Homemade window glass and mirror cleaner

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Make your own glass cleaner, and get beautiful, streak-free windows for little money.

You will need only two ingredients and one further item:

  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • A spray bottle
You fill the spray bottle with equal parts vinegar and water and then you use it as you would any other glass cleaner.

The benefits of using vinegar as a glass cleaner are that it inexpensive, contains no harsh chemicals or fumes (though the smell of vinegar is not everyone's cup of tea), it effectively removes fingerprints and other window grime and it does not leave streaks.

It is generally recommended that, for safety, you do not reuse empty cleaner bottles, as the vinegar can react with the residue of the chemicals that were in that bottle previously. Ideally you should buy a new bottle for your glass cleaner. I must say here though that I just thoroughly wash such a bottle and then use water in it a couple of times before I use it for anything else. I, fir instance, have used such spray bottles for use with washing up liquid for black fly and such on beans, etc.

Also, always label the contents of your cleaner bottles, regardless of what cleaner they may contain, and always keep out of the reach of children and pets.

A special word of warning here: Many recipes for glass cleaners that can be found on the Internet contain ammonia and/or isopropyl alcohol. Those ingredients are, so it is said, poisonous when swallowed or inhaled in large quantities. Ammonia is a very nasty substance that, while it has been used in cleaners for a long time, inhaled or ingested is poisonous, as said. Not something that is very safe to have around and definitely not safe for the environment.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

No link between biofuels and food prices, leading biofuel industry figure claims

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Biofuel production has almost no impact on food supplies and Government must stop hiding behind the tabloid "food or fuel" debate, says Graham Hilton, leading figure in the biofuels industry.

Graham Hilton, chair of the Renewable Transport Fuels Working Group and managing director of The Energy Crops Company, accused the Government of panicking in the face of public criticism of biofuels.

It is obvious, surely, that Mr, Hilton has absolutely no vested interests here in stating such clap-trap.

Reacting to the publication of the Gallagher Review, he said the report contradicted Defra's own conclusions about the impact on the food production industry.

"Defra have confirmed that biofuels have virtually no impact on the cost of food," he said.

"The real reasons behind the rise in the cost of food are lack of investment, an increase in the fuel costs of agriculture and severe weather impacts such as drought and floods."

He said the biofuels industry is working hard to ensure it is responsible and sustainable - claiming other industries are lagging far behind their efforts.

"Government should stop hiding behind tabloids and have the courage to encourage an industry that has done more than anybody to put the safeguards in place and to make a real contribution," Mr Hilton added.

Mr Hilton has an axe to grind for sure and he would claim that the biofuels industry has no impact on food prices seeing as he is – one – the very chairperson of the Renewable Transport Fuels Working Group and – two – and this is much more important probably – the managing director of The Energy Crops Company. Therefore, I am sure that no one could accuse him of having a vested interest now and being biased towards the biofuels industry, could they. Hell, they could.

The problem appears to be that the biofuels industry is going to be the next oil industry with the same kind of attitudes. It is they – like Mr. Hilton, who hide behind “green” credentials while all they are really interested in is in the bottom line and how much profit they can make out of it, regardless whether it drives the cost of food through the roof and whether people suffer. Not their concern. The environment is, so they say.

But studies have also now found that the use of most biofuels, if not indeed all, rather than reducing any harmful emissions, including the CO2 so tauted as being the responsible agent for Climate Change – remember not so long ago freons were held responsible for the hole in the Ozone layer – will even increase them, and still they all want to go “full steam ahead” with biofuels. Whoa! Someone pull in the reins and stop this runaway ream of horses.

We now have another industry with vested interest that claims to be green and all that even but will be as damaging, if not controlled, as the oil and petroleum industry was and still is, as far as the environment and people are concerned. Let's not even talk about extracting oil from tar sands of Canada, for instance, or coal by removing mountaintops in the Appalachians.

Time for a change... a real change...

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Needless air travel is killing the poor

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu says that businessmen who take flights rather than use video conferencing are adding to global warming that is condemning millions of the world's poorest people to death.

The former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town said that developed countries had caused global warming and must therefore take the lead in slashing emissions of climate changing carbon gases.

The problem with the above is that we have actually no proof, as yet, that humans – whether developed countries or not – have in fact CAUSED global warming. The real jury, not that of the ones with an agenda, is still out on this.

As much as I respect Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu he is just following the accepted trend – the trend we are all being pushed into – as to “global warming” (the real warming in fact stopped about 7 years ago).

"It is the countries which are the least responsible for causing climate change that are paying the heaviest price," he said in a video message to a meeting of the World Development Movement lobby group in July 2008.

"Do not fly in the face of the poor by allowing the emissions produced by endless and unnecessary business flights to keep growing."

Scientists claim that average global temperatures will rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century due to burning fossil fuels for power and transport. They note that emissions at altitude are many times worse than at ground level. But they completely want to deny the truth that was found in Australia and to which the IPCC had to concede, namely that the temperatures have plateaued out in 2001 and have not risen since.

Yes, we still have a Climate Change, one that is more or less natural to the Earth, and one that we cannot stop though we may be able to mitigate it. What we, primarily, must do is find ways to live with it and to mitigate its impact.

That does not mean, however, that we should stop doing all the things to benefit the environment that we are doing presently, from renewable energy, to recycling and video conferencing, and everything in between. On the contrary. We must increase our environmentally beneficial activities and do all those things and more of them.

We, modern man, have done so much damage to the Earth that anything we can do to mitigate that can only be applauded but... let us stop pretending that we can control the cycles of the Earth and that we have affected that.

These rising temperatures will cause droughts, floods, crop failures and water shortages, putting millions of lives at risk, the scientists claim. But temperatures, so it was found, have not actually risen even by a fraction, since 2001. So how are the rising?

Yes, “Climate Change” is for real, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is correct in that, as are all the others, and indeed famine may be increasing as will other phenomena, such as droughts, floods, hurricanes, and such like. But this is due to the fact that the world is warmer and remaining warmer that it has been for a long time.

In addition to that a lot of it is caused, that is to say that lowering of the water table and also the floods, etc. due to the physical damage that man, including and especially man in Africa, has done to the natural environment there.

No person in the developed world cut down the trees in the Savannah belt which is leading to the southern advancement of the Sahara, for instance. The Africans did that all by themselves. No one forced Kenya to grow cash crops instead of food. It was a case of exploiting world markets instead. In other words, it is and was greed. The same for the logging in the Amazon and elsewhere in the rainforests. It is fuelled by financial greed.

"As an African,” Desmond Tutu said, “I urgently call on ordinary people in rich countries to act as global citizens, not as isolated consumers. We must listen to our consciences, and not to governments who speak only about economic markets.”

Nothing could be more true. And those markets will cease to exists especially if the workers have no food and cannot work the plantations and such. We ravage the Earth in pursuit of a quick buck. Well, the big conglomerates do. Where does that leave the poor and you and me?

Not only the Africans are the ones that are suffering and that are going to suffer or only those in the developing world. The poorer strata everywhere will suffer, as they do now already with the ever increasing price of oil and gas.

We must get away from our dependence on oil and gas for heating and electricity. We must embrace renewable, including wood-fired CHP plants on every city block. But, and this is also very important, we must also stop the stupid notion of biofuels from crop plants such as corn, and others. While we have people go hungry we cannot and must not make diesel or ethanol from foods, unless it is food waste and creates methane.

Transport, whether personal or business, including haulage, must look at new ways and new sources. Electric vehicles must become the norm and such like. NO biofuels that make things even worse.

With modern technology, aviation, except for airfreight of mail and such, has had its day, to a large degree and, maybe, we should look at a more pleasurable long distance travel once again, that of sea travel, maybe even again under sail.

© M Smith (Veshengro, July 2008

Fix that leaky tap

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The amount of “greening” of your home that you can do depends on whether you own or whether you rent, obviously.

If you rent, whether apartment or house, there are limits as to what you can – and also, I am sure, as to what you want to, as it it not your place – do as to “greening” the home.

You cannot, in general, add solar panels, for instance, or install double- or even triple-glazing, loft insulation and other such or do anything about the heating system. Nor can you add a wind generator, however small, to your home, especially if it is an apartment, in general.

The same also can be if you rent a house, especially of you have not the most secure of tenancies.

You don't then, I am sure, want to pay out money for expensive things that, while they may even give you savings and all that, you may not be able to take with you should have have to or want to move.

There is one thing, however, that all of us, whether we own or rent, can do as regards to greening the place where we live and that is ensuring that we do not – needlessly – use, or more precise, waste water.

Ensuring that taps, or faucets, as our American cousins like to call them, are not dripping, and the same for shower heads and other such reduced the waste of water and thereby your impact on the precious water resources of this planet. No drinking bottled water is another one of those reductions of impact on water resources, but that was not the issue here, really.

Too many of us allow a drip, drip, drip of taps and shower heads to continue day in, day out, to year in and year out as it is, as many often think, just a minor little problem that is less an issue than to get a plumber out to fix a new washer or – heaven forbid – a new valve even. Many of us thus think we are saving money but we do not; at least not if we have metered water supplies. Many such drip, drip, drip add up to gallons of water a year that are lost and which those of us that pay per meter have to pay for – in the end. Then again, in the end we all pay for water wastage; us in the developing world for higher water bills and in the way of lower river and ground water table levels and even droughts. We all end up paying for it in the end. Same as with the bottled water mania.

