Category Archives: environmentalism

Noah – film review

Warning this review contains spoilers of the sort that go beyond a basic knowledge of the bible story.

Russell Crowe as NoahSo let me start with a preface: I think this is the most Biblical film I have seen in a very long time, perhaps ever. It is a two hour long meditation on the nature of God and the nature of humanity.

All good myths require imagination and the power to suspend disbelief, and the Noah story is no different to that. In its original Biblical form its a retelling of some kind of universal near eastern story of a time when a great flood came. You find different versions of the same story in other texts too.

But the Hebrews used this story to not just deal with some half forgotten history, but to add to the conversation around two questions – who is God? And is humanity worth saving from itself?

That is what this new version of the old story does too.

Using plenty of imagination, as befits the telling of a myth director Darren Aronofsky conjures up an antediluvian world of almost surreal proportions. He gives the drama a dreamlike quality, in the same way that a memory highlights certain colours and textures, and fades other detail into obscurity.

He deals cleverly and subtly with the notion of how God speaks to Noah, using a combination of dream and psychotropic experiences to reveal the creator’s plans. This will surely disappoint those who prefer the Sunday school idea of such communication. However, despite its grotesque proportions, it is all the more real for that.

Another piece of re imagining comes in the casting of the Nephilim as rock bound creatures, difficult for those of us who prefer to imagine them as models of muscle bound masculinity. However, the really wonderful thing about his re imagining of these ‘Watchers’ (a term taken directly from the extra/non/orthodox canonical) text of Enoch is the way he uses them to tell their own story of love and redemption.

The great problem for those of us who read the story through an understanding of a God who is love, is the prevalence of the myth of redemptive violence. I thought that this would be a problem in the film too, that we would still have to deal with a vengeful God who wants to visit death and destruction on evil humans.

But actually the story overcomes this, and this is the great ‘arc’ of this myth, it’s Noah’s great realisation that his mission is not to see humans wiped out for their sin, and thereby to recreate the garden in its virginal purity. Instead his mission is fulfilled when he realises that the love he has in his heart is what God wants.

Aronofsky uses some license to get there, the device of the babies is his key interjection into the story, should Noah kill the children to fulfill his mission from God? When he finds he cant do so, he feels that he has failed, he becomes deeply depressed, he fears the the love he has in his heart for his grandchildren makes him weak, and of no use to God.

His epiphany comes as he realises eventually that love is his mission, his broken, loving and weak heart is what God wants. It is then that the new covenant comes into place.

Another clever addition to the story is the incorporation of Tubal Cain into the tale, he is recast not as Naameh’s brother as in the original text, but as the king, or ‘chief of the baddies’.

What he wants is to seize equality with God by force, he wants to take it – this is the fall story still in place. That man can be equal with God by eating the fruit. Tubal Cain is the antithesis to the eventual ideal type Noah.

Tubal Cain wants to recreate paradise too, but another sort of paradise, he wants to see the power of humanity dominant over nature – and this is the other great arc, the environmental theme of stewardship over dominance. Aronofsky seems to play on this heavily, and he’s right to do so, it’s a contemporary addition to the story, but one which has all the more relevance for that.

The way this works out is in Noah’s killing of Tubal Cain, another part of his supposed ‘duty’.

One final addition to the story is that of Methuselah, played as a wise ancient Shaman who has a fascination with finding berries before he dies. For all his powers, he cannot find the berry he wants, until his last moment, when God in a gift of small amounts but epic proportions reveals a berry to him, just before he meets his death.

So yes, this is a meditation on the nature of God, revealing eventually a God who is loving, who doesn’t command death and destruction, but who is misunderstood and disobeyed (obey comes from the Latin and has a close association with the word listen) by all but a few. It’s a God who grants small kindnesses, who sees into the hearts of humanity, and loves them.

And it’s a meditation on the nature of humanity, for from earth (humus) they came. It recognises humans as capable of great wickedness and of great love.

Acting wise I was impressed by everyone, except perhaps Emma Watson, who I found unconvincing. I didn’t desperately like the fight scenes, but I don’t like them usually anyway – they were however a necessary dramatic device.

It was both massively divergent from the original text, and simultaneously totally faithful to the spirit of it, and that is what makes it very very Biblical. Those who want more Biblical literalism will hate it no doubt. I thought it was excellent.

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Shirts to have faith in

I love it when a plan comes together.

We’re in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight here in the UK, and the web is full of people talking about the steps they are taking to support the principles of fairer and more equable trade.

