World Environment Day 2008

Kick the Habit of Carbon Emissions

New Zealand, one of the first countries to pledge a carbon-neutral future, is the main host of World Environment Day 2008.

The focus of the global 2008 celebrations hosted in New Zealand is on the solutions and the opportunities for countries, companies and communities to "Kick the habit" and de-carbonize their economies and life-styles.

Measures include greater energy efficiency in buildings and appliances, including light bulbs, up to a switch towards cleaner and renewable forms of electricity generation and transport systems.

The focus will also be put on the role of forests in countering rises in greenhouse gases. An estimated 20 per cent of emissions contributing to climate change globally are a result of deforestation.

New Zealand, where forestry is an important industry and conservation of forests is a high priority, plans to use WED to highlight the role technologies and forestry management can play in achieving domestic and international climate goals.

World Environment Day was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, led to the creation of UNEP.

WED is commemorated each year on 5 June in a different city. It is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action.

The day's agenda is to give a human face to environmental issues; empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development; promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues; and advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future. World Environment Day is also a popular event with colourful activities such as street rallies, bicycle parades, green concerts, essay and poster competitions in schools, tree planting, as well as recycling and cleaning-up campaigns.

On that particular day, heads of State, Prime Ministers and Ministers of Environment deliver statements and commit themselves to care for the Earth. Pledges are made which lead to the establishment of permanent governmental structures dealing with environmental management. It also provides an opportunity to sign or ratify international environmental conventions.

For more information, please see the website

Rising Fuel Prices... Who is behind it?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Yes, I asked who and not what...

What we are seeing here, in my opinion, is nothing but a repeat of the Oil Crisis in the 1970's, the one that never was, only with different means.

This is another way for the governments continue the anti-car agenda?

While I cannot prove this, obviously, for even the powers that be do not leave a trail of evidence in this matter, it has, however, all the hallmarks of yet, like the Oil Crisis of the 1970's, another attempt of people control.

The “Oil Crisis” in the 1970's, the one that was about as real as Alice in Wonderland, happened just a very short time, something like a week or so, after the great speech by Henry Kissinger, then Secretary of State of the USA, in which he stated, and I paraphrase “if you want to control nations you have to (be able to) control fuel, and if you want to (be able to) control people you have to control food (and water)”.

If you want to be able to control, however, where people live and work you have to control fuel and have to get them off their personal means of transport, namely the motorcar.

Enter the global warming myth.

The fact is that the powers that be have been trying to get us out of cars – and I am saying this while I am not even a car owner and/or driver but a cyclist. First they try to scare us with “global warming” being the result, so they claim, and they use all manner of science and scientists to back this up, of car emissions primarily and, as this does not seem to work we now – surprise – have oil prices going through the roof.

High prices may just be one way that might stop people using their cars (as much) and where the global warming threat has not worked the bite in the pocketbook will more likely work.

In addition the fuel costs are driving up the other household costs, be this energy or food and this has a knock-on effect on how much people can spend on fuel.

I know that I am a cynic when it comes to this getting people out of cars agenda of the governments, not only that of the UK. This seems to be leading all the way back to whoever really runs the (Western) world.

Personally, I do think that we do use cars far too much and far too unnecessarily for does one really have to jump into the car to go to the newsagents for a paper – then again do you really have to buy a paper still? - or to the shops, which are less that five or ten minutes walk away? I do not think so.

Does little Johnny or little Jenny, whose school is only a few minutes walk away from their homes, have to be driven to school by Mom (or Dad) and that, more often than not, in a gas-guzzling SUV? Certainly not and it is also no wonder that little Johnny and little Jenny look like little beaches whales. Thinking of that: I have to apologize as that is an insult – to whales.

There are so many other example of unnecessary car use that could be given, where walking, cycling or the use of mass transit of one way or the other would be the answer and often also much cheaper (though with the costs of British rail fares this is not so in many cases).

However, while I am all for getting out of the car (more) I am against forcing people out of their cars by such covert backhanded operations, such as fuel price hikes or supposed oil shortages as the earlier cited “Oil Crisis” in the 1970's or the claim that the climate change that our Planet is experiencing is the result of car emissions.

What this appears to me is nothing but yet another blatant attempt of people control. An attempt to see what it will take for people to “abandon” the use of their cars. It is obvious that the threat of global warming, now rephrased to “climate change”, a much more correct term than “global warming”, as the actual warming of the Earth has stopped and even the head of the IPCC has to admit that this is so and that the temperature has not risen since about the year 2000 and is on a plateau currently without any signs of rising, not even fractionally, has not – at least not as yet – worked people away from their car use.

As, as it would appear there is a timetable to the “getting people out of their personal cars” agenda, the time seems to be getting close and a new set of guns had to be rolled out; enter “oil shortage” and “fuel price hike”.

Now let's see what is next?

I shall keep watching and analyzing and reporting.

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

Bye, Bye Standby – A Warning!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

While I am a great fan, ever since I was given one of the sets of this device for review on a trade show that I attended some time back (see my product review), I must now issue here a small little warning, though an important one.

DO NOT USE LCD Flat Panel computer monitors with the “Bye, Bye, Standby” units in order to turn the monitor(s) remotely on and off. The power surge into the monitor on turning it on via a “Bye, Bye, Standby” unit at the socket can cause serious damage to the monitor and its circuitry. The spike of power on switching such a monitor on in such a way is very noticeable and even audible; a very distinct “tchunk” noise can be heard and a flash can be seen on the screen . This spike can and will damage the monitor's circuitry.

This just has happened to me after having used the “Bye, Bye, Standby” units with the PC and its monitor for a couple of months now day in and day out. Now the monitor will not “hold” the picture for the first three minutes or so when starting the PC; it flickers off and on until it finally, when it is warm enough I guess, come to rest and settles. It would appear that, as I said, it needs to war up first now ever since it started behaving in this manner. All I can put it down to is the spike from the switching on of the monitor via the “Bye, Bye, Standby” unit.

So, let the user beware!

My serious recommendation is to have the monitor, any LCD monitor (and even CRT, for those that still use them), plugged into a socket separate from the “Bye, Bye, Standby” units and turn the monitor off and on – to conserve power and energy – manually by means of its own power button. This is, generally, located in the center of the buttons on the monitor surround itself, and the power button is, normally, the bigger of the buttons. This should protect the monitor form any such surges while at the same time giving you, the user, the same energy savings as would be by using the “Bye, Bye, Standby” units.

What most people do not realize is that it is the monitor, even an LCD monitor, that takes the greatest amount of energy, more than the PC (as long as it is NOT processing anything) and even in standby the monitor still draws a considerable amount of electricity and is quite an energy guzzler. All you have to do is actually remember to turn the monitor(s) off manually; that is to say each and every one individually.

While, as I said, I do very much like the “Bye, Bye, Standby” units and must say that it helps not having to crawl under the desk every time in oder to turn off devices, had I known the impact it could have on a LCD monitor I would have done as I now advise here.

Using the “Bye, Bye, Standby” units, however, has made it possible, for the first time in years, to, without having to, as said, crawl under the desk, to turn off my “old” scanner. The latter does not have an on/off button which, I must say, I find rather daft.

So, while, all in all, I am very happy with the “Bye, Bye, Standby” set up this is just a little warning to users to beware as regards to their monitors being connected to this system and that the spike caused by the turning on of the supply to the monitor at the socket via the “Bye, Bye, Standby” unit can cause damage to the monitor.

Once again, just beware, and turn monitors on and off manually at their individual power buttons.

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

Is Ethical Shopping Becoming the Victim of the “Credit Crunch”?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

There appear to be signs on the horizon that indicate that shoppers may abandon ethical shopping in the fact of rising prices, especially cost of food and fuel.

Organic foods and fair trade goods are being bought less, already, it would appear, than it was only a few weeks back.

