Volunteer Street Clean

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

London Borough of Sutton is now, so it would appear, floating the idea - after the idea of having residents repair the potholes in their roads - that residents should be doing their own street sweeping and street cleaning.

It has been suggested that in keeping with 'take part, take pride' that a yearly/quarterly volunteer street clean could and should be run. And it goes further to suggest that if residents were provided with sacks/gloves/pickers they could clean their road/surrounding roads in an couple hours afternoon.

This would increase community spirit, it is said, and would encourage pride in people's neighbourhood, which in the long term would encourage less litter on the the streets. If people have personally cleaned up litter you are less likely to drop it. While this may, indeed, be true, I am concerned that the entire idea of the “Big Society”, even though being a good one, might (i) get out of hand a little but more importantly (ii) that the amount of volunteers that Cameron and Co think to be coming forward will not and, in the end, it will require coercion. I can see Subotniks happening in Britain and, unlike in the Iron Curtain countries of old, it would not be the communist/socialist party who would be “forcing” people to volunteer “for the good of society” but our dear old Conservative Party, together with the Lib-Dems.

We are seeing already library service being put out to being run by volunteers, such as in Surrey, where the county council has decided that while it will retain the buildings and the book stock it will be staffing the libraries by volunteers.

Will this work? I must say that I am not sure about this and while I am all for the use of volunteers, and there are certainly places where it is very appropriate, even in local government service provision, or in addition, as helpers, in providing the services, be that in helping to run parks and open spaces, meals on wheels, community transport, or whatever else. But libraries and such like which need to be staffed reliably and by knowledgeable people; librarians were highly trained in books and such matters. This cannot happen with your ordinary punter.

Volunteers mending roads and cleaning the streets is something that could work but it also might not work. Then again, in other European country it is a requirement on residents to keep the sidewalks in front of their homes – including those in apartment blocks – swept and free of litter and clear of snow in winter. Maybe, just maybe, this could work in Britain too and make out neighbourhoods cleaner and happier. Worth a try...

© 2011

Olympic effort to support walking and cycling

Walking and cycling in London has received an Olympic boost.

ISL launch London (Small) Inspired by the forthcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have announced their Inspiring Sustainable Living grants to help people travel in more active and environmentally-friendly ways, transform derelict land into refreshing green spaces and recycle more.

Sustrans will now recruit and train a group of Active Travel Champions in London . These champions will be a new team of volunteers that encourage and support people in workplaces, schools, universities and communities to walk and cycle more for their daily journeys.

Sustrans’ London Director Carl Pittam said: ‘We’re excited to be part of Olympic fever, playing a role in helping people to cycle and walk more in the run up to and during London 2012.  This is a real opportunity to be an Olympic host country that champions healthier and more active ways of travelling, both to the Games and as part of everyday life.’

Announcing the grants at the Olympic Park in London , Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: ‘Most people have a real desire to do the right thing by making more sustainable choices that are good for our planet.

‘London 2012 is a once in a lifetime opportunity to inspire genuine change and provide a model of how living sustainably can be incorporated into whole communities as we build a green economy. These projects will contribute by making a practical difference in the community and leave a lasting green legacy.’

To find out more about becoming a Sustrans Active Travel Champion, please contact atchampions@sustrans.org.uk

This press release is presented without editing for your information only.

Full Disclosure Statement: The GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW received no compensation for any component of this article.

Sustrans and Specialized plan family-friendly summer

Families across the UK will get outdoors on two-wheels this summer as part of a series of events organised by charity Sustrans and sponsored by leading bike retailer Specialized.

Up to 100 family-friendly ‘Fresh Air Miles’ bike rides and events, planned by Sustrans volunteers and supported by Specialized, will take place across the country between April and the end of September.

Each event will be designed so that everyone, regardless of age, ability or cycling experience, will be able to take part and discover how easy and enjoyable it can be to travel by bike. Children taking part will also have the chance to win one of two brand new ‘Hotrock’ girls and boys bikes donated by Specialized.

Melissa Henry, Sustrans’ Communications Director, said: ’For a free and fun family activity, there is little to rival a bike ride. Sustrans and Specialized want each ride to inspire a sense of freedom, of achievement and of neighbourliness among everyone who takes part.

‘These are vital elements in the development of young people. Over the last thirty years children’s freedom to travel independently, to play away from their front doors and explore their neighbourhoods, has diminished significantly. These rides could be a simple step towards reversing that by enabling people to collect Fresh Air Miles rather than sit in traffic on the way to somewhere.’

Specialized - experts in designing bikes for children and young people – are getting involved as part of their First Gear initiative to get more kids riding bikes. Anne Immelman, Specialized Marketing Manager, said:

‘Supporting Sustrans’ Fresh Air Miles rides is the perfect opportunity for Specialized to share our passion for riding bikes with more people, and especially children, helping them to develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

‘We’re delighted to be supporting Sustrans, particularly this year as they celebrate 16 years of their work successfully enabling more children to get to school under their own steam. Together we hope to inspire many more kids and their families to get out and discover the pleasure of collecting Fresh Air Miles from the saddle’

All are welcome to take part in Fresh Air Miles rides. Most will be completely free of charge with participants encouraged to make donations on the day towards Sustrans, supporting the charity’s work to make it possible for people in the UK to walk and cycle for more everyday journeys. To find your local event visit www.freshairmiles.org.uk

Sustrans is the charity that’s enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day. It’s time we all began making smarter travel choices. Make your move and support Sustrans today. www.sustrans.org.uk

Specialized have been active in youth cycling development since the company’s founding in 1974, by contributing to programs that positively impact young people of all ages.  First Gear is a movement to get more kids riding bikes. Set a kid riding and you set them on a winning course for life: You help defeat childhood obesity and attention deficit disorders; you give them a chance to progress and even excel in a sport; and you develop healthy habits that last a lifetime. First Gear was created to do just that - for as many kids as possible. To discover easy ways you can get involved with this important mission, head to firstgear.specialized.com and click the ‘Join In’ button.

There are around 3,000 volunteers helping with Sustrans’ work. Around 2,800 of these are rangers, who help to maintain the National Cycle Network. Rangers work in 210 groups, which are each co-ordinated by a volunteer liaison ranger. Our aim is to have most rangers working together in this way so that they can benefit from each other’s experience and skills.

Fourteen local authorities contribute funding to the Ranger Programme (Devon, Cornwall , Kent , North Tyneside, Stoke-on Trent, Northumberland, Gateshead, Pembrokeshire, Powys, Essex, Thurrock, Kirklees, Rochdale, and Dundee ,) and have formed partnerships with their local Ranger Groups to promote and support local volunteer activity

The Ranger Programme is also supported by the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Lottery.

This press release is presented without editing for your information only.

Full Disclosure Statement: The GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW received no compensation for any component of this article.

Avoiding the common mistakes often made buying eco products

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

When you decide to go green and want to buy environmentally friendly products, there are some common mistakes that you must avoid at all costs. The bad thing about going green is that it is getting so popular that everyone is jumping onto the band wagon, so to speak, and that you always have those items that can fool you into thinking that they are environmentally friendly and eco products, when in fact they are not.

Knowing how to know the difference and to distinguish between truth and greenwash is essential to making sure your going green isn't going sour.

The first mistake that is made when people decide to buy environmentally friendly products is that they are fooled by what appear to be "green". There are many manufacturers out there that are promoting their products as being "green" and good for the environment and all that when, in fact, they are not.

Those products may appear “green” because it looks as if their label indicates that they are they are eco products and products that are good for the Planet. And there are those products that fool us with their advertisements into believing that they are “green” when all the manufacturers or vendors are interested in is our money, with no intention whatsoever of being environmentally friendly.

Cleaning products are probably a prime example of going to buy what you think are environmentally friendly products, only to end up with the same chemical pollutants, only packaged differently. When you see a cleaning product that claims that it is a environmentally friendly products, make sure you take a good look at the list of ingredients. That is if the product lists the ingredients for in some countries it is not required. If there is a list and if the ingredients listed are not all natural ingredients then the product is not "green". Many older and more traditional cleaning products can provide the true "green" experience you are really looking for. You are going to find that they are still effective, but the chemical harshness and pollution is eliminated. A little bit more elbow grease, however, may be required. Vinegar is a fantastic product for cleaning and disinfecting, amongst others.

If you want real green cleaning products the best advice is to make them yourself. There are many old books around with recipes for effective cleaners of our grandparents' time and those before that even which you can easily make at home from common ingredients. One of those ingredients will be vinegar and the other lemon juice, for instance.

There is far too much greenwash out there and not just as far as cleaning products are concerned.

My old pet peeve is, and let me mention it once again, the “Eco Button”, for instance, used to put your computer into sleep mode. The thing costs around the $12-$14 mark (cost recalculated from British Pounds) and does no more that what the sleep mode button – or button combination – that is standard at your computer. But it has been highly touted by the green media in their reviews. No one, bar the GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW seems to have dared to mention that it is, in reality, a total waste of money and a piece of plastic and electronics that has to be disposed off via the electronics recycling schemes and cannot just be tossed into the trash. Great – NOT!

Then there is the notion of people that they do great when they buy a recycled product and, to all intents and purposes they do, but going out and spending between the equivalent of six to ten bucks to buy a recycled steel pencil bin for the desk when they have just tossed a tin can into the recycling bin does not make sense. Neither does spending the equivalent of sixteen dollars on a set of two recycled glass storage jars when one has just tossed some large glass jars into the recycling bin that could have served the same purpose and, in both cases, for free.

Green consumption is taking over from general consumption now and the thought seems to be that we have to buy this or that green product or gadget. Too often not a thought is given as to whether or not it might not be possible to make your own; in many cases it is.

Always consider as to whether you could make what you want and need yourself and what you could repurpose and upcycle rather than going out to buy or ordering on the Internet.

Energy saving gadget, obviously, you cannot, really make yourself in most cases but you could do it manually, couldn't you. All it needs – at least in Britain – is to turn off the plugs at the socket. You don't even have to pull the plug out. And you certainly do not have to have a device or gadget that turns your lights off in a room now which you don't use at the time, on the landings, and such like. It is easy: turn it off by hand and this can be taught to even children.

When it comes to, and I said that before, to environmentally friendly cleaning products you can make most of those yourself, from common ingredients, and a fraction of the cost.

Read the ingredients on some window cleaners in spray bottles; it is water, soap, vinegar and alcohol. OK, so, recap... water, soap (Fairy dishwash will do), vinegar (even the cheapest brown stuff is fine) and alcohol (a drop of cheap vodka) and bingo.

And this is just one of the many things that can be done. No need to go out and pay good money for something that is being advertised as green and then only to find that it has harmful chemicals in it that is polluting your home.

Just some food for thought here...

© 2011

Bank of England chief under fire for telling the truth

Don't shoot the messenger, for goodness sake

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bank of England chief under fire after warning Britain is at risk of another financial crisis and certain people are about to shoot the messenger

Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, has come under fire from leading economists after warning that Britain risks suffering another financial crisis without reform of the country’s banks. He said that “imbalances” in the banking system remain and are “beginning to grow again”.

There are certain people that are too deep in the pay of the banking sector, it would seem, right there in the middle of the government establishment that would wish to shoot down the Governor of the Bank of England in flames.

Words and statements that the financial sector is very important to the British economy and that the Governor should not be attacking and criticizing the banks. Criticizing them reduces their credibility and then people worry about them and that the important thing for the Governor of the Bank of England is to help the banks.

Well, it would seem that Mervyn King would rather like to tell the people of the country how and where things really lie without using lies, unlike our politicians, and that's when bankers and government people seem to all end up in a fluster.

The Banker's Association has come out attacking Mr King's statements saying that there a a great number of points with which they disagree. I do not doubt it. In the same way, no doubt, that the British railways companies disagree with the findings of EU bodies that the British rail passenger is being ripped off and that rail travel in Britain is the most expensive of all in Europe.

The banking industry recognises that some of its number got it badly wrong during the crisis. Since then the industry has reformed radically. Thus says the Banker's Association in a statement, and continues to claim that that they have changed and all that.

It is rather amazing though that we cannot, in fact, see any of the changes, and SMEs have great problem getting loans while bankers and especially chief executives of banks are getting bonuses in the millions of Pounds Sterling again.

It is obvious that nothing to very little has changed in the way the banks were doing business before. In fact, it would very much appear it to be the BAU model that has come back, the business-as-usual.

In interview that Mr King gave urges high street banks to take a better, longer term view towards their customers and to stop focusing on the need to “simply maximise profits next week”.

He accuses them of routinely exploiting their millions of customers. “If it’s possible [for financial services firms] to make money out of gullible or unsuspecting customers, particularly institutional customers, [they think] that is perfectly acceptable,” he said. And he also expressed regret for not sounding a louder warning over his concerns before the last banking crisis.

Mr King's words must be a warning to government and to us all that we will never see the likes of the living standards again that some of us have enjoyed in the last decades. That time is over and – more than likely – will never return.

We must also prepare that things are not going to get better but that they are going to go downhill for a lot longer before they will bottom out and then stay at that level somewhere.

Government allowed a banking system to build up which contained the seeds of its own destruction and we have not as yet solved the 'too big to fail’ or, as Mervyn King called it, the 'too important to fail’ problem.

The fact is that the concept of being too important to fail should have no place in a market economy and it seems that the only “industries” that were not allowed to 'fail' were some huge banks that were bailed out, here and across the pond, and some automobile manufacturers, in the States (and Britain?).

When asked whether there could be a repeat of the financial crisis, Mr King said that he would say yes, as the problem is still there. The search for yield goes on. Imbalances are beginning to grow again. To which one could but add that also the culture of the huge bonuses is still there and some bankers even think that they have nothing to be grateful to the taxpayer for.

Maybe it is really time that the governments (and the taxpayers) told those banks how the cookie crumbles and actually would take full control of those banks that have been bailed out by billions and billions of British taxpayers' money.

This is money, if we had not have to throw it at the banks 'too big to fail' we would still have in the system and thus we would not have a financial problem in the public service and in the country as a whole.

But, as it has happened there is very little that the government, or we, as people, can now do about it and that means we have to face the problems of the now, of the present and of the future, and that future does not look all that bright in the old light.

However, I think we have the opportunity now to make something better and create a brighter, a green future, with a constant economy, and proper economy as if people mattered. The question only is as to whether the British government will grab the bull by its horns and do it. But, then again, it is up to us, as the electorate, to demand that they do and allow us to be fobbed off with the fibs of the need for a constantly growing economy. That notion is a totally and utterly false one.

Once again, let us remember not to shoot the messenger if the news he brings is bad but the truth. Let us act upon the news and, in this case, change the course of this old ship.

© 2011

Mixing vegetables and flowers

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The majority of people always think of flower gardens and vegetable gardens as two separate entities, but there’s no reason to think that is the way it has to be so.

If you would think about the kitchen garden of colonial days of America and those of that era and already before in Britain then you may come to a different picture and understanding altogether. Those gardens were a mix of vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs.

Companion planting is the official name for it, but for some gardeners, that might be too scientific and calculated for their tastes. Instead you might like to think of a vegetable-flower garden as an artistic palette, strictly for appearances and enjoyment.

Your vegetable-flower garden can be orderly or not so orderly, it depends on your personal style and is a matter of taste, pardon the pun. You do however need to take into account the growing style of the vegetables and flowers. Pumpkins, cucumbers, and squash need lots of horizontal room to grow so you want to avoid planting flowers too close. Also, do have a little look into the right books to ensure that you do not plant flowers and veg together that might not “like” each other.

Also consider that some flowers are, indeed, edible, so you might like to include some of those as well and esp.

Think about plant forms and foliage too. Peppers are upright and shrub-like. Corn is tall, vertical, and leafy but would look terrific mixed with sunflowers. Or, concentrate on color combinations such as white, purple, and pink for earlier flowering vegetables and flowers, or yellow, red, and orange for late summer crops and blooms. The gold color of marigolds and the dark green of spinach for example or red flowers of nasturtiums, which are edible, next to those bright red chili peppers. Then again, a higgledy-piggledy mix is also fine if that is what you like.

Companion Planting

Companion planting became popular in America during the organic farming movement in the 1970s even though it has been practiced by some Native American cultures for centuries, and not just by Native Americans.

Companion planting is all about beneficial plant associations. In other words planting a specific mix of flowers, herbs, or vegetables in proximity to each other in order to achieve a mutually beneficial result such as higher crop yields or pest management.

There are several types of companion planting methods including symbiotic nitrogen fixation, chemical pest suppression, trap cropping, and spacial interaction, where a vertical plant such as corn is planted next to a climbing plant such as pole beans for instance.

An example of symbiotic nitrogen fixation is planting beans, which are legumes and fix nitrogen from the air adding it to the soil, next to corn and other vegetables that require larger amounts of nitrogen to grow.

Marigolds planted among the vegetables secrete a biochemical substance from their roots that kills nematodes in the soil. Thus I am not sure whether I would want to plant marigolds where I want to use nematodes to control slugs and snails.

Nasturtiums are often planted near cabbage plants so the moths will lay their eggs in the nasturtiums, which they prefer, and not the cabbages. This type of companion planting is referred to as trap cropping.

There are lists and books on the subject of companion planting galore though I would suggest, rather than buying a book, to look on the Internet for some free lists, which, I know, are available.

You don't necessarily need the entire story as to the whys and wherefores of planting this with that; all you need is a list stating the planting of those flowers with those vegetable for this or that reason, without the historical and anecdotal references found in many of the books.

© 2011

Eight great reasons to love eggs

Eggs are great. They are so easy to make, really versatile, very nutritious and, before I forget, they are good for you.

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Are you still hearing in some places that you should avoid the yolk or eggs all together because they are high in fat and can raise your cholesterol? You do. Well, here are some great reasons to forget the bad advice and get cracking:

  1. One egg contains 6 grams of high-quality protein and all 9 essential amino acids.

  2. Eggs are a source of healthy fat. One egg contains just 5 grams of fat and only 1.5 grams of that is saturated fat.

  3. Eggs are one of the only foods that contain naturally occurring vitamin D.

  4. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, there is no significant link between egg consumption and heart disease, In fact, according to one study, regular consumption of eggs may help prevent blood clots, stroke, and heart attacks.

  5. New research shows that consumption of eggs does not have a negative impact on cholesterol. In fact, recent studies show that regular consumption of two eggs per day does not affect a person's lipid profile and may actually improve it.

  6. They are a good source of choline, which is an important nutrient that helps regulate the brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular system.

  7. Eggs are great for the eyes. According to one study, an egg a day may prevent macular degeneration due to the carotenoid content, specifically lutein and zeaxanthin, which are more readily absorbed by our bodies from eggs than from other sources. Also, the lutein and zeaxanthin in eggs may lower their risk of developing cataracts.

  8. Eggs promote healthy hair and nails because of their high sulphur content and many other vitamins and minerals.

As indicated in the list above the story about the cholesterol is false. Not all cholesterol is bad cholesterol and that in eggs is the good version. As far as I am concerned that is good as I do love eggs, and a good thing too, seeing that I get about 3-4 a day from my 5 hens.

Remember that organic free-range eggs are always better. Conventional eggs contain hormones and antibiotics. Better still, get your own hens. You don't need a flock of a hundred. In fact you wouldn't unless you would want to go into business selling act and for that you may need, as in Britain, a license in order to be allowed to do so. You cannot, in the UK, legally sell any eggs from your backyard hens. If you have a bit of space you can have a hen or three. In fact you should have more than one hen and I would suggest have a min of three. One does work but... they do like company even if the may squabble.

Now all you need is some hens... No, honest, you don't have to have a rooster to get egg; only if you want chicks.

© 2011

Public Transit in the 'Most Livable City'

One of the many reasons why Metro Vancouver stays livable!

TransLink BURNABY, British Columbia, Canada, March 2011: As the cherry and plum blossoms re-appear and daylight stretches later, Metro Vancouver gets ready to welcome people from other parts of the world. And TransLink's integrated, modern, good-to-the-environment public transportation system makes it easy to get around.

With gasoline currently in the neighborhood of US$5.60 per gallon, that makes Vancouver even more livable!

Whatever your tastes, public transit can get you where you want to go. Service runs 21 hours a day and icons like SkyTrain and SeaBus make it a "destination transit system."

SkyTrain - the world's second-longest (after Dubai) driverless automated rail system launched at the 1986 transportation-themed World's Fair. Today, there are three SkyTrain lines:

Canada Line welcomes many travelers arriving at Vancouver International Airport. You can get downtown in less than half an hour for C$8.75 (C$7.50 after 6:30pm and on weekends), which includes a one-time $5 surcharge for arriving travellers - a third of the cost of a cab ride. Or change trains at Bridgeport Station and visit Richmond, the fast-growing multicultural city with its Asian-style shopping centers, Historic Steveston and "the best Chinese food outside China."

Expo and Millennium Line - these lines run 30 feet above ground with a magnificent view of the North Shore mountains, Mount Baker in Washington State and the city of Vancouver. It also doesn't hurt that the three SkyTrain lines take you to no fewer than 10 major shopping malls!

SeaBus - unlike other modes, SeaBus is the one element where usage increases during the summer. That's because that 12-minute trip across Vancouver harbour between downtown Vancouver and the North Shore is a thrill in itself, with views of mountains, the working harbor, Stanley Park and even the occasional harbor seal checking you out.

Get on the bus! With some 200 bus routes - including one of the last remaining fleets of zero-emission electric trolley buses in North America - it's remarkably easy to get to beaches, nightlife on Granville and Robson Streets, Major League Soccer and Canadian football at Empire Field, baseball at Nat Bailey Stadium ("the prettiest little ballpark in baseball") or the eclectic circus on Commercial Drive.

The TransLink Trip Planner can give you the directions you need or call Customer Information (604-953-3333).

A DayPass is the most economical way to pay fares, with unlimited travel in any direction all day. Buy a DayPasses at any FareDealer (you can find locations on the TransLink website - www.translink.ca), at SkyTrain stations and on BC Ferries from Victoria and Nanaimo.

For non-English speakers, SkyTrain Attendants have access to the provincial language service and interpreters in up to 150 languages.

Summertime, and the livin' is easy; and what could be easier on a summer vacation than to leave the car behind and let someone else do the driving? TransLink makes it happen.

Source: TransLink

Swap wholewheat bread for white bread

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The year 2010 was the first year that Americans have spent more on wholewheat bread than they have on processed white bread. About time too. I have no records of how things are in Britain but the Real Bread Campaign, as far as I know, is rather busy.

If anything to go by watching the bread isles of the supermarkets and people's shopping carts the great majority of bread is still white sponge garbage that, for some unknown reason, is referred to as bread.

On the other hand, the sales of bread flour is going rather well, from what I have seen, and thus one could surmise that home baking of real bread is going on in many homes.

Get on this bandwagon to reap the benefits of more fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Just make sure that any “wholegrain” product has “wholewheat flour” listed as its first ingredient and, as always, be mindful of added sugars and preservatives in the ingredients list. Also, beware of flour enhancers, thus named, in store bought wholewheat bread. Flour enhancer is an additive to make it last longer, etc. You don't need it, especially not when you make your own.

One fun way to add more whole wheat to your diet – and save some cash – is by making your own bread at home.

If you don't want to spend time kneading the dough, and al that, get a bread makers, a bread machine. The bread it nearly as good as oven baked and it also does last at least a week when being used; not that it will ever last that long.

Many years ago I used to make bread at home the old-fashioned way by kneading the dough by hand, letting it rise, kneading it again, etc., and, because of lack of time, I went to buying, though still wholemeal and wholegrain bread from bakeries and from the bakery sections in supermarkets.

The I decided, because it was rather cheap, to get a bread maker, a bread machine, from Lidl here in the UK when they had it on offer for less than the equivalent of $45 and it was a big tin machine. As far as I am concerned this was the best investment I have ever made, or at least one of the best.

The machine is in use at least twice during the week with me and the bread, after a little trial and error, is great and I would dread to have to go back to store-bought bread, even if it were wholegrain or multi-grain bread.

Once you try it, you too will never want to go back to store-bought breads – and your whole house will smell delicious during the process, and not just when the baking happens.

Go on, make the switch to real bread, you won't regret it.

© 2011

Open Source Software & Applications

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

For the frugal person, whether homesteader or other, the costs of the PC operating system and applications, be that office suites, or other software, I am sure, is important. It is more important even, especially as regards the operating system, if your computer is secondhand.

Why do I say that this is more important even as regards a computer that is secondhand?

Secondhand computers often do not come with the original license for the operating system, if it runs Windows and also for other, especially Microsoft software. If the operating system is MS Windows you may very soon find that, when the PC does automatic updates or when you want manually to take down updates, such as Windows security updates, that you get a message from Microsoft that your operating system is, what they call, non-genuine, pirated and invalid. Theoretically, you then commit a felony by continuing to run that piece of software, aside from the fact that you will not be able to update your systems.

While nothing probably is going to happen to you, that is to say that it is hardly likely that Microsoft is going to come and find you, or send the FBI or Scotland Yard or whichever other national police force, even if you happen to use a so-called “cracker” program which will make your invalid operating system appear “genuine”, to a degree, to allow Windows auto-updates to happen. It does not fool all parts of the system that Microsoft employs to check your PC from afar, however, and you cannot, for instance, install the latest Media Player or such. And buying a new license for such an invalid operating system on a secondhand computer could cost you a great deal more than the computer has cost you.

On the other hand, to me personally, Microsoft's accessing of my computer, my machine, and checking as to whether my software, that is to say the Operating System and other Microsoft applications, are genuine, is a severe intrusion into my privacy and while I do run some PCs on Windows I am not at all happy with Microsoft doing this. It is a violation of my privacy and the privacy of everyone who is forced to run Windows. Yes, I do say “forced to run Windows” for many web-applications do not work properly in anything by, say, Internet Explorer, a Microsoft product that will only work on a Windows PC and not, say, on one running Linux. I do not mind programs checking whether they need updates but to check basically what I run on my PC? That is an intrusion in my affairs that I resent.

Therefore, I no come to the Open Source software and applications that I speak about in the title of this article.

With the exception that some stuff will not work 100% with browsers other than Internet Explorer – not all websites are yet properly compliant with Firefox, for instance, or other browsers though more and more are doing the right things and make their sites interoperable with all browsers – there are alternatives to Microsoft's monopoly on Operating System and applications software.

However, let us start with Open Source, per se, on Microsoft Windows, assuming that you do have a genuine version of the Windows Operating System that came installed with your computer and that is not having a problem. May be this is a PC you have bought new, or a secondhand one, to which you have been given the genuine CD with the operating system and the license key. That means then no problem as to the Operating System being genuine and no costs involved there.

Let us say, though, that it came only with the “Notepad” program installed as text editor and you really want and you will in fact need, a proper word processor and maybe even a more or less full office suite. There then comes the question of costs for, if you want to go for an office suite and happen to be looking at Microsoft, MS Office will set you back, as a genuine software, in the three figures. Not good if you have to count your pennies. Do not fret and worry, though. A fully fledged office suite can be had for nada, for free, as long as you can download it (and it is a big file) which on dial-up will take ages or have someone who can download it via an ADSL connection and then burn it to CD for you so you can install it. This program in question is OpenOffice, downloadable from www.openoffice.org, and you get an office suite that is probably as good as MS Office at no costs bar the Internet call.

Aside from office suites on open source there are many other programs available too, even complete operating system that offer an alternative to Microsoft Windows, such as the various different distributions of Linux, whether Ubuntu, SUSE, DSL, Puppy Linux, etc. The latter two, e.g. DSL, which stands for “Damned Small Linux” and “Puppy Linux” are very small operating systems that can reinvigorate old computers, even those of the 386 and 486 caliber.

There is an abundance of Open Source software available out there on the Internet – most of it free – that can replace nigh on everything for which you may have to pay money. Be that media players, recoding software, photo manipulation programs, etc.

The Gimp is a photo-manipulation programs that is nigh on as powerful as Adobe Photoshop but, while Photoshop will set you back around the four figure mark The Gimp is free for the download.

This all, dear readers, just as a little taster of what is available by way of open source software and which, in most cases, is free. Free as in free beer and in freedom.

© 2011

Grow your own food, even in small spaces

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Vegetable gardens are back. Well, not that they have gone away totally but... Growing your own vegetable and fruit in your own garden makes sense, economically and otherwise.

The question is always as to whether lettuce, tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables that you buy from the from the grocery store, green grocers and supermarket vegetable isles are really safe to eat. We have all heard the stories about E. Coli bacteria on spinach and lettuce, etc., which can make you very ill indeed, and then there are all the chemicals that are used by commercial, non-organic growers, which are not very safe either.

Now more than ever homeowners are growing their own food and vegetable seed sales are up 80 percent compared to previous years. That is a lot! In a struggling economy and with the horror stories of unsafe foods, we are planting vegetable gardens to save on our pocket books and produce our own high quality vegetables. But there is a great difference in today’s gardens. They are not vegetable gardens of grandma and great-grandma, which were large and everything in beds in rows. Today's vegetable gardens are small spaced gardens, potted edibles in containers on the patio or hanging from baskets on the balcony. These are the vegetable gardens of today. You can grow food even if you don’t have the space.

Saving big money in the backyard

Produce from a 10 by 20-foot garden can be equivalent $4000 spent in the grocery store! While leafy green vegetables and herbs are worth $15 to $20 per square foot, tomatoes, peppers, and radishes vary from $5 to $10 per square foot. So, I think I know what to sew and plant.

What vegetables want and need

8-10 hours of sunlight, a healthy, enriched soil, water, food )which ideally should come from the soil and some organic additions) and a good babysitter, namely YOU.

First time vegetable gardeners need to consider their garden’s location, size, design, and type. If you are going to plant a garden right into the soil you’ll have to prepare the site. Totally remove grass by hand or apply an organic herbicide to kill it. Enrich the soil by mixing in compost, peat moss, and manure.

My favorite gardens are raised bed gardens and those that utilize planters and containers of every kind that are easy to manage, and mine is just that kind. I use about everything that I can as a planter, from raised beds to tubs to bath tubs to shopping carts, buckets, etc. In fact anything that can remotely be used for growing a crop. Do not, however, use vehicle tires unless they were those with inner tubes. The tires of tubeless tires are steel-belted and contain cadmium which will leach into the produce and that stuff in dangerous to humans. You can use tires, however, for the growing to flowers for the home and every home needs cut flowers.

Raised really rock

Raised really rock, no doubt about it and so do, and maybe even more so, planters. If you have a small plot, try building a raised bed by mounding soil or building a box with timber (do not use treated lumber) or stone. The raised beds should contain soil 18-24 inches deep. If you have some old brisk build a raised bed with those at least two course high. Just put them one upon the other; don't use mortar.

The benefits are endless. Besides looking tidy and clean, the soil heats up faster in spring and drains well. You can mix soil to exact specifications. Soil compaction is reduced (since you won't walk on it) which allows more oxygen to get to the roots. Plants can be planted closer together (you can produce nearly two times the amount of produce) which helps reduce weeds. And the same is true for the planters that I mentioned.

I use, for instance the one tonne builder's bags that, nowadays, are no longer returnable, and which are made of woven polypropylene. They are an absolutely great way of creating an instant raised bed garden though they do take quite a bit of soil.

Good soil equals success

The most important factor is to make sure your soil is “alive.” Healthy soil leads to healthy plants. It is loose, easy to work, and teaming with soil microbes, compost, and amendments. Every season make a point to amend or enrich your soil with compost, manure and other organic matter. Mix these ingredients to a depth of six to twelve inches, though top dressing can also work. Only soil that is being improved in such a way is living soil.

Pick the proper plants

It’s easier said than done if you’ve never grown a garden. If you don’t have the time or inclination to start your plants from seed then, I recommend going to a reputable garden center and getting to know the employees. They can provide you with a wealth of garden know-how, plus you can always call on them for help.

Most vegetable plants can be purchased either as transplants or as seeds; however, it’s too late to start many of the seeds now. Always pick sturdy and squatty dark green plants. Check out the roots by gently tapping the plant from its container. Roots should be white, vigorous, and plump. If they aren’t, don’t buy them! Other plant considerations include disease resistance, size of plant, variety, heirloom vs. hybrid, and/or organic.

Don't, however, even think of buying some plants as plugs, such as, for instance, carrots, parsnips, and some others. They cannot be replanted successfully from plugs; I have tried it, it does not work.

Planting is a family affair

No, it does not mean that you must involve your entire family, even thought that would be a good idea, maybe. Planting shouldn’t be complicated. But you’ll save yourself huge headaches down the road if you plant vegetables according to their families to help avoid the spread of disease. Start by categorizing plants by family i.e., all nightshade plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes. These plants take nitrogen from the soil. Legumes, beans, and peas put nitrogen back into the soil so they are naturally a good group to follow the nightshade plants. Google “crop rotation” for more information. Also check out “companion planting” as that also is a great way of avoiding infestation by pests and other diseases.

One note on the planting families together: Some members don't like each other. Never plant tomatoes and potatoes in close proximity.

Whichever way you make your garden make sure that you rotate the crops so as to prevent diseases spreading.

This is by no means a complete instructions as to how to plant a vegetable garden, whatever size; that would be breaking the limits of an article.

© 2011

Microsoft Office – Do we need it?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

No, I am not about to engage in Microsoft or Windows baiting as appears to be a favorite pastime of technical journalists though I do have to say that I am not too keen on Microsoft's monopoly either and especially not on the prices that they charge for their software and we can take Microsoft Office there as a good example.

Baiting for the sake of baiting is, obviously, somewhat a waste of time but it can be worth looking at alternatives to Microsoft especially if you do not have an office suite pre-installed on your PC, and especially if you are on a budget as far as software goes or a not-for-profit outfit.

The prime candidate in alternative office suites is OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org).

This suite is worth more than just a glancing look especially if you do not want to pay lots of money to a vendor, as we said already. The best thing is that it is free. You download it, you install it and you are allowed to use a perfectly good word processor, spreadsheet, database, and other office applications without any risk of prosecution; install an unpaid-for copy of MS Office and the reverse will be true and you leave yourself open to legal actions by Microsoft.

While it may not, necessarily, look as elegant in its interface than its competition it will not set you back several hundred bucks either.

In addition to this there are versions of OpenOffice available for basically all platforms, e.g. MS Windows, Apple and Linux.

To top it all OpenOffice.org can read all MS Office files, bar, I believe, the very latest versions, e.g. of Office 2010 and all OpenOffice files can be – automatically – converted and saved as MS Office files; therefore full file compatibility and interoperability.

There are – slight – differences in the set up of, say, OpenOffice Writer to MS Word and OpenOffice Writer also handles graphics somewhat different to MS Word. This should be taken into account if one is familiar with MS Word and expects the same on OpenOffice Writer, for instance. This is especially true in the case of graphics that are placed behind text, including “watermarks”, as the text then becomes non-editable.

However, having said that, OpenOffice is a very good office suite and considering the cost – which cost? I know – it is definitely worth considering if you need an office suite but do not have the budget for it.

In addition to this OpenOffice Writer can export any document directly as a PDF file.

I would, however, suggest, when it comes to making PDF files to use a separate program, e.g. PDF Creator, free from Sourceforge. However, this is a Windows application only.

OpenOffice.org is available for MS Windows and for Linux and thus is a very versatile PC office suite that costs you zero.

So, why spend hundreds on MS Office when you can have the same, basically, with full interoperability (as long as it is not Office 2010 with the exception of Word) and you can also save everything as MS Office files, for nothing ion the form of OpenOffice and similar.

Open Source is the way to go, for both application software as well as Operating Systems themselves.

© 2011


by Owen Newman

Science confirms the fact that the moon's gravitational force affects the oceans tides. Since we are 90 percent water, it affects our bodies also.

A Doctor at a large university told me that more babies are born when the moon is full, than in the dark of the moon. I’ve seen proof of that myself.

The pioneer homesteader knew that, plus a lot more about the moon. He used that knowledge every day. In fact, the moon influenced just about every facet of his

When the moon is going from dark to full, it's said to be waxing. From half to full, it's gibbous waxing.

Waning is going from full to dark. Full to half is; you guessed it, gibbous waning.

From gibbous waxing to the same waning phase there is a lot of light. Two hundred years ago people used to travel at night during this time. Also, a lot of work
was done at night during this phase to escape the heat of the day.

The full moon that falls nearest the autumnal equinox (on or about Sep.21) is in that part of its orbit where it makes the smallest angle with the horizon. For several nights in succession the moon rises at nearly the same hour, giving an unusual proportion of moon light nights. Since it rises slower, the "huge" effect of the moon is exaggerated, and the harvest moon is therefore supposed to appear larger and redder than the moon of any other season. Many a harvest has been worked in the open field only by the light of a full September moon. The full moon of October was known as the hunter's moon.

When there is a halo around the moon it forecasts rain. Some old timers say that it will rain a day for every star in the halo. When the moon has a fuzzy appearance, it also forecasts rain.

When the horns of a crescent moon are very sharp, there will be a wind.

Yesteryear’s farmer knew all about planting by the phases of the moon. Many people scoff at this, yet there is some scientific proof that it works. Above ground crops were planted in the waxing moon, while root crops where planted in the waning moon. Sapwood for hoops and poles was cut during a waxing moon, while timber, firewood, laying floors and roof shingles was done during the waning moon.

I know from experience that fence posts put in during a waxing moon are always loose, and you will have dirt left over. Whereas posts put in during a waning moon will be solid, but you will have to use extra dirt to tamp the post in because you will not have enough.

I used to do a lot of dehorning and castrating of cattle. I would always do it during the waning moon because there was very little bleeding as opposed to a waxing moon.

Weeding and pruning are more effective during the waning moon.

A frost will occur during a full moon. Many times weather will change on a full moon.

The moon was considered a feminine sign, hence the crescent moon on the outhouse door. It meant that it was for ladies. Men were expected to use a handy bush.

Studying how the moon effects the earth can be interesting and rewarding for the homesteader.

© 2011

Consumer confidence hits record low

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Consumer confidence fell to an all-time low in February 2011, fueling doubts about the strength of the economic recovery.

Nationwide Building Society’s consumer confidence index fell by ten points to 38 last month – its lowest level since the survey began in May 2004 – after another sharp drop in January of the year.

The record fall was driven by a steep decline in consumers’ expectations of the economic and employment situation over the coming six months. A growing pessimism among consumers towards making purchases also pushed the survey’s spending index down to 52 points in February. The survey comes on the back of figures from the British Retail Consortium which showed that like-for-like retail sales fell by 0.4 per cent last month.

Nationwide’s chief economist Robert Gardner said: “A fall in expectations towards the future was the main factor driving the index down, and consumers’ assessments of the present situation deteriorated slightly from already depressed levels. “There are many factors that may be holding back confidence at the moment. The labour market remains fragile, with the unemployment rate still high and wage growth weak.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics published last week revealed that unemployment in the UK rose to a 17-year high in the three months to the end of January. Despite reports suggesting the economy bounced back in the first quarter of the year, the Nationwide research showed consumers are still pessimistic about the current situation.

The index measuring consumers’ assessment of the present economic climate in February fell to 20 from 23 in January, its lowest point in 18 months and not far off its record low seen during the recession.

Gardner added: “Inflation is showing few signs of easing, and high fuel prices and the VAT increase have further eroded disposable incomes in recent months.” “More generally, the UK recovery remains sluggish and there was little positive news in February to give consumers a much needed boost.”

This is proof, if any be needed that (i) the public do not buy any of the claptrap of the recession being over and (ii) that the Great Recession continues and, if people do not buy then, well, it does continue fort the economy will go even further south.

While the banks, and government stupidity, got us into this mess the banks and bankers enjoy ever greater incomes and bonuses while the poor workers are being squeezed, and especially by the austerity measures of the government.

They cause all the grief and the poor man, woman and child have to carry the can and the burden.

Government services are facing the axe or have already been axed while the banks, some of which are, basically, taxpayer owned, squander the money they do make on bonuses and salaries of bankers in the region of the millions of pounds.

Government should claw that all back and not permit any of such salaries and bonuses to be paid out, but they don't dare to do that.

So, the ordinary man or woman on the street and the poor kids in schools and homes are the ones that have to carry the burden of the austerity measures and thus people have no intention of spending any money on consumer goods on the high street or via e-store.

So, Mr. Chancellor, please do tell us again how great the economy is doing...

© 2011

Surveillance UK

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The citizens of the United Kingdom, the always supposed mother of democracy and freedom – well, the people of America in the 1760's would think differently for sure and because they thought differently they had a revolution – are, it is said, the western world's most observed people. Government surveillance cameras are all over the place and there is something like one camera for every 14 people or something like that and each one of us, so it is said, is being observed by cameras several hundred times during the day, though it has been claimed in March 2011 by ACPO that it is only about 30-50 times. ACPO says that this is the more correct number on average as the original study did not take the rural/urban split into account.

In urban areas we can be certain that we are monitored more often than even the number of a couple of hundred times and the police, in places such as London, and other cities and even small towns, demand that the government go further still and that CCTV cameras be all fitted with sensitive microphones so that they can record conversations in open spaces between “possible terrorist suspects”. Oh, sure, it is all in order to fight terrorism. What terrorism? The concocted terrorism? The fake terror that we are being presented with?

“But”, say the sheeple, “those cameras make us feel safer because the police monitors them and can be on-site immediately when something happens”. Yeah, right, like in one town not far from where I live where even microphones are already on some cameras in the city center a market stall was broken into right next, well nearly, one of those cameras, with a racket made by the burglars smashing their way into the said market stall. Did the police come out? No, obviously not and did anyone see anything on the camera? While the operator heard the noise he kept the camera trained into an alleyway observing, as it appeared, a homeless man siting there drinking. Useful indeed.

What it is all about it so that they can completely control the British people and I am convinced that the UK is being used by the Powers That Be as a stalking horse to see how those things will work in the real world before they will be, no doubt, be, to begin with, introduced throughout the European Union countries.

But let's not think that things are better in other countries. Germany too is covered all over in the cities and towns with CCTV cameras and the government want to have more and more cameras. In fact, certain statements of the interior government make it clear that every German, man, woman and child, and every person living in the country, is considered by the authorities as a potential terrorist and lawbreaker who needs monitoring every minute of the day, ideally.

The more I personally see of this the more I am being reminded of George Orwell's book “1984” and also of the TV series from the 1960's “The Prisoner” and other similar sci-fi (well, they were then but no longer) films and TV programs. Who could have thought then that this could once all become reality and that in fact the government would inflict that on all citizens (or better “subjects of Her Majesty”, as it still really is in the UK) who have not committed any crimes whatsoever. It would appear that everyone; man woman or child, is being regarded by the PTB as a criminal until proven otherwise and then the surveillance still will continue – just to make sure. Welcome to the Fourth Reich. In fact Hitler and Stalin are nothing in surveillance compared with the so-called free and democratic governments such as the UK and others.

What we are seeing today in Britain, Germany and, yes, folks, also in most cities in the USA, with CCTV and other surveillance is worse than anything that the Gestapo, the NKVD, the KGB and the Stasi could have ever imagined in order to control their people.

Police keep saying that no one who is not doing anything illegal needs to fear the cameras, etc., but that is a load of tosh. Aside from invasion of our individual privacies it also seems that there are many times when the police, mistaking some act of someone on the cameras, attack an unsuspecting and innocent member of the public.

Mistakes can happen, they say. Like the mistake the other day when a have-a-go hero tackling a knife wielding man on the Tube was tasered by the police without a warning. And the cops and the force never even apologized for their mistake.

Wake up, people, wake up! We are heading for a serious police state.

© 2011

Paper has a head start – the public ought to know

By  Phil Riebel, Environmental Consultant to the Pulp & Paper Industry
NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA, March 24, 2011 (RISI) -

When made responsibly, it's difficult to find a more sustainable product than paper due to its unique features:

  • It is the most recycled product in the world.
  • It is based on a renewable resource - trees that can be managed responsibly to retain the environmental, social and economic benefits of forests.
  • It is produced using a high percentage of renewable biomass energy.
  • It can be re-used for many other applications.
  • It is relaxing to read, and simple to use.
  • It is more effective for learning and literacy.

Look around you. How many products have these environmental and social features? Most are based on non-renewable materials, have much lower recycling rates.

But yet we are bombarded with slogans like "Go paperless - Go Green", "Paper kills trees", and other negative and misleading messages regarding paper and print. At a recent NHL hockey game I attended with my son I even saw an ad (on the big suspended screen) claiming that the use of recycled content tissue paper is saving forests and "nature". It essentially told 20,000 people that "using wood to make paper is bad"!

Beware the Seven Sins of Greenwash

As a starting point we should agree that all products have an environmental impact over their life-cycles and all products should be manufactured in the most sustainable way possible. With that in mind, less consumption is better for the planet, especially given dwindling resources and rising populations. However, communicating the environmental benefits and disadvantages of products needs to be done with the product life-cycle in mind, and it should not mislead people. It needs to be factual, verifiable and not exaggerated (as per environmental marketing guidelines) (1). Claiming that a product is "better for the environment" due to one feature only (i.e. recycled fiber), is considered one of the Seven Sins of Greenwashing (2).

The sustainable use of recycled fiber to make paper products is good practice. However, by making recycled a "gold" standard and talking about "saving trees" we are doing our industry a disfavor. Here are some key points again regarding recycled fiber use in paper (3):

  • Recycled fiber is based on wood fiber. Without the use of wood, recycled disappears.
  • Recycled fiber breaks down after 4-6 times of recycling, it becomes waste.
  • A minimum of 40% wood fiber is needed to make the global fiber cycle work.
  • Without wood, the production of paper ceases in a time period between 6 and 18 months depending on the paper grade, including toilet paper.
  • Over 80% of recovered paper in the world is used for carton and paperboard, only 6% in printing and writing grades.

The message people need to get is that the world needs a sustainable fiber cycle made up of well-managed forests and recycled paper. We need both to make all the various paper and board products used today. In fact, they will both continue to be the main source of fiber for papermaking for the next two decades and beyond (4). We need to keep our working forests and we need to manage them responsibly, or else they will eventually be replaced by shopping malls and highways because there is no incentive for landowners to keep them. Forest conservation today only covers 12% of the global forests (5). In other words, sustainable forest management and developing incentives to keep our forests is critical for our environment. Replacing forest products with products made from non-renewable materials that involve more intrusive land uses to extract (mining, oil extraction) is perhaps not a more sustainable choice over the long term.

Paper already has a head start

In the past two years, the positive messaging regarding the sustainability of paper and print has gained momentum. Two sides (http://www.twosides.info/), a non-profit focused on telling the positive environmental story of paper and print has had good success and is present in 12 European countries and working on a start-up in the US. One of their success stories has been a campaign to convince major corporations against using misleading environmental messaging related to e-billing (i.e. the go paperless - go green message). The web site is worth a visit to view myths and facts about paper and print, as well as many case studies and resources for download.

Both Domtar (www.paperbecause.com) and International Paper (http://www.internationalpaper.com/apps/gopaper/index.html) have launched initiatives to promote the sustainable features of paper and make the connection between paper and well-managed forests. Here are a list of some other publications and web sites on this topic:

The tide may be slowly turning on the perception of paper and print. A stronger international voice led by organizations like Two Sides may be a logical next step, given that paper and print is everywhere and touches almost every person on the planet. This type of global network would strengthen the credibility, expertise and reach of a positive message.

In the end, it's not a question of paper vs other products (i.e. e-media, plastic) but rather a combination of products, produced in a way that continuously reduces overall impacts on the planet and meet our society's needs. However, paper does have a head-start on many other products due to its unique environmental features.


Phil Riebel is a senior sustainability advisor to the forest, paper and print sector. He has over 20 years of international experience acquired in senior management positions in industry and consulting, including VP of Environmental Affairs at UPM-Kymmene. Phil also owns and manages 200 acres of sustainable forest in Canada. He can be reached at philriebel@bellaliant.net

This post was originally written for the RISI, the The leading information provider for the global forest products industry


I would like to thank Phil Riebel for his kind permission to reproduce this article here on the GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW.

How much recycled carpet is needed to make nearly two million cups of tea? - EC&O Sustainability Report released

How much recycled carpet is needed to make nearly two million cups of tea?

earls_court_staff_sml1 EC&O Venues have just released their new Sustainability Report, and one the results of the many initiatives implemented was recycling enough carpet to make 1,852,500 cups of tea.

By working with their service partner OVS (Opex Venue Services), the recycling of 402,322m2 of carpet into pellets for the plastics industry saved 585 tonnes of CO2 emissions and around 312 tonnes of crude oil. As well as a lot of cups of tea, this equates to the same amount of energy to drive a family sized car for around 39 years.

This continues EC&O Venues pioneering approach to green issues over the last six years that has seen such milestones as them being the first venues to be certified to BS 8901 (British Standard on Sustainable Event Management System); build dedicated recycling centres at both Earls and Olympia and reduce total waste removed from the venues by 27%, or the equivalent weight of 146 double-decker buses.

The latest development is the Refuse Derived Fuel system that, through a process of sorting and processing, turns waste into fuel that is then used for cement manufacture and commercial incineration processes. As a result, 82% of waste is now recycled.

EC&O Venues’ commitment to sustainability continues into 2011. “Following our participation in 2010, Earls Court and Olympia will be part of Earth Hour. In conjunction with the UK AWARE show at Olympia we will turn off all our lights, at both venues, from 8.30-9.30pm this Saturday.

It’s a great initiative, in support of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). Meanwhile I’ll be continuing my work getting the venues ready to be certified to the new International Standard for event sustainability – ISO2021”.

Emma Wellman is the venues’ dedicated sustainability advisor and also serves on the ISO 20121 committee. The EC&O Venues sustainability report is available on the website – www.eco.co.uk/csr

Source: EC&O Venues

Scrapkins Build-It Book Vol. I – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Scrapkins-coverScrapkins Build-It Book Vol. I
12 Things you can make from junk
by Brian Yanish
Published 2011 by Crackle Press, NY
for Scrapkins
32 pages paperback (comic book format)
ISBN-13: 978-061543894
Price: $9.99

12 recycled art projects, activities and comics.

Recommended for Ages 6-9 years

What can you make from all that junk you throw away? Join The Scrap Kins, a toothsome monster family who live in a recycling center, as they give step by step instructions to turn toilet paper tubes and milk cartons into pirate ships, bird feeders and more! Share a project with your kids with true DIY fun at home!

This is a great little book for kids full of “cute” crafts project using junk and waste materials.

This book is a lovely tool to teach children that there is value in reusing bits of trash from which to make things.

When I was a kid we made things all the time from junk – it was just what we did. Not that we did have much in the ways of toys anyway and we had to make our own, really. But, more often than not, we made things for serious use and even with the view of selling the stuff we made on markets.

I do love this little volume and my favorite bits are the making of the Jeans Tote, the Foam Glider (finally a use for Styrofoam trays) and the Owl Bird Feeder.

Children, if but given the chance and a little encouragement will go and look at waste in the same way as we did as children and try to find a reuse as toys or other even. We just have to get them away from the GameBoy, the X-Box, the computer or the TV.

How often do we see kids than, when they come across a cardboard box, for instance, that may have had a gift in for them even, that the box is being played with rather than the toy. If we allow them to get on with that they will put us to shame in the ideas department as to what to do with packaging materials, etc. and if they have a little guidance such as the “Scrapkins Build-It Book” they will even outperform any of us by way of ideas, I am sure.

Oh, did I mention that I love the book... I think I did but let me just say it again... I do...

The book can be purchased via ScrapKins website: http://www.thescrapkins.com

© 2011

UK Aware 2011 – Visit Report

UK AWARE 2011 by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

UK Aware, in 2011 now in its 4th year, is Britain's only sustainable living consumer show and the 2011 show is the second UK Aware event that I have attended for the GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW.

At about 1010 GMT Joanna Yarrow, the sustainability expert and TV presenter, who has greened the Premier League and helped Ariel turn to 30 degrees, opened the show.

The first 25 visitors through the door – and yours truly was one of them – received a goody bag with a number of nice products,m with the bag in which those goodies were ensconced being one of the ever so useful Onya bags.

Amongst other goodies the bag contained a set of USB rechargeable AA batteries from Moxia Energy, a T-shirt from Pier32, soap nuts supplies by Living Naturally Soapnuts Shells, and a copy of THE GOOD SHOPPING GUIDE.

An interesting array of booth with vendors and representing a large spectrum of interest in the sustainable- and green living arena were found on the show floor. Some were the same that were at UK Aware last year, such as Onya Bags – who, as said, supplied the bags for the goody bags – and Green Oil; old friends by now. Others were new to the UK Aware event and some even to me, a seasoned green Blogger and writer.

Around 1500 GMT the Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham will be dropped by to show his support for the UK Aware Show and this was certainly a nice touch, adding support of the council to the event.

Danny and his team have done a great job in getting this event going, even though we are still very deep in a recession, the Great Recession as, no doubt, this may become known as, and companies are not very easily persuaded to pay out money for space at shows. This can also be seen with many other trade fairs and consumer shows, even with regards to the Ideal Home Show of this year.

There will, no doubt, be the usual detractors, such as we had las year, who complained reckoning the event was too much geared for the hardened greenie rather than the newbie but I there was, I am sure, something there for everyone.

On the other hand, the truth be told, as with everything, improvements, I am sure, can be made such as, maybe, creating sections for the real newbie where more how-to advice can be given.

The seminars – although I have to say I did not have the time to attend any of those as I was far too busy chatting with people – go some way towards addressing that to some degree.

If we consider how UK Aware is put together without the aid of an expensive PR consultancy and without the huge financial backing that, for instance, Climate Week, a quasi-government operation, has and other shows then all I can say is “hats off” to Danny and his team and “well done”, and also a great thanks.

© 2011

Spring gardening tips

Tackling the weeds

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

It's spring, officially, and according to Mother Nature also, so the big question is what to do first?

Take a look at your perennials. Do they have a lot of dead foliage on them still from last year? If so, cut it or pull it off. Clean up all of last years growth so the new growth will look clean and fresh.

Then get rid of all the weeds in your gardens and yes, I do know that that is no fun, but if you get all of them out now you can maintain a more-or-less weed free garden all season long. As I have just said, almost weed free. Weed control is an all summer
task, but it shouldn't be difficult or overwhelming, unless you allow it to get out of hand.

Most people fail at weed control because they never get it completely under control and so here's what you do.

First start loosening the soil and removing all the existing weeds. Then put down newspaper at least 8 pages thick and cover that with about 2" of mulch. You can also
use brown paper grocery bags, they work great!

I don't like those weed barrier fabrics that you can buy in the garden stores because, more often than not, over time it becomes a horrendous mess with weeds growing up through it. Most of the time you then cannot pull the weeds out because they are all
tangled up in the so called weed barrier material. So, what's the point of it.
That's why I like newspaper or paper bags. They go away. They biodegrade, they turn into soil. And that's really important in your gardens. Don't put things in there that won't go away. Newspaper and mulch are biodegradable, barrier fabric and such are not. They are made of a plastic material which is based on petroleum and thus... well, I think you get my take on this.
But, you say, what about all those magic weed control potions that you can buy? Do they work? Yes they do, bu the problem is that most people don't use them properly thus they get really poor results. Pre-emergent weed control products are just that, pre-emergent. That means they only control weed seeds. Controlling weed seeds is important, but if you don't have all of the existing weeds and weed roots under control first your pre-emergent weed control is doomed from the start.
So you have to completely clear out all of the existing weeds from your gardens then apply the pre-emergent weed control formulas. I still recommend the newspaper because the pre-emergent weed controls will not control weeds that come from roots left in the ground. The only way to control the weed roots from growing is to starve
them of sunlight and you do that with newspaper and mulch. If they can't get sunlight they cannot grow. It is same for weeds as it is for all other plants.

However, if you want to grow vegetables and do it – more or less – organic then you do not want weed control formulas at all and thus using suppression paper and mulch is by far the better way to go. No pollution of the soil or the food, with the possible exception of the printing ink from the newspaper.

Get rid off those weeds now – reminds me I have to get out into the garden – and the works of weed control later will be so much easier.

Do not put those weeds you uproot onto the compost heap though. You do not want them to either grow there and have those seeds blow all over your garden and you don't want dormant weed seed in your compost either. Toss the weeds into the standard trash or put them onto your burning area to be dealt with by fire.

© 2011

Biofuels a carbon con - study

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A study by environmental charities and groups says that African biofuels will result in up to six times more carbon emissions than fossil fuels.

The study, commissioned by the RSPB, Action Aid and Nature Kenya looked at plans to develop a jatropha plantation in Dakatcha in Kenya.

Taking into account the emissions produced throughout the production process, the study found that jatropha would emit between 2.5 and 6 times more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

The demand for biofuel in Europe comes partly from the EU targets for 10% of transport to be renewable by 2020. Many European countries plan to meet this target through use of biofuels rather than a depending only on electric vehicle technology.

The RSPB's Kenya expert, Dr Helen Byron, said: “No government has done a proper assessment of biofuels imported from overseas to see if they will, in fact, reduce our carbon emissions – so we decided to do it for them.

“We were shocked to discover that the biofuel produced from the proposed plantations at Dakatcha will result in up to six times more carbon emissions than fossil fuels."

The charities say that the plans for a plantation in the Dakatcha Woodlands will displace the indigenous people and threaten the wildlife in the area.

They want the British government to act to find alternatives to biofuels. Dr Byron said: “The UK Government recognises the problems that subsidising biofuels is causing across the world and last week announced that it intends to limit such subsidies.

“But ministers must go further, they must challenge the European targets for biofuels and instead adopt an ambitious programme to reduce emissions from cars through improving efficiency and a massive roll-out of electric vehicles.”

This study and comments only prove the point that I, myself, and others, such as Zac Goldsmith, have been making for a considerable time, namely that biofuels are no answer whatsoever.

Biofuels, in fact, will, more than likely, even create bigger problems as to emissions – we are still dealing with infernal combustion engines – and pollution. And this is just aside from the problem that growing any biofuel crop causes loss of food growing area and we cannot have this, period.

Several years already tests on biodiesel found that the particle emissions, the fine soot, is greater with biodiesel than it is with petroleum-based diesel. As the soot emission from the latter, which is being seen as the causal agent for many of the respiratory problems of children and adults in our time, why would we want to jum from the frying pan into the fire by using biodiesel.

We must terminate our love affair with the infernal combustion engine and the motorcar and look for new ways of transportation which, in fact, are actually old ways.

We must make our neighborhoods walkable and cycleable and thus wean ourselves off our dependence on petroleum products and other similar fuels and the motorcar. By doing this we might just about create vibrant communities again where people actually will interact with each other also.

While electric cars and -vans are rather nice, I am afraid, they will remain something that only a privileged few will be able to afford, especially when our energy security comes into question. How are we going to charge up all those batteries and from what are we going to make them; the batteries?

Biofuels are not the answer and neither, I think, are electric cars, -vans, -trucks and -bikes. We need to rethink our approach to things and we must do that now...

© 2011

Expert warns that British census may be far from confidential

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Despite all the reassurances of confidentiality given by the census organizers in the adverts and such, the Office of National Statistics may lawfully disclose census data in conditions including police investigation

Data collected in the 2011 UK census may not be as confidential as the Office of National Statistics claims, says a data protection expert.

The ONS, which operates the census, says on its website that the data will remain confidential for 100 years.

However, the director at data protection and privacy training provider Amberhawk, points out that the census data is in fact subject to the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.

This act contains a clause stating that the ONS may disclose data under a number of conditions, including disclosures that are "made for the purposes of a criminal investigation"; "made in pursuance of an order of a court"; or "made to an approved researcher”.

Please note that “an approved researcher” may also get all of the data that we, by law, have to supply in the census forms to the ONS.

A if it would not be bad enough that the census is, in fact, being conducted on behalf of the ONS by Lockheed-Martin, a major US defense contractor who also, more than likely, can retain the data for their own uses, now we find out that the data can, in fact, be used by “approved researchers” and that would, more than likely include the likes of YouGov® and Mori.

The law permits the board governing the ONS to disclose data if it wants. The current board may say that no data will be disclosed, but the law says that it can be. What happens when the board members change or when approaches are made to them that they cannot refuse?

The clause in question is a serious hangover from the previous government's absolute disdain for personal privacy. It is not a clause to protect confidentiality but it is a clause to remove that confidentiality.

Brilliant, isn't it? And we find that out now where so many of us, myself included, have already followed the letter of the law and have filled in and even sent off our forms.

I must say that, has I known the issues surrounding the 2011 census, from the non-existent privacy provisions to the fact that Lockheed-Martin runs the census on behalf of the ONS and thus the government, I might have considered not to fill in the form at all.

The British government, regardless of what color the parties maybe, can simply not ever, it would appear, be trusted and most of what it says is but lies. When will the people realize that that is so and demand a real change in the way this country is being governed?

© 2011

Council to tempt city centre dwellers with prizes for recycling

Well, at least better than trying to get them to recycle with threats as so many others try

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Manchester’s city centre residents are being tempted with prizes in exchange for promising to recycle more.

Anyone who lives in the city centre is being invited to enter a free prize draw by pledging to increase the amount of waste they recycle. They will have the chance to win prizes donated by Manchester businesses, including a pair of season tickets for the Warehouse Project club nights worth a total of £1,500.

Other prizes include vouchers for a meal at the Samsi Japanese restaurant, an overnight stay at the Marriott Manchester Victoria and Albert Hotel, and a package including a night’s stay at the Radisson Edwardian Hotel, a meal for two at Mr Thomas’ Chop House and tickets for the Bridgewater Hall.

City-centre recyclers can also win a pair of season tickets for the Odeon cinema at the Printworks, a Thai cookery voucher at Chaophraya and a voucher for a facial at Malmaison.

All city centre residents can either recycle within their buildings or at the local recycling sites. Regardless of where they live, they can always recycle their paper, cardboard and cartons in their blue bins and their plastic bottles, glass, cans and tins in their brown bins.

And while this competition kind of thing is an idea we still are getting nowhere near where we should be getting to, namely actually paying people, yes, paying with money, to bring in their recyclables. It is done in other countries and it works very, very well.

But, as per usual, the talk is about recycling and it seems that the three “Rs” that used to be mentioned, namely “reduce, reuse, recycle” have become “recycle, recycle, recycle” with the other “Rs” having been discarded.

People are always encouraged and badgered and harangued to recycle more with no one mentioning reduce and especially reuse and repurposing. Instead of all the advertising to get people to recycle more it might be good to get a publication together or make one available that teaches people as to what they can do with items of waste other than throwing them into the recycling bins or the trash can.

The book “Let's Talk Rubbish” is a small volume that is trying to achieve just that; that is, teaching people as to what they can make from this or that item of waste, and it could be made available to councils to supply to their residents. Then again people can also obtain it themselves. It does not cost a fortune.

But it would appear that councils have a different line of thought in most cases and that is that they rather have people give them recyclables as they can make money of them and that is also the reason why they, the councils, have no intention of paying people to recycle. We can see that from the Manchester example here; the prizes are not from the council, they are from businesses.

© 2011