Saturday, 10 November 2012


I am taking a short break from blogging. I plan to return in the New Year.

Keep it Green and I'll see you then.


Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Twitter Calm Before The Twitter Storm #gyat

The following is taken from Stop Climate Change Chaos - Scotland's "Get Your Act Together" briefing sheet, with further suggestions below:


“Get Your Act Together” is an exciting and important opportunity for people across Scotland to make
sure the Scottish Climate Change Act becomes climate action.

People from all parts of the country will come together at the Scottish Parliament at lunchtime on
Thursday 25th October 2012 for a mass lobby to tell MSPs to ‘Get Your Act together!’.

It is three years since the Parliament unanimously passes the Scottish Climate Change Act 2009, the
world’s strongest climate legislation. Unfortunately, the Scottish Government has failed to meet it’s
very first (and not particularly challenging) target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Act.

We will come together from across Scotland to show our politicians that we care about climate
change and that the Government must deliver on the Scottish Climate Act.

American Democracy

I try to avoid writing about politics. I don't support any political party nor do I have a lot of respect for or trust of many politicians. To my mind, neither parties nor politicians, have a track record of delivering what they promise at election time, especially on the environment. There are, of course exceptions: individuals with true conviction and determination but they rarely obtain a position that has a significant impact.

I especially try to avoid writing about politics in other countries as we are fed only snippets in the news and, as I am not there, I do not know the full circumstances around the issues. I'll make an exception this once because of the influence that the outcome of the forthcoming American presidential elections could have on the rest of the world.

The United States of America is the greatest and most powerful nation on earth. Not just now, but of all time. It's strength and influence permeates every corner of the world, affects all seven billion people in some way or another.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Where Has The Water Gone?

Two headlines caught my attention today.

The first was from Tuesdays Glasgow Evening Times:

Save water plea ... after wet summer

It was about Scottish Water's recently launched campaign to encourage people to save water. The reason for this campaign is not a shortage of water but a drive to save energy in treatment and pumping of the water. While I do support any measures that we can take to reduce energy use and carbon emissions, I feel that this is Scottish Water trying to pass the responsibility on to the public rather than dealing with their own wasteful inefficiencies.  They lose more water through leakage than the total domestic consumption, as noted here, so whatever individuals do to save a little bit of water is nothing compared with the amount leaking from pipes.  The volume of water lost through leakage will not reduce even if the volume used by consumers is reduced significantly, in fact it may increase as the pressure in the system would increase (leakage is higher at night when water demand reduces for this very reason). 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Green Capital(ist)

I'm confused about Glasgow City Council's commitment to sustainability.  Within the next month it will submit its bid to be European Green Capital for 2015. Yet this week it has undertaken to advertise a long haul airline for the next ten years by adopting its name for the new sports arena, selling out its green agenda. From now, any communication relating to events at the venue will refer to the E******s Arena and will, by association, promote long haul flying.

Flying is one of the worst things we do to mess up the climate and I can not square any claims to being sustainable or green with promoting long haul flying. One of the themes which will be assessed for European Green Capital is the "Local Contribution to Global Climate Change".  I had assumed the goal was to minimise the contribution, not increase it.

Other themes which the city will be assessed on, include Local Transport and Quality of Local Ambient Air but the council promotes car parks (which it owns) more than public transport, walking or cycling on its Twitter feed and the city regularly fails to satisfy air quality limits.

The council are making decent progress in some ways but any benefits will be wiped out and then some by encouraging more flying and driving.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Martyr or Mug

It’s early. 5:45 AM to be precise. I have a large paper cup of coffee in front of me with one of those dastardly plastic lids. The ones that jettison steaming hot coffee up your sleeve when you walk. Looking to my left, out of the window, I see the lights of the still sleeping city rumble by. Full of people snuggled up in bed, still in their own personal dreamland: dreaming of past glories and future ambitions, subconsciously sifting through the meaning of life. I should be there too.

Now I look forward. I see a long and wearisome day ahead. Two days ago, my presence was requested, nay, demanded, at a meeting in London later this morning. Other commitments yesterday and tomorrow mean that I must travel there and back again in a day so I’m on the day’s first Virgin train service out of Glasgow. I hope to arrive 400 miles away in London in four and a half hours.

I thought long and hard about how to travel. Whether to go for the speed of flying versus the slower but greener train, eventually opting for the train despite the ungodly hour of departure. And while almost everyone else sleeps on I ponder whether I’m being a martyr to the environmental cause or just a mug making a meaningless gesture; a misplaced idealist or true eco warrior.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Changing Seasons

There was a nip in the air this weekend as the season begins to change and, if we needed it, a timely article in this Sunday's Independent serves as a reminder of some of the things we can do to save energy over the autumn and winter. The ten suggestions from the Independent are summarised below with some comments and a few other suggestions of my own:

1. Small changes - with emphasis on energy saving lightbulbs: Incandescent light bulbs are no longer available for domestic use so we should all be using low energy bulbs now or in the near future.

2. Efficient heating - ensure your radiators are working effectively and aren't blocked by furniture. Upgrading your boiler is also suggested but this can be a significant financial investment. The savings from upgrading your boiler depend on how inefficient the old one was and there may be other more cost effective energy saving investments.

3. Keep the heat in - draught proofing, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and double glazing all help to keep in heat but are progressively more expensive and take longer to pay back the savings.  If you live in Glasgow you may qualify for free insulation through the Home Insulation Scheme, which is funded through the Scottish Government's Universal Home Insulation Scheme. Other schemes may operate where you live. STOP PRESS: Some links here to free insulation schemes for all, subject to conditions:, via @TheEcoExperts. Also see item 11 below for more.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Clyde Fastlink - A Revolution in Public Transport

The problems with delivery of Edinburgh's new tram system has been well reported in the media, mostly because of the disruption caused by the works, its immense price tag and lengthy delays but Glasgow's bold new transport initiative has grabbed a lot less headlines, probably because of its more modest price tag and, more likely, due to its spectacular lack of impact on the city.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Here Comes the Rain - Part 2

It is official. Britain has had the wettest summer since 1912 according to the Meteorological Office. This follows one of the wettest springs on record. Is this evidence of climate change or simply natural variation in the weather?