Concern for others less well off and especially for growers and producers of coffee, tea, cotton and such, and concern for the environment are the first to suffer and go out of the window when it comes to prices, in general and especially for food, going up. Then even BOGOF offers not longer cut it and it is straight forward price reductions that shoppers look for.

Where does this leave Fair Trade and organics and green produce and products, as well as services and suppliers?

Considering that, more often than not, fair trade and other ethical products, goods and services are somewhat more expensive – in some case a lot more expensive – than “ordinary” ones people vote, in times of economic “hardship” and recession, even if it is only perceived “hardship” and recession, with the pocketbooks and their feet. That is to say they buy other goods that are not fair trade or organic or green or ethically produced. They will then go, mostly, for non-fair trade products which are significantly cheaper that any ethical goods and products. This is with the exception of some produce such as tea and bananas at Sainsbury's in the UK, for instance, where all of their own brand tea and all of their bananas are fair trade and the price remained the same as before.

While I am well aware, as I am sure other people are too, that a fixed price and premium is paid to the producers under the fair trade agreements, ate times, I am more than certain, retailers do put a nice little profit margin onto fair trade and other ethical goods, knowing that the ethical shopper is prepared to pay extra to have the money go to the producers. Most are not aware of how high that profit margin is, at times.

Not surprising at a time when such products are demanded by the buying public and the same is true for anything recycled and “green” and for any environmentally friendly goods. Here too, in the recycled and environmental friendly product sector, because of demand, many makers, manufacturers and sellers have added a rather big margin to rake it in. Is that ethical? No!

It is therefore not surprising that at times like these when fuel and food costs are going up and up shoppers are not prepared to pay through the nose often and therefore go for the non-fair trade and other products.

While the fair trade premium paid to the producers is one thing, in many of the other cases the costs are that high because the sellers know full well that people want to be and be seen to be green and to have a conscience. People who want to be seen to be thus are therefore also quite willing to pay such premium while the economy is more or less booming but, as it seems to ease their consciences to do so and to do “their bit” for the poor or for the environment. However, when there is a downturn and the economy throws a wobbly such ethical principles soon are abandoned and no such goods and produce are being bought, or at least they are bought less.

I must say that, with some of the prices charged for “green goods” I am not surprised that under conditions of perceived hardship people will not buy them. Some are a rip off as far as costs are concerned. There was a saying that one cannot get money for old robe. Today this, however, no longer holds true. I am not sure about getting money for old rope but some green “designers” and crafts people sure ask money for old rope (see my article elsewhere).

Sainsbury's has recently fought, it would seem, a price war with the likes of Tesco and ASDA as regards to “Delight” chocolate and, as far as can be seen from the restocked shelves, has now deselected the Divine fair trade brand and has gone for a much more expensive brand that is not all fair trade and I am sure we can see here, yet again, that money begins to speak against the principles that that company was claiming it had.

The truth is, and that applies to supermarkets and retailers as much as to the shopper, that the bottom line is all that the majority are concerned with and only when it suits them will they, the majority that is, be interested to be seen to be green or ethical. There will remain some that will stay true to their principles but I doubt that many retailers will. The same will also be true for many shoppers. To the seller any fair trade that does not sell is a loss-leader and something to be replaced, period. To the shopper who has to watch his pocketbook it is the price that counts for the food or what-have-you in times of economic wobble and not whether or not he is green or does good. That is the bottom line. Now where does that leave fair trade and the green sector?

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

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Britons wasting £10 Billion worth of food a year, research says

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

We’ve already heard lots about the food crisis that is threatening global development, and we have had plenty of debate about how eating no meat, a little meat, fake meat and even the plain old potato might help ease global hunger, stop global warming, and generally make life easier for all of us. But let’s forget about what we do eat for a moment – a new report coming out of the UK shows the staggering costs of what we don’t eat:

The British people are throwing away £10 billion worth of food that could be eaten each year, £2bn more than estimates have previously suggested, a government-funded programme to cut waste has revealed.

And that folks, is ten billion Pounds Sterling as in British billion and not US billion. In other words the calculation that someone made of this being equal to US$20 billion is off as the US has a different billion to the UK, so at least I have always understood that. Apparently the US billion is a thousand million and the other billion a million million.

The average household, ranging from a single older person to a group of students, is throwing out £420 of such food each year and the sum rises to £610 for the average family with children.

About £6bn of the wasted annual food budget is food that is bought but never touched - including 13m unopened yoghurt pots, 5,500 chickens and 440,000 ready meals dumped in home rubbish bins each day. The rest is food prepared or cooked for meals but never eaten because people have misjudged how much was needed and don't eat the leftovers.

Well, I guess I must be one of the odd ones out, as very little gets thrown out; at least not into the trash can. The important thing is to make sure that one;'s food is in date and rotate supplies, be those cans or other stuff.

Leftovers, if perfectly good, goes in the frigde and is used next day. Cans the contents of which has only been used half, say, also can be saved in that one uses food saver containers and, again, keeps the stuff in the fridge till the next day.

The problem is though that most people cannot cook from scratch anymore, at least not in this country, that is to say in Britain, and either entirely rely on ready to do meals or such. And even if they cook from scratch they just cannot think of what to do with leftovers. Children turn their noses up at something cooked from leftovers but there is nothing wrong with it and if the person doing the cooking has imagination and flair in cooking and often all that is needed is just a little then nice meals can be made from such leftovers.

The complete £10bn consists of food that could have been eaten, not including peeling and bones, the researchers say. Tackling the waste could mean a huge reduction in CO2 emissions, equivalent to taking one in five cars off the road.
The figures have been compiled by WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, which previously made the £8bn estimate and has warned we are throwing away a third of the food we buy, enough to fill Wembley stadium with food waste eight times over in a year.

Food waste has a significant environmental impact, and that not only from having to go somewhere. The research confirms that it is an issue for us all, whether as consumers, retailers, local or central government. This will, I believe, spark, and so it should, a major debate about the way food is packaged, sold, stored at home, cooked and then collected when it is thrown out.

While I have just mentioned the way food is packaged the food packaging here as waste, is and was not even the issue, but could also be mentioned when it comes to waste per se. That, however, could be another story all together.

What is most shocking here the most is the cost of our food waste at a time of rising food bills, and generally a tighter pull on our purse strings. It highlights that this is an economic and social issue as well as how much we understand the value of our food.

Consumers' wastefulness is costing them three times over. Not only do they pay hard-earned money for food they do not eat, there is also the cost of dealing with the waste this creates, and they pay for that through their council taxes and such. Then there are climate change costs to all of us of growing, processing, packaging, transporting, and refrigerating food that only ends up in the bin.

In addition to that there is the ethical bit, so to speak. We waste tons and tons of food daily while there are 1,000s upon 1,000s in this country and elsewhere in the developed world – I do not even want to mention the poor in the developing world, the are I still call Third World – who go hungry. I must say that I, like probably many of my generation, was raised with the adage of not wasting food, whether on the plate or elsewhere. Being of Romani-Gypsy stock may have something to do with that too as food was not always plenty.

When it comes to food waste though and it having to be dumped it is time to start thinking seriously about municipal composting programs like those in Mexico, Seattle and San Francisco, and on an individual level we can all take responsibility by biting off only what we can chew - check out some of the helpful tips on everything from portion sizing to storage to using left overs at Love Food Hate Waste, the campaign that commissioned the original report.

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

Green Budgeting

Helping the environment and your pocketbook

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

By now, we have all heard, I am sure, how hybrid automobiles are supposed to be saving the environment and extending gas dollars. Oh, do I sound a little sceptical here? Well, I am. Aside from that many households run on a tight budget, and a new Prius or Accord seems miles down the road.

Is it possible, therefore, to create and refine a more "eco-friendly" lifestyle without seriously breaking the bank?

You bet it is. Anything is possible when it comes to helping Mother Nature. And no matter what type of lifestyle you lead, there is always something you can improve as regards to “green living” and also, “ethical living”.

