Category Archives: peak oil

environmental point of no return?

Inspired by a tweet by the excellent @ruthvalerio yesterday, I want to address an issue that many people are mulling over.

Have we now reached a ‘point of no return’ in terms of the environment? Have we done such aggregious damage to the systems and materials of our world that it will never recover?

This is a complex question, and one which I am not really qualified to answer (not going to let a little thing like that stop me though).

Firstly let’s be clear, things will never be the same as they were. We cannot regain the world we had 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, or 1000,000 years ago. That world does not exist – it is gone, we cannot recreate it. The reality is that we have dug, drilled, exploded and concreted our way to a whole new kind of existance. So this is where we start from.

Secondly we have to recognise that the world we live in, is an eco system. We have to look at it from a macro perspective, and when we do we see a very large, complex system which we are all dependant upon, but which will almost certainly outlast each of us and has amazing ability to cope with the most attrocious treatment.

Thirdly we need to accept that way we live now is not sustainable. We are heavily dependent upon fossil fuels which we have expended incredible amounts of money upon extracting from the earth. If we are to talk about tipping point, or points of no return, then I think its fair to say that we’ve gone past such a point with oil. If we continue to treat oil like a cheap resource, then we are in trouble. The fact is that we all need to readdress our consumption patterns – our waste – and our philosophy of ‘stuff’.

Lets be clear, there are serious people talking about digging up landfill sites to get to buried caches of plastic because we’re running so short of resources. People in the waste management sector recognise the massive clanger we’ve collectively dropped, and are trying to do something about it.

But if we continue to live the way we are now, there is little point in them doing so. The only way we can change things (and I think we can change things) is to collectively choose to live differently. I think that in certain circles there are encouraging signs in this.

I’m encouraged that there is a growth within society of people looking at alternative ways of living a mainstream life. It is now acceptable in the mainstream to talk about co-housing, responsible food consumption, and so on. More people are eating less meat, more people are choosing to share accomodation rather than heat empty houses. These are good things, and I hope they become more mainstream as they really do have an impact on our environmental footprint.

However, these things alone, just like ensuring you do your recycling, are not enough. They are really only a sticking plaster on a severed limb.

The only thing that is going to reattach that limb is surgery, and that needs to come from two directions.

1) Massive and immediate remedial action needs to take place – substantial amounts of investment needs to be made into safeguarding precious resources and addressing ecological damage. Cooperative action needs to happen now to stop destruction of forests, to halt degradation of sea beds, and to put an end to greater exploitation of fossil fuel resources. The government in the Uk has recently trumpeted about a new oil field north of Scotland – (phew – more cheap petrol, what a relief!) No – stop this insanity! Halt that investment, let petrol prices go up to reflect the reality of this precious resource, that’s what will make people use less oil. Invest instead in renewable resources, and (gulp) nuclear power too – although it grieves me to say it.

2) At the same time as fixing the damage, we need to change our lifestyles. We have an addiction to stuff, and that needs to be broken. We have an addiction to oil and that needs to be broken. We have an addiction to imagining that we are the only people in the world that matter – and that really really really needs to be broken.  There are various things which need to happen to make these changes real – price increases for sure are going to be important – petrol prices will make people seek alternative forms of transport, I predict it and I also see it around me already. The western consumer mentality needs to be broken too, but that will be a harder nut to crack.

My prescription for that would be the most simple thing of all, and also the hardest.

We need to learn to love.

If we can learn to love, love those who are near and those who are further away, we might be able to pull back from the brink of ecological devastation. The world as an eco system has amazing capacity for self healing, but while we continue to ignore each other and the world around us, it is not getting the chance to do so.

If we can learn to love one another, then there is a chance. We will become less selfish, care more about the needs of others, recognise the need for self sacrifice in the interests of the greater good.

What will happen if we dont do that? Well there is a very good chance that the world as an eco system will find another way to survive, and my prediction on that is that it will involve a lot of death. Large scale desertification will occur, wars will be fought over food and water (in small ways they already are in fact) just as they have over oil.

Humans are clever creatures, we’ll find ways of allowing ourselves to continue our hyper consumer lifestyles, but it will be at a big cost – payable in blood. That or, we collectively begin to change our ways – and start to behave as if we really give a toss. We need to learn to love, need to turn away from selfishness, need to collectively repent. Either that or face the prospect of terrible loss of life, and a great deal of blood on our hands.

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Electric dreams

Ok, despite my anti-consumer credentials, I must admit that I have become a small time fan of electric vehicles.

I have become more convinced over recent months that electric cars, vans and motorcycles are an important part of a cleaner, greener future. I dont mean that we should all just jump in to electric vehicles to do the school run – there needs to be more walking and cycling generally, and better use of public transport.

One of the things I like about living where I do, is that many people dont have cars, they cant afford them. So they make better use of bikes and legs, and of buses too. I often see the kind of sights I used to only associate with trips to India and other developing nations – incongruous loads balanced precariously on push bikes. I’ve seen all kinds of things carried on handlebars and cross bars, including more than one passenger, bags of compost, vacuum cleaners and in one memorable case, a large road sign.

But reality is that we cant expect to do everything by bike or on foot, it’s simply not going to happen – and in many places we can’t always rely on public transport either.

So realistically there needs to be a ‘mixed economy’ of transport solutions – for us that involves public transport (we took the train from Grimsby to the south of France this year – great way to travel and amazingly cheap in comparison with car or train) and also some car hire (for longish car journeys where train or bus travel doesnt work for one of various reasons).

That’s why I’m basically in favour of electric  vehicles, be they motorbikes which you can charge up in your house by plugging them into to your mains supply (8p per charge, up to 30 miles range, 25mph all the way, ideal for a commute) or larger vehicles.

Certainly at the moment there are various problems with the electric vehicle industry, they are basically cost, range, speed, charging, and power generation, but I think these are on their way to being tackled.

Cost – the new cars are out for around £15,000 – £30,000 which is a lot, but as things progress prices will come down for sure. You can buy an electric scooter/motorbike for less than £1000.  Prices are bound to level out as other factors are sorted out and demand increases.

Range – the cars will go about 100 miles on a full charge, which isnt far enough for many people, although with average journeys being somewhat less than 20 miles, its surely enough for many of us. The scooters will go for about 30 miles, which is plenty for getting around town. The likelihood is that solutions will be presented before too long in the shape of places where you can simply swap out your battery, just as if you were filling up with petrol. That and better battery technology should mean range becomes less of a problem.

Speed – the electric scooters on the road are generally not getting up to 30mph, topping out about 25mph; the cars with their bigger batteries are apparently hitting 85mph+ which is pretty impressive. To be honest a push bike around town will go at about 25mph tops for a person of average fitness, wheras the scooter doesnt require any level of fitness – and will maintain its speed for the whole journey (except going up hill). So, this thing of speed is not really an issue, its simply a matter or perception and expectation.

The elephant in the room is power generation, if we’re just burning coal to power these electric vehicles then they are basically powered by fossil fuels – so what’s the difference? In the first place these vehicles are technologically advanced, and use less power than a conventional car, so in the first place they are estimate to equate in terms of emissions to the most fuel efficient of petrol/diesel cars. In the second place, the UK is rapidly developing its renewable energy sources, and before too long there should adequate to good supplies of wind power, enough to allow us to run electric vehicles at considerably less carbon cost.

The big question for me is about tax – at the moment electric scooters are tax exempt, and electric cars are considerably cheaper to tax than their petrol counterparts. But if there’s a big shift, the government are going to need to raise their vehicle tax revenue some how, and a considerable amount of the cost savings one can gain from running an electric vehicle will be cut back. There is also an issue of second hand vehicles, unless the batteries are standardised, and one is able to swap them in and out as per the above – people arent going to be keen on buying a second hand electric car as they will know the battery is likely to be pretty ropey.

So yes, I do think electric vehicles are part of the solution to our transport needs, and I think we need to invest time and money into developing them – they arent the panacea, they wont cure all ills, but they are part of the solution for sure.

Then, perhaps, we will indeed be together, forever in electric dreams.

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Permaculture Principles

If you are interested in permaculture – whether its as an approach to growing crops, or perhaps as a more general approach to life, then you will need to understand the permaculture design principles.

These are core, underlying principles which can be applied to any sphere of life, allowing us to engage with people, projects and places in a sustainable and productive way.

To get a full idea of the 12 design principles (Observe & interact; Catch & store energy; Obtain a yield; Apply self regulation & accept feedback; Use & value renewable resources & services; Produce no waste; Design from patterns to details; Integrate rather than segregate; Use small & slow solutions; Use & value diversity; Use edges & value the marginal; Creatively use and respond to change) a good starting place is this excellent site, which details the permaculture design principles, and illustrates their practical outworking.

The content of the site is based largely on the work of David Holmgren, who along with Bill Mollison (an interesting interview with him here) is credited with the co-origination of the concept of Permaculture.

I personally believe that if we were to apply these principles to a wide spectrum of our lives, particularly in the sphere of work, we would find ourselves creating more imaginative and sustainable businesses and institutions. Certainly they teach us to consume less energy, to not just accept the way things are always done, and to apply a way of thinking which works with our environment, rather than against it.

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Will farming end with peak oil?

Read this challenging article by the ever provovcative and sobering George Monbiot, and draw your own conclusions.

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How to make a ladybird house

lbh1

There have been a lot of ladybirds around this summer, which is excellent. Ladybirds are great natural pest controllers! But now autumn is drawing in, we should be remembering to provide habitat for overwintering ladybirds in our gardens, especially if we want them to come and eat aphids again next year. So you can buy ladybird houses from garden centres, at a cost of about £15, with pretty painted ladybirds on, or, you can make a ladybird house.

Guess which option I took.

Ladybirds naturally find little holes and crevices in bits of wood and stuff to hide out in, an easy way to replicate this is to drill holes into a small log, and leave said log in a nice sheltered place.

lbh3I prefer to use hand tools rather than power tools, and had to improvise a ‘vice’ which turned out to be my feet…

But as you can see, I just used an ordinary small log (nicked from a wood pile) and drilled holes around the log with a medium sized bit.

One of the interesting things about using hand drills is that it worls best when you only apply a little bit of pressure, unlike electric drills which seem to want you to push them hard. The holes need to be reasonably deep, just to keep the elements out.

lbh2

One then can place the little ladybird houses in sheltered places, I let the kids decide where to put them, I think their choices were suitable :)

We had a lot of success this summer with our ‘solitary bee hotel’ which I bought for Kel as a Christmas present last year, that proved to be quite popular with the bees, so I think we’ll probably try and make another of those.

But in the next post, I shall be telling you all about our other project of the weekend…

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Permaculture magazine

PM61I bumped into permaculture magazine recently, funnily enough its a magazine about permaculture, and associated lifestyle issues.

I must say that it really is a good read. It doesnt have that middle class smugness which is embodied by many green lifestyle mags, one of which I’ve even written for before now.

My experience of permaculture type issues is that one has to resist the temptation of looking for the ‘big’ answer. Its a very sysytem dependent way of thinking to look for ‘the expert’ to answer ones questions.

Instead we need to respect the fact that we all hold a piece of the puzzle, there are ways and ideas which work for you in your place, which might not work for me in my place, but with a bit of adaptation may prove useful.

What I found in the magazine was a really helpful amount of small contributions, people chipping in with their experience, their piece of the jigsaw. When you add this knowledge to that which you have already, you begin to see a bigger picture, one which will build and change as you go along.

The magazine bills itself as ‘inspiration for sustainable living’, and I would say that by that measure it works. It is thought and idea provoking, doesnt attempt to provide a one stop shop, or one size fits all answer, but tells a number of stories, and in those stories you can find ideas and inspiration of your own.

A good read, you can subscribe, get it from your local newsagent, you can also read more here at the editors blog, and here at the magazine portal.

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Hemp to go mainstream?

It seems like the eco-friendly fibre beloved of the environmental movement for its vigorous growing ability which make it suitable for cultivation without really needing any chemical inputs at all, is likely to take a step towards the mainstream. Hemp is a great fibre, really strong, easy to grow organically, and suited to a variety of uses, but  so far two things have got in its way.

Firstly there is the common misconception that it is all about dope, yes its the same kind of plant, but its a bit like thinking all mushrooms are hallucinogenic. This is not a plant you can smoke to get high.

Secondly, and all importantly, it is not very soft. There are lots of hemp tees and other items out there, but if they are soft its probably because they’ve been blended with cotton. Hemp has a reputation for being scratchy, which is a big shame.

The only hemp item I own are a pair of hemp sneakers, which are really good, I think the soles will go before the canvas does. The hemp canvas is very durable and I would recommend it highly.

But hemp as a mainstream fabric such as jersey is problematic… or perhaps I should say ‘was’ problematic. It seems that an enzyme based treatment is set to be applied to Hemp on a large scale which could lead to a number of leading companies taking hemp on board, which is great because it will be another way of reducing reliance on conventional cotton.

Hemp is not even as thirsty as cotton, which is another advantage, and can be grown in a variety of climates. It just needs a few more places to get to grips with the legalities of protecting hemp crops from sabotage by dope growers who sometime take advantage of the cover offered by the non drug plants to get up to no good.

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A farm for the future

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I managed to get to see ‘A farm for the future’ the first time it was shown, and thought it was great.  A really encouraging, inspiring program – perhaps a little over enthusiastic at times, but all passionate stuff should be.

It starts with a bleak look ahead at peak oil crisis time, but soon moves into a look at permaculture and the ways it can (others disagree) provide an approach for a sustainable future.

They are showing it again on BBC 2 on saturday, 5.20pm – dont miss it this time, or at least catch it on iPlayer like I did, it is great!!

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