To try answering this question, data from a weather station near Glasgow has been analysed . The first part of this article presented annual rainfall records and concluded that there has been only a slight increase in annual rainfall over the past decade compared with a baseline of 1961 to 1990 but that there had been a marked increase in variability. Also of interest is whether rainfall patterns have changed throughout the year, from month to month and between the seasons which is the subject of this post.

In order to provide some context, June 2012 was the wettest recorded June in 54 years with 130mm of rainfall which is almost double(196%) the average rainfall for the month and July is the fourth wettest with 75% more than average. Apart from this year, the five wettest Junes were followed by an average or below average July and likewise the five wettest Julies were preceded with a dry or average June. Data for August 2012 has yet to be published.

Over the fifty three complete years of data examined, there are wide variations in rainfall for each month as demonstrated by the monthly mean, maximum and minimum values plotted below. In some months the minimum values are almost zero while the maximum values may be almost three times the minimum.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Here Comes the Rain - Part 1

Summer 2012 may be remembered for the Olympic Games. Or it may be remembered for the rain. From doom laden predictions of the worst drought for a generation in the southern half of Britain with disastrous consequences for farmers in the spring to torrential rain, floods and, yes, disastrous consequences for farmers in the summer.

The burning question is whether this is just the natural variability of weather or whether underlying climate change has a hand in driving these weather systems. To investigate this question, I have studied some local weather records. My statistical skills are about High School level: mean and standard deviation of a normal distribution.

Data for Glasgow Airport from 1959 to 2012 was obtained from the Meteorological Office website but the 2012 data was discarded as it is only provisional and represents an incomplete year. The data included monthly rainfall, sunshine and maximum and minimum temperatures and the focus of this study was the rainfall data.

Annual rainfall figures are plotted below as a time series. The y-axis (rainfall) is drawn from zero to give a clearer picture of the relative changes; some graphs cut off the bottom which can visually exaggerate trends. Without performing any statistical analysis, the first impression is that annual rainfall has increased from the early 1970s to the mid 1990s before increasing again from around 2000 to the present time. The variability from year to year also appears to be greater in the more recent results, especially in the 2000s.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Summer Holidays

Have you had your summer holiday yet? Did you stay local or did you fly away somewhere exotic?

How do you fancy this three thousand mile trip:

First stop off in France to soak up the culture then on to Mont Blanc and the Swiss alps for a few weeks rest and recuperation in the beautiful mountain scenery. It can be cool in the mountains, even in the summer so head south into Italy, perhaps Tuscany or further south again to Sicily. If that isn’t warm enough, take a short hop over the Mediterranean Sea to Libya then across the Sahara to Lake Chad.
It’s not an itinerary that you’ll find in many travel brochures but it is quite popular in certain circles.  Mungo, a bird from near Loch Katrine made that very trip and met up with Chance who travelled by a different route from Loch Katrine, via Belgium and Austria, and Chris from the Norfolk Broads.  They are all Cuckoo’s that have been tagged by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in order to track their annual migrations to Africa.  Chris is a veteran who was tagged last year so this is his second recorded journey.  His route to Lake Chad this year is similar to the route last year but one of the other tagged birds from Norfolk, Lyster, has travelled by quite different routes last year and this year.

They’re trip isn’t over yet.  It is likely that they will continue south, perhaps  to the Congo basin  before returning to the UK.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Water Saving in an Maritime Climate

I am fortunate to live in an area blessed with a plentiful supply of water.  Our maritime climate is driven by moist air coming in from the Atlantic Ocean, heated by the Gulf Stream.  The air cools as it rises over the mountains and loses its excess moisture as rain.

Loch Katrine in the Trossachs has supplied the city of Glasgow with clean fresh drinking water for over a century and a half thanks to the work of the Victorian engineer John Frederick Bateman. When we have such an abundance of water there is little pressure to save water and you may be thought daft for even suggesting it but are there wider environmental benefits of reducing water consumption here?

Sunday, 22 July 2012


Sometimes nothing beats a cool refreshing glass of the milk.

But the White Stuff is not as innocent as it looks. In fact, its cool clean exterior masks a multitude of sins.

Milk has hit the headlines recently in a battle between farmers and the processors which are imposing cuts to the price paid to farmers for milk.  This is leading to farm gate prices which are less than the cost of producing the milk.  This is not a new fight.  For several years the large powerful dairies, such as Robert Wiseman (now owned by Müller), have put downward pressure on the farm gate price of milk.  This in turn has driven “efficiency” measures in the farming sector, i.e. industrialisation of the process.  About ten years ago I spoke with a farmer planning to build a huge shed so that his cattle could be kept indoors all year round.  This was, he said, due to pressure to cut costs. It was necessary of his farm was to remain sustainable.  The surrounding pasture that the cattle had grazed for generations would be used to produce their feed which would be supplemented with commercial cattle fodder.  I’m sure he wasn’t alone in this change but to me it seemed crazy – taking the cattle away from the grass so that someone can cut the grass and feed it to the cattle and at the other end, the muck would be cleared from the shed and, presumably spread on the field as fertiliser.

What are the issues with milk?

Monday, 16 July 2012

Tell Shell

You can save the Arctic

Tell Shell that you don't want them drilling for oil in the Arctic. It is one of the least spoiled places on earth but Shell want to explore for oil.

Climate change is more rapid in the Arctic than almost any where else on the planet, leading to greater areas of the Arctic Ocean being ice free than ever before in the history of oil exploration. This makes oil exploration easier, an opportunity that Shell are keen to exploit.

But picture this: if a leak or spill occurs as the ocean begins to freeze over for the winter, there are no tools or methods available to contain and recover the oil. Floating booms won't work. Detergents won't work (and can cause damage themselves). The oil will be locked in the ice, travelling around the ocean until it melts next year, depositing a filthy slick


This is a response to Rea Cris's article "THE NEW ARCTIC GOLD RUSH" on the Unite Society website (, because 140 characters is not enough to respond properly to such a complex issue.