For many families, especially now with the “credit crunch” crunching and biting a new car is miles down the road, let alone a “hybrid”. Downsizing might be a much better idea. That is to say changing from a 2.5 liter or bigger gas guzzler to a 1.2 liter car already would enable you to make significant saving on gas and even a used vehicle of that kind would be a good step to take, for starters, in the motoring field. Maybe also, and this is better for your healths as well, cycle to school, to the stores and such and even walk.

Nearly all of it is second nature. It is very easy to do. And, most importantly, it is good for my bottom line."

Buy an energy saving light bulb, like a compact fluorescent. Not only do they reduce your daily energy intake, but also they are pretty affordable and easy to find.
Sometimes local utility companies will actually give away light bulbs, so it doesn't hurt to ask. Estimated cost: £4.00

Utilize a rain catcher. Be it a bucket under the windowsill or a rain barrel under the rain gutter, find a method to catch unused rain. Use this water for irrigating your garden, as drinking water for pets, or any of your other water needs. Estimated cost: £1-£2 for a bucket, if you cant actually get the bucket from some other sources free, such as from catering establishments and such.

Recycle. There seems to be a forgotten drive to recycle common household products. And yet, the savings by recycling and taking various items to the appropriate waste facilities is enormous. Separate all your items into categories, put them in empty garbage cans, and when the can is full, it's time to go recycle and pick up a nice little check as well. Estimated cost: £0

The recycling centers that pay your for bringing in the recyclables do not exist everywhere, not even in the USA, and certainly not in places such as the Britain and other European countries.

Practical recycling is also something that should be considered and I have written about this in the pages of this publication a number of times.

Make sure your cleaners are environmentally friendly. Wonder what you may be scrubbing those huge messes with? Simply changing your cleaning products from potentially toxic disasters to natural and safe for the environment doesn't have to cost anything. With clean and natural products that carry a competitive price tag, this option just needed an alternative solution! Estimated cost: £3.50

There are also recipes available to make your own, much more environmentally friendly cleaners. Grandma's recipes will be a great source of information there.

Plant your own home garden, or start a community garden. Whether dangling from a
windowsill or in the backyard, most residences have a spot for you to grow your own little nursery of edible extras. Grow an herb garden for extra fresh seasoning, or take on some hardy salads with tomatoes or cucumbers. The possibilities are only limited by your space and your imagination. Estimated cost: £5-£10 for seeds and materials

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

You can't get money for old rope...

...betcha you can.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The saying always was “you can't get money for old rope” but, apparently, this has all changed now with recycling being chic and the latest in fashion and must have accessories for wear and home.

A company recently was noticed on the Internet selling just that, namely recycled old rope with wooden beads as a belt or necklace, and it was advertised thus “Made with wooden beads on a thick jute cord it can be worn as a belt or necklace. $70”. I mean this is $70 for a length of old jute cord and some wooden beads – probably – it will be claimed – recycled in Southern Africa or thereabouts.

While I am the first to say yes to all things green and all things recycled this is a little too much money to pay for in my liking. Who is getting the income from this “beltlace”? I am certain it is not the people in some Third Wold – oops, sorry – Developing Country who recycle those into this piece of fashion accessory.

I have seen the wire sculptures, for instance, that are made predominately by children and young people in Southern Africa and that fetch a small fortune in the “ethical” stores in Europe and North America but I could bet my bottom dollar that very little money of the sales of those goods ever gets back to those that make them.

With the world as it is today, with Internet and such communications, I am sure it would be possible that some ethical publications (those of Tatchipen Media are only too open for that) to advertise (recycled) goods produced by co-ops and even individuals, and to enable those producers to sell their goods direct rather than through middlemen who, in the end, are always the ones who reap the profits.

The problem with the “Beltlace” and such “ethical” and “green” goods and products is that they are NOT ethical in the way the rip the buyer off and, more often than not, the producers get very little by way of return. While the couple of bucks, if that, they they get per item made, which indeed in their country may be a small fortune, it is not, at least not in my book, very ethical to rip both the makers and the buyers off by charging such exorbitant prices for what is but old rope.

The same, also, is true for other such goods and please, let no one start me off about the useless so-called green products of which the Eco-Button (see my product review) is but one example.

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

Act now to save our natural environment or our country's biodiversity will be lost forever

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

England's green and pleasant land is in catastrophic decline, so we are told, with some of its most precious wildlife at risk of disappearing for ever. This is what the first comprehensive report into the nation's natural life has shown.

In a landmark study into every aspect of the environment, the government advisory body Natural England has compiled research from all corners of the countryside, from woodland and wetland to marine life and salt marsh. Its findings make for bleak reading. Under siege from climate change, development, pollution and aggressive new farming methods, the country's biodiversity is already significantly less rich than it was 50 years ago, “The State of The Environment” report said.

Just 3 per cent of grassland is rich in native plants and a fifth of the countryside is already showing visible signs of neglect, it reported. The collapse of this habitat is having such a devastating effect on native species, including the red squirrel, the turtle dove, the bumblebee and the adder.

"If we don't act now, there's a real danger some of our most precious wildlife will be lost for ever and our lives will be poorer for it", said Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England.

Conservation charities echoed her appeal, saying they hoped the report would be a springboard for government action. "This is a timely and hard-hitting call which the Government must heed and act upon," said Sue Armstrong Brown, the RSPB's head of countryside conservation. "We are now seeing the consequences of decades of ignoring environmental limits. Now, with the climate changing and wildlife crashing worldwide, it is time for a new green leadership. There has never been a time when human action has put so much wildlife in peril. The Government should support Natural England's plans and allocate enough money to put them into place."

The report makes clear that, with government commitment, the gradual decline could be combated and even reversed. Its authors are urging action on a series of recommendations which they say could save the natural environment from destruction. "England needs a new approach to conservation if we are to effectively tackle the modern pressures on land created by climate change and development," said Ms Phillips. "We need to find ways to manage our landscape to create a mosaic of uses so that we can help our wildlife survive – be it through new 'national park' around the length of England's coastline, better use of the green belt or improved use of public funding for farmers to deliver a better natural environment."

There are already signs that, with the right level of focus and funding, these schemes can work, with the notable success stories of reintroduced species such as the red kite, the large blue butterfly and the pool frog cited as evidence for the merit of long-term projects.

Numbers of native woodland butterflies species have declined by 50 per cent in 10 years, and their demise is all the more worrying as they are an indicator group – meaning that, as they respond quickly to changes in their environment, they act as a litmus test for the health of the natural world. Natural England has suggested that a return to traditional woodland management might tackle the fall in numbers. By using coppicing – the regular culling of smaller trees – the flowering plants they rely upon will be given the chance to thrive again.

So, the remedy suggested here is to bring back traditional coppicing, regular felling of smaller trees to create open ground for flowers that butterflies rely on.

I can only say that I find it amazing that why the likes of this author and one or two other lone voices have, for the last decades, advocated the return to coppicing the old coppice woodlands in this country which, by the way, is the great majority of the often called “ancient woodlands”, no one wanted to listen, not even the likes of those that are now involved with this report and all claimed that, no, the woodlands had to be left untouched for the betterment of the environment. Well, looks like the old foresters were right after all and those that suggested the bringing back of coppicing.

The management of wetlands and salt marshes has also been analysed in the report, where native species are suffering similarly catastrophic falls. A major decline in wading birds native to unprotected wetlands has been identified, with, for example, the number of snipes down by 90 per cent. Agricultural and urban development has drained the soil in some areas, leaving it too dry for them to survive. However, by preventing further drainage, and reinstating raised water levels, this trend can be reversed.

Natural England has drawn up a manifesto of measures that it believes can change the fate of the countryside. It has put tackling climate change at the top of its spending agenda for the £2.9bn of public money allocated to its cause. To carry this out, it plans to prioritise locking-in carbon, absorbing excess rainwater to prevent flooding and connecting wildlife sites. It will also be helping the Government find space for renewable energy by publishing a map of suitable locations for onshore wind farms.