According to the United Nations, around 400 million people worldwide are currently facing severe water shortages, and by 2050, so it is said, that number will be 4 billion. The southeastern United States is currently feeling the pinch from a severe drought, approaching the point where flushing the toilet and brushing your teeth is a luxury. And now let's not even talk about Australia.

In these dry times, it is more important than ever to make sure that you are not letting water just drip down the drain, or leak out of your toilet. Here the culprit often is the cistern overflow, caused by a faulty valve inside the cistern itself.

According to the Earth Policy Institute, the average prices for water in America is about $2.50 per 1,000 gallons, which is about a quarter of what it costs in some European countries. It doesn't sound like much, but considering that a leaky tap can drip 20 gallons a day down the drain, and a leaky toilet 200 gallons. When you add that up then you might as well toss two crisp $100 bills, that is to say around £100 plus in English currency, down the drain each year.

Stopping these two leaks is easy, and definitely worth a couple hundred bucks. For your faucets, just watch them, or put an empty glass where a drip would fall; if it fills up in a few hours, you've got a leak. Your toilet can be a little trickier, as it can be tough to "see" the water you're wasting; test your toilet by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank, and if you see traces of it in the bowl 5-to-10 minutes later, it's time to call your handy neighbor or your plumber. In addition to that, as I indicated above, there are the leaks from the Torbeck valve, the valve that stops your cistern (tank) from filling up over the top. In case the valve fails you have a pipe to the outside from the cistern to let any such overflow slow out. And when that flows it flows.

If you know what you are doing then at least the leaky taps, which often only require a washer to be replaced, are an easy enough DIY task. Replacing a Torbeck valve is a little more complicates but, theoretically, can also be accomplished by a DIYer.

So, let's stop them leaky taps and valves.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

American way of life put at risk through climate change

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has come under fire for, apparently, discounting the impact of climate change, has now come out and said global warming poses real risk to human health and the American way of life.

Risks include, according to the EPA in a new report, more heat-related deaths, more heart and lung diseases due to increased ozone and health problems related to hurricanes, extreme precipitation and wildfires.

"Climate change poses real risk to human health and the human systems that support our way of life in the United States," the agency's Joel Scheraga said in a telephone briefing.

The report does not specify, however, how many people in the United States could die due to climate change, because that number can be changed by taking action, Scheraga said.

There is one problem with that equation, as I have said in other articles already, and that is that we will have a problem with that theory if, as I, and many others, believe that Climate Change is not so much cause by the action of Man but more a cyclic event of the Earth itself. If it is the latter than we must take other actions as well so as to minimize the impact and to learn and live with the changes in our climate on a local as well as worldwide level.

Climate change is expected to affect water supplies across the United States, as well as other countries, with reduced water flow in rivers, lower groundwater levels and more salt creeping into coastal rivers and groundwater.

People who live along the coasts will face the consequences of rising sea levels and severe weather events while city dwellers can expect higher energy demand to cool buildings -- though the demand for heat will probably decline – if we are lucky.

We must do two things... and that is to (1) look at reducing anything that could be a contributing factor to climate change and (2) prepare for the possibility climate change is not man-made and that there is nothing or little that we can to stop it. That is to say that this, more than likely, a cycle that the Earth goes through every so many centuries and if that is the case, as I believe it is, we must prepare for this at the same time.

I am not saying that we should not reduce any pollution and emissions and should not work on renewable energy and such. We must do so indeed and the same as regards to recycling, waste reduction, reusing, upcycling, and all those steps.

Let's go and do it...

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

OECD report finds that lowering energy consumption is better than biofuels for reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Well, now that was obvious, was it not... How much did this study cost?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

According to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), entitled "Economic Assessment of Biofuel Support Policies", not only is public support of biofuels costly, it also has very little impact on reducing “greenhouse gas” emissions.

All the tax incentives, blending targets and other public support policies in the European Union, the US, and Canada total $25 billion per year but will ultimately result in less than a 1% reduction in emissions from transport by 2015, according to the OECD report.

The benefits of biofuels are very often more than overstated

The OECD said that if Brazil’s ethanol produced from sugar cane cuts greenhouse gas emissions by around 80%, biofuels from feedstocks in the United States, the EU or Canada tend to have a far lower environmental benefit. Biodiesel from vegetable oil cuts greenhouse emissions by around 40-55% and ethanol from corn…generally cuts them by less than 30%.”

The worst offender in this list, biodiesel from palm oil, according to some estimates actually increases greenhouse gas emissions compared to ordinary diesel by 800%, and in addition possibly contributes to Orangutan extinction in the wild.

Lowering energy consumption is by far a better solution than biofuels

In its recommendations, the OECD says that governments should offer more support for second generation biofuel feedstocks that don’t use food crops, but more importantly, policies designed to reduce overall energy consumption should receive more funding.

A study recently has also shown that instead of lowering and reducing CO2 and other emissions biofuels can actually make matters worse. Therefore, we need to look at new sources and also at old ways of transport. Yes, I did say, OLD ways, and this includes especially the bicycle and the horse and mule.

From the report’s policy recommendations,

A priority focus, said the mentioned report, needs to be given to reducing energy consumption. This is especially important in the transport sector where the growth in energy use and related environmental problems is most pronounced. In particular, this includes the gradual move from highly energy intensive modes of transport to less intensive ones, and improvement in fuel efficiency in all transport sectors. Generally the costs of reducing GHG emissions by saving energy are lower than by switching to alternative energy sources, in particular biofuels.

While this is being said by the OECD the UK government still supports the 10 percent target by 2020 but wants the indirect effects of biofuels to be part of the sustainability criteria, and the UK wants a rigorous review of the target in 2013-2014.

Why this continuing support of the 10 percent target? One can only assume that jobs and money is at stake here, and votes and promises of investment here and there.

Essentially, in the report, the OECD is recommending that government embrace the factor that energy efficiency is crucial for combating climate change and for making renewable energy technologies most effective.

A recent World Bank report estimated that, alongside drought and speculation, biofuels derived from crops such as grains, oil seeds and sugar were responsible for up to three quarters of recent hikes in food prices which have hurt the world's poorest.

Global demand for agricultural land would soar by 2020 meaning in future all biofuel demand must come from marginal land, including use of hi-tech fuels derived from waste like straw and wood chips instead of food. Other sources could be, as apparently the Brazilians have pioneered, ethanol from grass clippings. Then there also is good old methane, as a gas, which could be cerated in methane digesters.

We also, as I have already stated, must get away form the overuse, and overuse it indeed is, of the motor car for transportation.

Why does anyone have to use the car to pop round to the corner shop for the newspaper or that packet of cigarettes? Why do the children have to be taken to school by car, seeing the school is only a block away?

Yes, I am a cyclist and do not even own a motorcar. I do not even have a driver's license. So, I know that people might think me biased as regards to the car but that is not the case. It is the needless use that I am against.

I am also against the needless use of other motorized operations when human-powered would do nicely. We must liberate ourselves from the over-reliance on gasoline or diesel powered appliances and vehicles. While there is a case for such appliances and vehicles, etc. at times, there are more often than not occasions where starting up the lawnmower or the car would take longer than doing it in a more old-fashioned way.

We must reduce our energy consumption, and that on a number of levels. The survival of mankind, to a great degree, depends on this. Do we want food or fuel? We must decide.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008


  • Plastic sandwich box sales up 36% and sandwich bag sales up 25% at Sainsbury’s as DIY lunches increase in popularity
  • Trend reflects increasing tendency to check and use what’s in the fridge to make financial and environmental savings
  • National poll shows collapse in household expenditure on the £5.2 billion takeaway sector, with 52% of us cutting back or no longer buying them
British consumers are embracing the art of the “bring-your-own” (BYO) lunch culture in an effort to save money during the working week.
Sales of plastic sandwich boxes at Sainsbury’s are up 36% year on year and sandwich bag sales are up 25%.
The figures are released as evidence suggests that we are turning to our fridges and store cupboards in an effort to economise and reduce unnecessary food waste, and this certainly is not a bad idea.

Alison Austin, Environmental Manager at Sainsbury’s, said: “The cost of a homemade sandwich, using ingredients from the fridge and bread from the breadbin, is substantially lower than the prices at sandwich chains. Buying the ingredients on the weekend and planning ahead or using leftovers can save a huge amount.”

It is about time that people came to realize that they are being ripped off by the sandwich chains and sandwich bars and cafes. The cost of £1.90 and more for a simple Cheese & Onion Sandwich to me is not just excessive; it is daylight robbery.

A block of Basics Full Flavor Cheddar at Sainsbury's costs about £3.00 from which I can make an awful lot of cheese sandwiches. Add to that the cost of two slices of good quality bread and a couple of slices of onion and each sandwich would be probably less than 50pence, if that.

Britons who buy their lunch each day are likely to be spending as much or more as they would if they made their own lunches for a fortnight. For less than the cost of a £2.95 sandwich and £1 fruit juice, it is possible to buy enough food to make sandwiches for two for a week, as the following table shows. If leftover ingredients are used, the price effectively falls to zero.

According to the most recent available figures from the British Sandwich Association the market for commercial sandwiches in the UK is worth nearly £5 billion, with approximately 2.7 billion sandwiches bought outside the home each year.

YouGov research for Sainsbury’s also reveals that the Friday and Saturday night call to the takeaway is becoming increasingly rare as the DIY trend extends to other eating habits as the credit crunch bites. Instead, Britons are using what they have, supplemented with bought ingredients to make “fakeaways” - homemade curry, Chinese or pizza.

More than half (52%) of those polled for Sainsbury’s said that they had reduced significantly the amount that they spend on takeaway food or stopped entirely since the beginning of the year. More than a third (37%) have cut back their expenditure and 15 percent said that they have stopped buying takeaways altogether. The most recent ONS statistics revealed that Britain spends nearly £100 million per week on takeaways.

28% said that they now routinely use leftover meat and vegetables in curries and 26% use leftover vegetables in Chinese-style stir fries. Around one in four (22%) is more likely to make good use of leftovers as a direct result of the credit crunch and 20% said that they now throw away less food.

Sales of key ‘fakeaway’ ingredients are up at Sainsbury’s this year as households try to emulate Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurant tastes for a fraction of the cost. Vindaloo curry paste sales are up 33% year on year, plain poppadums are up 47%, light coconut milk is up 14% and Peshwari naans are up 16%.

Alison Austin added: “Fakeaways are here to stay. They’re created for a fraction of the cost of traditional takeaways, you know what’s going into them and they use up food that would otherwise be chucked out and sent to landfill.”

Alison continued: “A staggering third of all the food we buy is thrown out, according to recent research, so what tastier way is there to tackle an environmental problem and save a lot of money? Leftover vegetables and meat are ideal ingredients for curries, and pizzas lend themselves to a huge range of toppings. Cooking fakeaways at home is great fun and is the perfect way to love your leftovers.”

Better value Indian and Chinese ready meals, which were recently praised for their relatively low fat content by Which?, are also growing in popularity, reflecting the savings they offer over conventional takeaways. Sales of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference pizzas are up 513% year on year.

Sainsbury’s five step guide to the fakeaway habit:
  1. Curries by their nature are a mixture of meat and vegetables. This makes bowls of leftovers from the fridge a perfect source for curry ingredients.
  2. Many leftovers are perfect for pizza toppings – leftover cheese, tomatoes, peppers, onions and mushrooms are perfect toppings, as are most meats. Always keep a box of ready-made pizza bases in the freezer.
  3. Most vegetables are also great ingredients for a Chinese-style stir fry.
  4. Keep a jar of stir fry sauce and pasta sauce in your cupboard for easy suppers on the go.
  5. Freeze any leftover tomato-based pasta sauce – it makes a great pizza topping.
by 1238.com and Michael Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

It’s all about the Bike

Cycle 2008: The future of cycling all under one roof

Worried about the credit crunch? Concerned about the environment? Fed up of sitting in traffic? On your bike!

Cycling is enjoying a renaissance in the UK for many different reasons, it’s cheap, clean, makes you healthy and most importantly, it’s fun! So whether you’re already riding or just thinking about throwing your leg over the saddle, this is a great time to book your ticket to this autumn’s Cycle08 at Earls Court, the biggest and best consumer cycle show in the UK with all the very latest bikes, clothing and accessories for cyclists of all shapes, sizes and abilities.

Names like Specialized, Ridgeback, Scott and Raleigh are all amongst those exhibiting at the show, along with Shimano, Campagnolo, Mavic and SRAM all exhibiting their 2009 ranges for the very first time in the UK.

Cycle 08 is one of the biggest and certainly the most diverse exhibition of bikes and accessories in the UK showcasing everything from the latest road and mountainbikes right through to childrens bikes, classic commuter bikes and even electrically assisted bikes for those who need that extra push!

As well as offering the chance to see, Cycle 08 also offers visitors a unique opportunity to try out the latest equipment. The return for 2008 of the Mountainbike test track, sponsored by Volvo and Tyrol as well as the Commuter ‘Try it’ track means that visitors will have every opportunity to try before they buy.

For those who can’t wait to get back to their local bike shop to make a purchase, Cycle 08 will once again feature the retail zone with clothing from all the leading manufacturers at the show in the latest styles and colours as well as glasses, helmets and other accessories to help the fashion conscious cyclist stay one step ahead of the pack!

Finally, after a summer that has provided so much entertainment for fans of the sport of cycling, Cycle 08 will have its own arena space for the first time this year, bringing together some of the stars of the sport for interviews, demonstrations, Q&A and more in a packed programme of events that will keep Earls Court buzzing throughout the three consumer days of the show.

Summing up this years event, show director Andrew Brabazon said:

“We’ve crammed in more than ever before at this years show, with even more exhibition space alongside the interactive features and a programme of entertainment that justifies the ticket price alone! Cycle continues to offer great value for money particularly if you pre-book your ticket, so make a date in your diary now and head to the website!”

Whatever your reason for getting on a bike, Cycle 08 has something to offer and to entertain you this year, book your ticket now and receive a £3 discount against the on-the-door price of £14.
Head to www.cycleshow.co.uk now to find out more.

Cycle 2008 takes place at Earls Court 1, London

The show dates are: 9th Oct Trade only and 10th-12th Oct open to the Public

Opening Times:
Thursday (trade only day) 10.00am to 6.00pm
Friday 10.00am to 6.00pm
Saturday 10.00am to 6.00pm
Sunday 10.00am to 5.00pm

Adult ticket prices are £11 in advance and £14 on the door.

Source: Upper Street Events

National campaign aims to reduce food waste by changing the nation's approach to leftovers and food storage

  • Research reveals widespread confusion between “best before” and “use by dates”, contributing to significant waste
  • Sainsbury's pledges to help shoppers understand that “best before” does not mean “bin before”
  • “Catwalk cookery” obsession contributes to throwaway culture
  • Fruit bowls are a major contributor to waste, research finds
Shoppers are being urged to make better use of leftover food and improve food storage in an effort to cut the mountain of wasted food in Britain's households and to help cash strapped customers make their budgets go further. A recent report from WRAP revealed that food brought home and not eaten was costing £10 billion, the equivalent of up to £600 worth of avoidable waste per household.

National YouGov research for Sainsbury's points to potential confusion between use by dates and best before dates. When asked whether they saw a “use by date” or a “best before date” as a cue to throw away food, 31% and 24% of respondents said yes respectively. The research carried out for Sainsbury's reveals that almost a quarter of Britons throw food away once past its “best before date” even though it may be perfectly edible.

Sainsbury's head of brand policy and sustainability, Alison Austin, said: “Consumer reactions to 'use by' and 'best before' dates are largely similar despite the fundamental difference in their meanings. 'Use by' is an instruction and 'best before' is guidance. The implications of this misunderstanding are that households are throwing away substantial volumes of food on its 'best before' date when it may be perfectly edible. Sainsbury's will take the lead in communicating the important message that best before does not mean bin before and we would like to see cross-industry collaboration on this point.”

The research also indicates a growing obsession with perfect looking 'catwalk cookery' that is contributing to a throwaway culture, with a new generation of cooks losing touch with the value of leftovers, a cornerstone of British cookery for centuries. Almost a quarter (22%) of 18-24 year olds throw away fruit and vegetables as soon as they have lost their perfect look. Alison Austin commented: “Once they've been in the home for a few days, fruit and vegetables can look a bit bruised or tired but they're probably still tasty and perfectly edible.”

“We are so used to seeing 'catwalk cookery' on TV, with its use of perfect-looking ingredients, that we have forgotten how to use leftovers to make meals that the family will love. With a little creativity it's easy to turn leftovers into a culinary delight. Using leftovers, particularly fruit and vegetables, helps meet the five a day targets and saves money.”

Sainsbury's and Good Housekeeping magazine are forming a campaigning alliance, encouraging a new generation of cooks to develop the cookery and home economics skills of their grandmothers and at the same time help the environment and save money.

The campaign, launched in the July issue of Good Housekeeping magazine and backed up by practical advice in all Sainsbury's stores and online, urges shoppers to change their habits and start using leftovers from meals such as the Sunday lunch in other dishes.

Louise Chunn, editor of Good Housekeeping magazine, says: “We're delighted to join forces with Sainsbury's in its “Love Your Leftovers campaign”. With food waste currently topping the news agenda, this initiative will hopefully inspire the nation to think before throwing out perfectly good food. Well be running a series of Tried and Tested tips, celebrity recipes and Good Housekeeping Institute favourites in the magazine for the next eight months. This campaign will not only help UK households save money and reduce waste, but also give leftovers a new lease of life.”

Sainsbury's is creating an online archive of advice on leftover cookery that will also offer tips and recipes to inspire better use of leftover food and is asking its 16.5 million customers to contribute their own ideas for tasty, money-saving recipes.

Alison Austin added: “This campaign is all about showing people that leftovers don't have to be binned. Stews and casseroles often taste better after a day in the fridge when flavours have infused and leftovers can be used in everything from fruit smoothies to cottage pies and home made soups.”

Shoppers will also be urged to store fruit and vegetables in the fridge and only put out in the fruit bowl what is needed for the next day or two. The supermarket has pledged to work closely with campaign group Love Food Hate Waste to discover why so much fresh produce is thrown out. Initial research shows that fruit and veg stored in the fridge can keep fresh for up to two weeks longer and now Sainsbury's will become the first supermarket to display advice on the refrigeration of loose fruit and vegetables in its stores.

Despite the benefits of refrigeration, research shows that 63 per cent of people store most fruit in an open food bowl.

Good Housekeeping and Sainsbury's tips to Bin Less and Save Money:
  1. Before doing the weekly shop, check whats in the fridge and consider what you can make from it.
  2. Try to plan a weeks recipes in advance, with use of leftovers firmly in mind.
  3. Keep your cupboard stocked with herbs, spices, sauces and pickles, all of which can add a magic touch to leftovers.
  4. Bring back to life food that looks past its best with a little culinary know-how. Cube stale bread and toast for croutons or whiz in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. Cook an onion until soft and add any combination of vegetables for a great soup.
  5. Pour remnants of wine into ice-cube trays and freeze. Use the frozen cubes to boost the flavours of gravies or sauces.
  6. Slice leftover lemons or limes and freeze. Add to squash or water to boost the flavour.
  7. After a roast, cooked lamb leftovers can be used in a moussaka or shepherds pie and shredded chicken or pork in a stir-fry.
For more information on Sainsbury's “Love Your Leftovers Campaign”, check out the July issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.

Source: 1238.com

BOGO LIGHT - Advertisement

Business across the world urged to avoid flights

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Technology can replace flying to meetings and conferences and businesses across the world should switch to video conferencing in order to cut emissions from transport.

That was the recommendation from Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as he spoke to members of the All-party Parliamentary Sustainable Aviation Group in Westminster, London, UK.

Can technology really replace flying to conferences and meetings, as Dr Pachauri said?

Yes, it can, and here at Tatchipen Media, and at the Romani Institute, we have been saying this for years. But did anyone listen? Services, free and premium ones, are available to do just that.

The Romani Institute, primarily, recommended online meetings and conferences for the Romani organizations as a cost saver and as a means for the poorer Rom to be able to participate as well, via computers.

Aside from saving all them greenhouse gases, and the unnecessary use of aviation and fuel, businesses can definitely save money having virtual conferences and meetings, and for the latter reason it was that the Romani Institute kept on about it as regards the Romani organizations.

Appearing live by video conference link to speak to the event, in Westminster, London, Dr Pachauri said reducing business travel would cut aviation emissions.

In many developed countries, the transport sector represents 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Although I, personally, still have a problem with calling those emissions “greenhouse gases” and blaming them for the change in climates, the pollution for motorcars and aviation certainly is something that we must do something about.

However, it is not only developed nations that produce the dangerous fumes from motor vehicles. Many of the developing countries, such as India, the Philippines, Mexico, and others have probably a much greater output of harmful exhaust emissions from motor vehicles as there are not the stringent rules in place that are in the developed nations such as in the European Union and the United States, for instance.

"One important contributor to this source, Dr Pachauri told MPs, is the growth of civil aviation across the globe."

"A focused effort to shift business travel for conferences and meetings of all types to video-based communication would be of great benefit in reducing and controlling the growth of emissions from aviation.

"I therefore endorse the concept and practice of video conferencing as an important substitute for business and conference-related travel in the fight to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."

WWF are urging businesses to cut one in five flights as part of their One Planet Future campaign.

A report published by WWF-UK in May claimed 89% of FTSE 350 companies expect to cut flights in the next ten years and 85% see video conferencing as the way to achieve that aim.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester, chair of the parliamentary group, said: "As Dr Pachauri has said, changing behaviour is vital.

"Cutting one in five fights, the central theme of the WWF-UK campaign, is an entirely realistic way forward, environmentally and economically. So, too, is taking the train whenever possible."

"That well-known wartime phrase, 'Is your journey really necessary', is increasingly relevant in the fight against climate change.

"This slogan definitely has a meaning again in today's world and it spells out what modern socially and environmentally responsible companies must do as a matter of course - question the need for flying whenever there is a practical video conferencing or rail alternative."

One can now but wonder as to whether the likes of the UN, of which, if I am not mistaken, the IPCC is really a part, also will adhere to this advice and conduct their meetings via video links. Unfortunately, I just cannot see this happening. While the dear Dr Pachauri may have been appearing at that event in Westminster via a video link I just cannot see the United Nations and the European Union taking their own advice and doing this. First and foremost they far too much love their get-togethers and their rather generous travel allowances and secondly they all tell industry and the people in general what to do while they, themselves, continue as it. “Do as I say and not as I do” seems to be the adage again and again.

Let's hope that this time there may be a difference. Aside from saving all those emissions the money that could be saved from not traveling around the globe for meetings, especially as regards to the governments, the EU and such, might just do nicely for something beneficial. No, not yet another load of studies and reports.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Kenyan government pushes traditional crops for food security

About time too. For far too long Kenya has played and pandered to the world market producing virtually nothing but “cash” crops instead of food for the people.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Kenya's government began giving farmers seeds for traditional food crops recently, hoping to shore up stocks in the face of rising prices and shortage fears.

Poor rains, a bloody post-election crisis at the start of 2008 and fast-climbing prices for inputs such as fertilizer have slowed food production in east Africa's largest economy.

The country will import 3 million bags of maize this year to cover forecast shortages.

"These crops are known to perform well in dry areas where food insecurity is a common feature due to inadequate rainfall," Agriculture Minister William Ruto said as the distribution of cassava, sweet potato and sorghum seeds got under way.

He said production of crops like these had all declined in Kenya due to lack of planting materials, low interest among seed companies and changing eating habits.

The ministry is partnered in the 150 million shilling ($2.26 million) project with the Kenya Seed Company, Kenya Agriculture Research Institute and Agricultural Development Corporation.

"With good crop management this is expected to produce a further 24,100 tons of seeds with a market value of 360 million shillings by April 2009," Ruto said.

The Minister William Ruto said that production of crops like these had all declined in Kenya due to lack of planting materials, low interest among seed companies and changing eating habits. That is a load of dung, and every one knows that, I should think.

We all know too well, I am sure, that Kenya's major problem in regards to food and food security for its people are not just any or all of the above listed problems. The true problem lies with the fact that too much of the country's agriculture is geared to produce “cash crops”, such as coffee (I do like my coffee, so please do not get me wrong, but Fair Trade please). There there are the green beans. Sorry, French “organic” green beans from Kenya is not my way, regardless of whether it gives them an income or not, and it is not green, as in environmentally friendly either. Those crops are gotten to Europe by aircraft and that is an environmental footprint that is about the size of the Yeti x 1000, I should think. In addition to that there are the roses and other cut flowers – again “organic” - that are grown in Kenya for the European market while, at the same time, the country has problems feeding its people. Duh? It has nothing to do with a lack of planting materials, low interest among seed companies and changing eating habits but everything with what I said before and something, sure, does not compute here.

Therefore it is about time that the government of that country did something as to seeds for the farmers. It must also encourage the farmers to think first and foremost of feeding themselves and their families and then the rest of the country with the crops that can be grown on their land.

First and foremost a country's agriculture, and that includes that of that of the developed nations, like the UK and the USA, as well, should grow food for the country's people. And then, and only then, should export be considered. The own people first before export.

Unfortunately that does not seem to be the way the agricultural industrial complex works the world over. It is money for shareholders and profits per se that are considered above the food security of the nation. This must be changed again. The home country must come first, and, I am afraid that also means that aid only goes out then to foreign countries as and when that food is not required in one's own country.

This is not being selfish. This is being practical and realistic.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

The United Kingdom admits that it will miss its 2010 CO2 target

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The British Government has admitted it will miss its own target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2010 by a large margin.

New projections from the Department of the Environment (DEFRA) put CO2 emissions in 2010 at only 15.5 per cent below 1990 levels, and note the target had always been intended to be stretching.

The UK Climate Change Program annual report to parliament said it expected emissions of CO2, thought by many, though not by me, and even experts of the highest caliber, to be the main culprit in global warming, the latter which has stopped and plateaued out about 7 years ago and has not moved since, to be 26 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

"The Government has clearly failed to take the action needed to meet its own targets for cutting the UK's carbon dioxide emissions," Friends of the Earth spokesman Martyn Williams said.

"This unhappy situation is made even worse by the fact that these targets are out of date and massively underestimate the overall level of cuts that is needed."

However, all eyes are screwed to “CO2” emissions and reduction of same in order to stop and reverse the effect that they once referred to as “Global Warming” and now, probably because they all know very well but are still misleading the public, as “Climate Change”.

Yes, the climate is, probably, changing and the Earth is going through cycles of this every so often. There is enough evidence of this in records alone over the last 2000 years let alone further than that. We cannot, of that I am certain, stop it or reverse it. What we must do it to learn to live with it and then live with it.

The Government has prided itself in taking a global leadership role in combating climate change, taking strong measures at home and keeping the issue in the forefront of international negotiations.

But its Climate Change Bill that will set a legal target of cutting national CO2 emissions by at least 60 per cent by 2050 is well behind schedule in the parliamentary process and recent reports have shown the Government slipping from its own agenda.

The Government has even admitted that it has been badly underestimating national emissions, noting that if carbon embedded in imports from China were included then far from falling they would actually have risen sharply.

A report issued by DEFRA ahead of last week's G8 summit in Japan said CO2 emissions fell by 5 per cent between 1992 and 2004.

But it said they actually rose by 115 million tonnes or 18 per cent over the same period when the carbon emissions linked to imported goods were included in the calculation.

Way too much energy – pardon the pun – is being expended on the effort to reduce CO2 emissions; something which is not go to stop nor reverse climate change. The change is happening and it is continuing to happen and it is very doubtful that we can do anything about stopping it.

Having said this, however, I do agree with the fact that we must get away from fossil fuels and the reason is manifold. Not the least being, obviously, the general pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels. In addition to that there is the simple fact that oil, natural gas and coal are running out or have run out, depending where one looks.

So, we are right to look at alternative energy and recycling and all what we are doing and we must intensify that. But, we must stop the stupid notion of CO2 or the reduction of it can stop and/or even reverse climate change. Instead we must look at how we can live with it, for learning to live with it we must. We have no other choice.

We must also reduce our impact on the environment and this not in any way as and effort in regards to reversing climate change for we have just established that it is happening and it is natural and there is probably nothing that we can do against it.

So, we have to learn new ways. New ways of growing things, new ways – and some are not even new at all – of transportation, from personal to the transportation of goods and people, etc. Which also means that we MUST manufacture goods at home again instead of importing them long distances from places such as China; countries with dubious records on standards and labor laws.

Time for a real change...

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Developing greener data centres

By Phil Andrews, operations director, Data Centre, Cisco for European Markets

The ever-increasing power consumption of data centres is rapidly putting energy efficiency at the top of the data centre manager's agenda. Even if energy costs and the threat of a shortage of power to support data centres weren't driving this efficiency agenda, the threat of carbon capping and legislation soon will. Reducing the demands being made on the data centre by businesses is not an option so what are the alternatives?

This article looks at a combination of subtle trends driving the impending power crisis in the data centre, strategies and technologies to reduce power consumption whilst meeting the evolving needs of the business, and approaches for the short-term and long-term future.

From barely being an issue a few years ago, the environmental impact of data centres has risen to the top of many IT managers’ agendas. The very real concerns over power consumption need a convergence of technological and non-technological solutions to mitigate/address the issue, says [name to come] from Cisco Systems.

How green is your data centre? Until recently, such a question would have raised eyebrows among IT managers. But with rising storage requirements and the levels of data centre infrastructure, the increase in power consumption of such facilities has been getting harder to ignore in recent years, despite the fact that accurate measures of data centre power use are difficult to come by.

Historically, power consumption has not been an issue for data centre managers for a number of reasons. First and foremost, data centres have often sat at the heart of strategic moves to expand or improve the business, and as such have not usually had to contend with cost-containment measures.

A second reason is that IT divisions have not traditionally had responsibility for the environmental impact of their data centres. Facilities departments usually foot the power bill and are often in charge of implementing environmentally-friendly practices.

Thirdly, there has never been much of a green alternative to data centres. Unlike, say, corporate air travel, you cannot just stop using IT storage systems and expect the enterprise to carry on as before.

As a consequence, some data centres have been allowed to turn into the gas guzzlers of the IT world. It takes about 830 pounds of coal to run a computer for a year. And in the case of servers, research by Intel shows less than 20 percent of power actually goes to the CPU.

This carefree attitude to power use is changing now, though, as companies face spiralling bills to maintain their sprawling data centre operations.

Data storage requirements are currently expanding at a compound annual growth rate of between 40 percent and 70 percent. Server use grew by 12 percent in 2005 and is expected to increase.

As a result, energy costs are expected to mushroom from 10 percent up to 30 percent of average IT budgets, overtaking all other forms of data centre expenditure and meaning IT managers will effectively loose a fifth of their budget to power consumption.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that cooling tends to become less efficient as power consumption rises. The simplest way to increase cooling to a given rack of equipment is to simply open up more floor tiles.

While this is simple fix in the short run, it does not work much above two or three because cooling air being provided to one rack will be ‘stolen’ from adjacent racks, reducing the amount of cooling provided to neighbouring racks.

Another reason is that as more floor tiles are opened up for a particular rack, the distance from the tile to the rack increases. The cooling system ends up being less efficient because it ends up cooling the atmosphere in the data centre in addition to the equipment.

Both of these effects result in higher cooling bills, a reduced ability to cool equipment in the data centre on a per-rack basis and a less efficient cooling system.

Since cooling and heat removal are typically growth constraints in the data centre, this wasted cooling capability will act as a drag or a cap on growth.

Over the next three years, says Gartner, 50 percent of large organisations will face an annual energy bill that is higher than their yearly server budget. Google has already notoriously reached this point. And it gets worse.

In 2005, the University of Buffalo paid US$2.3 million for a new supercomputer, only to find there was not enough power to switch it all on.

An increasing number of data centre managers are similarly finding that there simply is not enough power available to expand their operations any further.

Gartner says most data centres are now operating at 100 percent capacity in terms of power and cooling, versus 70 percent capacity for data storage, meaning that energy, not memory, is now the main limiting factor on growth. (Availability of suitable space is also an issue.)

This puts data centre managers in a difficult position, since demand for IT storage is not going to go away.

If anything, compliance requirements such as the banking sector’s Basel II or Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, combined with the need to roll out ever faster and more complex IT applications, are increasing the demand for data centre services.

As a result, the only way to go is to cut power consumption and thereby reduce the environmental impact of data centre operations. Doing this is not easy. The actual amount of power required by data centre devices is only part of the equation.

Each watt consumed by IT infrastructure carries an additional ‘burden factor’ of between 1.8 and 2.5 for power consumption associated with cooling, lighting, conversion and distribution, all essential energy-consuming services that have to be taken into account in efficiency plans.

In addition, simply checking the power rating on the back of a device will not necessarily give you an accurate picture of how wasteful it is; its processing power and utilisation are also critical factors in determining its overall efficiency.

Because of all this, it is not easy to accurately measure and track data centre power consumption and even now few IT managers are building operating efficiency considerations into their purchasing criteria, although it is likely many will need to soon.

The good news is that recent developments by equipment vendors have led to a number of innovations that can help data centres run more efficiently. Server manufacturers, for example, are looking at introducing variable power consumption based on CPU activity.

The beneficial effects of this will be tempered, however, by the fact that server virtualisation strives to increase CPU utilisation to upwards of 80 percent.

Another option is the creation of blade centres and multi-core CPUs. This will raise the percentage of power going to the CPUs on a per-server basis, improving the overall power efficiency.

It will not necessarily reduce the power per rack, though, without other measures such as IO consolidation.

Where there is perhaps more scope for improvement is in the data centre’s network components, which can be used to create efficiencies in three ways:

  • By switching to devices that offer more processing power per watt.
  • By incorporating more services into each device, so that redundant devices can be removed from the infrastructure.
  • By using virtualisation to ensure that the remaining devices are used as efficiently as possible.
Looking at perhaps the most obvious measure for reducing power consumption, which is the efficiency of the devices themselves, it is fair to say that virtually all equipment manufacturers are working hard to bring leaner machines to market.

As an example, the efficiency of power supplies for the Cisco Catalyst 6500, the most widely used switch on the market, has improved from 70 percent to 80 percent since it was introduced in 1999.

Forthcoming Cisco power supplies are expected to be 90 percent efficient. At the same time, Cisco is continuing to reduce the power per port required by its data centre platforms, with a 30 percent to 50 percent reduction goal.

What is also significant about many of these new, more efficient platforms is that they can support a greater range of services. This can have a major impact on power consumption.

A typical application server may have multiple appliances associated with it, such as firewalls, secure sockets layer termination devices and load balancers, each with its own power and cooling requirements.

A rough and ready calculation shows these could represent up to an additional 2700W of power and cooling load per server, representing a considerable drain across the entire data centre.

Nowadays, however, functions such as security and load balancing can be incorporated into the network fabric, making it possible to eliminate the appliances and their associated power loads.

Doing this has several added bonuses. It lowers the complexity of the overall infrastructure, making it more manageable, reducing latency and eliminating single points of failure.

Finally, virtualisation can further increase disk utilisation by around 70 percent simply by incorporating all a data centre’s disparate storage devices into a single fabric that is then compartmentalised logically rather than physically.

In a virtual storage area network, each device can be ‘filled up’ to full capacity with data from various sources and applications, so fewer devices need to be used at any point in time.

In addition, the network can give priority to more efficient devices, so that those that represent the greatest drain on resources are only used when absolutely necessary.

The benefits of virtualisation can be significant. Taking a tape subsystem offline can save nearly EURO€3000 in power and cooling per year.

Taken together, these measures could reduce data centre power requirements by up to 85 percent, certainly enough to allow significant further expansion in storage area network use at current energy levels.

Storage area networking technologies can also help reduce server power requirements in a number of other ways.

Aside from power conversion losses, peripheral component interconnect cards and hard drives are the two biggest non-CPU power loads on a typical dual-core server, so moving to diskless servers will potentially remove a 72W load.

This translates into approximately 1.2kW per rack, in addition to reducing costs and improving the availability of servers. Another big area of opportunity is multifabric input/output and server I/O consolidation.

Consolidating storage and Ethernet connections on a single link reduces the number of network interface card ports required on the server (as well as switch ports), reducing the amount of cabling needed and thus improving airflow around the rack.

Furthermore, there are other areas of technical innovation that could help create further savings.

As an example, Cisco has an Automated Power Management System (AMPS) to control energy consumption in laboratories where it develops and tests new equipment.

These labs represent approximately 20 percent of Cisco's real estate, although the testing equipment is rarely used continuously. The system identifies equipment not in use and automatically switches it off.

Separately, Cisco is also partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to research technologies that could significantly reduce energy demands, as well as improve reliability and lengthen equipment life in data centres.

The technology eliminates power conversion losses by using DC (direct current) rather than AC (alternating current) power to provide electricity throughout the data centre.

According to Intel, AC to DC power conversion losses account for around 36 percent of the total server power budget in a typical data centre.

On a more general level, using IP networks to monitor and control energy use can help reduce power consumption across the business as a whole, a concept which Cisco has dubbed ‘Connected Real Estate’.

With all this, technology clearly remains only part of the answer to the issue of data centre power consumption. As indicated above, there can be challenges in identifying whose responsibility it is to deal with energy supply in the first place.

Organisations need to take a holistic view of the problem. However, it is a fact that technology can now have a significant impact on power consumption and it makes sense to start assessing developments in this field now.

Currently the power consumption of data centres is not regulated, but with climate change moving inexorably up the political agenda worldwide this is unlikely to remain the case for long.

And there are other pressing reasons to evolve to more environmentally-friendly operations as soon as possible, including the growing likelihood of outages as power and cooling systems come under increased stress.

Specifically regarding the network components of the data centre, there are a number of steps you can take now to reduce power consumption. They are:
  • Consolidate networks – fewer networks equals less cost and a reduced storage power draw.
  • Avoid gateways and consolidate functions – specialized appliances are not power efficient due to redundant internal cooling, switching and power conversion elements.
  • Bring in virtualisation – one network or network element per customer is inefficient in terms of power and space, so consider technologies such as Multiprotocol Label Switching to enable future virtualisation.
  • View power requirements holistically and prioritise efforts based upon reducing overall power consumption.
The need to save energy for the sake of the planet is now well established. Within data centres, the need to save energy is no less critical, not just for the sake of the environment but in order to ensure the enterprise’s viability, too. Now is the time to go green.

Cisco is exhibiting at Storage Expo 2008 the UK’s definitive event for data storage, information and content management. Now in its 8th year, the show features a comprehensive FREE education programme and over 100 exhibitors at the National Hall, Olympia, London from 15 - 16 October 2008 www.storage-expo.com

Source: StoragePR

Grow your own small vegetable garden

Even the smallest space can produce plenty of vegetables, even a patio can

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I am no market gardener, that's for sure, and I have varied success with my own small garden in that fashion but that is due to the location and the fact that I get overrun by slugs and snails and also the squirrels and pigeons think that my garden is a feeding station for them. Well, it is not but try telling them that.

Also, I must add that I am not the most consistent home gardener, as I am often too busy with writing material for the many magazines that I own and edit.

However, while I doubt that most families could become entirely self-sufficient (then again, is complete self-sufficiency even possible?) in the suburbs on their patio and/or small part of garden that they are often only willing to sacrifice for food growing, the food thus grown can go someways towards reducing food miles and costs.

Obviously, the bigger the area the more food you can grow. But, having said that, lots can be done in a small space. This was shown at the “Grand Designs Live” exhibition with the small garden that was shown there and also in other places. It is possible.

If you do not want to build raised beds with timber, bricks or whatever, then there are nowadays a couple of companies that produce “clickable” plastic siding that make then up a raised beds. But be warned! They are not cheap but they will last nigh on forever, unlike timber.

However, there are many other options for building a small garden – I mean other than digging up the ground. On a patio you would not and could not do that anyway. So, here comes “container gardening”.

There are containers and there are containers for gardening, obviously, From the old style terracotta put and tub to the plastic ones and everything else. You do not even have to go and buy such containers, as they can often be found thrown away. Old washing-up bowls can be used, the pots that contained trees from nurseries, the barrels that contained cooking oils – cut in half makes two – and many more. In addition to that there are the large bags in which building sands and the likes comes nowadays. Fold over the sides and – voila – one square raised bed of rather some depth.

The tubs presently mentioned all – bar the containers that once will have had trees in them – will require holes for drainage drilled into the bottom. I handle that quite simply and quickly here; a few shots of target practice with a .22 air rifle and, well, drainage holes. Who said they had to be x-amount of millimeter in size and perfectly round?

That is container gardening on the cheap, basically. It beats – in cost at least – any store bought tubs for plastic tub/container gardening.

In addition to that there are other containers that can be employed as well. Know of an old bathtub, whether iron (well, they are worth money...) or fiberglass? They too make great planters for vegetables.

There have been articles around about the advantages of growing your own vegetables and in them it is pointed out that not only do people waste less food by being able to go pick fresh vegetables when they need them, but the cost of having a small garden compared to buying fresh produce from the grocery store can save us all a lot on food.

So, what's stopping you?

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Eco-Towns – do we need them?

The simple answer, sweet and simple, would be a firm NO

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

We do not need those ever so highly touted Eco-towns and we also cannot afford them either.

Our aim, first and foremost, must not be Eco-Towns but to green our existing towns and villages instead, instead of talking of building and considering to build x-number of new Eco-Towns, the latter which are now supposed to also be part of the “need” new housing stock. This is totally and utterly crazy.

We do not need to build those new Eco-Towns. Instead, as said, we must do something about our existing towns and villages.

One can but wonder what really behind the stupid idea of the British government to keep pushing this agenda. It is an agenda that must be stopped! Those towns are a waste of time and effort and money and will do nothing to stop – as if we could anyway – climate change. The fact that most of them are in the countryside, often relatively far away from public transport access to the wider world will make the car something that cannot be given up at all. This despite the fact that the residents, at least half of them, will not permitted to have a car in those Eco-Towns. So, can someone please explain to me how they are going to get to the nearest rail station or such and – the cost of the tickets of the trains in the UK are making train travel very expensive and inaccessible to the lower range of the population which therefore (1) cannot live in such Eco-Towns – despite the fact that the government says many of the homes are supposed to be for those on lower incomes – because they would not able to be without a car and (2) all the travel to and from such towns, which probably will be nothing more than dormitory towns anyway, will add to the carbon emissions and all that.

Instead, if we would, like other countries are doing, green our existing cities, towns and villages, the savings, in many ways, could be immense, including the carbon savings.

Some of this greening of our villages, towns and cities could, certainly, be done, or more precisely, they should be done, by the residents, such as residents of a city block. Those eco-block and real eco-villages, from existing stock, could even become somewhat communities like Christiania in Denmark, the former military barracks that was taken over by then Hippies in sometime in the 1970s or thereabouts and that to this very day is a community/commune that has its own infrastructure. All is possible if but the will, the political will especially, would be there.

Eco-Towns, and so many experts have said already as well, will do more harm than good and will not, in any way, help the UK towards its sustainability goals.

So, let's abandon this silly and expensive notion and do something (more) positive with out existing centers of living, whether villages, towns or cities. This does make much more sense and would be money well spent.

I do, however, assume that the British government will press ahead with those silly ideas regardless for somewhere along the line someone's career is on the line should he or she not aid the developers in getting those Eco-Towns come along nicely.

Let us not be stupid. Let us go and build new homes where there is the infrastructure already in place and then improve upon the infrastructure, whether transport or other.

To start from scratch, much like the “New Towns” of some decades ago, such as Lego Town, erm, sorry, Milton Keynes and such like, is a silly idea, especially as many experts say that it is not going to do any good and may rather do harm.

Woah! Let's reign in those horses a wee bit. Rethink please!

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Green homes showcased at newly-completed development in Brixton

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A housing development in Brixton, South-East London, recently completed, shows how green homes could become the mainstream – without forcing any major lifestyle changes on their residents.

Angela Carter Close off Brixton High Road, built by Metropolitan Housing Trust, is consistent of nine family homes and three apartments (or flats as they are called here), all of which have achieved the “excellent” standard under the Eco Homes initiative.

The timber-frame buildings – using FSC accredited wood – have a number of green features.

Five of the nine homes have been fitted with solar thermal panels providing residents with heating and hot water while each property has storage space for recycling along with a large external storage area for bicycles. This is intended to encourage residents to recycle and to cycle.

My question would only be why are only five out of the nine homes fitted with solar thermal panels and not all?

During the construction process new sustainable building techniques such as filling the large cavity walls with recycled newspaper insulation, were used, as well as the installation of low flush toilets and of water flow restrictors on taps. A giant water butt can be found in each garden for harvesting rainwater.

Only good that in the UK we do not seem to have the same restrictions as so many places have in the United States where the harvesting of rainwater is a felony in many districts.

Andy Cox, senior project manager for the development said: "With the right tools and amenities and the opportunity to live in a home built around sustainable principles, people will become more environmentally aware.

The aim of Angela Carter Close is to encourage and support residents to become more engaged in sustainability and this development could become, so it can be hoped, the blueprint (well, not exactly a blueprint, but...) for other development in cities and towns.

A spokesman for the residents said: "Since moving into our new home we've become more environmentally aware. We recycle more because we're able to use the compost bin and recycling storage areas. We're able to save water by using the rain collected in the water butt on our garden.''

Now all we have to do is to green our existing building and if some findings are anything to go by as regards to some old building then many of the ideas that were used there are more eco-friendly and more environmentally sound than we have ever thought.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

London Borough of Brent prepares for mandatory recycling

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Residents in the London Borough of Brent are gearing up and preparing themselves for the introduction of compulsory recycling next month.

From the 4th of August, those residents of the Borough who live in houses or houses converted into flats will have to recycle or will face a fine of up to £1,000 (US$2,000).

Brent Council is introducing those new regulations in a bid to increase its recycling rate and avoid rising landfill costs. The former is, obviously, in order to meet targets imposed from central government, the latter to save money.

Its landfill bill is set to be around £7m this year, but council chiefs predict it could increase to as much as £10m by 2011 if it continues to collect the same amount of waste.

While we all agree, I am sure, that recycling is the way to go, aside from the first step and that is reduction of waste for starters and also reuse, running about slapping fines on those that do not recycle (enough) is certainly not the answer. It would appear to me that this yet another way of taxing people and getting more money for the coffers of the councils.

A huge publicity campaign has been underway to alert local people to the change and hundreds of households have ordered recycling boxes from the council.

Council leader Cllr Paul Lorber said: "I want to say thank you to everyone who is already recycling. If you aren't, you should get involved to avoid a fine.

"We all have to recycle more or the cost will be passed onto local people. And recycling will help us preserve the planet for future generations.

"Two-thirds of what people throw away can be recycled, and it's easy to do using the green box scheme, so compulsory recycling should help us make a substantial improvement.

"The early signs are good - more and more people are getting involved. Let's work together to make Brent one of the best recycling boroughs in Britain."

This is despite the fact that Brent council is part Liberal-Democrats and part Tories and that the Tory party only the other day called for financial incentives for recycling rather than fines and was accusing central government of that. Here it is it's own party members in this councils that seem to follow a completely different line. Obviously, sound and text bites for the media are something different to reality, whether Tory, Labor or Lib-Dem. What's new? It would appear that the Tory leadership are either not in tune with its councillors and others or that the Shadow Cabinet members are but out to get publicity while the truth remains different.

If you aren't recycling already, you should get involved to avoid a fine, say the leader of the Council to his residents. In other word, a threat. Get a recycling box and recycle or get fined.

What the result of this will be is like elsewhere where such schemes have been introduced and that is the increase in fly tipping, especially in alleyways and in parks, open spaces and derelict land. Brilliant idea – NOT!

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Tories call for payments to recyclers rather than fines for people who don't

Households should be paid for recycling in a bid to boost the UK's recycling rates, say the Conservatives

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

One can but wonder as to whether the leading members of the Tory Party are reading the Green (Living) Review for I have been saying this, in the pages of this journal as well as in meetings with other members of the press, as well as politicians, local and central, that is to say that we need to give people incentives to recycle.

In a speech to the Green Alliance, an environmental lobby group, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said Government's use of fines and taxation was "old fashioned" and "heavy handed" and one can but applaud the Shadow Chancellor for his insight. Maybe the Tories too are soon capable of inventing the wheel or such.

He pointed to the example of America, where households in hundreds of cities are paid up to $50 a month by local authorities as an incentive to recycle.

The payments, which vary according to the amount of recycling, are funded by the amount the authorities save in landfill taxes as less waste is being sent to landfill.

"In some communities, it has increased the amount of household waste being recycled by more than 200%," Mr Osborne said.

"And there is an important equity dimension too. While the poorest households were previously the least likely to recycle, as soon as they start receiving a financial incentive for recycling, they typically become amongst the most likely households to recycle.

"I want to see this innovative approach rolled out across the UK."

Not only are the households paid but anyone can bring recyclables to the recycling centers, whether privately operated or run by the municipalities, and turn those finds, whether soda or beer cans, bottles, glass jars, etc., into cash.

It would be good if Mr. Osborne would be so good as to study the schemes properly in the USA, all of them. All of them seem to make great sense and it would make a change if in this country we could actually implement something similar – and there are other countries too those examples we could look at – rather than being given, each and every time when one suggest such approaches to the current government that, while such things may well work in other countries, they could never work in Britain; because Britain is different, they then add.

We must get away from a “cannot do” attitude simply because such schemes have not been invented and thought of in this country to a “can do” approach and look at implementing all good schemes here in the UK, and the sooner the better.

In the USA, in fact, many of the poorest households, and also the homeless families, actually make a living – yes, a living – from collecting recyclables from trash bins in parks and other places. And while the USA pays people to recycle the current UK government of so-called Labor (the real Labour men like Hardie, Salter and Brockway would turn in their graves) rather uses the clunking fist approach of treats, fines and such like, rather than giving people any sort of financial incentives to recycle. In addition to that they have forced most local authorities to go from weekly to fortnightly rubbish collection, which has led to a large increase in fly tipping.

He said the party is working with the Local Government Association, the Mayor of London and Tory local authorities such as those in Windsor and Maidenhead to develop plans for how the scheme will work in the UK.

Reacting to the speech, which covered a number of environmental topics, Stephen Hale, director of Green Alliance, said: "There is much to do to flesh this out in order to develop an approach that delivers.

"But it was heartening to hear his commitment to more work in many areas, so that a Conservative government would be ready, as Osborne put it, to 'drive forward the environmental agenda from day one.'"

Sure, Mr. Hale, there is probably lots to flesh out in what Mr. Osborne has said but let's not knock it and start the “cannot do” approach, yet again. We can do, like other countries can do and we should and indeed must do. It can be done for other countries, and in that kind of recycling it would appear that America is the leader, show that it can be done.

For years I have been advocating the “reverse vending machines” that are in operation in many US towns and cities for aluminium cans and also, so I understand for bottles, but no one seems to be listening in this country for no one, as yet, has even suggested this.

Even here in Mr. Osborne's suggestion it is again an government led and controlled approach, so it would seem, rather than having something that is much more at the bottom and may be even via more private enterprises, as many of those schemes are indeed in the USA.

Last month, Defra launched an informal consultation on household waste incentive schemes.

The Chartered Institution for Waste Management has consistently called for pilot schemes to be used to test the effectiveness of financial incentives.

CEO Steve Lee said: "The possible use of incentive charges has caused great debate and media interest over several years, but until these schemes are piloted we are only guessing how effective, how costly and how practicable they will be."

All those consultations are often, I would suggest, not necessary at all and are but a waste of money. Money for the boys, obviously, and Quangos want paying. What is needed are not more studies and consultations, like the ones from which the government recently seems to have had the results back, where it was discovered, at great costs, I should think, that canals and inland waterways can be used to carry freight (our ancestors in the 17th century already knew that; they built the canals after all) and that one can burn (waste) wood. The latter was a fact well known, so I understand, to early man, probably even the Neanderthals. Why it was not known, it would appear, to those people in government beats me.

What do we need “pilot schemes” for? If this thing works – and it does – in other countries then all we have to do is to learn from them and copy their approach and make it fit the UK. There does not have to be much doctoring on the system. I have seen some of the systems of “reverse vending”, for instance, in operation some years back and they are simple and they work.

On the other hand, what is wrong with simply bringing back a “deposit” scheme for bottles and extending this to drinks cans, glass jars and such. If not operated by shops then all that is needed are local “recycling centers”. Not rocket science, it it.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

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European Commission to tackle eco impact of consumerism

The European Union executive is to tackle eco impact of consumerism

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The European Commission, the European Union's executive body, is going to launch a raft of proposals to reduce and curb the environmental impact of consumerism in the Union by supporting eco-friendly products and technology.

It would appear that they have nothing else to do. Then again, why should they worry about human rights violations in one of the EU founder nations, namely Italy, as that violation is ONLY against the rights of dirty Gypsies who no one wants anyway.

The plan comes as the European Union moves to cut energy consumption amid soaring fuel and power prices and as part of its ambitious mid-term goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by one fifth by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.

"This will mainly be targeted at products that use a lot of energy, such as computers, televisions, water heaters and industrial fans," a source at the Commission, the bloc's executive arm, said.

Faced with oil at record highs, and with years of investment needed to reach renewable energy goals, the European Union's main near-term response is to cut energy consumption.

French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, whose country is EU president, said last week at a meeting of energy ministers in Paris that the bloc had reached a turning point with energy efficiency becoming the "keystone" in EU energy strategy.

The Commission's "action plan on sustainable industrial policy and on sustainable consumption and production" is part of that push.

"There will be proposals on green public procurement, as well as widening the scope of the existing directive on eco-design to help improve the energy efficiency of buildings, and the scope of rules on eco-labeling will be widened," the Commission source said.