An interesting article on a challenging topic, made all the more difficult by people's (including my own) inability to truly comprehend living or working in the arctic.   Even simple provisions like milk, fruit and vegetables must be flown hundreds of miles from the south.

Indigenous peoples, particularly in Greenland, Canada and Alaska, face difficult choices: to continue the traditional way of life, hunting with dogs (and rifles) or do they adopt more modern technology such as the skidoo, or do they go the whole way to modernity, invite the oil companies in and get paid employment. More traditional trade avenues,such as fur trading, have been closed off leaving little opportunity to barter for modern conveniences leaving a stark choice of living completely independent of the modern world or taking hand outs. Nothing is free so those giving expect something in return: access to mineral resources. And if they become isolationist, how will they survive as the pattern of seasons change and their prey (seals, walrus, polar bears) in turn struggles to survive?

Monday, 9 July 2012

BMW Attacks Efficiency Targets

BMW accused of hypocrisy over opposition to European car targets | Environment |

BMW is lobbying to water down European plans to improve the fuel efficiency of cars at the same time as trumpeting its green credentials as the official car sponsor of the Olympic Games, according to internal documents seen by the Guardian.
According to this Guardian article, BMW want to delay or reduce implementation of Europe wide fuel efficiency targets for 2015 and 2020.  BMW believe that premium manufacturers (such as themselves) will be disadvantaged compared with manufacturers of normal cars. In other words people who can afford more expensive premium cars can afford the higher fuel prices and these wealthy people don't need to worry about climate change or limited supplies of oil.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Aphid Resistant GM Wheat

The Rothamsted Institute has frequently been in the news in recent weeks over their trials of a new genetically modified strain of wheat. This particular genetic modification splices genes from other plants, such as mint, hops or apples, which naturally produce an odour which simulates that released by aphids when distressed or under attack. This phenomenon has evolved in some plants as a natural defence as aphids that would otherwise attack the plant detect the odour and avoid the host plants.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Plastic Recycling

PET Symbol

Look at the recycling logo on a plastic bottle or container. It depicts a continuous loop, a virtuous circle, if you like, of plastic being made into bottles then being recycled into new bottles then the whole process repeating endlessly. Nothing falls out of the cycle and nothing new is introduced. It is a bit misleading. It doesn't take much imagination to realise that energy needs added to the process at the very least - energy for collecting the used plastic, treating it and manufacturing the new bottles. Less obvious is the fact that very few food grade bottles contain material from recycled bottles. Plant has been developed to do this but at this time its use not widespread.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

"Recycling" Food Waste

There are moves afoot to begin uplifting food waste separately from other waste to allow energy to be extracted through the use of anaerobic digestion. On the face of it this sounds like a very good idea – not only does it extract energy but the residual waste can be used as a commercial grade compost, unlike the low grade compost extracted from Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) systems. This would see large reductions in material going to landfill.

My concern is that large scale adoption of this technology will encourage more waste or, at best, stop any further reduction in the food we waste.

Here is why.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Mechanical Biological Treatment: an alternative to kerbside recycling?

Continuing with the theme of Recycling Week, here is a brief introduction to Mechanical Biological Treatment of domestic waste.

What is Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT)?

It is a method for sorting through domestic waste and separating it into materials that can be recycled such as glass, metals and plastics or organic materials that will decompose, such as food waste.

What are the benefits of it?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

City Living

I took this photograph while out on a bike ride with the kids at the end of March this year.  I had been thinking about urban biodiversity after reading an article on Nature Deficit Disorder and this view captured my train of thought.  We are in Robroyston Park, one of Glasgow's parks which is designated as a Local Nature Reserve.  A diverse range of habitats are present. The pond at centre frame attracts the swans pictured and other birds, insects, fish and amphibians.  To the right of the frame is deciduous woodland providing cover for small mammals and birds, including a heron which nests in the trees and to the left we have rough grassland which is attractive to many insects and various ground nesting birds. Juxtaposed in the background are several blocks of high rise flats - a potent symbol our densely populated urban environment.

Monday, 18 June 2012

More Recycling, Please

Recycling week runs from today, the 18th of June until the 26th with the aim of promoting recycling at home and away. There are many events around the country promoted by the Recycle Now website run by WRAP (Waste & Resource Action Programme). The website also contains a lot of information on recycling.

Recycling helps to conserve limited resources and using recycled materials often use less energy than virgin materials. In addition, recycling reduces the amount of waste that goes in to landfill, hence extending the life of existing sites and reducing the need for opening new sites at great environmental and social cost. Recycling week is focusing on kerbside recycling (home) and recycling centres where you can take recyclable waste that is not collected kerbside(away).  Another aspect of "away" that does not appear to be addressed is the dearth of recycling options in public places.  In some countries, they standard pavement bin will have compartments for glass, metals, plastics and others but these are rare in the UK.

We really do need to encourage more recycling in the UK as we lag behind our European neighbours in terms of recycling and the proportion of waste going to landfill. We compost or recycle 34% of domestic waste compared with an average of 39% across Europe according to DEFRA figures and 55% goes to landfill compared with 40% across Europe. The figures vary significantly across the country with some areas recycling less than 20% of domestic waste and others over 50%.

Between different local authority areas recycling rates vary tremendously. The aim of recycling week is to raise awareness amongst the public and encourage participation but we should turn it around and challenge our local authorities to provide better and more comprehensive facilities and also to challenge retailers and manufacturers to make it easier for us to reduce waste.

Of course recycling isn't the whole solution, before recycling our domestic waste we should consider whether things can be reused and before that whether we actually need them in the first place.

Related Links:

Related Posts:
Mechanical Biological Treatment: an alternative to kerbside recycling?
"Recycling" Food Waste

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Electric Cars

Electric cars in stables at Pollok Park

Glasgow is a compact city.  Nowhere in the city is much further than 10 miles from any where else.  It is perfect for electric vehicles(EVs) which typically have a short range.

Pictured above are two of the forty electric vehicles being trialled by Glasgow City Council.  The trial which began over a year ago is scheduled to run for three years.  The vehicle fleet operated by the City Council comprises over 1200 vehicles of which over 350 are cars or car derived vans with the remainder including everything from small vans to bin lorries, minibuses and even articulated lorries.