Another key element of its carbon plan is improved maintenance of upland areas, 29 per cent of which are now in an unfavourable condition. Peat – indigenous to such areas – absorbs more than half of the UK's carbon. But its properties are lost when it dries out, so Natural England has suggested avoiding upland draining and over-grazing in the regions to which it is native.

The Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, said he believed the right measures, such as the planned investment of £2.9bn in agri-environment schemes over the next five years, could make a difference. "We also now recognise that climate change is presenting us with a new challenge in conserving biodiversity and managing our landscapes," he said. "We need new approaches to conservation, and we are working closely with Natural England to develop these."

But this has done little to reassure environmental campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth, who want a more fundamental overhaul of government policy. The group's campaigns co-ordinator, Paul de Zylva, said: "The Government must do more to safeguard our future. Green speeches are not enough – we need urgent action.

"Ministers must put the environment at the heart of all their policies – including transport, the economy, housing and planning – and invest in clean, green solutions that would make Britain a world leader in developing a low-carbon economy."

"Herculean task" to safeguard biodiversity

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

BONN, Germany – The world faces a Herculean task to safeguard animal and plant life from climate change and pollution, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said at the opening of a U.N. biodiversity conference on Monday, May 19, 2008.

U.N. experts say human activities including greenhouse gas emissions mean the planet is facing the most serious spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. One species disappears roughly every 20 minutes, they say.

"In my view, climate change and the loss of biodiversity are the most alarming challenges on the global agenda," Gabriel said in a speech opening the conference, held once every two years.

He vowed to do all he could to reach accord, saying countries had to answer inconvenient questions and take action rather than produce "huge amounts of paper with little content".

"It will be a Herculean task to get the world community and each individual country on the right path to sustainability," Gabriel said, noting that extinction rates were 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural rates.

"The truth today is that we are still on the wrong track. If we follow this path we can foresee that we will fail to meet the target," said Gabriel.

Biodiversity has jumped up the political agenda due partly to a recent surge in food prices, which has been linked to booming demand in fast-growing economies, including China, and, more importantly, I should say, the growing use of crops to provide fuel, and it is this madness of trying to created bio-fuel from food crops that is causing us such problem.

Experts say agricultural crops will suffer if wild stocks die out. Without a change in human consumption habits, feeding 9 billion people would be impossible, they warn.

Business as usual is no more an option if humanity is going to survive. Losing biodiversity is not just losing trees and species, it is an economic and security loss. However, how do we go about it. Growing food crops to make into fuel is not the answer, that is one thing for sure.

"This summit is a unprecedented opportunity for governments to stop talking and start acting," said Greenpeace International campaigner, Martin Kaiser. But then again we have the likes of Greenpeace campaign against power generating plants that use the incinerating of waste for this purpose and this always, time and again, with the excuse that we MUST recycle more. But there is only that much that can be recycled and composted and that which cannot, as it is done in other countries – countries such as Sweden, for instance – is being burned to generate heat and electricity. But in the UK this is always being met with NIMBY-ism, led mainly by the likes of Friend of the Earth and Greenpeace.

UN conference to discuss ways to stop destruction of nature

Berlin (DPA) – A major international conference opens in the former West German capital of Bonn on Monday to discuss measures against the ongoing destruction of nature.

Some 5,000 delegates from 190 countries are taking part in the ninth conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that runs until May 30.

Scientists and environmental groups have called for urgent action to stem the loss of the plant and wildlife which underpins the health of our planet and has a direct impact on people's lives.

Data compiled by the Zoological Society of London shows between a quarter and one-third of the world's wildlife has been lost since 1970 as a result of pollution, over-fishing and urban expansion.

The destruction of rain forests, marine eco-systems and other forms of nature costs the global economy 6 per cent of its annual gross national product, or 3,000 billion dollars, according to a new study for the European Union.

The Bonn gathering aims to "reduce significantly" the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010, a target set at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and the Sustainable Development Summit in Johannesburg a decade later.

The agenda includes the destruction of indigenous forests and the plundering of the sea as well as tapping traditional knowledge on medicines, promoting biodiversity in the world's poorest cities and the impact of biofuels on agriculture.

Another goal is to create equitable benefit sharing from the use made by the pharmaceutical industry of genetic resources in plants and animals.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned the discussions would be complex and said flexibility was needed to avoid a failure.

"The conference is at a crossroads," the minister told a news conference in Berlin last week. "In essence it is about the survival of mankind."

Gabriel said efforts to save threatened species from extinction was one of the most important global political issues along with measures to combat climate change.

The CBD meeting is the last major gathering before the 2010 target date. Its central aim is to draft a document similar to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change to take over after 2010.

The organizers are keen to secure binding commitment to clearly laid down targets, along the lines of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming and the successor agreement which began to take shape at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Bali in December.

Over 100,000 visitors flock to Grand Designs Live London

A new nine-day stint, an exciting TV event and hundreds of cutting-edge exhibitors draw in the crowds

Over 102,000 visitors flocked to Grand Designs Live London (3-11 May 2008), the multi-award winning consumer exhibition for homes, gardens, design and innovation. In an unprecedented move, the event changed from its traditional three-day format, to run over nine days, including a bank holiday Monday.

Allied to the event was a major peak-time TV show for Channel 4 (Grand Designs Live and Grand Designs Today) was also broadcast in and around the exhibition - amassing 11 hours of live coverage from ExCeL London. This partnership led to a further strengthening of the Grand Designs brand and ensured that the exhibition and TV show gained mutually beneficial exposure.

Kevin McCloud, commented: "The show looked extraordinary. It's our fourth year and it's quantum leaps ahead of where we've been before. It was bigger and better, with more features, more interesting products and design. I really believe it's something else. Another planet. Planet Grand Designs!"

The multi award-winning exhibition remains the only contemporary design exhibition, offering visitors the chance to buy, build and furnish a house all under one roof. This year saw even more features, more celebrities, including: Kevin McCloud, Janet Street Porter, John Burton Race, David Bellamy, Melanie Sykes and Denise Van Outen, and more expert advice than ever before.

The event, which launched in 2005, has evolved into a spectacularly vibrant show and changed the face of the homes and interiors exhibition industry forever. Visitors were able to meet experts, gather ideas and purchase everything from door handles to houses.

Victoria Bolton from West Hampstead said: "This is a seriously impressive event, I've never been to such an exciting exhibition. I came away with millions of ideas and even had a chance to speak to a designer about my home project."

ExCeL London was transformed to make visitors feel a part of the whole Grand Designs experience the minute they arrived. Budding designers were encouraged to realise their dream projects with a wide array of stands to browse, show-stopping features.

Visitors packed themselves into the seminar theatre to hear talks from industry and celebrity speakers including, Kevin McCloud, Diarmuid Gavin and Jason Bradbury, who wowed audiences with their specialist knowledge, top tips and expert advice.

What's more, this year, the Royal Victoria Square outside ExCeL London was transformed into an interactive village of brand new dwellings. Grand Village comprised of five exceptional houses, including 'The House That Kevin Built' which was completed on Friday 9 May. Visitors were able to split their day between the vibrant halls of the exhibition and Grand Village to explore the showcased buildings which including, Eco Pod, No.1 Lower Carbon Drive, The Log House Company and the Clear Glass House.

Lee Newton, managing director of show organiser Media 10, said: "I'm immensely proud of Grand Designs Live London and know we have created an exhibition that inspires and excites visitors the minute they arrive. This year, we have seriously upped the ante, creating an exhibition that truly reflects the Grand Designs brand, attracting a fantastic spread of visitors."