Probably nobody thinks of Fairtrade as the be all and end all of ethical trading any more.

That idea died away when we all realised that despite the public adoption of Fairtrade as an effective guide to brands and products which are produced with ethics in mind, there remain significant issues to be overcome in terms of living wages and the sustainability of industry.

Perhaps those issues will always remain while we live and operate in the kind of economic environment that we do.

Ethical trading

From my perspective the Fairtrade movement has been very positive in many ways. It has brought the plight of slave labour in the chocolate industry to widespread public attention for instance. And the Fairtrade mark still gives a good guide with regard to where a product is at in terms of its production supply chain.

That is why I think its very good news that retail sales of Fairtrade products rose by 12%in 2011.

One of my particular interests for about 15 years has been the garment industry.

I’ve been active in one way or another in activism and campaigning in that area since my late teens. My focus initially was on the plight of garment workers, particularly as sweat shops became better publicised.

I later became very invested in the issue of organic and sustainable textile production, particularly as I began to understand that the standards applied by Organic certification agencies often demanded a great deal from employers in terms of social standards, as well as regulating the use of harmful (often lethal) chemicals.

Organic cotton in particular is a vital part of sustainable textile production. When compared with conventional cotton farming the benefits are too many to list. In part, this is why I also think its very good news that the organic clothing and textile sector recorded an increase in turnover of nearly 8% in 2011.

Challenges

Over a number of years of involvement in this area, I encountered con-men and crooked dealing, I realised that life is very hard for small companies trying to help farmers convert to organic agriculture, and I saw how farmers could be lured away from sustainable agricultural practices by the promise of quick cash.I have also seen many well intentioned businesses go to the wall, leaving their suppliers with nobody to sell to.

My own attempts to set up an organic cotton farming project have so far come to nought, but thankfully that’s not all I’m involved in.

Solutions

A couple of years ago I was contacted by a company that manufactures uniforms, something which immediately interested me. As opposed to fashion which is built to be disposable, uniforms have to be long lasting, hard wearing, and aren’t just going to be thrown away at the end of the season.

ImageOne particular clothing line came to the fore in our talks, a market leading brand of clergy shirts called Reliant.

If we could begin to transition these clergy shirts to Organic and Fairtrade cotton, could other lines follow…?

Well the road to achieving our goal proved to be a rocky one, and I think its fair to say it took longer than any of us had hoped, but at the beginning of this week I received a box in the post. A Reliant shirt, made from 100% Organic and Fairtrade certified cotton.

So in time for Fairtrade Fortnight, the new Reliant Fairtrade and organic cotton shirts are available from clergy suppliers.

I love this, love it, love it, love it.

High quality shirts, not disposable fashion, produced by people we’ve worked hard (and spent considerable time and money) to develop relationship with.

This kind of process is the ‘present-future’ of garment production, while we almost certainly need to cut back on the production of disposable fashion, we need to re-invest heavily in establishing a direct link between the field where the cotton crop was grown, and the high quality output at the other end.

It combines ancient agricultural practices guided by sunshine and rainfall, with high tech sewing operations guided by laser cut patterns.

I love it when a plan comes together.

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Cyanide and Avocet… now Romanians complain of exploitation

Hot on the heels of the news of insecurities in the supply of cyanide to Inata Gold Mine owned by London based Avocet Mining, come reports that protestors have rallied to try and prevent former Avocet CEO Jonathon Henry from mining one of the world’s largest unexploited gold reserves in rural Romania.

Gold mining companies, it seems, do not change much from place to place. Just as Avocet trumpet environmental responsibility, while their suppliers topple trucks full of cyanide briquettes into reservoirs, so Gabriel Resources, the company Jonathon Henry joined after he stepped down as Avocet CEO, talk a lot of talk about sustainable environmental behaviour, but locals aren’t convinced.

Mr Henry oversaw Avocet’s ‘withdrawal’ from their ‘misadventure‘ at Zeravshan Gold Company in Tajikistan, where… things did not quite go to plan for the mining company . Somehow though Avocet managed to emerge with a profit, while the Tajiks were left with a new Chinese owner and a pay rate 15 or 16 times less than foreign experts.

Such disparity in remuneration may also be at the heart of recent labour force ‘issues’ at Inata gold mine.

When Jonathon Henry eventually left Avocet his shoes were swiftly filled by Brett Richards, whose experience working for alleged war profiteer George Forrest’s Congolese operations mean that he is no newcomer to the vagaries of African politics. Among other things, companies owned by Forrest are claimed to have helped Angolan rebels illegally extract millions of pounds of diamonds to fund armament purchases.

But despite promises of state of the art facilities, Romanians are less than convinced by Gabriel Resources, and why would they be – according to Gabriel Resources own investigations, the area has suffered widespread environmental damage at the hands of gold miners for hundreds if not thousands of years. Rivers are polluted, ground is poisoned with various poisons, including high concentrations of cyanide, and despite local streams being too poisonous to be drinkable, most houses in the vicinity do not have indoor plumbing.

Why anyone would expect another mining company to be welcomed into such an environment is hard to imagine.

Even new facilities such as roads promised by Gabriel resources have failed to live up to expectations, crumbling beneath the wheels of motor traffic.

You can register your support for indigenous Romanian activism against cyanide based gold mining at Respect Rosia Montana, you can also follow the protest on twitter @respectRosia.

<update> This is the official site of the protest, and the official site of the petition is here.

The huge financial muscle of large scale mining operations mean that countries such as Burkina Faso or Romania where large amounts of the populations live in poverty, environmental exploitation must be fiercely resisted by outsiders as well as locals if it is to be held in check.

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Cyanide spillage in Djibo, Burkina Faso demonstrates dangers posed by Gold mining

A British mining company has been left facing tough questions over a potentially disasterous cyanide spill near Djibo, Northern Burkina Faso.

London based Avocet mining own the lucrative Inata Gold Mine, to where a truck carrying 40 tonnes of the toxic chemical was headed when it overturned beside a reservoir.

The incident which took place on the 29th of July has left Avocet and its contractors with serious questions to answer, over the safety of their operations, and the continued use of toxic substances in the processing of gold ore.

Yet despite coming close to causing catastrophic contamination to water supplies, AND the fact that it is the third of accident of its kind in recent months, the accident has been hardly reported.

Further investigations have now revealed that, incredibly, only relatively small amounts of cyanide were lost in the spill, but the accident and its aftermath have aptly demonstrated the incredible dangers posed to remote communities by the use of toxic chemicals in gold mining.

The two 20 tonne cyanide filled containers were being transported to Inata Gold Mine (around 40 km from Djibo in Northern Burkina Faso) by a subcontractor, when the truck carrying them swerved off a dam wall at the side of a reservior, and overturned.

Business as usual - Burkinabe people walk past overturned truck full of cyanide.

Following a clean-up operation overseen by worried mining company bosses, the lethal chemicals were transferred to the Inata Gold Mine, where it was discovered that the containers had indeed been damaged, and that relatively small but extremely deadly amounts of cyanide had leached out into the watercourse.

Fortunately for local people, it would seem that so far no human casualities have resulted from the spill, although numerous fish have been found poisoned, and stringent safety measures were immediately adopted by local farmers to protect precious livestock.

The real scandal is not just that this potentially disasterous incident took place, although it is in fact the third such incident to have taken place over recent months, but that so little has been said about it.

Only the children’s author and Burkina resident ‘Sahel Steve’ Davies has made any significant noise about the incident.

This is despite the fact that Avocet, which has its headquarters in London, prides itself on its CSR reputation – Avocet boasts on its website that:

“The health and safety of the Group’s employees and strict adherence to environmental compliance are of paramount importance…”

Avocet then procede to talk about the various social and development projects undertaken by the company in the region. In a report (right click ‘save as’) released by Colin Belshaw, general manager of Inata Gold Mine, the finger is squarely pointed at the Korean company Samsung, who are responsible for transport of the chemicals, and their local subcontractor Vehrad Transport. Mr Belshaw also opines that strong sunlight and local flooding should mitigate against the effects of the spill.

One might perhaps expect more from a business which apparently prides itself on its health and safety and wider CSR record. Particularly one might at least expect it to be a bit better at communicating with local residents affected by such a spillage via governmental news outlets – but that is not so according to Steve Davies who reports:

“Now, nearly three weeks after the accident, an uneasy calm has returned to Djibo. Lots of dead fish have been found but to date no humans have died from contact with contaminated water. So public opinion has settled on the theory that only a small amount of cyanide leaked out. This is being inferred from the lack of poisoned people piling up in hospital corridors. There has been no communication from the municipal authorities.”

Journalist Hyacinthe Sanou writing for allafrica.com points out:

“…une réaction officielle, pour rassurer et surtout sensibiliser la population, n’aurait pas non plus été de trop.” (An official reaction, to reassure and educate the local people, should not have been too much to ask.)

Avocet will yet need to work harder, much harder, if it seriously wishes to be seen as having higher ethical standards than other mining companies, such as the scandal hit Rio Tinto (for whom Avocet’s Executive Director A M Norris used to work).

Some will doubtless be left feeling that the truth is that in a remote area like Northern Burkina Faso, where foreign correspondants and share holders are thin on the ground, and where one mine can produce almost 240,000 ounces of gold per year (almost half of the company’s ambitious total annual target output of 500,000 ounces) public relations are not such a big priority.

There are also questions to be answered about their use of cyanide, which is famously toxic, but in mining terms also remarkably cheap. Funnily enough, no mention is made of the chemical on the company’s website, but it is used in the extraction of gold from the ore.

In 2000 a large cyanide spill at the Baia Mare Gold Mine in Romania caused massive scale pollution of water courses, leading it to be known as the worst environmental disaster in Europe since Chernobyl.

This and other environmental disasters have now led to cyanide being banned from the gold processing industry, first in Hungary and more recently in Bulgaria too.  So far as I know however, there is no great campaign against the use of the killer chemical in less wealthy/ developed/ media savvy parts of the world.

I would urge you to read Steve’s report and share it – this kind of life and death situation is the price others pay for western gold consumption, we need to be ready to hold producers such as Avocet to account for their standards of behaviour.

Please make sure you visit Steve’s site, and please repost, tweet and generally publicise this news in any way you can – public scrutiny leads to demands for higher standards. Public ignorance means companies can potentially get away with murder.

I have asked Avocet for a statement on this situation, and will publish their reply.

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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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more low tech wonder

Just breaking my own holiday based embargo (I depart tomorrow – hooray) to mention some marvelous stuff again on Low Tech magazine’s site. This time its stationary bicycle based, absolutely wonderous.

Start here, then go here, and finish here.

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2011/05/pedal-powered-farms-and-factories.html

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Vaude win award

The outdoor sports company Vaude has just been honoured for their commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

To be honest, I have been quite impressed by the commitment shown by a number of outdoor sports companies, to social and environmental responsibility. Patagonia are an obvious ‘name’ which has pushed the environmental agenda, Rohan are another big company which is making serious strides in that area too, and there are a number of others which can also claim to have pretty decent environmental cred.

But I am particularly impressed by Vaude, a German company whose reputation for social and environmental responsibility throughout their design and production is pretty much impeccable.

As I say, they have just scooped another award or two, this time at the ISPO, an industry trade show in Munich. They won an overall award for their company wide social/eco activism in regards to their production, and a product award for the Vaude Blue One tent – which is a two man tent I think, I’ve yet to see one. All I really know is that it’s made of a poly cotton, which is 65% organic cotton and 35% recycled polyester (PET1).

They are a pretty impressive company, the sort of people who remind you that there is really no excuse for other companies of a similar nature not to be walking the same path. Among other things they say about themselves:

“VAUDE is mindful in its dealings with people and the environment. Due to our constant inner reflection and unwavering idealism, we are quick and courageous to seek out contact with contemporary subjects and explore our own potential – leading to stories worthwhile in their making.”

Sport equipment and clothing is high specification stuff, the good stuff lasts a long time we still have a Vaude rucsac that has been going strong for some time, a veteran of a number of overland expeds and other voyages – other cheaper rucsacs have not fared so well. If you are buying new, which I accept with this kind of clothing or equipment is often the most effective way (ahem – unless you go on ebay – ahem) – then buying from the most responsible producer you can is important. Check out the maker before you buy, and dont let yourself be glitzed by the fashionable looks of a particular jacket or piece of kit, that look will be old in a year or two’s time, while the item itself should have many years of life in it.

So well done Vaude, I’m genuinely impressed. I have asked for more info about the Blue One tent, and if and when I get it, I shall share it.

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should I care-less about going car-less?

Can we manage to live without a car?

Every month Kel and I have a ‘beginning of the month meeting’ – at a local coffee shop, where we discuss issues to do with our work and life in general. Top of the agenda at that meeting today, was the question of the car.

For a long time we’ve discussed the idea of going car-less. We’ve never quite plucked up the nerve to go for it, despite our supposed green credentials. There have always been too many cons opposing the pros – however I think the likelihood that petrol will soon reach £1.30 a litre, aligned with the need for a new cam-belt, the loud scraping noise we hear whenever we go over a bump, the need for a full service and the impressive  and growing collection of dents which adorn each and every surface of the car, from the roof to the bonnet, and each and every door  – have tipped the balance.

I’m half excited, half worried about the idea of getting rid of the car, concerned about the practicalities of doing the things we are used to doing with a car, but pleased at the idea of getting rid of the main thing which impacts upon our carbon footprint.

Realistically, the car is a burden, not just on the environment, but a financial burden too – we pay £100 per month just on insurance, plus tax, fuel, repairs – it adds up to a lot of money, and we scarcely use it, I think we make approximately three journeys a week, which means that if we pay roughly £40 per week on the car, we are paying approximately £12 per journey. Equivalent (return) bus journeys are about £2.50 per adult – the occasional taxi ride would be quite pricey, but pretty unusual. I personally do most of my around town commuting by bike anyway. Longer journeys will be more of a challenge, particularly with rail travel costs rising, but I think the savings we accrue should allow for a hire car when absolutely necessary.

It feels somehow like a backward step – and yet a step forward at the same time, I’m sure lots of other people manage very well without a car, its just not something I feel comfortable with yet. So, if you have any special tips or reccomendations about going car-less, please do share, and when we do make that final decision – which will have to be soon – I’ll share the details here. So that’s something for you to look forward too…

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Tirupur Dye Houses closed

Tirupur in India is one of the world’s centres for clothing production. Sitting next to the city of Coimbatore, Tirupur is a place I have visited on a number of occasions, to visit factories, print shops, dye houses and so on.

Principally Tirupur is home to knit wear factories, they make tee-shirts and other knitted cotton items, many of which find their way to high street chains here in the UK.You may be wearing something right now that was made in Tirupur.

Certainly if you buy from shops like supermarkets or the larger chain stores, then there is a very good chance you have items which were made in Tirupur. But as well as being home to a few high standard production units, Tirupur has also struggled in recent years, with a reputation for production facilities which are not what they could be – or should be. Where workers are, if not necessarily mistreated (although sometimes that is the case), then not given the respect or conditions that they deserve. This is not a malice thing, it is about costs. If you are looking at saving a few cents on each garment, then you arent going to spend as much on your workforce, or their workplace.

Hand in hand with this kind of treatment of humans, has gone harsh treatment of the environment. One of the most environmentally damaging aspects of the clothing supply chain is the dye process – because of the scale of production, the dye plants are huge things, with massive amounts of chemicals used on a daily basis. The usual process for the kind of fabric which teeshirts are made of, is Jet dyeing, where fabric is zoomed through a process where jets of hot water containing dye and other chemicals are pumped into them – this process uses large amounts of electricity, steam and of course the chemicals themselves.

The problem comes of course, not so much in the dyeing process itself, which is energy intensive but contained,  but in the disposal of effluent.  There has to be an issue of effluent after the dying process, and it will necessarily contain, among other nasties, large quantities of salt – as anyone who has dyed a piece of fabric at home will know.

The cheapest way of getting rid of such effluent is to dump it in a water course, and that is what most operators do, they simply pump their polluting effluent into nearby rivers. This kind of pollution has meant that the agricultural land in the area has been badly affected by pollution and salination over a number of years.

Attempts have been made to set this right, plants have been prosecuted and closed down, even the British government got involved (they realised we import 90%+ of our clothes, and recognised we have some responsibility to the producers) and for a while Tirupur began to be held up as an example of ‘best practise’. Levels were set to regulate the amount of salt in effluent, to try and protect the surrounding farmland, and it all seemed to be going in the right direction.

Not for long of course.

This week comes the news that Madras high court has ordered over 700 dye plants to be shut down – yes, 700. The local electricity board has begun to shut off power to those who have failed to comply with the order. The reason is that the level of salt in the effluent discharged into the local water courses is too high. Once again farmland has been terribly damaged by discharge of salt – and its the dye houses which are to blame.

As it stands the 700 plants are on shut down, thousands of jobs which go with that are at risk or already lost – suppliers will not be getting their materials, clothing supply will be affected. Farmland is polluted and will not produce a proper harvest this year, and meanwhile people continue to buy cheap clothes because they dont see the link.

I actually feel rather sorry for the dye house owners and operators, they are in a hard world, trying to provide a service against very tight price demands – I genuinely feel that we, the consumers and producers are not really being fair on them.

I feel that at the centre of it all, it’s our consumption that is driving this pollution problem, it’s our quest for a bargain that is putting lives and livelihoods at risk, and it’s our choices which have meant that today many poor people stand on the brink of ruin.

So yes, 700 dye houses are closed today, and I’m sorry to have to tell you that it is pretty much our fault.

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