This is surely a welcome measure to reduce the city's carbon footprint and improve air quality. Or is it?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Change the World Wednesday - 23rd May 2012 - Packed Lunches

This weeks Change the World Wednesday Challenge is to make a waste free lunch.

Five mornings a week I make up packed lunches for myself and our two children hence this challenge is particularly appropriate.  In terms of packaging, this is the most wasteful meal of our day and it can only be marked as a "fail - must try harder".

But I'll start with the good bits. I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to packed lunches: the cornerstone of any packed lunch should be a piece. It can be a cheese piece, jeely piece, cheese and jeely piece or any other type of piece: egg, ham, tuna, banana - anything that fits between two slices of bread. We do well here with home made bread. It has flour, yeast, water, sugar and salt. No preservatives, no additives, no packaging (the flour comes in biodegradable paper bags) and no transportation.

So far so good but when all the additional things are included we start to go down hill. The children take refillable water bottles to school for during the day but single use cartons of fruit juice for lunch. You know the type: plasticy cardboard cartons with a plastic straw in a polythene wrapper glued to the side. Then there are crisps, raisins or other dried fruit, pots of yoghurt and cereal bars or biscuits - not everything every day but two or three from the list. Almost all have packaging.

We have tried buying in bulk then filling reusable containers but the kids keep losing lids or breaking the containers. Understandably, they have more important things to do at lunch time, like playing hopscotch, skipping or football, rather than putting their lunch things away properly.

I look forward to reading other posts on this challenge in the hope of gaining inspiration.

Related links: If you don't know what a jeelly piece is, this link may help:

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Change the World Wednesday Challenge - 16th May 2012 - Permaculture, part 2

Following on from last weeks challenge of learning about permiculture, it is time to put the theory into practice for this weeks challenge:

Now that we've observed the area around us, let's use that knowledge to plant something. Choosing a location which considers rain fall, sunlight, "pests", etc., plant something using sustainable methods such as double digging, companion planting and natural pest control. Use natural compost instead of fertilizer. And
then ... come back and tell us all about it.

Or ...

If you've already planted, tell us all about the process ... did you choose the garden's location based on natural elements? Did you prepare the garden using double digging? Did you make use of natural compost and companion planting? How do you control pests? And, knowing what you now know about Permaculture, will you make any changes next year? We want to know everything.

Every year is a bit of an experiment, growing different varieties in different locations with varying results.  I have found that the factor which influences results most is the one we can least control: the weather.  Other factors, such as pest control and feeding the garden, are more controllable and I wrote about some of them here. I guess it comes down to not bringing in unnatural or unpleasant things and allowing nature in around the edges.

I must be getting something right because the garden is teeming with life. My daughter has been learning about mini-beasts at school and she was fascinated by this critter that she found under a stone:

I'm not sure I fancy the chances of the newly planted out turnip seedlings (below) with it and its friends about.

And it isn't only the creepy crawlies, this rather sociable little chap stopped by for a visit:

He first landed on the handle of my trowel a couple of feet away from me before moving to this stump by the time I took my phone camera out of my pocket. I had another couple of visits over the afternoon, not for my company but for the freshly dug soil and its bountiful supply of dinner!

And so on to the last task of the day, earthing up the potatoes we planted a few weeks ago:

These were the first earlies. The second earlies planted in the last week of April are just starting to break the surface. The potatoes in a sack that was in the west side of the garden has grown faster than the one on the east, but they may not have been planted as deep. I will continue to observe.

Last Weeks Permaculture Challenge:

Post script: Came home today to find not one, not two but three robins in the garden at the same time, so it may not have been the same one being very sociable!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Change the World Wednesday Challenge - 9th May 2012 - Permaculture

This weeks challenge is to think about the principles of Permaculture and how they relate to our own environment.

On first reading the challenge I began thinking of my own garden: the high fence down one side that is perfect for growing beans, peas, sweet peas and sun flowers or the shady corner at the bottom where nothing grows and is now home to the compost heap.But then I read posts by Mrs. Green and  Lynn Fang which opened my eyes to the wider application of the principles of Permaculture, bringing nature in to our cityscapes.

In many ways it is related to the disconnect between many people and their natural environments, the gulf between increasing numbers of urban dwellers and the natural cycles that sustain us. I like the idea of connecting our urban green spaces: making corridors for nature and wildlife between our parks, for example and re-introducing traditional varieties.

In one of life's little coincidences, I borrowed Food for Free by Richard Mabey from my local library a couple of weeks ago.  It talks of the harvest obtained from hedgerows, forests and other wild places that was used to supplement rations during the first and second world wars.  Many of these places have been depleted in the intervening years through changes to more intensive agriculture with larger fields and less hedges and expansion of our towns and cities but there is still a great variety if you know what to look for and where. The author also writes of the fear many people have of wild foods, a largely misplaced fear that they will poison themselves. Other than a very small number of fungi nothing will kill you in the UK.  This is another case of our growing unfamiliarity with nature.

There seems to be a reluctance to include fruits, berries and other edible plants in to urban parks and public gardens, possibly from the above fear that people will be poisoned or simply because people will help themselves.  I wonder how we can get some more brambles, gooseberries, bilberries and apples in to our parks... perhaps some guerrilla gardening?

Related Posts:

Mrs Green's Post:
Lynn Fang's Post:

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Big Energy Switch Swindle - Part 2

Last week I posted about The Big Switch, a reverse auction for domestic energy being organised by Which and 38 Degrees.

I have to admit that my prediction was wrong, that suppliers would offer discounts, probably short term in nature and at the expense of other customers. But I was correct that the auction would make little difference for consumers.

The winner was Cooperative Energy which was £6 per year cheaper for the average user than the next lowest tariff, however the tariff is only available to the first 30,000 applicants out of around 280,000 that signed up for the Big Switch. The remainder will be offered the second place tariff, which is from EDF and has been available on the open market for several months. A post on the Which website also indicate that the winning coop tariff is also available on the open market.

I'm sure some consumers who participated in the big switch will see significant savings but they could have got them at any time. In fact, the Big Switch has delivered no new benefits to consumers.

The Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Edward Davey has been quoted a saying that he wants to see more schemes “enabling consumers to club together in this way to buy their energy, cutting out the hassle of
shopping around and switching and helping households get a better deal for their gas and electricity.” Evidence that he doesn't have a clue and that the government has no intention of intervening in the failing energy market.

At this time there is little information on the winning tariffs, although average standing charges and unit rates have been posted. What has been made clear is that those not paying by direct debit, including those without a bank account will be charged almost an extra £100 per year based on average use and the tariffs don't appear to be open to those with prepayment meters, thus the people suffering the most from high energy prices will not benefit. There are also regional variations in the tariffs, therefore you may have to pay more depending on where you live.

The result isn't really surprising. Energy differs from most commodities in the infrastructure required to deliver it, whether cables or pipes, and measurement of how much is used. For each customer that switches supplier as a result of the big switch, the energy company still has to run credit checks, set up individual accounts, read meters and issue bills giving limited savings to the suppliers from a group switch compared with many individuals. By contrast if your street gets together to bulk buy transportable commodities, such as a truck load of toilet roll our baked beans, the supplier can discount this based on the costs he saves by processing a single large order with a single bill and delivery rather than lots of smaller ones.

One of the big problems with such a powerful group of energy companies, untouchable by consumers, protest groups and government is that they have no real incentive to cut costs for the long term, especially the volatile price of fossil fuels. When investing in new generation they will invest in power stations with greater cost certainty in terms of planning and construction, that is gas power stations which have lower risk during the planning and construction than wind farms or nuclear power stations.  The burden of future uncertainties, such as the price of gas, can be passed on to the consumer with impunity. It follows that the continued dominance of fossil fuels in the energy supply mix is bad for the environment and we, the public, will be left to pick up the cost of mitigating against the effects of climate change.

There are no easy answers to these problem. Schemes like The Big Switch are clearly not the answer. The Regulator and Government are not the answer. The answer lies partly in greater efficiency in the home to lower consumption and hence energy bills, but there are limits to what is achievable.

One method for groups to see real and lasting benefit from collective buying power could be through buying the means to generate their own energy, such as a community wind farm, solar collectors or geothermal heating systems.  This would reduce the dependence on the major energy retailers, putting power literally back into the community.  There are already some good examples of this, mostly from small isolated communities where the benefits of locally generated power is more tangible.

Related Links:
The Big Switch
The Big Switch Ts & Cs

Related Posts:
Energy Market Reform
The Big Energy Switch Swindle

Monday, 7 May 2012

#CTWW Challenge - 2nd May 2012 - Barbecues

It's the Bank Holiday weekend, temperatures are back to single digits (celsius) and there is a cold drizzle. Ideal conditions to think about this weeks Change the World Wednesday challenge:

This week, consider Eco-friendly Grilling/BBQing. Please share all your ideas for cooking outside. Here's a hint ... Charcoal Briquettes
are not necessarily Eco-friendly. Need another hint to get going? Check out this POST.

We don't tend to use the barbecue often: our weather is too unpredictable to plan ahead for them so they are rare spur of the moment occasions. On one memorable occasion when we did plan a bbq, our guests took shelter indoors while I cooked under an umbrella. 

As they don't feature large in our lives, I hadn't given much thought to the environmental impact of bbqs. I figured that, since charcoal is made from wood that it is probably carbon neutral if it comes from sustainable sources, although probably not very efficient. I had also read that the ashes could be added to the compost heap.  However these assumptions were proven wrong when I read up for this challenge.

I came across an article in Science Daily (link here) which looks at climate related emissions from propane gas compared with charcoal and it also highlights that most charcoal used in the UK is imported from areas in Africa where the first cover had been depleted.

Charcoal briquettes also have added ingredients which make them unsuitable for use in the compost heap put garden. These additives may include borax or starch to bind the charcoal, nitrates to aid ignition or sometimes anthracite to improve performance of the briquettes.

Traditional lump wood charcoal tends not to have the additives but it is more likely to be made from tropical hardwoods which may not be sustainably harvested.

Is this the end for summer barbecues then? Or should we replace our barbecue with a gas one?

As we use the bbq so infrequently, it will take a considerable time to repay the embodied energy of a new gas bbq with savings from each use. And a gas bbq does not satisfy that primal urge to create fire! It looks like the answer for us, if we get a summer, lies in sustainably sourced lump wood charcoal. Or cooking indoors a normal but eating outside.

We can't be good all of the time.

Finally, if you haven't tried barbecued pineapple, give it a go: take a whole pineapple, cut in to quarters lengthwise then grill. Delicious.

Related post:

Elsevier (2009, May 12). Grilling With Charcoal Less Climate-friendly Than Grilling With Propane, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 7, 2012, from

The Big Energy Switch Swindle?

You may be aware of The Big Switch, a reverse auction being organised by campaign groups 38 Degrees and Which. you can sign up here to participate in the event which allows you to switch to the winning deal if it suits you.  You are not committed to switching but if you don't preregister you can not participate.

I have a few issues with this approach:

To register you need to provide your personal details, some of which will be passed to the energy companies participating in the auction. The example of such information is your meter numbers.  The energy companies will be able to use this information to assess how many new customers they may gain if they win the auction or how many existing customers they may lose (and how profitable or otherwise those customers are and hence decide how keen they are to win. From the energy companies perspective, this is little more than a marketing exercise.

A closer look at the terms and conditions of the offer show that there are no guarantees, prices may fluctuate at  any time after switching and the savings illustration that you will be given is meaningless.  In effect you are taking a gamble just the same as switching at any other time and the energy companies can give low prices which are, in effect introductory discounts which can be recouped at a later time through tie ins and higher future unit rates.

If my perspective in the previous paragraph is incorrect, how will the energy companies maintain their healthy profit levels? By charging more to other customers who have not participated in The Big Switch.  The latest figures on the website show that 286,000 people have registered to participate which sounds a lot but is around 1% of the customers of the big six energy companies. Those most in need of reduced energy costs, including the elderly and other vulnerable people, do not necessarily have access to this type of online deal and those with prepayment meters are normally excluded from the best deals. In fact the Terms and Conditions state the personal information may be used by the energy companies to determine whether the energy companies will allow individuals to participate in the scheme.

It is not clear what benchmark will be used to determine the winner so it may be that, of the 286,000 participants, some would save and others wouldn't depending on their consumption levels and mix of gas and electricity used and the supply terms and conditions.

A better arrangement could have been one where Which/38 Degrees set the conditions for the energy companies to bid such as that the deals are open for all, regardless of payment mechanism, that there are no lock-ins and that there are restrictions on how much and when prices can vary.  The energy companies would then price for supplying energy under standard terms rather than using small print and future price rises to pay for loss-leaders.  This would also put more of the risk  back on to the energy company that make the big decisions such as future energy contracts and mix of generation types. Currently customers pay the price of these decisions whether good or bad.

The fact that the big energy companies are participating is a sure sign that they do not expect to lose much revenue over it, in fact I'm sure they see it as a positive Public Relations exercise.  Meanwhile those in most desperate fuel poverty will see no benefit.

Are you taking part in The Big Switch? Will it save you money? Will it change the domestic energy market?

Or is it just another chance for the Big Six to pull the wool over our eyes and get some good press coverage?

Related Links:
The Big Switch
The Big Switch Ts & Cs

Related Posts:
Energy Market Reform

And for the follow up: The Big Energy Switch Swindle - Part 2

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Local Council Elections - 2012

In less than 24 hours the polls will open for the local council elections in throughout the UK.  Over the past couple of weeks I have reviewed the proposed policies on a number of environmental issues with a particular focus on Glasgow and found them to be generally lacking in detail, imagination or ambition. There are clearly other important issues on which the mainstream parties have focused the debate, such as education, health and employment, but these are often linked to environmental factors.  Better classrooms which can be temperature regulated well ventilated can aid concentration and hence academic achievement. Access to good quality open space, safer cycling and walking routes and clean air can improve health and decent public transport infrastructure can improve mobility and hence job opportunities, especially considering the low car ownership in the most deprived areas of the city.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Can Organic Agriculture Feed the World?

I'd like to think that it can, but I have often wondered wether organic agriculture could feed everyone or whether we need more intensive agriculture. There are many environmental benefits to organic methods including reduced use of herbicides and pesticides such as neonicotinoids which are implicated in the decline of bee numbers. Another benefit is the greater diversity of vegetable varieties also associated with organic farming. This is for two reasons: to use varieties with greater natural resistance to pests and to use more flavoursome varieties to differentiate from non-organic produce.

 A recent study of studies of yield from organic methods compared with so-called conventional methods has recently been published in Nature and reported here by the BBC. From the BBC report:
The headline conclusion is pretty unequivocal; across the board, organic farming produces lower yields than conventional methods, by about 25%. For fruit, the difference is marginal, just a few percent. But for vegetables, organic yields are about 33% down on conventional, with barley and wheat a little lower still.
 A lower yield from organic farming over a given area of land is not surprising really; good organic farming would have a reduced crop growing area as there would be hedgerows and possibly field boundaries that are unplanted. Then the reduced fertiliser use can reduce yield and varieties bred for pest resistance may not be optimised for yield. Another factor affecting yields identified in the report was irrigation, with non-organic methods using more water. In many parts of the world, including southern Britain the future may not slow such profligate water use, thus closing the gap. In fact a study undertaken by the Rodale Institute showed that organic growing produced better yields of corn in drought years. Another review of the Nature report in the Guardian notes established organic production using the best organic practices and with the right natural conditions can be as productive as conventional methods.

But this still doesn't answer the question, can we feed the world organically?

Monday, 30 April 2012

Glasgow Council Elections 2012 - Biodiversity & Open Spaces

In a few days the polls open for the council elections and the final topic in my green round up is biodiversity and open spaces. Parks and gardens are an essential part of any large city, they are the lungs bringing a breath of fresh air and give people space to relax, exercise or just escape the bustle. Despite being an urban council, or perhaps because of it, Glasgow is well endowed with public open spaces ranging on scale, from small local play parks to large areas such as Pollock Park, and in form, from the well manicured Botanical Gardens or Kelvingrove Park to the wild and windswept semi-wilderness at Robroyston Park and Cardowan Moss. There is much to be proud of but there is room for improvement, such as the North Kelvin Meadows.

So what policies do the parties propose to improve mobility around the city and improve the air quality?

Sunday, 29 April 2012

#CTWW Weekly Challenge, 25th April 2012

I'm no expert gardener but I do like to potter about and usually manage to grow some things. We started sowing seeds a three weeks ago and this weekend, to coincide with this weeks #ctww challenge, we planted our second early potatoes. We have grown potatoes for a couple of years now, planting them in sacks that can be topped up with soil as the plants grow. At harvest time, the bags are simply tipped out for lots of potatoes.

The Plan

We plan on planting three batches of potatoes: first earlies, second earlies and main crop.  According to the guides, they take about 10, 13, and 20 weeks to grow respectively. The first and mains were planted a fortnight ago and the seconds this week so we should be harvesting in July, August and September.

Getting started

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Glasgow Council Elections 2012 - Public Transport & Air Quality

A recent article (here) reported on the significant decline in bus journeys over the past year. The overall decline in Scotland was 6% fewer journeys, with 12% in Strathclyde and South West Scotland. Air pollution caused by traffic is also a problem as noted in this Herald article and Katkin's Blog.

One of the worst areas for air quality is around Hope Street and Renfield Street: the streets where almost all bus routes cut through the city centre which could lead to the conclusion that buses are the cause of the high level of pollutants.  However, elevated levels of pollution are found throughout the city and the high peak on these particularly busy streets would be similar if cars were sitting there instead of buses.  Allowing the buses to traverse this area more quickly will help and this could be facilitated by enforcing bus lane restrictions (i.e. only allowing buses, taxis and cyclists to use them).  Rather cynically, the Labour Party controlled council has chosen this week to begin enforcement of bus lanes that have been abused for several years.  Those supporting better public transport will look forward to improved services while those flouting the rules will not recieve their penalty notice until after the election...