We feel that the move from three to nine days has changed the face of the consumer events market - this success proves that with determination, vision and creativity events can develop and expand instead of consolidating. We feel that Media 10 has once again raised the bar in the events world and we will continue to improve this show year after year. Next year we are growing again - to 10 days - which shows that this venture superseded even our ambitions"

The “Stay-at-Home” Holidays

Reduce your environmental footprint by vacationing at home and save money

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Holidaying at home is good for the environment and also good for you. You save money, there is less stress and all being well you will not need a holiday to get over the holiday.

In the current economic climate and with the impact the so-called “Credit Crunch” on the finances on the individual, and not the individual alone, and also the rising costs of food and gasoline, taking once vacation at home rather than abroad and may be even very close to home, namely AT home, may be something that will needs to be considered. It is the frugal thing to do the way things stand at present and also the environmental, green and ethical thing to do.

With the rising fuel costs and the increase of the general cost of living, from food to taxes, I am sure that the time has about arrived, if it not indeed is here, where we all are going to be turning the penny around a few times more again before we are going to spend it. Therefore, vacationing at home than abroad may just be the result.

Those that have a nice home and a nice garden I have never been able to understand as to why they would, not only spend the money, but the time and effort, to travel abroad for a for a few weeks holiday and then return more exhausted than when they left.

I must say that I rather have “stay-at-home” holidays where I can do what I want when I want and I can take the occasional outing to here and there. Most places wherever this may be have some kind of areas of local interest and even historical interest, just aside from museums and if that does not suffice then a day trip to a larger city to take in the sights and especially things like history and such, is also a very nice thing to do, and, very often a frugal thing to do, as long as you bring your own packed lunch and drinks. Buying them on location, normally, works our rather costly.

I remember before the times of the package holidays and the cheap flights to all over the world that people vacationed at home, in their own gardens, or those in the urban areas on their allotments, or went for a day or so to the seaside, or into the countryside for hikes. Others, especially the working classes that had the funds had a caravan by the seaside or some hitched up a caravan and went on holiday travelling about. Yet again others went on cycling tours with tent, including with their children. But even caravanning probably is out, nowadays, with the rise of the costs of fuel.

People who could not afford to go away or did not want to, stayed, as said, at home in their own gardens, if they had such, or on their allotments, or went to the local parks and open spaces as much as possible.

Seeing the current economic climate, in the United Kingdom, as much as in the United States and elsewhere, with the rising cost of living, of fuel, of food, of everything else it would seem, it is more and more likely now that with maybe already the very summer of 2008 we may just see a beginning of the “stay at home” holidays again. Not a bad thing either, of that I am sure.

Aside from saving money the local parks and open spaces will, once again, see a real resurgence of and in use and the powers that be might then be more reluctant to even think of getting rid off parks and open spaces. The other good thing of the “stay at home” vacations is the fact that such holidays put less of an impact on the environment (do take your litter home with you from your visit to the park and the woods please) in that there is less fuel used, and that aside from the money that is being saved. This saved money, or at least part of it, can then be spent in the local economy, at home.

Flying to destinations, and even motoring to destinations in France, Spain and elsewhere, put an enormous strain on the environment, as does leaving your litter in the countryside, and the environmental footprint of your package holiday, if you had to actually off-set that (something that may still head our way), could be a rather costly affair. Anyway, I am sure that taking holidays abroad is going to be a thing of the past soon, and it would not surprise me if those people that have already booked their holiday flight to abroad for the summer might suddenly find that they are going to be surcharged because of the increase in the cost of aviation fuel and everything else that goes with it.

If you have one, get your garden organized and take your holiday at home. You will reap many benefits from that, not the least the fact that your vacation will start the very moment you arrive home from work on the last day of work before the holidays and it will end the morning you start your shift again. That is aside from the saving made in other departments.

While we are still being told by the our governments that this is not a recession or a depression but just an little blip and a slight economic downturn, all the signs do point to something much more severe.

I may not be an economist but the way things stand presently with everything on the rise as it is – let us face it, in the UK bread has gone up by a considerable about in just a few weeks and that is just one staple that I would like to quote here – I cannot see that we will not be headed further down for a while before we may, but just may, recover again.

The “Stay-At-Home” Holiday is definitely, in my opinion, a small little answer here to keep our own finances balanced a little more. Any frugal advocate will tell you that you save a great deal by staying home to have your vacation rather going away and that is just for starters. While there are savings in the money department, far greater ones are made in the sanity department.

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

In Praise of the Versatile Bandana

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A bandana is a very useful piece of equipment. Ideally, if possible, you should always carry one on you, better still two.

The simple bandana has several uses for the camper, hiker, hunter, or anyone who spends time in the outdoors. A bandana cost very little and are worth their weight in gold, not that they are very heavy either.

The bandana is a classic. Yet not an establishment classic. It’s an outside classic. A rebel classic. It works for Hell’s Angels, Outward Bound instructors, rock guitarists and earthy hipsters.

Always carry at least one on you or maybe even two. They weigh next to nothing and when folded up take up little room in your pack or in your hip pocket. In the summer months a wet bandana around my neck while hiking, fishing or hunting will help to keep you cool and it can also help to keep biting insects off your neck.

Simply fold two corners of the bandana over to form a triangle and then fold or roll the entire into a long piece about 2-inches wide. Then dip the bandana into any water source, creek, river, lake, or such, or even, if you can afford the water, use water from your canteen. Wrap it around your neck and tie it in place or use a neckerchief slide to hold it in place. A cool wet bandana used in this manner is a real comfort on a hot day or when in an area where there are lots of mosquitoes and other biting insects. The bandana can also be dampened and tied around the forehead to help keep you cool on a hot humid day.

The bandana can also be tied on top of the head to keep the sun’s rays from baking one's brains. It is then simply worn in the fashion of the pirates head cover, the latter which was nothing else but a bandana or large kerchief.

In addition to that all the bandana also has emergency “first aid” uses too. It can be used as a compress to apply pressure to a cut or wound to help stop bleeding or in the case of a cut artery or amputation it can be tied and used as a tourniquet. The latter though is not longer recommended in First Aid training and may not be carried out by trained and qualified First Aiders. No tourniquets are permitted for use nowadays. But, in the field and when need then a torniquet still is the best and easiest way to stop a bleeding. Either you, if you are the injured person, or your “patient” dies or he may lose a bit of a limb, in the most severe cases. Which is the better, one must judge.
It can also be used as a cold compress on the head in case of fever and if ice is available it can be made into a makeshift icepack in seconds simply by putting ice in the center of the bandana then pulling the four corners up together and tying them.

The bandana can also be used as a bandage or it can be used as an arm sling for an injured limb but in this case two bandanas tied together works better. Bandanas can also be used whole or torn into strips to make ties for splinting a broken limb in an emergency situation. It can also be tied around the head and used as an eye patch. It can also be tied over the nose and mouth in a triangular fashion and serve as a dust mask.

While out camping the bandana also has its uses around camp as a potholder for lifting hot pots and pans while cooking over an open fire. For that purpose fold the bandana into a thick square piece of cloth for this purpose to supply more insulation between hand and the hot handles of the pots and pans. After one has eaten, the same bandana that was used as a potholder could be be used as a washcloth to wash the dishes! A spare bandana could be used to dry the dishes too. Though it would be advisable to keep two bandanas in one's pack for “dishes only” purpose as that is much cleaner and healthier that way.

It can be called upon to be a handkerchief, a napkin, a hat, a headband, a hair tie, a pants tie, a dog leash, an SOS flag – or as an actual bandana.

Carry a bandana everywhere. You’ll never need to harm trees by using paper napkins. Great for bad hair days. You can also use it to disguise yourself or to protect your hands when sliding across a quickly rigged zip line. (All action heroes should carry a bandana.) let’s see, we’ve covered the use of the bandana to “beat the heat” and we’ve covered its use fore emergency “first aid”, so, I guess we have covered about all uses in a short piece here.

I am sure that there are a multitude of other uses for the bandana that we have not covered here, so, therefore, any reader out there wants to add to that please feel free to do so via the comments.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

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Downsizing from Tractors to Camels

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The world is finally, even in the developing world, waking up; in Rajastan, India, at least.

There farmers are giving up on their gas- and diesel-guzzling tractors and are returning to using their trusty camels for haulage again, as they have done in times not so long ago.

Due to rising fuel prices farmers are rediscovering the "ships of the desert", and this is good too. Why they ever gave up the use of the camel for haulage is a question that can only be answered by them, but I would assume that they encountered the kind of salesman that can sell refrigerators and freezers to the Eskimos.

The price of a good camel has gone up sharply as a result: two years ago camels, good camels, were almost the same price as goats, now they are three times the price.

A good male camel will live for 60 to 80 years and costs about £500.00 while the cheapest tractor is £2,500.

This is good news according to the League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development because the camel population has been falling over the past ten years and this could lead to a revival of this age-old usage. So, let's hear it for the camel!

Camels have a long and regal history in India. They were, traditionally, used by Maharajahs and had great status and so did their breeders. Now decreasing amounts of grazing land and lack of investment in the existing lands have resulted in inadequate nutrition and lowered the resilience of the herds. Camel slaughter is forbidden in India but in fact sources believe that it is rampant, with the meat exported to Bangladesh. Not only is the use of camels being promoted but also its by-products such as camel milk, camel leather handbags and camel bone jewellery.

Well, this is in Rajastan, India. What about the Arab countries for camels and some of our countries, such as the USA, the UK, and countries in the EU for horses, mules and donkeys, once again?

The Amish in the USA still use the horse and many of their farms and businesses are, in their way, far more productive than many of the modern ones. In the UK in a number of areas the horse is making a comeback as a foresters timber moving animal and its use is beginning to spread. While a horse, alas, does not live as long as a camel, it nevertheless, I am sure, beats a tractor in acquisition and running costs.

Fair enough, you do not have the power of a tractor, but then you neither have the noise, the cost of fuel and maintenance – not that a horse may not need the vet or the farrier at times and neither of them are cheap – and neither the other associated problems you have with running a motor vehicle.

In Egypt and some other countries thereabouts the donkey is still in use as a means of haulage and in some of the new EU member states so is the horse, and not just by the Romani People in those countries. In Poland in the rural districts the horse and wagon are still a normal sight and they can even, at certain days, be found in the larger towns.

This might be something that we all should look at again. We also must not forget the ox and the bullock and others...

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

Champagne Cork Peg Board (Practical Recycling)

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

In my opinion, but then most of your regular readers will know that already, practical recycling, that is to say, turning items of “trash”, whether discarded by yourself or by others, into usable goods, must come well before the commercial recycling.

Then again this kind of recycling also can make for the creation of, hopefully, saleable items, thereby becoming commercial, but not in the way of the commercial grand scale recycling of the reclaiming secondary raw materials is.

Champagne Cork Peg Board (Coat Rack).

This is a project that happened to result out of the fact that I once worked in a catering establishment where such corks were in abundance and they ended up thrown away after events and functions and, thinking that there might be a use for them though which I did not know at the particular time, I took a number of them with me to see what might come to mind some day.

One day then, without much thinking about it, a peg board come coat rack came to mind as I wanted to make one for some reason and I remembered the champagne corks. Having a board to hand it took but a few minutes, literally, to have a working peg board/coat rack to go onto the wall.


  • A number of champagne corks (real cork or pressed cork)
  • Equal number of long wood screws (normal slot is better than Phillips)
  • A nice wooden plank as a back board (this could be salvaged skirting, floorboard or from a pallet)
First of prepare the back board. This may mean, if need and you wish to do so, sanding and oiling (using vegetable oil), after having drilled the two holes that will be used as to wherewith to affix the board to the wall by means of screws. The rest, then, is a simple as ABC. Screw screw into cork slowly and precise into the previously marked peg locations and once they have all been screwed in – voila – one peg board or coat rack.

Apart from the screws (unless they be salvaged too – and this is possible) there should be no financial layout for this project. However, properly promoted, this could be something that a livelihood project could make.

Idea & Design © Michael Smith (Veshengro), 2001-2008

Arup unveils new green design strategy

Today Arup announces its ambitious design strategy aimed at encouraging greater development of truly sustainable buildings at Think.

At the start of every project Arup, as part of its normal service, will provide all clients with a strategy to show how a project might be designed within the natural capacity of the planet and fulfill what Arup has identified as six key objectives to achieve full sustainability.

The objectives are to create buildings that are ‘carbon neutral’ in terms of CO2 emissions. Self-sufficient in using and recycling water, built using sustainable materials, able to cope with future climate change, make a positive contribution to the community and built environment and are sustainable in operation.

“Sustainable development is critical to future business success and is leading to significant change for our clients and the industry”, comments Alistair Guthrie, leader of Arup Buildings Sustainable Network. “Arup is committed to providing creative and viable strategies that will enable our clients to imagine how it is possible to move towards fully sustainable buildings”.

The design strategy consists of two distinct parts; a strategy document and a Sustainability Design Plan (SDP).The strategy document forms the basis for a workshop or discussion between client and project team with the aim of agreeing project goals and producing an SDP.

The SDP then outlines the sustainable development aims and building design performance parameters for the project. It sets out what is agreed for the design and what can be done at each stage to meet the agreed design strategy.

To enable project teams to deliver the strategy and ensure that sustainable building design is at the core of every project, Arup is providing access to a mix of training and resources for example, a dedicated intranet site, e-learning for all and specially prepared sustainability briefing notes.

The strategy has already been applied successfully in a number of projects including the redevelopment of St Paul’s School, London.

Alistair continues: “Right from the beginning of a project we want to set out a strategy for the design as it is much harder to incorporate key sustainability concepts later. The strategy shows how all of the objectives might be met and enables us to help our clients to imagine what is possible”.

Arup’s 6 Sustainable Design Objectives:

1 – Carbon neutrality
In a world reducing its carbon emissions new buildings should be ‘carbon neutral’ in terms of CO2 emissions. This is expected to be a stepping stone towards new buildings eventually becoming ‘carbon negative’.

2 – Self-sufficiency in water
Water availability will change from site-to-site so Arup’s aim is to use what the site and location provide and explore how to re-use this supply. The objective of self-sufficiency means reducing consumption and maximising the collection and re-use of water for the building.

3 – Built using sustainable materials
This encompasses many aspects of material use and re-use that need to be judged for each project such as incorporating design for the whole or part re-use of buildings, using more recycled materials, low energy embodied carbon or environmental impacts, local or certified sourcing, non-toxic products, reducing energy demands, recyclability, materials from rapidly renewable sources.

4 – Able to cope with future climate change
Arup will look at ways that buildings can adapt to emerging scenarios for climate change. They need to be able to adapt to changing temperatures, wind and rain patterns. Our designs will consider what this might mean and help clients to consider what strategies should be put in place for the future.

5 – A positive contribution to the community and built environment
In future it must be ensured that what gets built adds to the development of more sustainable communities rather than just provide more commodity. Arup want buildings that enhance overall quality of life. This may be through linkages with transport systems, more equitable access and stakeholder engagement etc.

6 – Sustainable in operation
It is essential that buildings are designed to operate efficiently and be managed easily. This includes not only energy use but waste, water and overall maintenance. Arup will design buildings that consider operational sustainability and will help clients put in place strategies for monitoring and managing the building for optimal performance.

Think Tank votes feed-in tariffs and income tax rebates preferred financial incentives to promote sustainability.

Feed–in tariffs and income tax rebates for green improvements to homes have been voted to be the most effective and actionable financial incentives to sustainability by the high profile Think Tank.

The policy of Dave Timms of Friends of the Earth and that of John Doggart of the Sustainable Energy Academy were two of eight presented at the Think Tank event held on the 1st May. This was the second of two breakfast seminars, jointly hosted by Think 08 and UK-GBC and sponsored by Mott MacDonald in the run-up to the main Think exhibition and conference taking place on the 7th and 8th May at ExCeL in London’s Docklands. These policy proposals will feed into the Think plenary session on the 8th May with Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Dave Timms, of Friends of the Earth proposed that feed-in tariffs such as those in Germany should be introduced to make renewable technologies significantly more cost-effective to install. The scheme proposes that electricity utilities buy renewable electricity at above market rates set by the government. This in turn encourages micro-generation to boost sustainable energy production and engineers a sea change in public attitudes to energy use. The success of Dave’s suggestion comes the day after 30 Labour MPs voted against the Government in favour of an amendment to the Energy Bill to introduce feed-in tariffs.

John Doggart, chairman of the Sustainable Energy Academy suggested that homeowners should be given income tax rebates for installing energy efficient home improvements. Early adopters would be given as much as a 60% rebate to incentivise them to make their house more energy efficient. The relief would taper to 15% over a suggested period of 8 years making the scheme easy to understand, cheap and easy to administer. A similar scheme is currently in operation in France (Article 90 of Finance Bill 2005 and Article 83 of Finance Bill 2006). John quipped that “the cost to initiate the proposal is £144, the price of a return ticket on the Eurostar to Paris to pick up a copy of the legislation.”

The Think Tank, heard presentations from a number of advocates – from campaigners to industry representatives – on a range of financial incentives that they believe could help drive sustainability in the future. Following a “Dragons Den” style format, the event saw each advocate present his/her preferred policy to a panel of three “dragons”, comprised of Paul King of the UK-GBC, Ashley Seager of The Guardian and David Johnston of Berwin Leighton Paisner. After each individual presentation, the advocate was asked a series of questions – by both panel members and the general audience - to establish the overall impact of a particular policy (politically and environmentally), and its workability, before voting took place.

The other advocates, and their preferred policies were:

Andrew Warren of ACE (stamp duty)
Andy Teache of British Property Federation (enhanced capital allowances)
Matt Prescott of Carbon Limited, RSA (personal carbon allowances)
Henry Oliver, Empty Homes Agency (housing & planning delivery grant for empty homes)
Brian Berry, FMB (cutting VAT on refurbishments)
Prof. Anne Power, Sustainable Development Commission (charging developers for development and demolition impact)

Speaking about the event, Paul King, Chief Executive of the UK-GBC, said, “Not only did the format prove an extremely lively one, but we have heard some great ideas and the advocates all argued their positions extremely effectively. The most popular seemed to be those that appeared easiest to administer and most politically realistic, although it might well be that several of the proposals could go hand in hand. I think the message here to Government is that there are a whole host of options out there that would reduce CO2 emissions in our existing homes and buildings.”

The first Think Tank seminar, held in February, looked at the financial barriers to sustainability in the built environment, taking into account the Budget and the impact of difficult economic times on green building. The need for financial incentives came out strongly from this seminar, for residents, occupiers and landlords, to take steps to improve the performance of their homes and buildings.

Commenting on the Think Tank, Kevin Dixon, Mott MacDonald’s director of sustainability said, “We’ve supported this initiative because we believe our industry has an obligation to address the fact that the built environment accounts for half of the UK’s CO2 emissions. We hope that the ideas for financial incentives shared today will indeed inspire action to move the sustainability agenda forward and help business play its part in reducing its contribution to climate change.”

The Think 08 exhibition and conference will run over 7 and 8 May at ExCeL. Following the success of 2007’s inaugural event, Think 08 will explore the economic, social and environmental challenges in delivering sustainable development, and look at the wider responsibilities of the property and construction industry in dealing with the issues of climate change, urban renewal and redevelopment.

Green (Living) Review's visit to Grand Designs Live 08

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sunday, May 4, 2008 and Tuesday, May 6, 2008 saw yours truly visiting the Grand Designs Live 08 Show at London's ExCel and a number of interesting things were to be seen.

Obviously, of primary interest was ideas for sustainable living from gardening for growing food to feed a family, solar heating and lighting, sustainable buildings, to rainwater harvesting and much, much more. A fair number of interesting things were found, especially with regards to sustainability and sustainable living.

In other places ideas could be taken away from some of the designs which could be turned into something sustainable, such as some of the solid furniture on display which, while made from sustainable forest wood – from Canada though – could easily be made, looking exactly the same, from reclaimed timber from the building industry and from salvage.

The homes in the GRANDVillage were definitely most interesting, especially the log house by a small British company from Suffolk, using only local sourced timer. In the GRANDGardens the great interest of mine lay with the three-square-meter garden to feed a family, which was designed and set up by Dairmuid Gavin. If it can be done on such a small plot then how much more could be done in a bigger garden or even on an allotment?

Growing our own food, as far as possible, in whatever space available, is definitely going to be a must if we – one – want to reduce “food miles” and – two – want to be able to avoid shortages and high prices for ourselves and Dairmuid Gavin with the 3sqm garden shows what can be done. Other methods too are possible that were not shown on the show and the reader should keep visiting our pages, as well as those of our related publications, such as Home & Garden Review, Allotment Garden Review, The Homesteader, etc. where the subject of self-sufficiency gardening will again and again be tackled, down from the field and allotments to the patio, roof and balcony. Raising ones own food, or at least part of it, is possible basically everywhere.

Having seen a number of interesting products on the show I do hope that, at some stage, I shall be able to obtain a couple of them for review and be able to bring the readers of the Green (Living) Review my findings on them.

The show is still open until Sunday, May 11, so there is still time to visit and see for yourself.
Ticket hotline: 0871 230 5577

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

Practical Recycling – something important that we all can do

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Before, and I know I have said that many times already, we even think of recycling, even practical recycling, that is to say making something “new” out of an item of “trash” we must think “reduce” and before that even “reduce”.

However, practical recycling should be something that should be thought about before we even go and put something into the recycling bin to be then going through a process of reprocessing and such.

Such practical recycling can be a possible source of income for the unwaged – the jobless – and kids even.

This kind of works has, in time past, always been a source – and the stress here is firmly on the letter “a” – source of income for Gypsy families.

Entire (Community) Livelihood Projects and Programs have been and are being set up around direct practical recycling, making goods for sale from discarded materials and items.

When we speak here of “practical recycling” we are not talking about gathering recyclables for resale to reprocessors and such nor of reprocessing recyclables into secondary raw materials but we are talking about using the refuse from which to make useful goods, for personal use, as gifts, or even, and especially so, for sale, like done by livelihood projects in a variety of countries.

While the majority of such livelihood projects are found in the developing world, that part of the world that, until not so long ago, was called the “Third World”, I can see no reason why something like that could not also work say in the UK, the USA, or such.

When, for instance, it comes to recycling advertising tarpaulin banners and such those too can be found in our countries and I am almost certain that here they go landfill site route and are not recycled.

Therefore, while there may not be such an ample supply of such tarps as there may be in the Philippines where Trashe Bolsas operates and maybe not of the same or similar large sizes, it would still be possible to work projects around reworking such tarps as are found in countries such as the UK into new goods, like it is done by Trashe Bolsas, but possibly smaller items, such as belt pouches, cellphone pouches, business card wallets, etc. The list, I am sure, is limited only by our imagination.

This is, I am sure, also one of many otherwise discarded materials that can be reworked in such and similar ways and manners and again it is only our imagination or lack of same that may restrict as to what can be reworked and how.

I am certain that, if we all look at trash in a different way and with different eyes as the majority of the population does then we could get a number of little industries started making goods that people will want to buy. Firstly, they want to buy those goods because of the fact that they are recycled and that they come from a self-help group but they should also want to do so because, especially, those goods are of high quality and are made locally.

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

Village life on a grand scale at Grand Designs Live London 2008

Five zero carbon, energy efficient new builds at ExCeL London
Ticket hotline: 0871 230 5577

This year, the Royal Victoria Square at ExCeL London will play house and home to a village of brand new dwellings. As part of Grand Designs Live London (3 – 11 May), Grand Village will comprise of exceptional houses situated just outside ExCeL London’s West entrance.

The showcased buildings include, Eco Pod, No. 1 Lower Carbon Drive, The Log House Company, The Clear Glass House and ‘The House That Kevin Built’. Never before have so many innovative building techniques been bought together in one place.

Eco Pod
Committed to producing a range of modern, comfortable eco homes, Eco Pod will be building environmentally friendly dome-shaped pods, which have an individual feel and achieve a zero-carbon rating with minimal impact on the environment. The ‘Pods’ utilise systems such as solar water heating, wind power, photovoltaic cells, superb insulation and hot air recovery, cutting energy requirements and heating costs by up to 90 per cent, producing virtually zero CO² emissions.

No. 1 Lower Carbon Drive
Part of the Green Homes service launched by The London Development Agency, No.1 Lower Carbon Drive is a life-size building, modelled after a typical, pre-war London terrace house. The exhibit illustrates ways in which Londoners can tackle climate change from their home and is divided into six different zones, focused on energy, ventilation, appliances, water, recycling and insulation. It demonstrates how certain products, technologies and habits can be adopted to reduce the average six tonnes of carbon dioxide a similar house emits in a year.

The Log House Company Ltd
A more traditional, but equally sustainable building, is the log house from The Log House Company Ltd, which uses Douglas fir trees from managed woodland in Suffolk. Manufactured by the first company in the UK to comply with new building regulations for residential buildings, the log house is both pleasing to the eye and the environment. The bespoke Grand Design will be built by The Log House Company Ltd, with VELUX being fundamentally involved in the design.

Clear Glass House
Clear Glass Structures has developed a sustainable, ready-to-go ‘GlassPod’. The structurally double-glazed panels can be assembled without the need for planning permission, making it a suitable modern garden office or summerhouse. The Glass House comes in three sizes with a self-levelling base and living roof.

The House That Kevin Built
After six series of watching other people cope with the stresses and strains of self-build projects, Kevin McCloud is finally rolling up his sleeves and building a house at Grand Designs Live London in just six days. The House That Kevin Built is an exciting home that has been designed by RIBA award-winning architect Duncan Baker Brown.

Every day, Kevin will invite one of his famous friends - to be revealed on the day - to lend a helping hand.

Once they’ve explored GRANDVillage, visitors will have plenty of time to pick up some fresh ideas and inspiration before hitting GRANDBuild, GRANDInteriors, GRANDKitchen, GRANDBathroom and GRANDGarden inside ExCeL London.

'Public health risk' warning as 50% of councils axe weekly rubbish collections

Almost half of councils in England have axed weekly domestic rubbish collections, according to the latest Government figures.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The number moving to less frequent bin rounds has now reached 169 out of the 350 authorities across the country.

Shadow local government secretary Eric Pickles said the changes, which ministers say would help boost recycling, were a public health risk, and at the same time he accused the Government of showing "contempt" for voters by not publishing the data until May 1st, the day of the local elections.

"Labour Ministers have shown contempt for the electorate, by hiding the true scope of Labour cuts to local services until after the elections.

"Under Gordon Brown, the weekly rubbish collection is facing extinction, while council tax bills soar year on year", he said and he added: "Labour Ministers first forced up council tax through fiddled funding, and are now forcing councils to axe weekly bin collections, issue heavy-handed bin fines and hit families with bin taxes on top.

"No wonder fly tipping is soaring, given it is increasingly difficult for families to dispose of their rubbish responsibly.

"People genuinely want to improve recycling and go green, but Labour's approach of forcing rubbish cuts is not the answer, as it threatens to harm the local environment and bad for public health.

"As with soaring council tax, councillors are taking the flak for policies cooked up in Whitehall."

Commenting on the figures, Environment Minister Joan Ruddock said: "Government has to set national priorities for tackling waste and climate change.

"We cannot go on sending millions of tonnes of household rubbish to landfill and we have to boost recycling.

"But within that framework central Government does not tell local authorities how frequently they should collect waste.

"There would be a justifiable barrage of complaints if Whitehall dictated when people's bins were emptied.

"We want waste managed in a way which suits local circumstances and this is something local authorities are best placed to decide."

The problem is that Joan Ruddock wouldn't know how to encourage anyone to recycle and with fines and penalties and with removing the weekly refuse collection we certainly will not do that. All we will do is increase the amount of rubbish fly-tipped in the countryside, in public parks, in alleyways, and on farmer's fields. It will do nothing to boost recycling rate. However, it looks good on their books – the ones that get fiddled all the time anyway by this so-called “Labor” government – as only collecting the rubbish every two weeks rather than weekly and they can claim that there is a reduction of rubbish collected. That the local councils will have to pick up the bill for cleaning up the countryside and removing fly-tipped rubbish from wherever does not interest those in Whitehall in their ivory towers one little bit.

A disaster waiting to happen and an epidemic waiting to pounce, and the environment, in addition, will suffer too.

Most countries on the European mainland have no problem with weekly bin collections and still getting a huge recycling rate. Why? Because unlike the stupid British Labor government they give incentives to recycling. All the British government seems able to do is to think of new ways how to punish people for not doing something they are told. The real Nanny state gone wrong.

In some EU countries rubbish is actually collected on a daily basis. Something that, obviously, could never work in Britain, like with all other incentives and initiatives that are used in other countries because, as we get told again and again, while this may all work well in those countries it could never work in Britain as Britain is different.

Bin bag tax and all the rest of the penalties this Labor government keeps thinking about are not just gimmicks that will never work; they are in fact stealth taxes. They have no intention of rewarding anyone for doing the right thing. They just want to punish people that do not do as they are told.

If we have systems in place like in the USA with reverse vending machines and recycling centers that actually bought back the aluminium soda cans and beers cans and also the glass bottles and jars we would have an instant reduction in bin volume. If in addition to that other schemes, as used in other countries (and it is not rocket science to learn from good examples and practices elsewhere) that reward people to recycle and to reduce their rubbish bin load, in the same way as the schemes that reward people for cycling rather than using the cars in such and other countries we would see a great effect.

Alas, however, the British government can only think of punishing people rather than encouraging them by means of financial and other incentives to recycle and go green in other ways.

I know the reason too, or the biggest reason aside from the fact that they could not possibly adopt good schemes from other countries, and that is that they would have to pay out money rather than getting some in through fines.

In all aspects the last decade plus of Labor government in the UK has not been beneficial for anything and anyone in the UK. It all looks fine on paper but in reality everything is spin. More spin and faster than most spin dryers.

© M Smith (Veshengro), May 2008

Free seeds for every visitor to Grand Designs Live London

Grand Designs Live London has teamed up with VELUX to create Future Forest, a bespoke and interactive show feature. Visitors will be invited to take a packet of seeds in return for submitting a personal pledge to reduce their carbon footprint.

Located within the Design Shopping Arcade, Future Forest will straddle either side of the walkway displaying walls lined with packets of seeds. Over the duration of the show, the pledges will be collected and displayed on a visual indicator with supporting messages on screens updating visitors on the details and quantity of pledges collected.

Keith Riddle, Managing Director of VELUX comments: “Throughout the years, VELUX has been highly committed to reducing the environmental impact of the manufacture, use and disposal of our products. That’s why we use wood from sustainable forests and produce an innovative range of glazing with excellent energy
saving properties.

”We also strongly believe that the more natural light we have in our homes, the better for our health and the environment. We’re therefore delighted to partner the Future Forest at Grand Designs Live London, where we will be inviting people to come along and make their pledge to improve the environment.”

VELUX will show its commitment by making a donation to the Woodland Trust, the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity.