Thursday, 29 December 2011

Happy New Year

I would like to wish you and yours all a very Happy New Year.

2011 has been an interesting year for EcoWarriorMe. For various reasons I have been able to find more time to get involved various activities and campaigns over the past year and I have had the pleasure of meeting many like minded people.

It has been satisfying to see some little victories and progress on some issues along the way but there is a long way to go. Unfortunately there have also been disappointments such as the lack of progress at COP17 and the failure of the UK government to develop a coherent environmental policy.

In 2012 I plan to continue campaigning for wildlife conservation, sustainable resource use and development, social justice and related issues. Many of the environmental issues that we face have an international dimension, whether it be pollution of the air, seas or cross-border rivers, climate change or the activities of multinational corporations and I will continue to support campaigns targeting these issues but I want to focus more on local issues over the next year. Trying to get our own house on order so to speak.  This will involve trawling through ideas from other communities to see what may work here, which is where I hope the international network of twitter contacts comes in.

So with that, it's out with the old and in with the new.

All the best for 2012.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll be your pint stowp,
And surely I’ ll be mine,
And we’ll drink a richt guid willy waught,
For auld lang syne.


We twa hae run aboot the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wandered monie a wearie fit’,
Since auld lang syne.

[chorus ]

We twa hae paidled in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine
But seas a’tween us braid hae roared
Since auld lang syne,

[chorus ]

And here’s a hand my trusty fere
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Bag it, Bin it or Don't

I took my 6 year old daughter Christmas shopping the other week. We went to Lush, the hand made cosmetics company, looking for a gift for her mother. She was in heaven: the bright colours, the smells, the glitter and the pretty shapes of the soaps and bath bombs. There was no difficulty in choosing a gift for mother (especially one she might share), the only problem was deciding to stop!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Tigers: A Massive Thank You - But Can You Do a Little More?

A message from Tiger Time:

Dear TigerTime Supporter
Thanks to you, our petition calling on China to ban the tiger trade has rocketed past 26,000 signatures in just a few days – and it’s still climbing!  So often this year we’ve seen ‘people power’ achieving real change in so many walks of life.  We are absolutely committed to ending the tiger trade and to saving the tiger in the wild.  It’s your support that will make this possible and we greatly appreciate it.
Today in a leading British Newspaper (The Daily Express) this article (pictured) about Tiger Farms was published.  To read it in more detail click here. Our message is spreading and thanks to you we are making inroads. Thanks so much for your support – it means the world to us.  
A lot of people have asked what more they can do to help in this vital battle.

Wind farms blight the Landscape

Are wind farms a blot on the landscape?

Hills with sheep and wind turbines

What are those white things over there? Oh, they're sheep.

New Nuclear for Somerset

Earlier this week EdF Energy announced the preferred bidder for the £100 million contract for site preparation works at one of the first sites for a new nuclear power station: Hinkley Point C in Somerset. The work is subject to satisfying planning conditions but includes site preparation, excavation and installation of construction site infrastructure to allow main construction to begin. They also announced an agreement with AREVA in relation to the early design work for the main reactor systems, which will allow AREVA to begin the work in January.

The following day they welcomed decisions by the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to issue an Interim Design Acceptance Confirmation, and the Environment Agency to issue an Interim Statement of Design Acceptability, for the EPR Pressurised Water Reactor. This is the same basic reactor design that has proven problematic at Flamanville in France.The new reactor at Flamanville is estimated to be about 4 years late and almost double the original price.

With these developments, it looks like full speed ahead for the new generation of nuclear power stations, despite concerns resulting from the Fukushima meltdown.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Sea Levels are Rising

I had a discussion on rising sea levels this afternoon and I was given a link to a article by an accredited scientist based on actual observations (  This sounds promising I thought, he appears well placed to comment on this topic, lots of experience and involvement with the sea level commision of an international resaerch union, the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA).

Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner is the head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden. He is past president (1999-2003) of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution, and leader of the Maldives Sea Level Project. Dr. Mörner has been studying the sea level and its effects on coastal areas for some 35 years.

But all is not as it seems.  Despite the INQUA credentials quoted, INQUA do not agree with Mörner's findings, in fact they tend to agree that sea levels are rising, from their web page:

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Rest and be Thankful, but not about Climate Change

At seven o'clock this morning around 100 tonnes of debris fell on to the A83 near the Rest and be Thankful in Argyll.  The alternative route is between 30 and 50 miles longer depending on how much you need to double back at either end.  Similar landslips have happened on the A83 before but only recently, in 2007, 2009 and now in 2011, all preceded by periods of prolonged heavy rain.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Time to End Tiger Farming

Chinese Tiger Farm

China is allowing people to ‘farm’ tigers in ‘battery hen’ like conditions and to trade their skins and body parts. I find this totally unacceptable and have signed the petition at which is part of the TigerTime campaign.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Poaching: Demand and Supply

Over the past month I've tweeted frequently and blogged on water and sanitation, conservation of rhinoceros and tigers and solar electricity feed-in-tariffs, all of which are important issues in themselves but perhaps more important are the links between them.

China is now the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels as a direct result of our drive to reduce carbon emissions, for example by using subsidies such as the UK's feed-in-tariff system. This is part of the exponential growth in manufacturing in China and south east Asia to satisfy our demand for cheaply  manufactured products with off-shore carbon footprints. This growth has created many wealthy individuals, some of whom are using their newly found disposable income for the purchase of traditional medicines such as rhino horn and tiger parts. Of course such remedies do not work, but that knowledge hasn't stemmed demand.

Crossing the Indian Ocean to Africa and we find many people trapped by abject poverty. The rains have failed again; there is no harvest. This is the sharp end of climate change. There is no manufacturing and the wealth of mineral natural resources are being plundered by multinationals with only corrupt officials seeing any benefit. Desperate people will do desperate things. They know they may be shot and killed of caught poaching rhinos or elephants but the promise of rich rewards is too much. In a way, the poachers themselves are victims, similar  to drug mules. Catching them will only allow another desperate person to take their place. They need a viable alternative, opportunities to support themselves and their families. Improving security of water is a major step towards self sustaining communities.

To tackle poaching, therefore, we need to tackle both sides of the equation: we need to remove the desperation that leads people down the road to poaching and we need to remove the demand from those that can afford to buy the products.  This first can be achieved by supporting organisations such as WaterAID that are investing in infrastructure that will improve health, quality of life and sustainable communities that are less dependent on aid and through education regarding more sustainable ways to make a livelihood.  The second can be achieved through raising awareness that the products don't work medicinally and by applying pressure at government level to ensure all signatories of CITES are doing there utmost to prevent the trade. In addition, consumers can apply pressure by avoiding products, such as subsidised solar panels, manufactured in countries, such as China, which permit the trade in body parts of endangered species and participate in the campaign to ban the tiger trade.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Tell the Chinese to stop trading Tigers

I’ve just spent a few seconds signing up to a vital petition that will help save the last 3,200 wild tigers on earth. Will you help the cause by doing the same?

When I first heard that there are only 3,200 wild tigers left, I was totally shocked. To put it in perspective, it means that all the wild tigers left on earth could all fit on just one soccer pitch. Added to this, we are losing them to poachers at a rate that means they will become extinct within a very few years.

The TigerTime campaign team need your help to save them.

The Chinese trade in tiger parts is one of the most serious threats to the wild tiger. The Chinese government says that it is committed to saving the wild tiger. However, it is continuing to allow the trade in tiger parts and skins from tigers bred in so called ‘tiger farms’. We think that the practice of ‘farming tigers’ is barbaric and should be stopped. Additionally, this trade is the perfect smokescreen for the continued poaching of wild tigers.

Please, urge others to sign our petition at and pass this request on to as many people as they can by forwarding this email. China is a powerful country so we need as many signatures as possible to make them listen.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Time to pull the plug on dirty water

WaterAid charity says global efforts
to increase access to clean water
ignore those most in need

Sanitation leads to cleaner, healthier water, leads to less disease and pollution, leads to less medical aid and vibrant self-sustaining communities, leads to better quality of life and a more just society.

We can't be having that can we?

No. We need to give the aid to countries that can afford to improve their own sewerage systems. That way they can use their money to buy goods and services supplied by more developed countries such as those in Europe and the US, to help stimulate the economy. We will probably ask them to use the aid money to buy design and construction services from the donor country. And let's face it: we don't want to be sending our people into countries that don't even have running water, do we?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Conservation, or not?

"@EcoWarriorMe Is it time to give up on tigers and pandas? > I hope not."

According to an article in this morning's Independent, "A majority of professional conservationists believe it is time to consider shifting efforts away from some of the world's most famous species, such as the panda, to concentrate on others which have a greater chance of success.

Should we be more selective in our efforts? What animals should we choose? By what measure will we evaluate which lives and which dies out?

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Legacy of Extraction

When materials extracted from the earth we are creating a dangerous legacy for future generations.  Although not unique, Coal is the biggest culprit over large areas of the UK.  With several new proposals for adopting a new, relatively untried extraction process, it is worth thinking about the legacy of mining. There are many fundamental differences between hydraulic fracturing or fracking and any of the deep coal mining techniques but that does not mean that similar problems could not occur.

Problems such as subsidence and pollution may not be evident for years, decades or even centuries.  The older mines are the most troublesome in terms of subsidence as there are little or no remaining records of precisely where coal was worked and they are often at shallower depth, where the effect of collapsing mines is more severely felt at the surface.  Information technology should allow decent records of the boreholes used for fracking and the approximate extents of land affected as long as the digital records don't become obsolete - imagine they were stored on 5.25" floppy disks!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Solar Electricity Tariffs

"Homeowners will have to spend more to qualify - - but we do need to prioritise." @EcoWarriorMe

The recent announcement by the government to cut feed-in tariffs for solar electricity generated by householders has quite rightly faced heavy criticism. Installation of solar panels under the scheme has led to significant growth in the sector, creating employment as well as green electricity. Changing the goal posts at short notice jeopardises this genuinely sustainable economic growth but it also undermines confidence in any future initiatives.

Another part of the changes to the feed-in tariff is to restrict the scheme to homes that are already energy efficient but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

"Some 86% of the UK’s homes do not meet the ‘C’ energy rating standard that properties will need to qualify for the feed- in tariff"  The Guardian

In homes with a poor energy rating, it is cheaper to implement energy saving measures than to overall solar panels and the carbon reduction for a unit cost is significantly greater. Measures that can be taken start at a few pounds to draft proof windows and doors to several thousand to install double glazing with many options in between.

Part of the problem is that cost savings to the consumer ar
e only the marginal unit cost of gas our electricity (i.e. the cheaper rate on your bill) compared with a feed in tariff that is set at about three times the retail electricity cost, now reducing to one and a half times the cost.

A new scheme, The Green Deal, is due to start next November. As out stands this will allow people to take out loans for energy efficiency measures and pay them back with cost savings on energy but out still falls short of the feed-in tariff of paying more than the cost of energy saved.

A payment to not use as much energy may be the answer but it would undoubtedly fire up the climate change sceptics.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Energy Market Reform

There has been a lot of discussion recently about rising domestic energy prices and competition failures in the market, most recently the figures published by Ofgem on the profit made per customer by the big six energy suppliers. While these snapshot figures may not be particularly helpful in telling the whole story, they certainly reveal enough to raise the issue to the top of the agenda.

The market is poorly functioning and there is too much complexity, lengthy tie-ins on the best deals and better deals for new customers.  This is an inevitable consequence of different suppliers selling essentially an identical product, with price being the only comparison.  The lights aren't brighter with electricity from one supplier compared with another, only cheaper or dearer.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Along Came a Spider

It is that time of year where spiders start migrating indoors, getting themselves stuck in the bath, climbing the wall or running across the bedroom ceiling. Do they creep you out or do you like them? They are one of nature's helpers fulfilling a valuable role in managing the population of common pests in the garden during the summer so lets not be too hard on them when the seek sanctuary.

Legend has it that a spider was the unlikely inspiration for Robert the Bruce seven centuries ago while hiding in a cave in exile.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Coal plan legal challenge fails

Coal plan legal challenge fails
A legal challenge to plans for a new coal fired power station in the Ayrshire coast has been rejected. The challenge regarded the national planning framework that defined a need for a power station, which effectively means that planning permission can not be rejected by the local planning department. In reality, all that the local planners can do is attach conditions to that permission.

There are other, better ways of reducing our emissions such that we wouldn't need this power station but it is hard to make profit from them and our politicians don't want to be on duty when the lights go out.

The proposal does talk of carbon capture and storage as part of the scheme but, unfortunately, it is surrounded by weasel words - "if that technology can be proven". Given the burden of proof for climate change and the fact that CCS has not been attempted at full scale, and recent developments at Longannet cast doubt on whether it can be proven in the necessary timescale. I'm not a huge fan of carbon capture and storage as a solution to the problem of discharging climate changing gases as a lot of energy is likely to be used to develop the storage solutions and to transport the gases to appropriate storage locations. More on this later.

From a logistical perspective, the site is not too bad for a power station - located between the coal terminal and a nuclear power station it is well placed for fuel delivery and electricity export infrastructure. The coal won't need to be hauled across the country as is currently done for Longannet.

If the development does go ahead, I believe that the following requirements are essential:

  • carbon sequestration is integral to the scheme - despite my misgivings, it is better than nothing;
  • the power station should be capable of taking waste organic material as part of the fuel mix, e.g. forestry waste, non-recyclable domestic waste, etc;
  • the emissions are clean and safe - no sulphur, dioxins etc, especially when mixed fuels are used;
  • it is designed to the highest achievable efficiency standards and that fuel consumption can be reduced when oputput is reduced;
  • serious consideration is given to exporting waste heat to the local town of Fairlie;
  • cooling waters are not allowed to cause thermal pollution of the sea; 
  • waste materials are managed on site or re-used
  • there is no increase in road traffic as a result of operating the power station.
I'm sure there are many other issues, but that's enough to get started.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Banish the Plastic Bags

The following has been taken in its entirety from the government e-petition site:

Banish the Plastic Bags

Responsible department: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

17 billion plastic bags a year are given to British consumers. The average Briton accepts 5 times a weeks. 200 million tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide and 10 % ends up in the ocean. When plastic bags get into the ocean they can entangle, suffocate and even kill marine animals. Plastic doesn't biodegrade, it just breaks up into smaller pieces . The number of plastic bags issued by UK supermarkets in the past year has risen by 333 million. Plastic bags are becoming a big problem and there are better solutions! Instead we should have reusable cotton bags/ recyclable paper bags/biodegradable starch based bags. Banish the bags and go with reusable/ biodegradable ones instead! If we want to cut the amount of waste sent to landfill this is the big step forward.. .

If you are a UK citizen or resident, please sign this petition to the British Government. 100,000 signatures required to get it debated in parliament.

Please sign and share as widely as possible on twitter, facebook, google+ and in real life. Thanks.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Weekly Refuse Collections

Despite the austerity measures we currently face, the government has miraculously found £250 million to encourage local authorities to reinstate weekly refuse collections in England.

There is, apparently, a huge public outcry about the change to fortnightly collections. Certain parts of the press have been stirring up scare stories about rubbish piling up on our streets for weeks, giving off bad smells and attracting vermin. Not only is a concern, it is also an election issue according to the Daily Mail.

Many years ago, our council changed from twice weekly collections to weekly collections and similar stories were spun but were never realised. At that time the bins were changed from small metal bins that the bin men carried to the truck and emptied to larger bins with single use removable liners, starting a trend of producing plastic bags with a single use-putting it in the bin.

I don't know the details of individual fortnightly bin collections around England, but the new fortnightly system in Glasgow gives people a greater awareness of the amount of waste that they generate. Combine this with the greater variety of material that can now be recycled and people are forced to be more careful about maximising their recycling. And so far I haven't noticed a pong nor seen any rats (of the four legged variety at least).This can only be a good thing.

Some people may find this heightened awareness uncomfortable - forced to accept that they are part of the problem and that it isn't just other people to blame. Then there is the extra effort required to separate their waste. Why, when it can just be buried and forgotten about? Is this the real story, uncomfortable truths that readers of the newspapers wouldn't pay to read? Or are people happy to do their bit and it is only the papers looking for something easy to fill column inches?

There is as very real concern that returning to weekly collections will be a step backwards, leading to more waste to landfill and less recycling, combined with increase fuel use for the extra collections. There is also the issue of where the money will come from, or what else it could be spent on to better effect.

If the government did have a spare £250 million lying around to spend on the environment, it could spend it on cavity wall and loft insulation for half a million homes (based on Energy Saving Trust cost estimates) lifting them out of fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions.  If part of the associated energy saving is then used to insulate further homes then a significant reduction could be made to the estimated seven million households in fuel poverty in the UK.

Unfortunately, the reality is that those in most need of help to escape fuel poverty are those least likely to vote Conservative, while those that grumble about having to sort the recycling could be persuaded.  

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Biggest Challenges

Over the past couple of I weeks I've been asking new followers what they perceive as the biggest challenges we face. There has been a spread of topics reflecting the diverse range of interests in the environment including:

  • Human stupidity/politics/corruption
  • Pollution
  • Water shortages
  • Food shortages
  • Floods & unpredictable weather
  • Global Warming
  • Population
  • Methane
  • Poor urban environments
Thanks to all of you who contributed, posts are below in acknowledgement.  If you would like to add your thoughts on the biggest challenges faced by humanity and planet earth, the please either tweet me @EcoWarriorMe or comment below.

In my opinion, there have been a couple of omissions so far: energy and poverty.  Are they too obvious, or not really that important?

Global warming, landfill toxins, water shortages, and Congress.

The biggest challenge is human stupidity. Man regularly makes horrible mistakes, from war to can't be bothered urban environments. Thanks ff

Sci&tech 2 use Earth's true potential available now, easily sustain 4X R 8 billion population. 1problem=unbridledcorpr8govmntcorruption!

Drought, unpredictable weather worldwide, disrupting global food supplies and economies; not just water, a range of ecological problems

Biggest challenge? convincing the politicians that the earth won't wait for them to stop pussy footing around about reducing co2 emisisons


 I think the biggest challenge we face is large scale water shortages as well as environmental degradation due to pollution, u?

mans greed and cruelty 2 of mine I ask 4 no quarter and expect none! Hoka Hey  

Good question. After climate change and peak oil? I'd say sustainability of food and farming...

Stormwater management... As storms become more erratic and unpredictable, America needs to understand the importance finding solutions.

too much methane

managing resources politely worldwide, cleaning our waters & ensuring polluting companies clean their environmental aftermath

Thanks for the follow. For answer, why not check out "an earth activist manifesto" on my action for the earth blog

Sunday, 4 September 2011

What one thing could you do to save the planet?

Why is it so hard to get people motivated on climate change?

When it came to the hole in the ozone layer, people stopped buying deodorant with CFCs, manufacturers changed to less harmful propellants, international agreements were signed and now the chemicals most detrimental to atmospheric ozone have been effectively consigned to the history books.  By stopping CFCs entering the atmosphere, further increases in the size of the ozone hole are prevented, the atmospheric CFCs are relatively short lived and the results can be measured.

When out became apparent that the trade in ivory posed a very real threat to the survival of elephants and rhinoceros, campaigns to end the trade led to formation of CITES and a significant international effort to prevent poaching. It is still not a perfect system but out has made a significant difference and there is a much greater awareness of the consequence of buying produce derived from endangered species. By reducing demand through education and increasing the difficulty of obtaining ivory through protection measures, the number of animals needlessly killed has reduced. Again, this can be easily measured and the results correlated with the action.

But climate change is a different class of problem. The causes are pervasive, the solutions opaque and, due to time lags inherent in the system, the results of our actions will not be measurable for decades. It may even fall into that particular class of problems that have no solution; I sincerely hope not.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Oxfam Food Price Spike Map

I saw this and wanted to share it with you. I think it gives a good illustration of the consequences of our broken food production and distribution systems.

Get Adobe Flash player

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Beacon

Ben Lomond, 974m, 3194ft
Beinn Laomainn, "The Beacon Hill"

Sitting on the peak of Ben Lomond at 974m above sea level[1] it is difficult to imagine how climate change will affect this, the most southerly Munro[2], and the surrounding landscape. The rock beneath me has hardly changed for thousands of years. That does not mean that it has never changed nor ever will by both natural processes and, increasingly, human activity.

The Islands of south Loch Lomond, from the summit of Ben Lomond
The name comes from the gaelic word for "beacon" but the origins of this name are lost in the mists of time. Perhaps fires were once lit on its summit, linking it with a network of similar beacons throughout Celtic Britain, or it may simply be due to its prominence, visible over large areas of the lowlands - a symbol of what lies beyond.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Where less packaging is more...

Do you take milk?

We do. And we recently came across a new way to buy it and to save the environment. No more plastic bottles or Tetra-Paks...

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Age of Plastic

This is why we need to reduce the amount of plastic we use and then to recycle ALL our waste plastic, not just the limited few.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Why can't we recycle more?

I began writing this a couple of weeks ago, about Glasgow City Council's inability to implement a half decent recycling scheme but didn't quite get around to finishing and posting it.  Since then, there have been signs of improvement, which I'll come on to after outlining the situation in the recent past.


Glasgow likes to think of itself as the ‘Dear Green Place’ but it is unfortunately far from Green. Although the city is being promoted as a hub for renewable energy with both Scottish Power and Scottish & Southern Energy locating their renewable energy divisions in the city, the city recycles less than 16% of domestic waste. An assessment of the UKs twenty largest cities,shown below, ranked Glasgow as the 19th most sustainable city overall and 20th in terms of recycling, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that is last place.  With the UK being one of the poorest nations in Europe at recycling, the comparison is grim.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The War Effort

In a recent post to the renewable-energy Yahoo group, a post compared the production of aircraft during World War II with the manufacture of wind turbines in order to achieve 100% renewable energy in the US.  It is a fitting comparison since the threat from global warming is every bit as serious a threat to our way of life as Hitler was.  If only it was as visible as a line of tanks crushing everything before them as they trundled through Europe then the powers that be would be motivated to take action rather than talk around the issue.  The same media that denies global warming would support measures to tackle it for fear of being unpatriotic and thus motivate mass participation in carbon reduction programmes.

Back to the original quote:

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Population Time Bomb

It is so obvious nobody will talk seriously about it.  If the global population continues to grow at current rates, food shortages will be more common, food prices will rise steeply and there will be greater pressure on the few remaining wildernesses to be cleared for agricultural use.  The United Nations have raised their concerns with current fertility rates, indicating that fertility rates need to drop below replacement levels.

In the UK, the population is growing at its fastest rate since the post war baby boom. In recent years there have been recommendations by organisations such as the General Registrars Office in Scotland for pronatalist policies to increase fertility in order alleviate future problems of an aging population.  If developed nations, which already consume much more than their fare share of global resources can't slow down, what hope is there elsewhere?

Monday, 13 June 2011

There's Power in Nature

The West of Scotland has seen one of the wettest Mays on record, with over double the average rainfall, and June looks to be heading the same way. Not a good omen for hiking and camping in Argyll with children but we persevered. To a point.

Our first ambition was to climb the second lowest Munros, Ben Vane, which at 915m just makes it onto the list of Scotland's 3000 ft mountains.  We started out from the National Park's Visitor Centre at Inveruglas and hiked up access track leading to the hydro electric dam at Loch Sloy before starting up the mountain itself.  After a total of two hours walking in persistently heavy rain, with little prospect of improvement or of a view at the top we had enough of nature and turned back.

While the outcome for the day was disappointing, it did show why this is such a good place for a hydro-electric scheme.  It is no surprise that over a third of Scotland's renewable electricity comes from hydro schemes, some dating back to the early 1900s, with the most recent large scale power station, Glen Doe, coming into (and back out of) service in 2009.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Aralkum Desert

Once the 4th largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea has reduced to only 10% of its original size in under 50 years due to over abstraction of water in the rivers which feed the sea.  The world's newest desert, the Aralkum, has formed as a consequence, leaving fishing villages many miles from the coast and fishing boats stranded in the desert.  The once thriving fishing industry is gone, along with twenty out of twenty four indigenous species. Dust, sand and salt from the now exposed sea bed are stirred up by the wind, causing high levels of respiratory illness.

The images paint a very powerful picture of the impact that we can have on nature.

The decision to abstract water for irrigation from the two principle rivers which feed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, was well intentioned - part of the Soviet era campaign to turn nature to mankind's use and to provide an opportunity to develop agriculture on an industrial scale, to elevate the peasantry and create a manufacturing industry in what was considered a backward part of the state.

But the cotton has not been the source of prosperity that was hoped for, at least not for the producers. Uzbekistan, on the south side of the Aral Sea, is the world’s third-largest exporter of cotton but the industry is state-controlled. The price paid to growers is set by the government: in 2009 it was 3p per kilo, compared to the international market rate, which hit a historic high of £1.45 per kilo. During the cotton harvest, schools close down and it has been estimated that half of the Uzbek cotton exported has been picked by children.  The cotton is all that there is, so to stop irrigating the crop and allow more water to flow to the Aral Sea would be to impose even greater hardship on already impoverished and desperate people.

The coast of the Aral sea is split between Uzbekistan and Kazakstan with the Amu Darya, also known as the Oxus, flowing in to the sea through Uzbekistan in the south and the Syr Darya flowing in to the north east of the sea from Kazakstan.  This has resulted in political frictions between the two former Soviet republics over how best to address the problems, or whether there even are any problems.  Greatest progress has been made in the north, where a dike has been constructed to allow part of the sea to become deeper, thus reducing the proportion of water lost to evaporation - if the water is very shallow it would heat up more and there would be greater evaporation for a given surface area.  This process could be repeated, building further dikes incrementally to expand the sea but this will take decades.

In the southern Aral Sea, there is little political will to remediate the damage done and in a new twist, the Uzbeks have begun oil prospecting on the former sea bed.

The formation of the Aralkum Desert has been man's doing, of that there is no doubt, and it may be an extreme example of the damage we can do in only two or three generations but it is not the only example. Do you know where the cotton that you are wearing cotton originated?  It is much more difficult to trace its origins than it is for foodstuffs; perhaps we should try harder to ensure that the producers get a fair price for their labours, leading to a smaller crop and reduced water usage but still with a living wage. Difficult to achieve  for a state controlled industry in a global market without imposing further hardship on the farmers. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Water, Water, Everywhere

Nor any drop to drink...

On Tuesday 7 June WaterAid will be hosting a non-stop tweetathon – hashtagged #WaterAid24 - to show supporters exactly what an international charity does over a 24-hour period.

The important issue of water use, conservation and availability is often overshadowed by the battle to cut carbon emissions.  To highlight the issues, here are a selection of statistics from WaterAid's website:
  • 884 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. This is roughly one in eight of the world's population. (WHO/UNICEF)
  • 2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, this is almost two fifths of the world's population. (WHO/UNICEF)
  • 1.4 million children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unclean water and poor sanitation - 4,000 child deaths a day or one child every 20 seconds. This equates to 160 infant school classrooms lost every single day to an entirely preventable public health crisis. Diarrhoea kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. (WHO/WaterAid)
  • At any given time, close to half the people in the developing world are suffering from one or more of the main diseases associated with dirty water and inadequate sanitation such as diarrhoea, guinea worm, trachoma and schistosomiasis. (UNDP Human Development Report 2006)
  • Half the hospital beds in developing countries are filled with people suffering from diseases associated with poor water, sanitation and hygiene. (UNDP Human Development Report 2006)
  • The weight of water that women in Africa and Asia carry on their heads is commonly 20kg the same as the average UK airport luggage allowance. (HDR)
  • The average person in the developing world uses 10 litres of water every day for their drinking, washing and cooking. (WSSCC)
  • The average European uses 200 litres of water every day for their drinking, washing and cooking. North Americans use 400 litres. (HDR)
  • On current trends over the next 20 years humans will use 40% more water than they do now. (UNEP)
  • Over the past 10 years, aid to health and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased by nearly 500%, while aid to water and sanitation has increased by only 79%. (OECD)
In the developing world, people have access to only a twentieth of the average European person, water which often has to be carried many miles from wells to the home, but even this does not tell the full story. When the water used to produce food is added into the equation, the average person in the UK consumes a staggering 4645 litres of water every day. The table below, from a report by The Waterfootprint Network shows how much water is used in growing and preparing some common foods. Noteworthy figures include the 24,000 litres for every 1 kg of chocolate - all of a sudden that 10g square of organic fairtrade 70% cocoa chocolate does not taste quite so delicious and righteous - and the large quantities of water required for dates and olives, both of which are grown in semi arid areas.

Source:, Water Footprint Network, Enschede, the Netherlands

Around two thirds of the water footprint of the UK is actually sourced from abroad as the figure below nicely shows.  The numbers show that significant quantity of this water footprint comes from areas with low rainfall and high water stress including India, Pakistan, South Africa and Egypt. The availability of water in a region is measured using the Water Stress index which evaluates the ratio of total water use (sum of domestic, industrial and agricultural demand) to renewable water supply, which is the available local run off (precipitation less evaporation) as delivered through streams, rivers and shallow groundwater. The areas with the highest water stress are in the Middle East and North Africa and some nations from this region are using their oil wealth to buy up land in wetter areas to grow food for export back home - putting greater pressure on water resources for the local populace.

As with all our environmental problems, things are only going to get worse and there are no easy solutions, but the work of organisations such as WaterAid does help alleviate the daily difficulties which communities face in getting enough safe drinking water and sanitation. And when you sit down to your well deserved cup of tea, ponder on the 30 litres of water that went in to making it!

Source: Chapagain, A. K. and S. Orr (2008) UK Water Footprint: The impact of the UK's food and fibre consumption on global water resources, Volume 1, WWF-UK, Godalming, UK.Downloadable from or  MyDocs

Monday, 6 June 2011

When energy-saving does not mean saving energy

Adam Corner's Guardian article "When energy-saving does not mean saving energy" looks at rebound effects: "But a newly published paper in the journal Energy Policy shows that even straightforward carbon-saving activities such as home insulation are not always quite what they seem. The problem is that making one change around the house leaves the door open for other changes – which might include 'rebound effects' that undermine the carbon savings. If a driver who replaces their car with a fuel-efficient model takes advantage of the cheaper running costs and drives further and more often, then the amount of carbon saved is clearly reduced."

In the current economic climate that really should not be the case as 10-20% energy saving will only result in a cost "saving" that will offset rising energy prices, a trend that is likely to continue.  The global economy is still growing relatively slowly but when this growth accelerates, demand for energy will increase putting further pressure on energy prices over the longer term.

Also, the way the domestic energy market operates in the UK, with suppliers buying gas and oil up to a year in advance will continue to see wide fluctuations in price as more variable weather conditions complicate prediction of demand. 

As Mr corner states, the energy savings need to be considered as a whole and not just a single action, but to achieve the carbon reduction targets required to limit global warming we need to make cuts across all our activities.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

News Round up - 31st May

After a relaxing weekend by the seaside, away from television and internet, I have returned to find a busy News weekend and here is a round up of the stories catching my attention:

BBC News - Global carbon emissions reach record, says IEA - disappointing, but if the global economy is to grow using the established economic models, it is inevitable. This highlights the enormity of the changes that are required to decouple our economy and prosperity from carbon.

BBC News - Germany: Nuclear power plants to close by 2022 - bold decision, but how will the industrial bedrock of Germany's economy cope with increasing reliance on renewable energy? The country has limited coastline for marine renewables so will be limited to wind energy, or solar in the south.  Will fossil fuel use increase as nuclear is phased out, or will the German grid simply import nuclear base load from France?

BBC News - France expands nuclear power plans despite Fukushima - the French nuclear power station operators see a market for exporting base load to other European countries which do not have the political stomach for nuclear power.

Scotland wants German-style nuclear shutdown, says SNP - The Scotsman - a bandwagon that the SNP are happy to join as part of Scotlands Bold Renewable Targets.

Blow to green energy plans as wind speeds forecast to drop for 40 years - The Scotsman - however, the SNP are more dismissive of this article, indicating that wind energy yield is likely to drop in the coming years as climate changes take effect.  This is coupled with more frequent extreme wind events which cause the turbines to shut down and which will pose risks to our infrastructure.  As a supporter of wind energy, this forecast is of concern and I will be investigating this further.

The road ahead: How will we power our cars in the future? - The Scotsman - There are hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells, battery powered electric vehicles, solar powered vehicles and more efficient internal combustion engines on offer but which will be adopted as the mainstay - well it looks like the good old internal combustion engine will be with us for a while yet.  Unless there is a game-changing breakthrough with the newer technologies they will not compete in terms of being mass produced and providing motorists with the flexibility to which they have become accustomed.

To sum up the story so far, carbon emissions are up and will stay up, the wind will stop blowing and nuclear is on the wane - a recipe for continued growth in fossil fuel use. it has been a good weekend for the oil industry, although they haven't all had it their own way...

Greenpeace raiders board Scottish oil giant's controversial Arctic rig - The Scotsman - as Greenpeace attempt to delay the inevitable drilling for oil off the coast of Greenland.

Away from the energy issue, the Scotsman reported that the Nightingale may sing no more by 2041.  Reasons suggested for its horrific decline over the last decade include loss of habitat due to increased dear numbers but also, possibly, due to factors in its sub-Saharan wintering grounds or along the migration routes.

Could organic farming methods help to maintain its habitat and stem their decline? Possibly, but organic agriculture is in the firing line over hundreds of cases of E-coli, including 14 fatalities.  We should know the source of the contamination within the next few days, but regardless of the conclusion, I would anticipate lasting damage to the reputation of organic produce.

This brings me nicely on to the final story of my collection, that food prices 'will double by 2030', according to Oxfam Climate Change, which we are doing little enough to tackle, as demonstrated by my first link, will be a big part of this increase.  One way to avert such high price rises would be the adoption of much more intense agricultural practices using hybrid (and GMO?) crops to improve yield but the environmental consequences of such a course would be catastrophic.