So what policies do the parties propose to improve mobility around the city and improve the air quality?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

#CTWW Weekly Challenge, 18th April 2012

This Week's Challenge:

This week's challenge is from Stephanie

This week take a walk and pick up trash. Then, come back here and tell us what you found (photos of what you collected would be great)!

I must confess, this week time and weather got the better of me so I.m digging in to the dim and distant past for this challenge. The Thursday before Easter to be precise. I went for a fresh spring walk at Palacerigg Country Park in nearby Cumbernauld. The country park specialises in rare breeds of domesticated animals but I was there more for the fresh air and to see how spring was progressing.

I walked from the visitor centre to the start of Brockhurst Woods when I spotted a clear plastic bag snagged on a tree just above head height, so I grabbed it and stuffed it in my pocket, then headed down Glencryan with a spring in my step, pleased at doing a good deed.

Further on, I came across what I initially took to be a pond but later found was a small reservoir, pictured above. As I drew nearer, my heart sank. Beer cans, broken glass litter strewn on the banks and in the water. You can see them floating in the photo above.

The area is clearly frequented by some of the more anti-social locals for boozing, littering and fire raising, with partly burnt out living trees, like the one below.

Clearing up this area is, I feel, beyond the scope of this weeks challenge and really needs a well equipped squad with waders, protective gloves and other safety equipment to get the litter out of the reservoir.

It was really disappointing "discovering" this place only to find it trashed through lazy people's carelessness but we do need accessible outdoor places near our towns and cities.   Walks through the woods is good for us both physically and mentally. We just need to work out how to get people to take some responsibility for their actions.

Fortunately it didn't ruin the walk completely! There was lively birdsong, flowering gorse bushes, fantastic fungi and and wind blown trees of gigantic proportions.

So what challenge is in store for us tomorrow...  

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Glasgow Council Elections 2012 - Recycling

I have previously posted on the subject of Glasgow City Council's dire record on recycling: lowest recycling rates out of 32 Scottish councils and 20th place out of the UK's twenty largest cities. A new system was introduced during the past year but we have yet to see whether it has led to any significant improvements. Reducing the total amount of waste and increasing the proportion that is recycled is crucial to achieving a sustainable society. We are rapidly running out of "away" to throw our rubbish.

So what are the parties saying on this issue?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Glasgow Council Election 2012 - Fuel Poverty

Households in fuel poverty have been defined as those which spend more than 10% of the household income on fuel for heating, lighting, cooking, etc. The particularly cold winters of 2010 and 2011 combined with record high gas and electricity prices have pushed a greater number of households in to fuel poverty. Increased unemployment and pay freezes have also caused an increase in the number of households affected.  Local authorities can not decree the weather, nor can they influence energy prices but they can provide favourable conditions for employment to help move people out of fuel poverty, although this doesn't really get to the heart of the matter.

The vast majority of homes affected by fuel poverty are older, poorly insulated homes and this is where the council can have a much greater impact. Insulating these properties would lift people from fuel poverty and reduce the carbon footprint of the city now and in the future. Insulating older homes is one of the most cost effective ways of reducing energy use and hence carbon emissions.

Some of the worst houses are former council houses that were sold to their tenants at knock down prices for ideological reasons. Many of the owner/occupiers are elderly and struggle to pay their utility bills, therefore can not afford to invest in double glazing, loft insulation, wall insulation or efficient central heating systems. Their neighbours that were not persuaded to buy their council houses have had all this supplied by their housing association.

So where do the parties stand on this issue?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Scottish Council Elections, 2012, An Introduction

In less than a month, Scots go to the polls to elect their councillors for the next four years. Nominations for candidates have closed and councils have published lists of the candidates, although I have not seen much campaigning yet.

The local election campaigns do not make the headlines to the same extent as a General Election but our councillors can have a significant influence on local environmental issues through local policies and their implementation of national policies. Particular environmental issues in my area include, not in any particular order:
  • Fuel Poverty - a significant proportion of households are now in fuel poverty in Glasgow
  • Air Pollution - Parts of Glasgow regularly fail to meet air quality standards
  • Sustainable public transport - public transport use has declined over the past year and operators are threatening to cut services further
  • Recycling - Glasgow has the poorest recycling record of all local authorities in Scotland
  • Biodiversity - Although Glasgow is a predominantly urban local authority, biodiversity and access to open places is still important
  • Local development plans - through local development plans, councilors have the ability to influence how green the city is for decades to come
  • New Housing - by insisting on the highest standards for new housing, councilors can set the city on a more sustainable path.

Monday, 9 April 2012

#CTWW - Daily Challenges 2012

Change the World Wednesday is a fantastic concept curated by  Reduce Footprints which sets a weekly challenge to reduce our environmental impact.  Over the period of Lent, Reduce Footprints has set a daily challenge under the banner of an Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast.  I have been following these challenges on and off but March has been a particularly busy month and I haven't had the time to blog or otherwise respond to most of the challenges but now as Lent draws to a close I have some free time to reflect on the challenges and post some comments.

The challenges:

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Plastic bags: it's not all about carbon

I recently read an article which discussed how we could tackle the problem of the 800,000 tonnes of plastic bags thrown away each year in Europe, an average of 191 for every citizen of the European Union.  It highlighted the much smaller carbon footprint of disposable single use plastic carrier bags compared with alternatives.  Part of the article described re-using plastic bags as bin liners rather than using purpose made bin liners and it had a nifty graphic .  To a point, this makes sense but considering that many people use plastic bags for almost all of their domestic purchases, then to use every carrier bag once as a bin liner would require all that was bought to be disposed of in the bin.  I know that there is a lot of waste packaging in groceries but it does generally compact down to a smaller volume than the original (unless you live entirely on tinned produce) therefore assuming that all plastic bags are re-used in this way is stretching things a bit.  To then hypothesise that they could be used three times as bin liners is clearly not relevant.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Even Worse Than NIMBYs...

I grew up in a small(ish) town before moving to the big city to study then settle down. I still go back to the small town from time to time and I notice the changes, some I like but others I don't. I like the riverside park that has been extended and I dislike the creep of houses and shops in to the countryside on the periphery of town.

But I do not live there. I have chosen not too, therefore I must accept the changes made by those who do. In the big city we have many amenities; why should the small town not have some too if the townsfolk want them?

Unfortunately there are some that don't see the world that way. They move to the bright lights but they want the old place to remain as it was when they left, as they remember it. They will go to great lengths to keep it that way despite the desires of those living there to improve the place. Worse still are those who have never lived there but have some ancestral ties that they believe gives them the right to decide what is and is not acceptable for a community.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Another Landslide

Another landslide closes the A83 Rest and Be Thankful with the road expected to remain closed until at least Friday.  This time debris has not landed on the road but the remote monitoring system triggered an emergency closure. This landslip occurred after nearby Tyndrum recorded 54mm (2") of rain in 24 hours.

Also announced today is a project to remove a bottleneck on the A82, which is the main route from Glasgow to the west highlands and the diversionary route when the A83 is closed.

Related post:
Rest and be Thankful, but not about Climate Change

Sunday, 19 February 2012

How Green are Green Fingers?

Gardening turns out to be very eco un-friendly... The Independent

According to an article in this morning's Independent, gardening is not very environmentally friendly but I think that it depends on your approach.  This is my approach to minimising the negative effects of gardening:


I keep a compost heap for garden waste and vegetable trimmings which reduces the amount of waste being carted to a landfill site and produces a compost suitable for use as a soil improver.  Personally, I find it too coarse for use as a potting compost so I use a commercial peat-free compost for potting and other general purpose uses. I have successfully grown  potatoes in bags with a mixture of the peat-free compost and earth.  

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Money Making Scheme

I saw this posted on Facebook:

Local farmer produces solar power but wants to produce more, looks into it and finds out that high powered floodlights can be used to generate power at night but this uses twice as much energy than it creates.....

no problem.

Contracted unit price per unit 7 pence, feed-in tariff price per unit 44 pence
2 units @ 14p = 1 unit @ 44p = profit 30p

The floodlight have been ordered.....

I do think this may catch on!

EcoWarriorMe comment: The farmer will be disappointed. Solar panels (photovoltaic panels) are in fact only 15-20% efficient, which means he will use at least five units to generate one unit of solar electricity. Add to that the inefficiency of the lights with up to 80% of the electricity consumed being wasted as heat, the sums just don't add up, never mind the wastefulness of out all.

What next? Giant hairdryers to power wind turbines, perpetual motion machines or cold fusion?

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Wind Energy Costs

Following the recent attack on wind farms by MPS, I wanted to look at the cost of wind energy in fairly broad terms.  The latest attack on wind farm development is by a list of over 100 hundred Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum (I counted 2 Labour, 2 Lib-dems, one DUP, with the remainder being conservative) who wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for a ban on any subsidies and tightening planning controls to make it easier for people to block developments. This coming from a government that wants to reform planning to include "presumption in favour of sustainable development".  They appear to rate wind farms as unsustainable while new housing on greenbelt is perfectly sustainable; we have so much green space that we can build on it now without limiting future generations ability to build on it too!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Broomielaw

The Broomielaw and the Tradeston Footbridge
A long time ago, spring 2009 to be precise, Stephen Purcell, the leader of Glasgow City Council formally opened the Tradeston footbridge over the River Clyde from the Broomielaw on the North bank to Tradeston.  The new bridge formed the focus of a £33 million regeneration scheme for the area which involved strengthening existing quays walls to create an attractive public space. But not for long.

At the opening Purcell said:
“The Tradeston Bridge and the wider scheme to develop new public places will act as a catalyst for future regeneration of the Tradeston area.  It is important that the public purse continues to invest in the city’s infrastructure at this difficult time to bolster Glasgow’s economy and pave the way for future development along the Clyde waterfront.”
This is where the conflict seems to come in: creating public spaces and bolstering the economy no longer appear compatible.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Age of the Train

The Government announces that High Speed 2 will go ahead...

Britain needs a fast and integrated rail network. It lags far behind its nearest neighbours, largely due to Thatcher privatising the railways in the 1980s when other nations were investing. To her, spending money on roads was investment, spending on railways was subsidy. Is this finally The Age of the Train? In a country almost 600 miles long by 300 miles wide, the 90 miles that High Speed 2 (HS2) represents will not make a difference for the vast majority of rail users.

For the record, I haven't really done any research for this post, its only a bit of fun. I don't have the time or inclination to wade through the volumes of reports, assessments and evaluations that are available.

An extra 8 miles of the route will be in tunnels to mitigate environmental concerns...

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

When the Wind Blows

How the mighty have fallen -
Mature tree in Pollok Park destroyed
in December storms
It has been fairly windy in Scotland over the past year. Back in May, unseasonable storms battered the country causing one fatality, power outages, travel disruption, damage to crops and felling many trees.  We do not normally have such high winds during the spring and summer when the trees are in full leaf so they were more susceptible to damage and many mature trees were lost.

The next big storm was in September when the tail end of Hurricane Katia brought heavy rain, flooding and more trees down. It was not nearly as severe as Huricane Irene that struck the north east US a couple of weeks earlier but it still caused at least one fatality and significant disruption.

A relatively calm and mild but wet autumn followed as local government prepared for heavy snow like that which caught them out last year. Then came hurricane force winds on the 8th of December. They had been forecast a few days in advance with the Met Office issuing red alert and the authorities were taking no chances: closing most schools, recommending that people don't travel at all if possible and leave work early to avoid the most severe winds.  The main concern was that the strongest winds were forecast to occur during the afternoon and into the evening rush hour, meaning more people on the roads, hence a greater probability of accidents, people getting stuck and congestion preventing the emergency service getting about.  More trees came down as expected, knocking out power lines, closing roads and disrupting trains but the ferocity of the storms were perhaps a little less than expected.

December continued to be blustery with strong gales on Christmas Eve causing some localised damage (a neighbour lost part of his shed roof) then the next big one hit on the third of January.  This time central Scotland was hit hard as were parts of England and Wales.  The forecast was for strong winds but only an amber alert, rather than the red alert issued for the 8th of December storms so people didn't expect it to be as bad.

The damage was widespread and dramatic: