The message of reuse is still not getting through

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I have written about this problem of how people do not seem to understand the principle of reuse many times already and that even if the message is printed large on the wrapper of the box. 

Only the other day in my work (I am a groundsman in a municipal park in my general life) a plastic box from muffins that is intended to be reused as a storage box, sandwich box, box for storage of leftovers in the fridge, or whatever tickles your fancy, thrown into the bin. Nothing wrong with it and the label on it actually states “reusable”. Needless to say that I rescued said box and it will be reused/used.

The origin of the box, despite having removed the wrapper without thinking, has been located with a little research on the Internet and is from Island (no, not the country but the store) and from Choc Chip Muffins of their Brompton House range, and the message of reuse is relatively big printed on it. 

However, it really would appear that some people, even when the reuse message, and even suggestions for reuse, are printed on the wrapper or the box itself, as is the case with some, unfortunately still do not get the message. 

When I was growing up, for some reason, the great majority of the people had a mindset that was looking for a reuse potential in most packaging, whether glass jars, tin cans, boxes of various kinds, and so on. Now the majority seem to have but one mindset, namely that of “toss out”. 

But, as I have written before, this is by far the first, and I am sure also will not be the last, of such cases. There have been incidences where entire new picnic sets, with real cutlery, bought on the day from IKEA have been thrown, in the IKEA bag with the receipt even in the bag, into the bin. Well, they were dirty and what is one to do with dirty dishes but to thrown them. 

It totally beggars belief that, if not for the environment then for their own pocketbooks, such things should not be tossed out. As my dear old Grandpa always said, “we'll reuse the things because we have paid for them when we bought the things in them”. 

We did not have to be told that a container, in those days mostly metal, that had biscuits (cookies) in them could be reused as a cookie tin. It was obvious. And they were reused not just for cookies. Grandma had her sewing stuff in one, something else in another and yet something different in yet another. 

Smaller glass jars of all kinds were reused for drinking vessels, especially for us clumsy kids, because glasses were expensive, as far as our parents and grandparents were concerned, for us to drop and break them. If we broke a “drinking” jar there always was another one. Larger glass jars, especially with screw tops, because storage jars. And so on and so forth. Today, it would appear, people need YouTube videos with instructions to, maybe, get the idea of how to reuse glass jars and other things. 

For some reason, even without a message printed on the packaging, such as boxes, glass jars, etc., we knew, when I was a child, how to make use of those things that came with most of things that we bought in such a way, and that even included tin cans.

When it came to tin can our family used to make things from them for resale on the markets even and people indeed would buy them. And our family was not the only one and we can still find this in many other countries.

The mindset of those days and years seems to have disappeared, in Britain at least, somewhere in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the disposable economy, for lack of a better word, came into force. 

Even though the message is repeated time and again the how to knowledge seems to be lacking today as it has disappeared, it would appear, through lack of use. Time to go back to the future. 

© 2022

Continued disruption of seasonal weather is causing spring activities in autumn

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Woodland Trust warns that continued disruption of seasonal weather may be causing confusion for wildlife.

After a year which saw a ‘split spring’, heatwaves, droughts and a false autumn, the UK’s wildlife may be starting to confuse its seasonal activities as spring sightings are reported in October. 

There have been reports of second flowering for horse chestnut trees, new leaves on species like ash, and plenty of active amphibians and butterflies, and the two former I can verify myself as a professional groundsman aside from a writer. Also at the Park for which I am responsible a bird cherry tree (more like a shrub as it keeps being coppiced) is again in flower and is sprouting new leaves.

We would normally expect butterflies and newts to be going into hibernation around now, and we would also not expect trees to regrow their leaves and flower or flower and then get new leaves, as in the case of prunus species, of which birch cherry is one. 

Warmer weather in autumn can extend the growing periods for plants and allows more foraging time for animals, which in the short term gives them a chance to recover from the summer heatwaves and drought. And while we can expect, after heat and drought as we have been experiencing especially in the southern parts of the UK this summer with trees shedding their leaves as a protection mechanism, some new leaves forming prior to them being shed in autumn in some cases the trees are so confused that they seem to believe spring having arrived already. 

Squirrels too, seeing that many females appear to be suckling, seem to have decided that either it is nowhere near autumn yet or that spring has arrived already, appear to have another litter. Not that there weren't enough of those gray menaces around already who, this year, have taken their toll on the trees in that this year they have done a lot more bark stripping that usual and even on species that they not normally strip. 

However, if extreme weather like we have had this summer becomes increasingly common, disruption to natural cycles may throw species out of sync. Butterflies, for example, rely on a period of dormancy during winter to save energy while food is scarce, and many plants require a spell of cold weather in winter to drive germination in spring.

It’s not just animals that struggle with rising autumn temperatures longer-term as tree’s rely on cold spells to help kill off and stall the spread of pests and diseases.  

Alisha Anstee, Lead Policy Advocate for Tree Health and Invasive Species at Woodland Trust said, “Climate change is likely to lead to a multitude of challenges for our trees and woodlands. One area that is not exempt is the threats posed to trees by pests and diseases. 

As our climate changes over time our trees are likely to be more stressed which means they will be more susceptible to the impacts of pests and diseases. Warmer temperatures will likely lead to more pests and diseases being able to thrive in the UK. These species may previously have been unable to survive in the cooler UK but an increase of up to 2 degrees could reverse this.”

Dr Lewthwaite continues, “A changing climate means changing seasons. We already know that spring is arriving an average of 8.4 days earlier each year, but not so much is known about autumn.”

Whether we can lay all the blame at the door of climate change is a question but the truth is that the UK, at least the southern parts, have not been experiencing a proper set of seasons, as there used to be for some decades by now. 

This year's events could be due, to some extent to the, and that already for some tens of years, wobbling, for lack of a better word, of the jet stream. One could almost assume it to be rather drunk. And in addition to that we seem to be having a serious La NiƱa pattern this summer. 

However, who, at least in the southern parts of the UK, can remember having even remotely have had a proper autumn and winter in the last couple of years. I doubt that anyone can. Snow has become – and, as far as I am concerned good that is too, as I do not like snow – restricted to a couple of days, maybe and the same is true for any real frost. I am old enough to remember real winters in this part of the country lasting for weeks and months. No wonder, therefore, that the natural world is confused because, unlike us humans, it takes them all much longer to adapt. 

As far as tree pests and diseases are concerned we have seen the arrival of Horse Chestnut bleeding canker about a little over 20+ years ago and then the Horse Chestnut leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella), the latter being a pest that likes it a little on the mild side. For its larvae to be killed off it requires a good frost that reaches well into the leaf litter. One can but wonder whether the reason we have so many new tree diseases arriving on our shores, aside from bad biosecurity, is the fact that those pathogen actually thrive now in our much milder “seasons.”

© 2022 

Autumn still to arrive say Forestry England experts

Today, marks the first day of autumn according to the meteorological calendar. And although we have already seen various signs that could be mistaken as autumn, such as leaf drop, Forestry England experts say autumn is still yet to arrive.

The very high temperatures experienced this summer, coupled with lots of sunshine and lack of rain means that some tree species such as leatherwood, hazel, witch alder and bladdernut are showing signs of stress, also known as ‘summer leaf drop’. However, Forestry England experts are reassuring visitors that we can still expect impressive displays of vibrant autumn hues this year

Andrew Smith, Director at Forestry England’s National Arboretum at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, explains:

“Many factors contribute to when leaves will change colour and drop. Shallow soils and drought can cause stress to some tree species, triggering some leaves to change colour and drop early.

“This is known as ‘summer leaf drop’ where trees are reacting to their environment and adapting their growth accordingly. When it’s hot and dry, a tree realises it is losing too much water so drops some of its leaves.This can be mistaken as a ‘false autumn’ but typically only 20% of a tree’s leaves are lost which means there are still plenty left to put on a spectacular autumn show.

“If we continue to experience warm days in early autumn, along with spells of rain and cooler nights then we could still see a spectacular show of seasonal colour in our nation’s woodlands.”

It can be misleading, noticing leaves turning yellow and dropping everywhere, however Forestry England say it’s important not to confuse signs of stress in individual trees with the full arrival of autumn.

Andrew continued:

“Here at Westonbirt, we are noticing signs of autumn earlier each year. We have recorded leaf colour change at the arboretum since 2010 and we are already seeing earlier colouration of leaves and later dates of full leaf fall. I like to think of autumn as a firework display that rolls on with different colours appearing over several weeks. Climate change means that display is now lasting longer.

“If we have some spells of rain in the coming weeks and continue to experience above average temperatures, the climate will be ideal for maintaining sugar levels. This means that the leaves will stay attached to trees for longer and will have time to develop their autumnal shades.

“The length of display relies heavily on the weather throughout autumn. If it continues to be mild the leaves will have time for the build-up of chlorophyll to entirely fade and their dormant pigments to fully take over.”

To ensure that autumn is kept colourful for future generations and to increase the resilience of our nation’s forests in the fight against climate, Forestry England is working hard to plant lots of different species of trees in many woodlands which will fare well in the climate conditions predicted over the next decades. Sycamore, wild cherry, hornbeam, small-leaved lime, and oak to name a few should bring a riot of colour to our countryside for visitors to enjoy well into the future.

Source: Forestry England

The climate lockdown cometh

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The British Chief Scientist overnight morphed from a virologist to a climatologist (maybe even a Scientologist, who knows – apologies, I do have a sarcastic streak).

In his speech on Monday, November 8, 2021 at COP 26 in Glasgow he said, among others (paraphrased): “Climate change is more dangerous than the pandemic could ever be and therefore it is important that governments have to force people to change their behavior and make changes in their lives and that governments introduce restrictions (to people's freedoms).” 

What a while ago has been seen as figments of the minds of so-called conspiracy theorists appears to be now becoming reality. Whether it is being called a lockdown or not is not the issue. 

I must say that I, and I am not alone in this, have seen this coming and, and hopefully I am wrong, the restriction of private motoring (as long as it is not by electric vehicle) as well as the restriction to private long distance journeys, especially by aircraft, and it could go as far, in my opinion, of government telling us, more or less what we can eat and what not, such as meat, could all be part of this. Currently they are doing this by persuasion, and other means of manipulations, but if that is not going to have the desired effect we can be certain that heavier guns are sure going to be brought to bear.

None of this has been said, so far, but the very idea of forcing – the man's very words – people to make changes to their behavior and lives and the idea of restrictions mentioned is an indication that such things could be in the offing. 

Presently it is all done more or less by what could be called nudging and making people feel guilty, for instance about eating meat, and this agenda is currently very heavily peddled in the media, from print and online “newspapers” and magazines, to radio and television. 

It has, however, already been rumored in certain quarters that some kind of “lockdowns” could be put in place where private (motor) vehicles may only be used by certain people at certain days. Anyone remember the restrictions during the so-called “oil crisis” when no one was permitted to drive on Sundays? 

Now we have ideas of that nature coming from the Greens in Germany, especially directly from the Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens), and we are talking here about measures that a while ago were claimed to be fantasies of so-called conspiracy theorists. 

What some of the so-called conspiracy theorists have been envisaging is not half as bad as what the governments are really planning, it would appear, and which has been ordered, more or less by bodies such as the UN and the WEF. The world government has arrived by the back door thanks to a certain virus claim. 

The Ultra Low Emission Zone of London instigated by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, which is now being extended to all of even Greater London, is just another one of those things. This impacts greatly on people who cannot afford new low emission vehicles or EVs and some will not even be able to get to their own homes without each and every time crossing into the ULE even if they have not gone into London directly. 

What it boils down to, really, is that certain powers are trying there very best to make private motoring impossible for all but those that have enough money to buy an EV. This is something that I, together with others, have been foreseen years ago already. 

The talk of climate change is an agenda. Yes, the climate is changing and it has done so since the Earth has been existing and that about ever 500 years or so, and man has very little influence on that. Our problem, as far as the environment is concerned is pollution but the tackling of this the powers-that-be have tried to avoid for ever and an day. Pollution we can sort, climate change we have adapt to. 

Climate change has become a means by the governments, especially the world government by the UN and the WEF, of people control and is being pushed through for that very purpose, together with supposed pandemics. 

Is Climate Change real? Yes, it is. The climate is changing but we may be heading for peak heat and could be returning very soon to another mini ice age. That is the way the earth has been working ever since. In fact, we are due for another mini ice age and we may have, actually, averted it due to our activities. 

On the other hand CO2 is the food for plants and without it, and without sunlight plants, and especially crops, will die. They will too in droughts, as we have experienced recently, but are droughts really anything new? No, they are not and neither are the drying up of rivers such as the Rhine. In the early 1900s the Elbe river dried up to such an extent that people could cross over on foot in the river bed at Magdeburg. The Rhine was been almost non-navigable due to low water levels many times in history but this must not be mentioned as it does not fit the agenda. 

Bees, and other pollinators, for instance, are not dying because of climate change but because of the way we farm nowadays and have been for a while, throwing dangerous chemicals about. 

We need adapt rather than trying to change the climate, or the weather, or both, especially not by means of so-called geoengineering. Being able to make it rain, for instance, is one thing and we can do that but we have no idea how to turn it off again. Trying to spray some aerosols in the sky to reduce sunlight also is not a great idea for sunlight is needed for plants to grow while, and we know that too, too much of it is not good also. Playing gods, on the other hand, is a bad idea altogether. 

While reducing the use of combustion engines will reduce air pollution the wholesale use of electric vehicles will not make things better either. There we have the often hidden costs, whether in pollution or human misery and that very much so with regards to the mining and production of the materials needed for the batteries. Furthermore the electric supply change will not be able to handle all those vehicles being charged all the time. Thus, the ordinary punter will no longer be able to have and use his or her own car and thus be no longer able to get from A to B by his own means. I am not a driver and I do not own a car but I will defend anyone's right to own and use one, period.

Our most urgent thing or things to do, aside from adapting to a changing climate, is to reduce pollution on all levels and get away from the throw-away society of today. And also, and especially, from products made cheaply in developing and Third World countries which are cheap only because workers are exploited and environmental, as well as health and safety rules either do not exist or are being broken. 

Most important, probably, is that, aside from the products being again, more or less, all made “at home”, in our respective countries, bringing some industries back home, products be made, once again, in such a way that they can be (easily) repaired. Not only will it be better for the consumer but also and especially, for the world around us because fewer things will go into holes in the ground. 

It will make products more expensive in purchasing, that is true, but it will all pay for itself in the long run, and that on many levels. 

But, and here comes the big but, industry, corporations, are not interested in such a sustainable model because it reduces their profits because things that do not easily break and can be easily and even cheaply be repaired mean that they, the corporations, cannot sell us the same product over and over again simply because it is broken and cannot be repaired. In the realm of politics there is also no willpower to force industry to make such changes. 

There is an answer to it but that would require a complete change of our political system and landscape and would mean that most companies would be in public ownership or be co-operatives, as well as all utilities and such like. The system, or its predecessor, has been tried before and only failed because of pressure from the capitalist countries around them and especially from one particular quarter, one particular country, which thinks that it has to bring “democracy” and “free”-market capitalism to every country of the globe, if necessary by force of arms. 

Politicians like to blame the ordinary people for the change in climate and believe that they, the politicians, have to force everyone to do the “right thing”, if necessary by means of sanctions.

© 2022

The bicycle is the slow death of the planet

A banker made the economists think this when he said, “A cyclist is a disaster for the country’s economy: he doesn’t buy cars and doesn’t borrow money to buy. He don't pay insurance policies Don't buy fuel, don't pay to have the car serviced and repairs needed. He doesn't use paid parking. Doesn't cause any major accidents. No need for multi-lane highways He is not getting obese

Healthy people are not necessary or useful to the economy. They are not buying the medicine. They don't go to hospitals or doctors. They add nothing to the country's GDP.”

“On the contrary, each new McDonald’s store creates at least 30 jobs – actually 10 cardiologists, 10 dentists, 10 dietitians and nutritionists – obviously as well as the people who work in the store itself.”

Choose wisely: a bike or a McDonald's? It's something to think about.

PS: walking is even worse. Pedestrians don't even buy a bicycle!

All we hear is planting trees

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

All we keep hearing is that we should be planting trees to mitigate climate change but what first and foremost is needed is proper woodland management of the already existing woodlands, and not just of those in the UK.

Simply planting trees is going to do nothing. They will not just grow and thrive by themselves even though that seems to be the thinking of those who advocate planting more or less over management.

I have, literally, had self-proclaimed experts who have just read the books that suit them and their beliefs tell me that woods do not need management and that Nature will do it all herself. Yes, I am sure we have all seen Nature's gardening.

Natural regeneration in woodlands is something different to man-made woods, that is to say planted areas that are often plowed or such which then gives weeds, brambles and other such species a great chance to thrive and brambles especially, without the intervention of man, will soon take over, smothering the young trees, and I do not even want to talk about damage by animals, from small rodents, to squirrels and to larger animals, such as deer, in all sizes.

Before, however, we advocate the planting of more and more trees, often species not suited for a particular area, because the people deciding to do so know no better but think that they do, we need to go and manage our existing woodlands properly once again and here especially renovate the overstood coppice woods and bring them back into management. The same goes for the many thousands, probably, of hectares of unmanaged woods up and down the country, and that is just in the UK. Then, and only then, should the planting of new trees at a large(r) scale come into consideration.

However, those advocating the planting of more and more trees, more or less willy-nilly, are often of the misconception that just sticking those whips into the ground is enough and Nature will do the rest. Sorry, we have been here before only a paragraph or so back, I know, but just planting and forgetting does not work.

It requires as much management, if not more, than managing old woodlands. In fact, the management of old woodlands is, to a great extent, easier and less labor intensive than the management of newly planted woodlands, as the trees are already established ones.

So, let us first of all, concentrate on the proper management of our existing woodlands and restore them to working, worked and productive woodlands before we run amok planting trees everywhere, often the wrong trees in the wrong places and forgetting about them. And many of the so-called tree planting schemes do end up as “stick in and forget” operations and that does no good at all.

Our woods all were once worked for products and the wildlife, nevertheless or maybe actually because of it, thrived. Very little debris was left laying around on the woodland floor, most of it ended up as firewood, and that which was no good for that use was burned on site, but still we had creepy crawlies, insects, and everything else in profusion. Could it be actually that the modern practices, and especially the use of harvesters, have caused us the problems that we are told our woodlands have? Combined, I should think, with the lack of proper management of most of the smaller and difficult accessible woods as far as heavy machines are concerned.

In addition to that the bottom fell out of the market for home-produced smaller scale wooden products because capitalism made it thus. Instead of home-produced wooden utensils for kitchen, etc., and woven baskets, cheaper imports were sourced from Asian countries and much of it was then also replaced, as far as basket ware, for instance, is concerned, by plastic, once again cheap from Asian countries. But at what cost to the environments, our woods and the woodland workers?

We need to go back to the future, so to speak. In other words we need to get back to managing our woods the way we once used to, though not necessarily only by use of axe, billhook and handsaw.

© 2022

World Bicycle Day

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

June 3 is World Bicycle Day, or better to say was, as it is past and very few people, myself included, seem to have been aware of it. But as it is annually we can be better prepared for next year and celebrate it in our own ways.

It is nice to see that the humble bicycle has got a world day nowadays and it is a shame that it has not been well publicized – or so, at least, it appears to me.

In April 2018, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 3 as World Bicycle Day. The resolution for World Bicycle Day recognizes “the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle, which has been in use for two centuries, and that it is a simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transport.”

Despite the fact that it has been declared several years ago now knowledge of the fact seems to be very thin on the ground. OK, the Day is only four years old so far but, nevertheless.

Had it not been for a Facebook post from Radio Havana Cuba I would have been blissfully unaware of this World Day honoring the humble two wheeler and it is for that reason that I use Radio Havana's picture in this post about it.

When it comes to environmentally friendly travel the humble bicycle can hardly be beaten and, aside from obviously the danger of an accident, the health benefits of cycling are legion. It is also the best “toy” any child can ever be given.

How do I stand as far as e-bikes are concerned in this equation, some may ask. While the e-bike is being hyped by many environmental writers – and I once did so as well – I have to say that, in my opinion, the standard, the simplest bicycle, will beat the e-bike hands down and that especially as to cost and maintenance.

The upfront cost of an e-bike is so much higher than that of an ordinary bicycle and every three to five years a new battery will be needed – as I have found out – and there is no guarantee that the new battery actually is as good as the original first one, as I have experienced. Therefore, all I can say, is let us stick with the old-fashioned bicycle, even though riding an e-bike is so much easier.

The old-fashioned bicycle beats the e-bike hands down especially in the maintenance and cost department. Most maintenance of an ordinary bicycle can be carried out by the use with even a minimum of skills and does not require a shop and mechanic to do it. No motor and such. However, what when the motor of an e-bike is having problems? OK, let's leave it then and just consider the benefits of the bicycle in general and especially in view of the World Day many of us missed to celebrate.

© 2022

Fostering a reuse and repair culture

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The talk is frequently, at the present moment in time at least, about (establishing) a circular economy but such an economy requires much more than just recycling which, more often than not, has become a scam.

It requires first and foremost an approach to reuse, and before that already to refuse, especially when it comes to packaging. Then we need to return to repair and that means that products will first of all be made repairable again, and that is down to industry.

However, all too often all that the idea of a circular economy seems to entail, when one hears the talk, is that things are made and at the end of their lives – and no one seems to think about extending their lives through repairability – they get recycled, as they call it. That is not the way to go.

Learning, once again, reuse, as our parents, grandparents and their parents practiced, in that, when it came to much of the packaging, which in their days was mostly glass, tin and paper/card, it was put to use again rather than thrown.

Glass jar are the prime example here. They were used to store all manner of things and they actually were used as drinking vessels, something that has become fashionable today only that today's drinking jars are purpose made for that job. They weren't in the “old” days. Ordinary glass jar were being used for that purpose and I am sure that the term “let's have a jar” comes from that practice. Working class men, going to the pub, had to provide their own vessels; tankards were only for those patrons who were wealthy enough to be able to afford them.

But I digressed a little. But, we do must take a leaf, or better quite a number of them, out of the book of our ancestors and their ancestors to get some normality into the world again on the level of waste and waste management.

Also, as mentioned already, we must get back to having products that are made to last and which, should anything go wrong with them, can be repaired. In order for that to word we also need the repairmen and -women back, so to speak, for very few are there today who, for instance, can repair a boot or show properly especially when it comes to stitching and sewing seams in leather. Fixing, say, a leather midsole back top the upper is a job few can do today as, as I was told, they don't have a machine for that. It does not, however, require a machine but two bent needles and some waxed thread and, obviously, the skill to actually use those said needles and thread in the proper way.

Not so long ago everywhere there were repairmen and -women for all manner of things and in the German Democratic Republic, often referred to as East Germany, there as a true repair economy in operation with business cooperatives and state-owned enterprises doing nothing but repair. They repaired bed linen, clothes, shoes, electrical goods, bicycles, and everything else we could but think of.

But then again products were made in such a way that they could be repaired and not only by trained professionals; many things could be fixed by anyone a little handy with some tools. But that is just not in the interest of the corporations who want to sell us the same thing over and over again and therefore they design a very short lifespan into the products nowadays.

When it comes to fashion and the fashion industry they are a rather large culprit because clothes are made cheaply – yes, the majority want cheap clothes because they want to change style and whatever every five minutes – by more or less slave labor and definitely child labor in China and countries of the Third World (yes, I am still using that term) to a very low standard more often than not that they don't last more than a few months to a year.

Fine for children who outgrow their clothes quickly but then again in time gone by hand-me-downs were worn by kids. Often passed from one to the other and then further afield even. If those came not from their own older siblings then from older children from family and friends, or the jumble sale. And those clothes also were mended and patched when they got torn. But hey, what about street cred and peer pressures and all that? Some years ago it had to be Adidas, then Lacoste, Fila, Nike, and I have no idea what it is now. Do kids, or even adults, really have to follow the dictates of the fashion industry.

We could go on and on and on about this with many more examples of how things were before the corporations introduced and designed obsolescence into each and every product. Therefore industry must be forced by politics – and us, the consumers – to abandon this practice and return to the production of repairable goods, if we are ever to get anywhere.

This requires action, however, from governments but most importantly from us, the consumers, for we hold the purse strings, literally. If we decide not to buy from those who do not produce according to what we want to buy then they will have to change or go out of business. We are, literally, their masters through our purchasing power and purchasing habits.

© 2022

Cheap electric cars cost at least 21000 €

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Cheap electric cars cost at least 21000 €. If you can afford it, you will get 6,000 € back from the German state. If you cannot afford an electric car, however, you still have to pay for bus and train or fuel. For those who cannot afford an expensive electric car, there is no € 6000 for sustainable mobility.

This policy is designed to protect the climate, or so they say. But it is socially unjust. Because who benefits from it is obvious: 48 percent of households with the lowest income in Germany do not have a car. This means that the wealthy in particular benefit from the e-car premium.

Those on low incomes will have to continue to pay for public transport travel or have to walk or bike or have to pay for fuel for the “ordinary” car. Considering, however, that “ordinary” cars are to be phased out from production and then from use in the not too distant future where does that leave the poorer in society? It leaves them out of pocket while the richer ones have pocketed (pardon the pun) the premium.

Half of the households with the highest incomes have two, three or more cars. Because you can afford electric cars, this means that you can get the purchase premium two, three times or even more. Thus, a sum equal to an average annual salary quickly comes together. Is that fair?

It is especially low-wage earners (e.g. employees in the retail trade or parcel delivery companies) who are dependent on mobility in everyday life. Because you can not work in the home office. It is they who “keep the store running”.

In addition to the initial purchase cost there is the issue that the battery has a limited lifespan and if the case of e-bike batteries is anything to go by then they last probably five years or thereabouts. Replacement cost of a battery, again judging from those of e-bikes, will amount to at least one third of the cost of the car itself. And I do not even want to talk about the environmental costs of the batteries, which are huge, both to the planet and the often child slaves who are digging up the materials.

Anyone who wants fewer people to drive a car must therefore not promote the purchase of a car, but must make buses and trains cheaper. Only in this way can we protect the climate in the long term. Not only that but our towns and cities must be made also walkable and a proper cycling infrastructure must be created, and that not just in towns and cities but also in the rural areas.

The rural areas must, once again, also have stores within reach of the people without them having to resort to using the car and which can be reached by bicycle or on foot. Even in the Unites States and such large places it ones was thus that there were general stores within reach of people, and those stores were not just in the nearest towns. They were, in fact, at road junctions serving a number of homes and farms around, at times being a farmstead also. In addition to that mobile stores plied their trade to the rural homes and farms. In a way we need to go back to the future to really change things for the better. Electric vehicles of whatever kind are not the answer.

© 2022

How bicycles transformed our world

...and could do so again, maybe

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Corona virus pandemic has sparked a two-wheeled transport boom in many parts of the globe. But this isn't the first time bicycles have been the hottest machines on the market.

If history doesn't quite repeat itself, it certainly rhymes. With demand for bicycles soaring, and nations preparing to spend billions to redesign their cities with a new focus on cycling and walking, it's worth remembering how the advent of the bicycle in the late 19th century transformed societies the world over.

It was then a hugely disruptive technology, easily the equivalent of the smartphone today. For a few heady years in the 1890s, the bicycle was the ultimate “must-have” swift, affordable, stylish transportation that could whisk you anywhere you cared to go, anytime you liked, for free. And it enabled the poorer in society to cover ranges – if the could afford a bicycle – that previously was only accessible to those with a horse and who could ride.

Almost anyone could learn to ride, and almost everyone did. The sultan of Zanzibar took up cycling. So did the Czar of Russia. The Emir of Kabul bought bicycles for his entire harem.

But it was the middle and working classes around the globe that truly made the bicycle their own. For the first time in history, the masses were mobile, able to come and go as they pleased. No more need for expensive horses and carriages. The “people's nag,” as the bicycle became known as, was not only lightweight, affordable, and easy to maintain, it was also the fastest thing on the roads.

The person generally credited with inventing the modern bicycle was an Englishman named John Kemp Starley. His uncle, James Starley, had developed the penny-farthing in the 1870s. Suspecting that there might be greater demand for bicycles if they weren't so scary and dangerous to ride, in 1885 the 30-year-old inventor began experimenting in his Coventry workshop with a chain-driven bicycle featuring two much smaller wheels. After testing several prototypes, he came up with the Rover safety bicycle, a 45-pound machine that more or less resembles what today we think of as a bicycle.

When first displayed at a bicycle show in 1886, Starley's invention was regarded as a curiosity. But two years later, when it was paired with the newly invented pneumatic tire – which not only cushioned the ride but also made the new safety bicycle about 30 percent faster – the result was magic.

Bicycle makers around the world scrambled to offer their own versions, and hundreds of new companies sprang up to meet demand. At the Stanley Bicycle Show in London in 1895, some 200 bicycle makers exhibited 3,000 models.

The insatiable demand for bicycles spawned other industries – ball bearings, wire for spokes, steel tubing, precision toolmaking – that would shape the manufacturing world long after the bicycle was relegated to the toy department, at least in the United States, though it should have never headed that way.

With a bicycle anything seemed possible, and ordinary people set off on extraordinary journeys. In the summer of 1890, for instance, a young lieutenant in the Russian army pedaled from St. Petersburg to London, averaging 70 miles a day. In September 1894, 24-year-old Annie Londonderry set out from Chicago with a change of clothes and a pearl-handled revolver to become the first woman to cycle around the world. Just under a year later she arrived back in Chicago and collected a $10,000 prize.

In Australia, itinerant shearers routinely rode hundreds of miles across the waterless outback looking for work. They set out on these trips as though they were rides in the park, recalled newspaper correspondent C.E.W. Bean in his book On The Wool Track.

In the American West, during the summer of 1897, the U.S. Army's 25th Regiment – an African-American unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers – made an extraordinary 1,900- mile trek from Fort Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri, to demonstrate the usefulness of bicycles to the military. Carrying full kit and carbines and riding over rough, muddy tracks, the Buffalo Soldiers averaged nearly 50 miles a day – twice as fast as a cavalry unit, and at a third the cost.

If we are really serious about carbon reduction and all that then the humble bicycle needs to be brought back into use on a big scale. Forget the e-Bikes, though, and especially the electric cars.

When we look to rural India the bicycle is still the main means of transportation as long as it is not all too heavy haulage, though at times you wonder what they are thinking when you see what they load on their bicycles, and what some tow behind. The same goes for many parts of Africa.

But, in order for the bicycle have a real revival, which it must have, we need the proper infrastructure to go with it, not just some tinkering at the edges or a slight change in the highway code, as was done recently in Britain. That does not go anywhere far enough. In fact, it does not really help at all.

If the governments are truly honest about encouraging people to change their behavior as to travel and try to encourage walking and especially the use of the bicycle for short to medium distances at least then the proper infrastructure has to be created and put in place and those must include proper cycle paths. Cycle paths, not lanes that form part of the normal road, like those in many countries on the European mainland and which are, while along the roads, not part of them but, basically, part of the sidewalks.

© 2022

The benefits of growing up

No, not that kind of growing up but gardening vertically

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

If you have ever considered growing your garden vertically then do it. If haven't then why not give it a try. Not only can it absolutely stunning visually, but it also provides many benefits as well.

You are able to grow more in less space and thus maximize limited space and especially if you live in town, gardening vertically can provide you a nice and useful privacy screen even though mostly only during the growing season.

It increases accessibility as it is so much easier to harvest your yield, as long as you do not put it up that high – or let the plants grow that tall – that the produce is way too far up. Have done that with beans and know.

It keeps your crop up and off the ground, so it provides great pest prevention and prevents ground rot and it also provides proper air flow to keep diseases, fungi, and powder mildew down which results in healthier plants and can – I did say can – provide a higher crop yield.

Theoretically it also gives the plants more sun exposure. I do theoretically because it all depends also in growing this way from which direction most of your property gets the sun.

Gardening in this way also makes for cleaner and more visually appealing crops because they are not in the dirt, and are able to grow to their true shape with no flat sides or discoloration from sitting in the soil.

And growing vertical is not just trellises and such, as far as I am concerned, but hanging baskets too can be successfully employed in this and I have started growing strawberries in hanging baskets with the result that they are not attacked by slugs – they can't get to them – and not even by birds.

Swiss Chard, for instance, with its more often than not multi-colored foliage looks quite stunning in hanging baskets and if they are hung by, or near, the door you only have to step out to harvest. Same goes for herbs and spices.

Window boxes, and not only used at the windows but fixed to fences, etc., also provide a good growing space. And here you can also improvise, reuse and upcycle for the window box does not have to be a window box nor does it have to be a box at all, or not have been one originally. Thinking out of the box here helps to save money. Also, as far as trellises and other “risers” go, upcycling is very much the way to go.

Any plant that climbs, theoretically, such as cucumbers and other squashes, bean and peas, and those that can be trained to grow that way, should be led up – no, not the garden path – trellises and other such structures.

In Spanish villages one can often observe entire walls of houses with plant pots fixed to them full of all kinds of flowering plants, predominately though geraniums. The same can, however, also be done with edible plants and flowers. And why not mix your pots with crops with pots with flowering plants. Again though, as far as the crops are concerned, do not put them up too high.

I do two things in my approach to gardening. Where I can I use containers, tubs and others, on the ground or, as I am now going over to, seated on old pallets to keep them somewhat off the ground, and I grow upwards, so to speak, in hanging baskets, trellises and wall-“containers” – and that here means anything from pots in holders to window boxes screwed to the wall and the like.

If you, like me, grow beans in a large container, and do not – though I do – have access to bean poles then go the old Victorian kitchen garden way and use one pole in the middle with strings attached that are used for the bean runners to grow up on. (See picture) The Edwardians and Victorians actually, the rich houses, had for their kitchen gardens when growing beans, a special cast iron pole with attachments for the strings but something like that can easily be created by means of upcycling (as in the photo) or by using a wooden pole and attaching the strings. A number of screw in eye hooks could be used to which to attach the strings to the pole.

There are many ways to gardening vertically and this can even be employed if you use the garden itself with raised beds and the like. It gives you additional space and, again, keeps many of the crops off the ground keeping them cleaner and healthier.

For much more information that I could possibly give you in an article check out Mark Ridsdill Smith (no relation) and his Vertical Veg operation at Vertical Veg and in the group that goes with it, Vertical Veg Community on Facebook.

© 2022

America stocks logs

Red-hot firewood price fueled by energy crisis

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Americans are turning to firewood in their droves after oil and gas prices rocketed in recent months, with around 1.7MN homes expected to rely on it as their source of heating.

Stove vendors are reporting huge jumps in sales, while firewood itself is selling at up to 33% more than last year.

Around 8% of American households are expected to rely on this “rudimentary” fuel as a main or secondary heating source through winter.

I know that when it comes to the environment and emissions there are many who will now state how bad this situation is but the truth is that the only emissions, as far as CO2 is concerned, is the carbon that the tree sequestered throughout its life. No more. So, theoretically, burning wood is carbon neutral. Alas, depending on how dry the wood is, there are nano-particles in the smoke to be considered, I know.

On the other hand when we see this increase in firewood sales, in the US and probably elsewhere, we have to ask where the wood is coming from and how sustainably it has been grown, harvested and whether it comes from a sustainable operation in that the woods are maintained in a rotation.

We saw in Britain some years back that the firewood being sold came from almost untraceable operations abroad in the main, and from as far afield as Belarus. Very little was actually homegrown and harvested. Sustainable this definitely was not but imports were cheaper, as far as the sellers were concerned, than homegrown. No wonder our woods and our woodland workers and owners cannot make any money in that field.

Importing firewood logs from abroad is not sustainable, neither in the short nor the long run, but then again, as far as the UK is concerned, it makes the laws for homegrown wood fuel more and more difficult, all in attempt to make it impossible for people to heat their homes from sources outside the control of the big corporations and the state. In fact, the UK is not far off banning all wood-burning stoves altogether. They keep talking about net zero but wood fuel is – basically – net zero.

© 2022

We need to stop buying unnecessary stuff

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Our ridiculous addiction to acquiring more possessions is stuffing up the planet, so it’s time to call in the experts

Some time ago a person who was an early adopter of environmental concerns wanted a new kitchen. He asked an expert he knew from his work in woodland conservation what wood his new kitchen should be built with. He was startled to get a sharp response: “If you really care, then don't come to me asking which wood to use; ask yourself if you really need a new kitchen.”

A point well made but one that very few people take to heart and act upon and it does not just go for a kitchen. It equally well goes for the cellphone, the car, or whatever. We may want something because everyone else does want this new one but we, at least if we are truly concerned about our environmental impact, as to whether we really need it, or whether it is just a want and not a need.

People often have difficulties to differentiate between wants and needs, and this goes for all ages. While children may express a want as a need they more often actually know that they just want this new toy or whatever else simply because it is new (to them) or because Johnny down the street has one, in that they say “I want” and often add “because...” Many adults do not seem to see that the need they perceive is actually just the same a want and that they do not really need the thing they want.

While we all have to buy things for (daily) consumption, from food, to toiletries and other things, and those are real needs, more often than not, many of the things we tend to buy we do not really need but we want them.

Does one really need a new smartphone – I hasten to add I don't own one – while the old one is not even that old and works perfectly well and does all the things we use it for well? No, but many want a new one just because of the advertising promises about the new bells and whistles on the new one.

This goes for a great many things in that we always need to ask ourselves the question as to whether we really need a new one, whatever it may be, or whether it is a want and whether, if we would be honest with ourselves and everyone else, we could not actually be using the thing that we have and are using.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, is an old adage, though one from, as we would say here, across the pond, but it is,m nevertheless, a good one. Which also means if it does not need to be fixed then we could continue to use it. And, well, if it is broke we should then ask ourselves could we fix it or could it be fixed, rather than tossed and a new one bought.

There are also other occasions, and I certainly, wherever possible, try to do that, when it is a case I can buy that but I can also make that, from scrap wood or whatever other material around, including by means of upcycling “waste”. It may take some skills and a great deal more effort to make it yourself but aside from the satisfaction of being able to say “I made that” you may have prevented a great deal of carbon emissions and also stopped something going to landfill. If I can make something I am not going to buy it and there have been many, many occasions when I have employed that adage of mine. It may not be exactly as the thing in the catalog, so to speak, but it fulfills the very same purpose.

© 2022