Various policies in Europe already promote eco-friendly design, but these are limited to devices that use energy such as dishwashers and air-conditioning units, and do not yet fully cover such things as windows and home insulation.

Many EU local authorities already take account of energy consumption when placing bulk orders for products such as vehicles and office computers, but new common standards are seen as vital to cutting the bloc's energy consumption.

Eco-labeling schemes, which help consumers choose the most efficient products, will be extended to cover goods beyond the existing narrow range, which is mainly focused on electrical appliances.

It is a shame that the Commission cannot have an action plan to tackle Italy's violation of all that is decent as far as the Romani People are concerned.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Burning wood for the common good

Burning wood for heat and for electrical power generation

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The British government, just about capable of inventing the wheel, as I have said previously, has “discovered” that waste lumber form the building industry, for instance, does not have to end up in landfill but that it can be burned for generating heat and electrical power instead. Oh my, what a discovery. Real rocket science.

Millions of tons of waste lumber from construction sites, so it is said, go into landfill annually, which is very sad indeed. Why, pray, this waste in the first place? Also, aside from burning such “waste” wood, there certainly must be other uses for it as well.

However, apparently now, after a lengthy, and no doubt costly, study the UK government has found out that this waste lumber from the construction industry can be burned in furnaces to generate heat and even electricity.

Well, that is amazing! The early humans, and I believe even the Neanderthals, could have told them that and we ate the Green (Living) Review have been saying so already for a couple of years.

The excuse for doing nothing was always that power stations would have adapted to burn wood and that that would cost lost of investment. Duh? Why? Any coal-fired electricity generating station can just as well burn wood instead of coal. No need to alter and adapt anything whatsoever really. The BTU output with lumber might be a little lower but, so be it. That can be compensated for with a few turns and twiddles of knobs and dials and such.

They needed a costly and lengthy study, I guess, to tell them that.

Someone somewhere sure is making lots of money from all those studies regarding the environment and all that which the British government has carried out and commissioned to carry out. Money that, in most cases, is needlessly wasted, just like that lumber.

It should have been more than blatantly obvious that one can burn wood to produce heat – has this not always been done – and to generate electricity – which is also being done already in other countries, on small scales, and that is how it should remain – in combined heat and power plants (CHP plants). As I have already said, this is not directly rocket science and one does not require a scientific study for this.

Such CHP plants should, and this has been suggested also already not so long ago by this current UK government, be local plants, generating heat and electricity for a single village, a part of a town, or a city block. This would also do away with the need for the long distance overhead and underground power cables carrying tens of thousands of volts. Rather the current could be already of the domestic voltage, in the case of Britain 240v AC, as there would be no loss in the transmission, as is the case with the current arrangements, here and elsewhere.

In addition to the burning of waste lumber from construction sites, waste wood and such from the forestry and the aboricultural industry also could be used in the selfsame power plants. Nothing would need to get wasted and either needlessly burned on site, as is often the case in forestry operations with wood debris, or dumped in landfill.

There is also no need for the growing of “special” trees for the use in wood-fueled power stations such as eucalyptus or willow and such like. There should be enough waste about to run such power stations for a long time to come.

We could yet again talk about the use of such stations, if and when they would be set up or the coal-fired ones be converted, to combat the Dutch Elm disease. For, with the political will and the woodsmen being brought in for this, Dutch elm disease, as we know it, could be eradicated from the British Isles in a couple of decades. All that is required is to cut every dead and dying elm tree and to sanitarily burn them so as to destroy both the pathogen and the bark beetle that carried the pathogen from tree to tree.

Aside from burning wood in CHP plants, burning wood in a domestic and even commercial setting in stoves and furnaces for heat also is a good and environmentally friendly way. Again here too waste lumber could be used up; ideally, however, only that kind of waste that really is waste. Not simply burning pallets and even construction site waste lumber just for the sake of burning it. I am certain, as indicated before, that there could be other, better uses be found for such lumber than to simply burn it.

Burning wood, before anyone comes up and complains about CO2 emissions, only releases the carbon that it has stored during the lifetime of the tree and maybe not even that amount.

Wood is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to cook and heat, aside from power generated by the sun directly. Wood, in a way, is also sun energy, for it releases the energy of the sun stored in it during the grows of the tree.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Mayor launches London's 'Summer of Cycling'

London, July 21, 2008: The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, today joined Sky Sports News presenter Georgie Thompson and cyclists from across London to launch the capital’s Summer of Cycling, which aims to encourage more Londoners to take to their bikes.

The Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) will be promoting cycling throughout the coming months, through innovative events and the ongoing “You’re better off by bike” campaign. The aims of this campaign are to encourage existing cyclists to use their bikes more regularly, and promote cycling to the estimated 1.1 million Londoners who have access to bikes but don’t use them.

On September 7th, the Tour of Britain, supported by TfL, will bring the spectacle of professional cycling back to the capital following the success of last year’s Tour de France Grand Depart.

Two weeks later, Londoners of all ages and cycling abilities will get their chance to experience the joys of cycling themselves when the Summer of Cycling culminates in the hugely popular Sky Sports London Freewheel event on 21st September. At this year’s event, participants will enjoy a carnival atmosphere and views of some the capital’s most spectacular landmarks as they bike along a car-free central route past the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace.

The Summer of Cycling launch comes as TfL releases new figures showing that while one in three people in the capital have access to bicycles, only half of these have actually used a bike in the past 12 months. That means that over a million Londoners have left their bikes to gather dust over the past year.

Launching the summer cycling campaign, Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said:
“While there’s already been a healthy increase in the number of people on bikes, half of Londoners who own a bike aren’t using them regularly, and over a million Londoners are still missing out on the benefits of cycling. I’m challenging all Londoners who have bicycles languishing in the shed or garage, to dig them out, dust off the cobwebs, and re-acquaint themselves with one of the most glorious ways of getting about.

“There are so many reasons to dust off your bike this summer – it’s a great way to get fit, it saves you money, and it’s good for the environment. For those who are still not convinced, we are laying on the Sky Sports London Freewheel on September 21st – closing the roads of central London to allow Londoners of all ages, backgrounds and cycling abilities the chance to enjoy our fantastic city by bike. What could be nicer than feeling the wind on your face as you zip past some of London's most famous landmarks, completely undisturbed by traffic.”

Vic Wakeling, Managing Director Sky Sports, said "Sky Sports is pleased to support the London Freewheel. It’s a tremendous event that gets people of all ages and abilities involved in sport and that’s to be applauded. I hope that our association will help to encourage people across the capital to get involved.”

Sky Sports News Presenter, Georgie Thompson who is helping launch the Sky Sports London Freewheel today, said: "I'm passionate about all sports and I take a keen interest in health and fitness. We all live such busy lives that it can be difficult to fit everything in, but it's very important to maintain a healthy balance. The great thing about cycling is that it's fun and so simple to fit into hectic schedules and everyone can do it - I am a big fan.”

Janis Tjarve, a bike maintenance expert from The Bike Doctor, has advice for Londoners dusting off a ‘dormant bike’. He said:
“If you’re going to use a bike that’s been out of action for some time, there are a few quick and easy checks you should make. Ensure that your tyres are pumped up to the right pressure – this is the BAR or PSI measure on the side of the tire. Check that your brakes are lined up and working properly. Make sure that the stem and saddle are tightly bolted and at the right height. Your leg should be almost fully extended at the bottom of a pedal stroke. Finally, test that the gears are working and that the chain is well oiled.”

To further develop cycling in the capital, the Mayor and TfL are investing a further £55 million in cycling this year - up from £36m last year. The money is being invested in cycle routes, cycle parking facilities, a bike hire scheme to make cycling accessible to all, education, adult and child cycle training, and cycling events.

For further information about cycling, including cycle training, bike maintenance advice and cycle maps, visit www.tfl.gov.uk.

To find out more about the Sky Sports London Freewheel, and to register for the event, visit: www.londonfreewheel.com. The event is free and open to everyone, but participants must register in order to take part.

This year's Freewheel will include 20 local led rides, supported by the London Cycling Campaign, which will offer less confident cyclists the chance to be escorted by experienced riders as they make their way from the outer boroughs to four main hubs at parks across London, and then on to the central London route.

The four hubs will act as meeting points for local cyclists to congregate and join led rides into the central route, and will be located at Highbury Fields in north London, Clapham Common in South London, Victoria Park in east London, and Ravenscourt Park in west London.

Signposted routes will guide cyclists to the car-free central London zone and support marshals will be present at key junctions from the hub to the central route.

There will be roving entertainment along the route, including mobile music, cycling angels, jugglers and others.

Rest areas on the route, which will include toilet facilities and information points, will allow riders the chance to take a breather.

A shorter route for those less able to complete the whole route will be made available.

To complete the London Freewheel, cyclists will be directed home from the central London route on the same route used to some in. Event hubs will remain open until 6:30pm to allow participants to stop off on their way home.

The 2007 event saw more than 38,000 bikes descending on the city's streets for the day. Cyclists enjoyed an afternoon of entertainment, picnics, stalls and cycling. We hope that this year's event will be even better.

Source: Mayor of London