as regards to the Co-Op; its strength, presently, still lies in its ethnic credentials and I rather see deep ethical commitment with less green than green commitment without the ethical part.

Other fascinating insights gleaned from our research include the aversion of marketers to the idea that brands should pay a green tax. They believe it is the Government’s responsibility to take care of the costs associated with going green.

While the marketeers might claim this and believe this others, like those of us in the “green movement”, of whichever persuasion, I am sure, would go along with the government line here; namely that brands that do not do their bit for the environment – and on an ethical level, I would like to add – should le levied a tax in order to help green development and such elsewhere. A tax is what is needed as long, and only as long as it does not disappear into the coffers of the Treasury, like so many other funds raised via taxes, and ends up doing something else than what it is intended for.

What you mean “don't I trust the government?” Sure I do – NOT!

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the majority of companies do not have a green budget but still want to be seen as more green. A high number think they already have green credentials. But when examining their behaviour in detail, it emerges that many of them do little more than recycling. Few offset their carbon emissions or are carbon neutral.

But there is also considerable reticence on the part of marketers to make much of their brand’s environmental credentials. This is summed up by the comment of one marketer who says: “A green policy seems to be enough. On the one hand there is strong interest in showing you are aware and doing something about it, but on the other a high degree of cynicism over greenwash when a brand makes too much of their green credentials.”

One surprising finding is that it is senior people who are the main force pushing green issues rather than marketers lower down the scale. It might be expected that younger marketers would be more in tune with green issues. Maybe some feel they are not in a position to do much about it.

Marketers’ views on brands’ environmental credentials stand in contrast to those of the general public, who tend to mark deep green brands more highly. But our survey shows that companies which are perceived to be promoting responsible practices will garner the plaudits for their green activities.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

Switch off your lights this Saturday

This Saturday, March 29, at 8pm local time, switch off your lights for one hour and help take action against climate change.

Your simple action, combined with that of millions of others globally, will deliver a powerful message to the citizens and leaders of the world about the need for action.

Created to take a stand against the greatest threat our planet has ever faced, Earth Hour uses the simple action of turning off the lights for one hour to deliver a powerful message about the need for action on global warming.

Join WWF in the global Earth Hour movement and get ready to show the rest of the world how committed you are to fight climate change.

Join millions of people, thousands of private business and hundreds of cities around the globe!

Anyone can get involved and millions are! From the President of Fiji to the residents of Santa Cruz in Bolivia, individuals around the world will be shutting the lights off in their homes and businesses.

Major participation is planned in more then 25 major cities, on six continents, including Chicago, Copenhagen, Manila, Tel Aviv, Bangkok, Dublin and Toronto while close to 400 more cities have signed up to support this event. Lights off at The Sydney Opera House, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and Toronto's CN Tower will mean world-famous city skylines will disappear for an hour tomorrow while celebrities like Nelly Furtado host acoustic concerts for fans.

Find out more about what's happening in these cities or get your town or local community involved. Invite friends and family over for a "lights out dinner party" or drink a glass of wine by candlelight. If you've got kids, encourage them to play hide-and-seek or a murder mystery game in the dark!

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15mph speed limits planned for 'eco-towns'

Speed limits of 15mph, so it has emerged, are to be introduced on roads in new so-called "eco-towns".

This new restriction is among a number of proposals supposedly designed to minimise the environmental impact of 10 settlements that have been proposed by the British government.

The new town centres are to be car-free, and the 15mph limit will be enforced on "key roads" leading into them, government sources said.

Maybe we could also see reductions to 20mph on road in built up areas in this country in general or, maybe, even 15mph. Not that we are travelling much faster in most towns simply because of congestion. And also proper cycle lanes or better still cycle paths, like those on the European mainland, such as Germany, Denmark and Holland.

Housing minister Caroline Flint said: "These developments will be exemplars for the rest of the world, not just the rest of the country. It's critical that we get it right – and I make no apology for us setting the bar as high as possible.

"We have a unique opportunity to deliver a programme which will genuinely revolutionise the way people live."

Ministers also plan to reduce car use drastically in the new towns by providing extensive public transport. However, what is the real aim behind this? Now this here is where I am going a little cynical, I know, and we will be talking about this further on in this article.

Developers are expected to be told that each home in the eco-towns must be within 400 metres of a public transport stop and 800 metres of shops.

This would be something to be seen. Once again, after many, many years, we could actually walk to the shops again?

Public transport is another kettle of fish and, in some cases, a very sore point with this writer. I have been on about it before and I shall use this opportunity here again to say that we must have a new and closer look at the prices of public transport in this country. The costs must come down, I mean the costs to the traveller. We cannot be expected to pay over £200 for a return ticket to Birmingham International from my location when one could fly to there for less that one third of the rail fare. This just does not compute. Government must rethink this and we should really be looking at making buses and trains free or nigh on free to use.

Last month Ms Flint said she wanted to see towns designed around pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users, emulating the "most ambitious European models" where only 50% of households have a car, e.g. the city if Freiberg, in Germany

Environmental protesters have criticised the eco-towns scheme for focusing too narrowly on carbon emissions and not giving adequate consideration to other ecological issues, such as the impact building would have on wildlife. The other question, though vehemently denied and claimed to be “water neutral” - and he who believes that definitely has fallen off the turnip wagon – is the impact those 10 new towns, some of which, I understand, will be in the south/south east of the country, is on the water resources. They are scarce enough at the wrong times in this region and more housing will make it worse still.

Up to five eco-towns are expected to be built by 2016, and as many as 10 by 2020.

They will have populations of around 5,000 to 20,000 and be linked to larger towns and cities.

The proposals have also sparked protests nationwide from residents who claim the schemes will put too much pressure on local services.

Opposition has been voiced in places such as Grovewood in south Derbyshire and Stoughton in Leicestershire, and last month around 300 campaigners marched against plans for a 6,000-home development in Long Marston, near Stratford, Warwickshire.

Not only is there a speed limit of 15mph planned for those eco-towns, but, according to some rumors, more than half of the residents, if not more will actually not be permitted – yes, I did say “not permitted” – to own a car. While in Germany, in Freiberg, for instance, this appears to be the choice of those 50% or more of residents not to have a car, in the British eco-towns about half of the residents will not be allowed to have a car. Now this are two different things, in my opinion.

While I am a cyclist and myself do not own a car, or other motor vehicle either, and I quite like the idea of less cars being used, at least for silly journeys, I do not agree with anything that might be seen as “forcing” anyone not to own a motorcar if they so wish. But to actually make it a requirement NOT to have a car in order to live in one of them towns is not a good idea, I think. In fact it is an infringement on the personal liberties of people.

This more and more leads me to believe that, while I support anything to benefit our natural environment probably more than many people, we are being told a lot of tosh as to the “global warming” issue and that that is a way for the powers that be to force people out of the motorcar. In fact, it would appear that this is the intention.

People control is something that, I am sure, is in work here. If people do not have the freedom of the car to travel be this to work or to the shops then they will have to live where the work is. This means commuting to work, especially by car, from the countryside into town, will be a thing of the past.

Is that going to be a bad thing? Maybe not if we have people living and working in the countryside as well, again, and not only a case of shifting everyone back to live in towns and cities, in areas where they can be controlled as to where they can work, how they can travel, etc.

While there has been a time, not that long ago, that I was rather in favor, initially, of the eco-towns, and the concept, the more I am seeing here the more I must say that they are very quickly falling out of favor with me. Why? Because of what “the powers that be” seem to be aiming at in doing in those so-called eco-towns. Those are not so much, it would appear, ecological-friendly towns but towns rather where to try new methods of people control.

We must watch this more than anything and it might also be a much better idea to “green” our current cities, towns and villages and the homes therein rather than to actually build such so-called “Eco-Towns”.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

LONDON AWARE 08 - Event - Advert

ACT TravelWise Event alert

ACT TravelWise in association with Brighton and Hove City Council is organising a Masterclass supported by Sustrans and Cycling England; Promoting Cycling to Employees.

This Masterclass is hosted by Cycle Demonstration Town Brighton and Hove City Council at Hove Town Hall on May 20th, and is designed to illustrate the best practice examples of how cycling can be promoted to employees.

During the day many of the pertinent issues that surround cycle promotion will be covered, such as health implications, cycle promotion to hard to reach communities, infrastructure design, and there will be case studies presented by large and small employers from the private and public sectors.

Keynote presentations will include Philip Darnton, Chairman of Cycling England, who will talk about the current and future plans for cycle promotion. We will also hear from the member for the Environment at Brighton and Hove City as to why the city sees cycling as important, and ACT TravelWise Director, Rose McArthur will chair the day and present her experience of promoting cycling through a Travel Plan.

For more information and to book a place please see the attached programme, or call Rory on 020 7348 1970

With a new Spring cycling season set to get underway ACT TravelWise is also running a competition with Evans Cycles Ride2Work and Dahon.

For your chance to win two state of the art folding bikes for your organisation for pool bikes, and a year's free membership of ACT TravelWise, email a photo & caption of someone where you work commuting without a car, or car sharing to:

Remember to send your name, role, company, contact details & the total number of staff with your caption.

Competition details can be seen on:

ACT TravelWise members are requested to please email details of this competition to all employers in their regions, particularly ones who are just starting or interested in travel planning.

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Free Your Computer with Ubuntu

There is lots of talk everywhere, I know, about the different Linux operating system distributions but I must say that, as far as I am concerned, I shall, for the time being for personal use, at least, stick with Ubuntu by Canonical.

I like Ubuntu for a number of reasons, and the word Ubuntu being one of then. I know that that may be silly but so be it. I also love the Ubuntu promise, which is to keep it totally free of licensing fees. The promise was given some while back and it is still as true as it was then. Let us hope that it will also remain thus, namely free of all license fees.

We have come a considerable way already since I started using Ubuntu, with Dapper Drake. Feisty Fawn came and went, the Gutsy Gibbon arrived and then the Heron. Now, yet another version/upgrade is due out soon. I am not worried about that, presently.

For, while now even Gutsy Gibbon and the Heron are both out and more or less, history, I personally still use the Dapper Drake version of Ubuntu and am very happy with it for the work PC, e.g. the one where all the writing is done, predominately. It sits there quietly in the corner, is ready when I want it and never freezes up or crashes – well, at least not so far. It is quacking great, the Drake, in my view, and very dapper.

If you have an older computer or just want to get the absolute best performance out of your computer you may want to try Xubuntu, which, apparently, uses the slim and trim Xfce Desktop. If you want the KDE Desktop there is Kubuntu. And, if you want to run a thin client and server setup for a classroom there is Edubuntu.

For all of the versions except Xubuntu you can request a free install CD.
However, if you have a broadband Internet connection, or have a friend who does, downloading the CD images will get it to you faster and conserve resources for those that have not choice but to order the CD.

I guess that, personally, I am biased as to the Linux distro that I use, e.g. Ubuntu, simply because it was Ubuntu that introduced me proper to Linux on the desktop and as far as I am concerned Ubuntu it will remain for a long time to come.

This is not to say that I shall not, in due course, as I have a number of “older” PCs sitting about here that I want to put to use again, experiment with Fedora, Puppy, Damn Small Linux, and a few others. I still doubt, however, that any of them will replace my Ubuntu one(s).

Let me reiterate that Ubuntu Linux is definitely worth a look

The Ubuntu developers have a philosophy and a product that seems to be Second to none. Here are some points that I find appealing as regards Ubuntu Linux:

Ubuntu Linux has a company behind it to make sure releases and updates are available in addition to support by an active user community. They have pledged never to charge a license fee. They make their money by offering paid support only.

The people behind Ubuntu Linux are committed to the free Open Source software concept and working hard to get the software out to people to use.

One impressive way they are helping to spread the word about (free) Open Source Software is by offering free CD-ROMs with free shipping. This is a great way to get the software to those without fast Internet connections and to get people to share it with their friends.

Ubuntu Linux is available as a Live Linux version you can run from the CD so you can see how you like it before installing.

Ubuntu Linux is definitely worth trying whether you have ever run Linux before or not. Check it out! I did exactly that. I checked it out by ordering the live CD and got sent about five of them. One for use, theoretically, and four, I guess, to pass on to others. I have meanwhile also cut CDs of those and given them of people who were interested.

I had heard a lot about Linux and decided to give it a go. I liked what I saw and stuck with it. I also stuck with the first initial version of Ubuntu that I ever stuck onto the PC. Why? Because of the old adage “if you Linux box works, leave it alone”. The real reason is, it does what I want it to do, is fast about doing it and, well, I am happy with it. As said, give it a try, you have nothing to lose bar your ties to Microsoft. You can set up – the CD does that automatically – a dual-boot on the PC so you have the option to return to Windows at any time, should you so wish; though I doubt that you would wish to.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

P.S. I am not getting paid by Canonical for this, before anyone asks. I just like the product.

Homemade Mouthwash Recipe

Looking for a cheap and natural way to freshen your breath? Then, try this simple mouthwash recipe:

Add half a teaspoon of baking soda to half a glass of water, and use it to gargle – an instant fix for even the worst case of bad breath.

Why This Works and How?

Baking soda neutralizes the odors in your mouth, rather than just covering them up, as many, if not indeed, all manufactured mouthwashes do.

Benefits of Using Baking Soda Mouthwash that it is inexpensive, contains no harsh chemicals, has no strong taste and is alcohol-free.


  • Keep some baking soda in your purse or briefcase, and you can even freshen your breath on the go.
  • Add a drop of peppermint oil for a minty taste.
  • If you prefer to make up big batches, boil your water, and add a teaspoon of baking soda for every eight ounces of water. Store in a sterilized container.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

Make Your Own Copper and Brass Polish

If you are looking for a low-cost, low-elbow grease way to clean the copper and brass around your home then try this:

For this natural copper and brass polish you need: some baking soda, some white vinegar, and a cleaning cloth.

To make the cleaner you mix baking soda and white vinegar together to create a paste. You then rub the paste into the copper or brass object that you wish to clean. Rinse, and buff with a dry cloth; and, voila, a new shining object.

The technology behind this cleaner is the fact that the acetic acid in the vinegar and the sodium in the baking soda work together to dissolve the tarnish.

The benefits of using a baking soda/vinegar polish is that it is inexpensive, free of chemicals and all natural. This cleaner and polish is food-safe, environmentally-friendly and, last but not least, fast-acting.

A couple of tips:

  • Be sure to use a soft cloth. Stiff brushes, scouring pads and other scratchy tools can damage copper, as copper is a relatively soft metal.
  • If the object you're cleaning is badly tarnished, you may need to repeat the process
  • This polish can also be used to clean bronze.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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Breakfast Cereals Grows Up

Dorset Cereals – Product Review

Breakfast cereals have definitely come along way and they have now grown up and the more adult ones have also come out of the niche that was reserved for Muesli alone, it seemed. There was little choice. It was either corn flakes, shredded wheat stuff, and other children's breakfast cereals or you had to go for rather bland and ordinary muesli. Finally we, the older ones, and we will have to guard those packets without lives, have our own proper breakfast cereals in the form of Dorset Cereals.

Oh, and did I mention they do a couple of great chewy bars as well? I didn't? Well, I have now. Those are called “chunky slices”. Three varieties that I had the pleasure, and a pleasure it sure was, of trying and they are all equally great, though my absolute favorite must be the “Cranberry & Almond” one. That is not to say that I did not equally enjoy the others as well; I am just a sucker for cranberry. The “Date & Pecan” is also worth mentioning and I may have had a little of a toss up between which of them are my favorites. As said, the all three are equally great, but I am just a sucker, and I said that already, for cranberry.

There are, 8 different muesli varieties in the Dorset Cereals range and I had the pleasure to try seven of them. As I have said already, cranberry will get my vote every but the berry ones definitely are great, no two ways about it.

In addition to that there are now a new range of porridges, so I understand, which I have not been able to try as yet.

There is just one problem with them all, I have noticed; they are way too moreish. One of them packs is never enough.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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Uses for Found Orphaned Socks

Often, on my walks, I do find the odd orphaned sock of a small and not so small child and I have often wondered as to what to do with them, as I always thought it a shame to waste them, as a resource and then, one day it just dawned on me... USB stick and cell phone/MP3-player socks, obviously.
Now I have a use for them and you have an idea as to what to do with them too, if you find some.

The smallest ones, those that tend to be lost by babies in their pushchairs are turned into covers – not much to do about it – for USB Flash Drives, aka USB Sticks, and the bigger ones, from older babies and toddlers, make great ones for cell phones and also for iPods and other MP3 players. Why buy a so-called USB or cell phone sock when you can have them for free and do something for the environment at the same time.
So, happy sock hunting...

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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Metal and Carbon Fiber Hiking Staffs – Another NO Good Idea

The sport of Nordic Walking, in which originally ski poles, once from natural materials, were used, has brought us this, often telescopic, hiking staff, also referred to as a hiking pole now and we seem to come across those things now everywhere, in parks, in woods, on the hills. What a silly and to the environment costly invention. What is wrong with the good old wooden staff or stick?

Yes, I do know that you cannot collapse a wooden staff into a short length to stick it into your backpack or such, but when using a wooden staff you also don't use something that took lots of energy and CO2 to produce. In fact, while the sapling for the wooden staff was growing it used only the energy of the sun and used up carbon, in fact.

OK! I will have to admit it, I am biased. I am, after all, a stick maker, amongst other things, but still.

You cannot beat the beauty, character and especially strength of a natural wooden (or bamboo, if need be) hiking staff. In no way can you put the weight on one of those modern metal and plastic thingies that you can on a standard walking stick or a hiking staff made from a sapling. That is, however, something that you may have to do when traversing difficult terrain and not only difficult terrain. The stick or staff is the third leg to the walker and hiker, it is there to steady you on slopes and on rough ground and to make your passage easier and, should the need arise, it can also be used as a weapon to defend against two- and four-legged attackers.

You cannot, however, do that efficiently with the aluminium or carbon fiber hiking pole. I am sure that, should you have to put lots of strength on it or have to use it as a weapon, say, against a ferocious dog, the staff would break. In fact 99 out of a 100, of that I am nigh on sure, definitely will break if too much pressure is brought to bear upon them. May of those one can, nowadays, find broken in parks and on the hills because people had to put weight on them and one or both – when used as a pair – have failed. This could also be rather dangerous to health and safety of the walker using such staffs.

This is not something that I have ever, as yet, encountered with a natural grown and carefully crafted stick or staff. The grown wood, often purposely grown and trained into this or that kind of outdoors stick, can never be bettered by man-made “stick”, a “stick” made from a metal, light metal at that, which is not all that strong to start with, e.g. aluminium, or made from a plastic, even if it is carbon fiber. While carbon fiber may make great fishing rods with a great breaking strain, because it flexes well, this material, in my – biased, I hasten to add – opinion, does not a great walking stick make. I have tried them and found them all wanting. I guess this simple may be because I am used to wood for a staff but then again...

...Food for thought!

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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Found Clothes

Only recently I found out that I am not alone, so it would appear, in picking up lost clothes, and other such things, that are laying about.

I had always thought that I must be alone and strange as regards to doing this – not that that would have surprised me one single bit – but, it would seem, that I am not alone. There is even a website, a Typepad Blog, dedicated to the activity of rescuing orphaned clothes, teddies and other items found lost or abandoned. It is rather nice, in a way, to know that one is NOT alone in this after all.

The purpose of this little dissertation, aside from letting you, the reader, know that there are rescue services about for orphaned articles, it is to have a look at and maybe a little discussion about as to the activities of adopting such orphans and what to do with them in the end.

First of all let me say that I find it always amazing to see what does end up left laying around in the way of clothing items, as well as other things. How some people forget things such as those always bets me.

I must say that, even though I do draw and attract some strange looks at times, I tedn to pick up most orphaned items of clothes (toys, dog leads, etc.), as and where feasible and healthy, whether I can personally make use of them or not. Children's clothes, for instance, get washed and stored to go into boxes for Gypsy families in need.

I must say though that I doubt that anyone could make use of the lovely woolen hat (real wool) that I managed to ruin the other day. Why? Well, it was found in the woods and in an attempt to clean it up a little I washed it, even though I used only warm water, in the washing machine and I shrunk and felted it rather heavily. Mind you, it will make a great liner or an egg basket, though, I am sure.

On a more serious note, however, I find that at least by picking the things up and where possible bring them back into use, for myself or others, after cleaning, they are kept out of the landfill sites or the refuse incinerators, in addition to the fact that they are still being used, thus reducing a little the impact on the environment.

Like with many things, if we would not throw them and find a use for them instead we would have far less of an adverse impact on our environment, on Nature, than we do.

Many of those items of “orphaned” clothes, as well as soft toys, and other items, that are being found should never be there in the first place. It beats me how anyone can lose a shoe, as in a single shoe, for instance, or boot. I can understand that one may find a single small child's sock floating about, so to speak, for we all know what little ones, when in their prams, do. They often pull them of and before Mom notices one or both socks are lost. Obviously, Mom is not going to go back looking for one or even a pair of baby's socks: well, seems to be the attitude, we just buy another pair. We shall be looking at uses for such orphaned socks in another article.

In general too it is surprising how such items of clothing – toys again get there often in the same way as the child's socks, namely that they get dropped by the child on the way and no one can be bothered, generally to look for them again – end up where they do end up in the first place. When I pose this question now it is a rhetorical one but, “what is wrong with people nowadays?”

I must say that, when one was raised the way I was in that, firstly, we did not have much, whether in way of clothes, or toys or other, and secondly, when one has the environment in mind and also those less fortunate than oneself, the adopting of orphaned clothes, and other such items, becomes an addiction and an obsession. So, beware. The are now Lost Clothes Adopters Anonymous around; well, not as yet, anyways.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

Bring Back the Nature Table

Country Living Magazine campaign highlights dangers of isolating children from natural world

Country Living Magazine has launched a campaign in the wake of alarming research that shows UK children are losing touch with the natural environment, a loss that could damage their wellbeing and the future of the countryside.

The Bring Back the Nature Table campaign, sponsored by Jordans Cereals, is designed to reconnect children with nature by encouraging all UK schools to set up nature tables. Nature tables, complete with sticky buds, catkins and pussy willow, were once common in primary school classrooms.

Country Living Magazine says the loss of nature tables is just the tip of the iceberg and more needs to be done to raise awareness of health and societal costs of children's isolation from the natural world.

According to research recently conducted by the magazine, less than half (45%) of all UK parents and grandparents surveyed took their children out for a regular walk. And few (48%) actually took the time to stop and look at wildflowers or insects with their children. 31% of those parents and grandparents surveyed said their children wouldn't even know what pussy willow was.

It is absolutely horrendous to realize that so many children today have no idea as to nature and also as to whether their food comes from. They think that wool grows on trees and that eggs come in cartons from the supermarket. To connect sheep with wool and chickens with eggs does not even enter their minds. This is sad in the extreme. We have been mollycoddling children for far too long and even children in the countryside, those that are not directly connected with farming or forestry have no idea often either and are as ignorant in matter countryside as are their town and city cousins.

The magazine has also enlisted the expertise of GP and strategic health advisor for Natural England, Dr William Bird, who says children have lost so much contact with the natural environment that they are more familiar with cartoon characters than British wildlife.

"Getting out into green spaces is absolutely vital for children, for their mental state and wellbeing," says Dr Bird. "We have an innate connection with the natural environment and this means that nature has the ability to recharge us. But over the years, nature has been squeezed out of school timetables and parents and grandparents have stopped taking children on nature walks in parks, fields and woodland. I think the Bring Back the Nature Table campaign is really important in helping children re-connect with this beneficial health boost."

Dr Bird says research has shown that green spaces can even help ease aggression and prevent bullying in the playground.

"Studies have actually shown that green spaces can boost a child's concentration and calm them down. On an asphalt playground, it will be the biggest and loudest child that dominates," says Dr Bird. "But if you let children play around trees and bushes, they will congregate around the more creative one - the one who's catching tadpoles or building a den."

Country Living Magazine's editor, Susy Smith says, "Country Living Magazine is concerned by the increasing number of today's children who are missing out on the benefits that nature provides to their health and mental wellbeing. We hope the Bring Back the Nature Table campaign will help children to reconnect with nature and not only reach their full potential, but also help safeguard the countryside for future generations."

Bill Jordans, founder of Jordans Cereals and Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, who was greatly influenced by nature as a child, says, "Growing up at our family flour mill in the heart of rural Bedfordshire, I saw first hand the damage that intensive arable farming had done. At Jordans we started selling organic cereal in the early 1970s and put specific wildlife-friendly farming practices at the heart of our company in the mid 1980s. My hope now is that by encouraging children to engage with the natural world they will do a much better job of looking after our countryside in the future than my generation has done in the past!"

The campaign is also supported by environmental education charity, the Field Studies Council.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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Eco-towns 'could destroy British wildlife'

Many of the proposals for a series of "eco-towns" could destroy local wildlife and the environment, the Wildlife Trusts claimed recently.

In a drive to build low-carbon developments, government plans are failing to pay attention to other important ecological considerations and making "a mockery" of the term eco-town, the Trusts warned.

The Government is set to unveil a short list of potential developments in England in due course, which aim to provide zero-carbon homes, businesses and schools and be "exemplars" of at least one area of environmental sustainability.

But the Wildlife Trusts is concerned many of the proposals submitted by developers and local authorities will destroy important wildlife sites.

More than 50 proposals have been submitted and up to five eco-towns are expected to be built by 2016, and as many as 10 by 2020.

They will have populations of around 5,000 to 20,000 and be linked to larger towns and cities.

The Wildlife Trusts wants the short list to only include eco-towns which are located sensitively so they don't destroy existing habitat areas and are planned with provisions for wildlife-rich features such as ponds as part of sustainable drainage schemes.

The Trusts also want to see plans assessed on their full ecological footprint, not just their carbon impact.

And the Environmental Network is calling for the new Community Infrastructure Levy - through which councils can raise money from new developments to help develop the infrastructure they need - to pay for green areas such as parks.

This is, in my opinion, yet just another variety of “NIMBY-ism”. It would appear that these organizations, left in the cold in this process, for no one, as yet, seems to have asked them to join in, are sore about that.

I must say though that I do agree with the sentiments of the “Environmental Network” as to the sentiments regarding park and open spaces but must disagree with the idea of any kind of levy.

The eco-towns must also have access to environmentally-sustainable transport such as cycle ways and footpaths, the Trusts said, and who could disagree with that. Cycle paths in this country are something that we lack. We should and indeed must take a leaf out of Germany's book and do as they have done where, in most areas, cycle paths are alongside each and every country road, so-called B-roads, the equivalent of our A-roads, linking towns and villages. Why not the same in the UK? I am sure we will get the usual excuse that, while this may all work well in countries such as Germany but cannot work in Britain, “because Britain is different”.

One of the sites that the Trusts fear will damage wildlife is the application for an eco-town at Shipton-on-Cherwell quarry, or Bunkers Hill, in North Oxfordshire, which is a designated Local Wildlife Site and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and falls within the green belt.

Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: "The Government's current proposals make a mockery of the term 'eco-town'.

"What we need to see is the planning system being used to avoid insensitive development and restore and create new wildlife habitats.

"The Wildlife Trusts welcome the idea of eco-towns but, to be truly sustainable, they need to be about much more than simply building zero-carbon homes. We also need to build in the right places.

"Many of the current proposals will destroy important wildlife sites and fragment our towns and countryside at a time when we should be creating 'Living Landscapes' - areas through which wildlife can move," she said. I have never heard as much garbage... Wildlife corridors... what next.. the suggestion of 1/2 the country be turned into such corridors, as someone suggested for the United States.

In the run-up to the announcement from the Government, eco-towns have come under criticism with concerns failed development applications are being resubmitted as eco-towns.

The proposals have also sparked protests nationwide from residents who claim the schemes will put too much pressure on local services.

Opposition has been voiced in places such as Grovewood in south Derbyshire and Stoughton in Leicestershire, and earlier this month around 300 campaigners marched against plans for a 6,000-home development in Long Marston, near Stratford, Warwickshire.

A spokesman for Communities and Local Government rejected the claims by the Wildlife Trusts as "scaremongering". And I could but agree with the statement of the government department here. Why is is that, as soon as something is being done some one from the supposed environmental movement comes along and says that this and that cannot be done. Why? Because the organization has not been invited to participate in the building of this or that. When we talk about incineration of refuse they turn up again and say this must not be done for either the reason that it will give off this or that gas or whatever or because “we must recycle more”. Yes, but there is always something that cannot be reused or recycled and something must be done with that and it is definitely better to burn that than to have it go into holes in the ground.

"No eco-town application has even been shortlisted yet and there will be extensive consultation with green groups and residents before any decisions are made.

"Eco-towns offer a tremendous opportunity to revolutionise the way we plan and deliver homes - radically changing the way that people travel, work and live. They will be exemplar communities that others can learn from.

"There is a rigorous process in place to ensure we balance the need to protect the environment and cut carbon emissions with providing the homes that our families and first time buyers desperately need.

"Bids will not succeed unless they meet tough tests proving they make best use of brownfield land, safeguard local wildlife and habitat areas and provide cutting edge low and zero carbon technologies and good public transport systems," he said.

Jacqui Lait, shadow planning minister, said there was a need to build more homes to high environmental standards on genuine brownfield sites.

"Any eco-town development must command local support, and they should not be built on Green Belt or in areas with special protection - such as wildlife sites."

She added: "Eco-spin should not be used to push through developments which aren't truly environmentally sustainable or which lack supporting infrastructure."

No spin of any sort should be used, whether pro-eco-town and against eco-towns just because of this or that. What must be done is to study all possible aspects and impacts and take it from there. It is a little difficult, as those organizations campaigning now, it would seem, against eco-town, to have their cake and eat it all at the same time.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

Britain’s Mushrooming Bicycling Boom

Since the year 2001 there has, apparently, been a 40% increase in Brits who regularly cycle.

Around 3.2 million British adults today regularly cycle compared to 2001 when the figure was only about 2.3 million. In fact, more people are now cycling regularly than participating regularly in football, golf, jogging or athletics or any other form of sports. For 1.2 million people cycling represents their only sporting activity, that is 30% more than in 2001.

According to a report of the 3.2 million regular cyclists, 1.5 million also use their bicycles as a method of transport, almost 20% more than in 2001.

According to Transport for London, the Tour de France's legacy to London was a 10.5% per cent increase in the number of people cycling on the UK capital's major roads in the six months April-September 2007, compared to the same period for 2006. That created an estimated 48,000 more cycle journeys everyday.

The biggest problem in the United Kingdom as far as cycling for business and pleasure is concerned is the lack of proper facilities for cyclists, that is to say, the lack of proper cycle paths.

James Smythe, head of British Market Research Bureau - Sport, said: "It seems adults are getting the message about cycling's health and transport benefits outweighing the risks."

“Cycle use rose throughout 2007 but not because of any shiny new infrastructure, not because of any huge financial commitment from central Government and not because of any sudden advertising campaign telling people to get on their bikes, and most definitely not because of fair weather, usually said to be the key factor for cycle use in the UK. Cycle use is up because the time is right.”

I do not think it is just a case of “the time is right” but also, and especially, a case of “gas is dear”, with over $8.50 per US gallon of gasoline. For an Imperial gallon, which is a wee bit more than a US gallon, the price is over $10. It is, therefore, no wonder that those that can are going over to cycles as means of transport, for public transport, as in buses, tube and trains, is far too expensive. (I shall be talking about trains and their prices shortly).

In fact if the British govt really wanted to do something about the environmental impact of all the cars and all that it would (1) make public transport nigh on free, including long-distance train travel and (2) do away with the 14% import duty on bikes, followed by 17.5% VAT. But that, I assume, would be far too advanced and novel an idea.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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Climate change a top threat

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that climate change, and pandemic disease threaten, international security as much as terrorism and that Britain must radically improve its defenses.

The fact is, in my opinion, that “Climate Change”, previously known as and called “Global Warming”, is much more a threat to us, in this country and worldwide, than is terrorism. Even though suicide bombers are hard to combat there is a target that can be seen and probably overcome. Climate change, on the other hand, is something that, especially if it is NOT man-made, as I believe that it is not, we will have to learn to live with and have to prepare for in a completely different way and by different methods.

This will mean that (1) we must look at what we can do about probable flooding, (2) what we can do about the probable droughts, and so on. We must, therefore, develop seeds that are more drought resistant in the same way as we may have to change our agriculture to a more drought resilient one.

The biggest problem is that if the climate change that we are being faced with, and I am certain that something is happening to the climate, is not man-made, and as I said, I do not believe that it is man-made, though the way man is destroying habitat we are certainly not helping, then our efforts to “combat climate change” are in vain. While nothing is wasted by reducing our waste and all that, we must look at “climate change” with different eyes and we must look to live with it if we cannot, as I believe, change it in any way, shape or form. The Earth has been going through cycles of extreme climates every 1,000 years or thereabouts and we are just climbing to one of those high spots in temperatures presently.

As far as can be seen we the temperatures have, in fact, plateaued out and are no longer, at least at present, on the up – regardless what we are being told by some people with a hidden agenda. Even the head of the IPCC has agreed to this, and all the eminent scientists do in more-or-less closed session. So why does no one admit it. In fact they have admitted it when they began calling it “Climate Change” instead of “Global Warming”. But I digressed a little here, as this shall be dealt with in another article (probably on another place).

We must prepare for the inevitable, namely that we, while we, that is to say, mankind, may have contributed and are contributing still to climate change by means of pollution of the environment and we are creating a dangerous living space for ourselves, may not be able to reverse this change in climate simple because it is a natural phenomenon of the Earth, a cycle She goes through every so many centuries. We must make provisions to live with this instead. This is where the challenge lies.

Brown listed the greatest threats to Britain's peace as "war, terrorism and now climate change, disease and poverty — threats which redefine national security."

As I have said already, we can forget the “war & terrorism” bit more or less though we must be vigilant, obviously. We must, however, concentrate on the “climate change” and also on the “pandemic” possibilities, and not just pandemic flu.

Only the other day we have learned that a visitor/immigrant from Somalia is in an isolation ward in a hospital in Scotland with a drug-resistant strain – a completely new strain, apparently – of tuberculosis.

Our way of travel, nowadays, where we can get from one end of the world to the next literally in hours is also bringing new threats in the form of diseases and insect plagues with it.

Some years back already we learned that a bark beetle – I know this is but a forest disease, but – that was never known in Canada before has arrived there and, apparently, a pair or more had hitched a lift in a plane from Scotland, for this beetles has been traced back to there. If this can happen with a couple of pairs of bark beetles I am sure it can happen with other insects carrying pathogens, or whatever.

"The nature of the threats and the risks we face have — in recent decades — changed beyond recognition and confound all the old assumptions about national defense and international security," Brown told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

A classified list of threats to national security will be released to the public later this year, he said.

"Climate change is potentially the greatest challenge to global stability and security," a report commissioned by Brown to outline the new strategy said.

British officials estimate a flu-type pandemic in the U.K. could cost as many as 750,000 lives, the report said. It also claimed major coastal floods would likely need a military evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.

Terrorism minister Adm. Alan West, a former head of defense intelligence, said a new focus on climate change and disease comes as the threat of terrorism in Britain eases somewhat.

But staff numbers at MI5, Britain's domestic spy agency, will increase to combat an estimated 2,000 aspiring terrorists in the U.K., Brown said.

Resources and technology at the government's secret eavesdropping center also will be enhanced, in part to respond to a new threat from cyber attacks, he said.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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Healthy and productive forests reduce impact of climate change

by Michael Smith (Veshengro), RFA

Only healthy and productive forests have a chance to act against the changes in climate. Such are the findings of the recent congress “Forest Ecosystems in a Changing Environment” that has been held in Istanbul, Turkey.

The forests of Europe currently compensate for around 10% of the European CO2 emissions and are thereby reducing the greenhouse effect. On the other hand the changes in climate also affect the forests, either directly through the rising temperatures and extreme events such as droughts or gales, or indirect through changes in the occurrences of diseases and insects.

The already observable extreme events, such as the more frequent and more ferocious gales and especially the climate scenarios that are being predicted are a great challenge to a proper forest management, which will have to rely also in future on the results of monitoring and scientific studies.

Our forests are still being destabilized through an intake of nitrogen that is way too high. At more than two thirds of the 186 permanent observation areas critical rates were being exceeded constantly. Such observations are recorded all over central Europe.

In the short term, however, this high amount of nitrogen also appears to have some benefits. Recent data has shown that high uptake of nitrogen appear to lead to an increased growth amongst forest trees, which results in a higher uptake of carbon out of the atmosphere.

There is, however, great uncertainty as to the scale of this additional uptake of carbon. The experts fear that the environmental condition will probably deteriorate in future even faster than before. Therefore forestry related environmental observation must be continued and further developed. The continued financing of the currently existing forestry monitoring network on EU level and in individual countries must urgently be secured.

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Artificial Flavors

Ice cream manufacturers are not by law required to list the additives in the making of ice cream. Chemical additives are much less expensive than the real thing so that the manufacturers usually take the path of least resistance to higher profits. Consequently, the majority cheaper, pre-packed (especially half gallon and gallon) ice creams are synthetic from start to finish.

Laboratory analysis have shown the following:

Diethyl Glucol – a cheap chemical that is used as an emulsifier to substitute for eggs. It is identically the same chemical used in anti-freeze and paint remover.

Piperahol – extensively used as a substitute for vanilla. This widely used by exterminators as a chemical to kill lice.

Aldehyde C17 – used to flavor cherry ice cream. This is an inflammable liquid which is used in aniline dyes, plastic and rubber.

Ethyl Acetate – used to give ice cream a pineapple flavor. It is used a cleaner for leather and textiles. Its vapors are a cause of chronic lung, heart and, especially, liver damage to those two industries.

Butyraldehyde – used to give ice cream various nut-like flavors. It is one of the common ingredients of rubber cement.

Amyl Acetate – used to give ice cream a banana flavor. It is used commercially as an oil paint solvent.

Benzyl Acetate – used to give a strawberry flavor. It is used as a nitrate solvent.

This is just a small list of whats used in ice cream.

What are they using in other foods? We have decided not to buy anything that says artificially flavored or colored. Yes, it has cut down on what we can safely
buy. Better that than feed our bodies something that could cause cancer or other health problems.

A couple of books that you can read to get more information on this are: CONSUMER BEWARE by Beatrice Hunter, and THE POISONS IN YOUR FOOD by William Longgood.

O.W.C. Newman

N.B. While the above may hold true and be the case as to artificial flavors and such in the USA, in the countries of the EU, including Great Britain, each and every ingredient has to be listed and if E-numbers are used there is a list available that shows what what product is and does. There was once a great scare as to the E-numbers and people rejected or attempted to reject anything with E-numbers. However, every ingredient, even natural flavors, etc. have an E-number, simply because that's how the EU works and sometimes only the number is listed. In the UK, however, the entire name of the ingredient must be in the list.

In the main, in Europe, the ingredients for ice cream have to be natural, and vanilla flavor means flavored with vanilla essence. However, ice cream does not have to use milk fats in the UK and still can be called ice cream while in some other countries this is not the case. Ed.

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Fairtrade and other Ethical Labels

The blue & green though often just black & white, though very distinct, Fairtrade label in the only one, as far as I can see, that guarantees a minimum income to the producers, the farmers and the workers. Other labels in what is slowly but surely becoming confusing array of “ethical” labels, that have followed in the wake of the Fairtrade label, cannot be seen in the same light. In fact, the cloud the issue, rather. Consumers are being bamboozled by the proliferation of bewildering labels claiming to be ethical, without, often, further explaining this. What, for instance, do those other labels stand for?

Why did not Kraft – with Kenco Coffee – go with the Fairtrade label? Because, no doubt, the Fairtrade rules are too rigorous for its liking. So, instead, they opted for an easier one; one that does not benefit farmers and workers, at least not in the same way as Fairtrade does. To the likes of Kraft, it appears to me, it is a matter of profit, yet again. At least Nestle, whatever one may like to say against it, and there are many things, went the whole hog with the Partner Blend instant coffee in that the product got the Fairtrade label. While this may, so far, only be one product of the Nestle range, it is a step in the right direction. Why, though, I would like to ask, is Nestle chocolate not all, by now, Fairtrade? If the Co-Op can have great Fairtrade chocolate at a very reasonable price why can not all Nestle's chocolate products be Fairtrade by now without any increase in price. A company the size of Nestle can do it. Profits and shareholder dividends, however, yet again seem to get into the way. Shame. But we all know that Nestle can do more and at the same price as they do it without Fairtrade and this is where consumer power comes in.

The same is true with other companies, such as Kraft, in the case of Kenco Coffee. If the consumers stopped buying Kenco because it is not Fairtrade and opted for those that are instead the message would be received soon loud and clear at Kraft HQ. Many local governments in the UK, for instance, buy Kenco Coffee, often because of the ethical label that it now has, seeming to think that they are doing their part, that they are doing good buy buying that brand. It is again down to us, in this case as residents, as local tax payers, to tell the town halls that we are not happy with the brand of coffee or whatever else that they are using. Education of the councillors here is the key and of council leaders and officers. We can do it.

Let me please stress at this point that I do not get paid in any way, shape or form, though chance would be a fine thing, by the Fairtrade Foundation, nor do I work for them in any way. I believe, however, that we must make the distinction clear to all as the differences between the labels. As far as it is public knowledge the Fairtrade label is the only one that actually guarantees a minimum income to farmers and workers who grow the cocoa, the coffee, the tea, etc. and by means of this guaranteed income Fairtrade enables those people to better themselves without the need of charity and aid.

It would appear to me that someone needs to write a guide of sorts – for the consumer – to all those “ethical” labels, be they “Rainforest Alliance” certification, or whatever. Without such a definitive guide, I believe, that the consumer will get confused, and this could be a confusion to such an extend even that he or she will become disillusioned with it all and no longer bother looking for or demanding Fairtrade.

Part of the success of Fairtrade has been to put social and environmental issues and the plight of farmers and workers on to global agendas, encouraging companies to see that consumers are not only concerned with price – that instead of always competing to offer the cheapest commodities, they can put real value back into our food and drink (and other goods). So, obviously, any and all improvements that benefit producers, e.g. farmers and workers, are welcome. But there is a flipside to this coin.

We must ensure that the gains the Fairtrade Movement has won by fighting hard and serious battles are not chipped away and undermined by companies opting for this previously mentioned proliferation of labels that confuse the public ; none of which carry the same guarantees as the Fairtrade label.

Some of the alternative schemes have a lot attraction: many of them are addressing issues such as the environment that are very important indeed and are sometimes doing a good job in many ways.

However, in most instances it is the companies, and NOT the producers, that are in the driving seat. Those schemes make fewer demands on the companies; usually even the largest plantations can enter and – most importantly – such schemes do not cost the companies much, as said already, because there is no minimum price to pay; no guaranteed income for the growers and/or workers.

They are not, I know, and have never claimed to be either, Fairtrade programs. In comparison Fairtrade must seem hard work and expensive to companies. But Fairtrade is THE ONLY scheme that works to address the root causes of farmers' and workers' poverty and it is the only one that has an organized global movement behind it. The movement's years of campaigning has given the mark an immense recognition to the extend that eight out of ten people in Britain know about the mark and about Fairtrade and what it stands for. This, in turn gives great power to the Fairtrade Movement to persuade traders and supermarkets to act, and this is what gives the Fairtrade Label its legitimacy, as well as its strength and makes it very special.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

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UK's largest wood-fuel power station has been opened in Scotland

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Steven's Croft Power Station near Lockerbie, the largest wood-fired power station in the UK, was officially opened the other day allowing biomass generation in Scotland on a new scale.

It marks a great step towards meeting the Scottish Government's targets of generating 50 per cent of electricity from renewable sources and achieving an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

Steven's Croft is a 44MW biomass power plant, burning a mixture of forestry residue and specially grown willow.

I must say though that I, personally, still cannot understand why we have to have specially grown willow, or any other specially grown wood for such plants. More about that though at the end.

It is expected to sustain around 300 jobs in the forestry and agriculture sector and to save up to 140,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year.

After performing the opening, First Minister Alex Salmond said: "Today we put Lockerbie on Scotland's renewable energy map, as the home of the UK's largest wood-fired power station.

"At a stroke, Steven's Croft more than doubles Scotland's biomass electricity generating capacity from 39 to 83 megawatts.

"It is proof that not only can we generate power from materials previously seen as waste, we can create good quality jobs and improve the sustainable management of our forests.

"The power plant will produce enough green energy, from the surrounding forests, to supply up to 70,000 homes - more than 17 times the population of Lockerbie.

"What's more, this plant will give a significant boost to the local economy - 40 jobs here on site and a further 300 jobs that it will support in local forestry, saw milling and agriculture industries.

"Scotland's renewable potential is immense - enough to meet our energy requirements many times over. Biomass is a growing component of the mix. Steven's Croft Power Station is a great showcase for the role biomass can play in a cleaner, greener Scotland."

Frank Mastiaux, Chief Executive of E.ON Climate & Renewables said: "We're delighted that the First Minister could be here today, because Steven's Croft is a pioneering project that offers huge benefits to the local community as well as to the battle against climate change.

"We need a mix of energy sources such as biomass if we're going to succeed in ensuring a secure supply of electricity to keep the lights on while reducing carbon emissions.

"That's why we're taking the lead and building projects like Steven's Croft, which represents part of a billion pound investment that we're making in the development of renewable energy in the UK over the next five years."

The Steven's Croft Power Station is owned and operated by E.ON UK.

The capital cost of the Steven's Croft project is £90 million, including a Big Lottery Grant of £18 million. The project will also benefit from support through the Renewables Obligation (Scotland) Order.

The majority of fuel is sourced within a 60 mile radius.

Steven's Croft was voted Best Renewable Project at the 2007 Scottish Green Energy Awards.

Demand for woody biomass for bio-energy is increasing rapidly. In response to this trend the Environment Minister set up the Woodfuel Task Force to assess potential sources of additional woody biomass in Scotland.

The Scottish Government is considering its response to the Task Force report, and this will be published shortly.

This could, in my view, become something that all of the UK should be working towards, namely wood-fueled electricity generating plants; small neighborhood plants, especially of the combined heat & power kind. There is enough wood going begging like in municipal parks, where, for instance Elm and Horse Chestnut is often burned on site or otherwise disposed off instead of being made properly use of.

Dutch Elm Disease too, if we would just have the political will and the man-power to do it, could by such means be eradicated within a lifetime or less in that the dead or dying tress be cut down, transported under sanitary condition to the wood-fueled power plants and then burned under the same tight conditions. This could break the vicious cycle of pathogen and bark beetle. It would take a minimum of probably fifteen years for the cycle to be broken and any new grows of Elm – if we really managed to properly get rid off all dead and diseased trees – should then no longer fall prey to the new Dutch Elm disease, the one that we imported from the United States in the third quarter of the last century.

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Mayor to End Purchase of Bottled Water at City Hall

Seattle’s outstanding tap water beats the bottle on cost, quality and climate

SEATTLE Mayor Greg Nickels announced recently that he has signed an executive order ending the purchase of bottled water for city buildings and events, citing Seattle’s high-quality municipal water supply and the significant environmental costs of throw-away plastic bottles.

Seattle enjoys some of the world’s best public water, born in the pristine watersheds of the Cascade Mountains. It meets or beats the quality of expensive bottled water and is available at every tap served by Seattle Public Utilities. The mayor’s order – which applies only to city departments – is the first step in an effort to promote Seattle’s water and get people to consider kicking the bottle habit.

“This is a matter of leading by example,” Nickels said. “The people of Seattle own one of the best water supplies in the country, every bit as good as bottled water and available at a fraction of the price. When you add up the tremendous environmental costs of disposable plastic bottles clogging our landfills, the better choice is crystal clear.”

Last year, the city spent about $58,000 for bottled water at city facilities and events. The mayor’s order would phase out city purchases of bottled water by the end of the year, while encouraging employees to switch to municipal water. It would not ban the private purchase of bottled water by city employees.

Bottled water, which costs about $8 a gallon, is about 2,400 times as expensive as tap water, which runs about one-third of one cent. In 2006 Americans bought a total of 31.2 billion liters of bottled water, requiring nearly 900,000 tons of plastic produced from fossil fuels and more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation. That adds up to more than 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gases.

Other environmental problems with bottled water include the fact that, nationally, only one water bottle in 10 is recycled, and that it takes three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water.

Regular testing has consistently shown that Seattle’s water boasts some of the lowest levels of contaminants of any major city in North America — easily besting Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Seattle’s water mostly comes from rain and snowpack in the Cedar River and Tolt River watersheds, in the Cascade Mountains. These pristine areas are access-controlled; they have no industry and no residences, resulting in a source of exceptionally clean water.

Exceptions to the city’s new ban on bottled water may be made in cases when there are no reasonable alternatives to access safe drinking water and when there are hydration requirements for employees working outside of city facilities.

Seattle Public Utilities, a department of city government, provides a reliable supply of high-quality water to more than 1.3 million customers in the Seattle metropolitan area. To learn more about Seattle’s drinking water system visit the Seattle Public Utilities Water System Web site.

Visit the mayor’s Web site. Get the mayor’s inside view on initiatives to promote transportation, public safety, economic opportunity and healthy communities by signing up for The Nickels Newsletter.

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Reduce the Easter Egg Waste

Easter is upon us yet again, somewhat early this year. Millions of us will be celebrating Easter this weekend by munching our way through a chocolate egg or two. How many of us, however, have ever stopped to think about the extra waste that we are thus creating?

An estimated 10,000 metric tons – let me write this in words: ten thousand tons – of packaging will be thrown away over Easter in Britain. This is the equivalent weight of 1,500 London buses.

The Warwickshire-based Charity “Garden Organic” is urging people to think twice before heading to the bin and throw Easter egg packaging on the compost heap instead.

We are here talking, obviously, only about the cardboard and paper, and especially if it is not glossy stuff and such. The plastic and foil do not have any place on your compost heap or in your composter. You have got one, haven't you. A composter or compost heap?

This advice is, I know, only good for those that actually live in a place where we do have a garden or have an allotment. Not much good to those that live in apartment complexes and such like.

The Waste & Resources Action Plan (WRAP), said retailers are taking big steps to reduce the amount of packaging used for Easter eggs, but consumers can still do their bit.

The problem now is not the retailers, in my view, when it comes to packaging of Easter eggs (and general packaging), but the manufacturers and somewhere along the line we must get them on board to actually do something about the mount of packaging waste. While we are, I know, talking here about the packaging waste generated by Easter eggs, I would like to share a little example and that is the way – the wasteful and stupid way – that, for instance, the replacement heads for the Braun electric toothbrush are sold. There are two in a pack, bot individually packed in their own little blister packs, who are then, together, put into another blister pack of the kind that you need a chainsaw to get into in order to get the brushes out. I am sure that, after they are blister packed individually, they would nicely fit into a recycled recyclable cardboard box – if need be with a little cellophane window – that could equally well be hung onto the display stands.

Helen Hughes, who advises retailers and brands on packaging minimisation and recycling, told the media: "The work the brands and retailers are doing in terms of their Easter egg packaging is a great step forward in significantly reducing the amount of packaging material sent to landfill and helping to tackle climate change.

"Consumers want to see a reduction in the amount of packaging on their Easter eggs while still wanting a gifting experience, so it's great to see that the brands and retailers are responding to them.

"As well as buying Easter eggs with reduced packaging, I'd also encourage everyone to recycle their Easter packaging wherever possible."

For more information and advice on composting, visit

To check where you can recycle Easter packaging waste in your local area, visit

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008

Little plastic bags, big environmental impact

As those plastic carrier bags that we put our groceries in at the checkout often appear to be and are light and flimsy, people rarely if at all think about their impact on the environment, but statistics for the UK alone show that each year:

  • more than 10 billion carrier bags are produced;
  • if laid end-to-end, these would stretch to the moon and back five times; one hell of a distance, is it not.
  • 80% of shoppers put everything into free carrier bags at the supermarket; and
  • 100,000 tonnes of plastic bags are thrown away – that’s the same weight as 70,000 cars!
N.B. This data is for the United Kingdom alone.

Most bags are used only once for carrying goods between the shops and home, which is such a waste, especially when you consider that the majority of free carriers are made from oil - an increasingly valuable commodity. When dropped, they are an eyesore for us and can pose a danger to wildlife. While trees, decorated, with tinsel and such like, may look OK at Christmas time, when they are “decorated” with carrier bags that have gotten stuck there they do not look nice. In fact they are one of the greatest eyesores imaginable, in my view. While some websites, of the government even, make “claims” that carrier bags decompose though that is takes hundreds of years the fact of the matter is that carrier bags do NOT decompose, and nether do they biodegrade – with the exception of those that are compostable, e.g. made from corn starch or such material. Carrier bags simply break down into smaller and smaller plastic particles, like all plastic, and while doing so they leach harmful substances into the soil.

The good news is, however, that it is rather easy to play your part in reducing carrier bag waste:
  • use your shopping bag as many times as possible;
  • remember to take bags with you every time you go shopping;
  • keep spare bags in your car or at work so you’re never without;
  • invest in stronger reusable bags, sometimes known as bags for life; and
  • let the check-out staff know you’ve brought your own before they pack for you!
  • Don't willy-nilly dispose of them in the countryside, with or without contents. They get blown about by the wind and end up everywhere.
  • Dog walkers: when you carry old shopping bags (or the dog mess bags one can buy) please endure that, when you pull one out of your pocket to pick up your dog's “do” and another comes out with it to pick it up. Thousands are left annually in Parks and Open Spaces in this way and add to the carrier bag waste blown in the wind.

Changing habits

Most people say they simply forget to take and reuse their old carriers or reusable bags at the supermarket. As a nation we need to get into better habits, but we also need to find out what works best for our nation's shoppers.

The government is talking about introducing a charge, and it would appear quite a high one, on carrier bags or even a “carrier bag tax” (this again could just be another idea of the UK govt. under Gordon Brown to raise more revenue – yes, I am always the cynic) so, get into the habit of bringing your own bags.

Don't want to invest £5 in a cotton tote bag or five for your groceries? The make your own cloth bags that you can carry with you. I am sure you have an old pair of jeans or whatever around that could be converted.

Remember to take a bag when they leave the house, along with essentials such as their keys, wallet or purse. Instead of picking up a free carrier bag, try and remember to reuse your old carriers, bags for life or a cloth bag or a rucksack.
Whatever you choose, choose to reuse!

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008