Sunday, 29 November 2009

350

On 24 October, people in 181 countries came together to speak with one voice on the most urgent issue of our times: the climate crisis. Through http://www.350.org, people in every corner of the planet coordinated the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet's history. At over 5200 events around the world, people gathered to call for strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis. By the days end, it was clear: people of all kinds in just about every place on earth are calling for a fair, ambitious, and binding global climate treaty.

Of course, there are also still far too many numbskulls who think everything will be all right, like latter day Annies chanting “the sun’ll come out tomorra – bet your bottom dollar…”

Collapse/Easter Island bunny

I referenced Jared Diamond in the last post and his book Collapse: how societies choose to succeed or fail.

Sometimes people haven’t got too much time to investigate so here is a cartoon that just about sums up the basic theme of the book. It's probably better to go to the source to see the cartoon full size as the details are a little small here.

The Easter Islanders ruined the productivity of their island and as a direct consequence their society died out. Diamond analyses this collapse and also other, less well known, historical examples.

Easter Island bunny

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Ponzi vs. environment – who wins?

The following is borrowed and adapted from greenheartglobal blog

The common understanding amongst too many movers and shakers in our modern world, and those who blindly follow them, is that no matter how much garbage, pollution and climate altering gases we throw at it, the planet can absorb it - the natural systems of biodiversity will absorb the impact of our expansionism without damage and no matter how many resources we use up, there will always be more. Unfortunately, this is a grossly false understanding, the consequences of which will increasingly bite us in the very near future - not that the nibbling hasn't already started... This is why we’re now facing climate change and looming environmental devastation, resource shortages, famine etc.

David P. Barash’s, from The Chronicle of Higher Education had a very interesting article discussing how our relationship to the environment is akin to a Ponzi Scheme.

He makes the case that modern civilization’s exploitation of the natural environment is not unlike the way Madoff exploited his investors, predicated on the illusion that it will always be possible to make future payments owing to yet more exploitation down the road: more suckers, more growth, more GNP, based on the fraudulent idea of hope.

Here is a photo of the man after whom Ponzi schemes are named.

Here is the Wikipedia definition of a Ponzi Scheme to give you some context:

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to separate investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned. The Ponzi scheme usually offers returns that other investments cannot guarantee in order to entice new investors, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. The perpetuation of the returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going.

The system is destined to collapse because the earnings, if any, are less than the payments. Usually, the scheme is interrupted by legal authorities before it collapses because a Ponzi scheme is suspected or because the promoter is selling unregistered securities. As more investors become involved, the likelihood of the scheme coming to the attention of authorities increases.


When you have read and digested this definition, see how closely the basic modus operandi of a Ponzi scheme matches that of the ideology of unending, ever-expanding economic growth. This is what our entire civilisation has been based on since the industrial revolution. Everything we know, every mainstream way of doing things is based on a set of beliefs that have passed their “use-by” date. Try reading “Collapse” by Jared Diamond to get an idea of how stupid humans can be in large numbers. To those who scoff at the idea that we could ruin the environment sufficiently to sabotage our civilisation – GET REAL!! Diamond’s book clearly shows that societies have done this very thing many times in the past at their local level. It’s just that now we’re again headed the same way but on a much larger scale that is entraining the whole planet.

Greenheart global finish off by saying:

Economy and Ecology follow the same fundamental principles. And one of those is that growth and development are finite. The naïve assumption of an infinite, resource rich environment is dangerous and must be addressed… It is widely assumed that a healthy, clean environment is affordable only when a country’s economy is strong. The reality is precisely the opposite: A strong economy is possible only when the environment on which it depends is healthy and strong. A related reality is that endless growth is literally impossible, for economies no less than for organisms, just as Ponzi schemes that depend on an endless supply of new subscribers are certain to be unsustainable. No one is innocent, and no one gets off the hook.

In the end, “we are also Ponzis and Madoffs who profit from economic schemes that are fundamentally unsustainable and thus, in the deepest sense, frauds. Madoff eventually got 150 years in the slammer and worldwide derision. What’s in store for the rest of us?”

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Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Tetley tea folk comment on this humble blog

I received a comment on the previous post from Sara Howe, who is the Director of Sustainability at the TATA tea group, which manufactures and sells Tetley tea bags in the UK. I am reposting it in this blogpost, along with my response, to give it a little more prominence. First, however, you must read this for some background!

In common with just about all industries and retailing organisations that have developed over the last several decades, the tea industry has the sustainability handicap that, while they were growing, considerations of sustainability were almost completely off their radar and, if they were raised at all, were irrelevant to the economic bottom line. Indeed, they were probably looked at as an economic cost to be avoided if possible.

This is because, when organisations are driven by competition, they are forced to optimise the factors that are taken into account to measure success. Up until now, that has just about exclusively been the accountant's bottom line balance sheet - totting up money received against money spent. Remember Dickens' Mr. Micawber and his famous principle?

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

I am afraid that now we have realised that the impact of economic growth on the planet is no longer sustainable, we have to take a few more things into account than just monetary matters when we decide if an operation is profitable/successful or not. This is where alternative economic systems of measurement, such as ecological economics and environmental economics show the way.

By including hitherto ignored externalities, such as pollution, social costs, biodiversity and carbon footprint into economic measurement, the powerful economic forces of the free market will render businesses that are run on sustainable principles more profitable - and those that do not will become less profitable. Without the need for massive intrusive legislation, people will tend to be able to make sustainability based purchasing decisions without knowing, simply by bargain hunting! Here is a link to a Wikipedia article about this school of economic thought.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Here’s Sara’s post

Anonymous Tetley said...

Dear Mr Palmer,

As the Director of Sustainability at the Tata Tea group which manufactures and sells Tetley tea bags in the UK, I have been following your blog on tea bag tissue with interest. I’m sorry you felt your initial enquiry was met with PR spin; we always try to pass on the relevant facts and useful information to people who contact us.

We share your ambition for zero packaging to landfill and are working to turn this vision into reality. However tea bag tissue is highly specified and no one has yet found the perfect solution i.e. fully compostable, with a tight seal (because a tea bag that splits is so annoying!) and paper that allows the tea to brew well and runs on high-speed packing machines. I will be passing your comments on to my packaging development colleagues - hopefully there is a solution waiting to be found!

Thank you for raising this issue – we need to live more sustainably but this is very challenging – understanding the challenges helps find a way forward.

Kind regards
SARA HOWE
Director of Sustainability

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 9:09:00 AM

 

Delete
And my response
Blogger Nick Palmer said...

Thanks for your comment Sara.

You wrote "I’m sorry you felt your initial enquiry was met with PR spin; we always try to pass on the relevant facts and useful information to people who contact us".

Whilst I realise your customer service agents have a hard job handling the often difficult comments from the general public, occasionally they will get approached about matters that require a more knowledgeable response.

I took your agent's initial response to mean that they assumed that the reason I was seeing teabag "ghosts" was because I was failing to provide good composting conditions and their unspoken implication was that my "ghosts" were actually partially degraded cellulose fibres because I was not composting for long enough or hot enough or I didn't have enough worms.

If you refer to the reply from PG Tips you will see a worse answer, that I suppose was just down to an insufficiently knowledgeable agent (they appeared to believe the whole bag was compostable) - I don't see dark conspiracies or a policy to mislead in these answers, or at least I hope not. I hope the agents concerned do not suffer any consequences beyond being given a little extra knowledge so they can respond better in future.

I am aware of the industrial rationale for how some modern teabags are -I did my research. Here is a link to a detailed article on teabag paper, albeit from 1993.

Perhaps a key part in your comment is the "high speed packing machines" bit. The development and costing of these machines took place at a time when sustainability considerations did not form part of the mainstream responsibility of companies. Now they do.

You say there is an absence of a fully compostable teabag paper that can be used with these machines - perhaps the future requires a fundamental rethink of packaging machinery design?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 2:08:00 PM





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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Teabags were SO 20th century


Here's the latest in the teabag saga with the latest feedback from Yorkshire tea. Slightly terse maybe, but I liked the use of "certainly pass this on".




2009/11/24 Customer Services </CUSTOMER.SERVICES@BETTYSANDTAYLORS.CO.UK>

Dear Nick,

Thank you for your reply, we are very pleased to hear you have been happy with our response, thank you for your comments regarding our teabag paper we will certainly pass this on.

Kind regards

Danielle Cooper

Customer Services

Taylors of Harrogate

Freephone 0500 418898

customer.services@bettysandtaylors.co.uk
--------------------------------------------------------------------

MY RESPONSE


Thank you for your response.To clarify, it was the style of your response which I liked. You did appear to realise the heavy "greenwash" of suggesting that polypropylene fibres binding soil together was some sort of plus!

Perhaps you could keep me informed of any management plans or activity related to efforts to resolve this unwelcome plastic residue situation? It has become very obvious that this issue is barely known or understood by consumers. I think it fair to say it is a breaking story and when it is fully publicised, it is likely that there will be louder calls for action.

As your particular tea is my all time favourite for "getting through the day", I would hope that, if there is going to be a major move towards fully compostable teabag paper amongst the large tea retailers, that your company would be the first to declare their plans to get the benefit of being the "first mover" and possibly attracting the custom of people ready and willing to change their teabags for the environment.

I note, from your website, that you supply your tea in loose leaf format so I will probably seek that out in the interim, although I do not recall seeing it on sale in Jersey before.

sincerely,

Nick Palmer
On the side of the Planet - and the people - because they're worth it
Blogspot - Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer
http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com


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Monday, 23 November 2009

Teabags just won’t go away

Back in May I did a post (click for link) on the problems that composting teabags, particularly in a wormery, bring. Since then I have been bringing this issue to the attention of various bloggers and sites interested in zero waste, composting and organic growing.

Recently, I emailed some of the larger teabag manufacturers to see what they had to say about this. I reproduce my emails to, and the replies from, Yorkshire tea, Tetley and PG Tips (slightly edited to remove spaces, some empty lines etc). It seems that if you buy mainstream brands of teabags, then they all will have plastic in them. As the story develops I will do further posts.

=======================================

TO YORKSHIRE TEA

Hi,
Could you confirm that your range of tea bags use a percentage of plastic fibres in them to enable heat sealing?
I discovered the problem with this when worm composting my kitchen waste.
Here is a link to a blogpost I did on this topic
http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com/2009/05/worms-tea-bags-and-tissues.html
I have been posting about this problem in the blogosphere and things are "hotting up".
Here is a post today from coopette at AKG
http://coopette.com/blog/tea-break
Is there another method of teabag manufacture that makes a completely degradable bag, whether conventionally composted or in a wormery?
sincerely,
Nick Palmer
For the planet - and the people - because they're worth it
blogspot: "Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer"
http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com

------------------------------------------------------------------

REPLY

Dear Mr Palmer
Thank you for your e-mail. The links to the blogs were very interesting.
Our teabag paper (and that of all the major teabag brands) is a mixed fibre. We don't have the exact recipe as this is determined by our suppliers. They use a blend of wood pulps and other biodegradable fibres to make the bulk of the paper. They add a very small amount of polypropylene (about 3%) to make the paper heat sealable.
As you are no doubt aware, legislation says that provided an item is 95% degradable, then it is classed as compostable. The amount of polypropylene in teabag paper is much less than this, so from a legal point of view teabag paper is compostable.
This doesn't answer all the concerns that we have may have though!
Basically polypropylene is inert and does not react with or damage plants or animals. There is some argument that says that polypropylene fibre can help soil bind together and aid water retention in soil, but the amounts of polypropylene that you would compost via teabags would really not register in a typical garden.
I do hope this helps. If we can be of further help, please do contact us again.
Regards
Alison Hampshire
Customer Services
Taylors of Harrogate
Freephone 0500 418898
customer.services@bettysandtaylors.co.uk

----------------------------------------------------------------

MY RESPONSE

Dear Yorkshire Tea,
Firstly I must say that your reply was probably the most informative of the replies to my query. Those from PG tips and Tetley were less than satisfactory. You can read them, and my responses, on my latest blogpost "teabags just won't go away"

3% may appear to be a small amount. Because the polypropylene effectively never degrades, however, it continually builds up - this goes against the basic principles of sustainability. Every thirty tea bags used is the equivalent of a whole one totally made of plastic. The effect is particularly obvious and intrusive in wormeries, which more and more people are purchasing as part of an effort to go “zero waste” for landfill or incineration or to make their own organic compost. Take it from me, these plastic nets are an obvious problem in wormeries.
As you have seen, I run a sustainability blog and an occasional environmental consultancy (Forskitt, Palmer and Perkins) so I have to suggest that any manufacturing policy that leads to a build up in the soil of non biodegradeable plastic is not ultimately sustainable and is not likely to be in the future of tea retailing. This is the sort of environmental information that people need to know. Until I found out I, like everybody else, just assumed that teabags were completely compostable. Perhaps your company needs to look at sourcing completely biodegradeable teabag paper?

sincerely,

Nick Palmer

=========================================

TETLEY TEA

Hi,
Firstly, let me congratulate you on your sustainable/fair trade type policies. As you can see from my sign off I write a sustainability blog and I would like to ask you if the teabag paper that you use is fully biodegradable in a compost heap or wormery? I ask for the following reason. After several years of composting teabags in my wormery, I noticed a "net" of teabag "ghosts" building up which proved to be indigestible plastic residue. Perhaps it is easiest if you look at a blog post I did about this for more details .
nickpalmer.blogspot.com/2009/05/worms-tea-bags-and-tissues.html
This problem does not seem to be known at all in the composting fraternity and I am almost fighting a one-man campaign at the moment. Emma Cooper at the respected and widely read alternative kitchen garden and coopette.com blogs has just done a post based on my observations.
coopette.com/blog/tea-break
Nowadays, many people are trying to reduce their domestic waste and are trying to compost as much as they can so having plastic residue in their organic compost is not welcome.
Thanking you in advance.
Nick Palmer
On the side of the Planet - and the people - because they're worth it
Blogspot - Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer nickpalmer.blogspot.com

--------------------------------------------------------------------

REPLY

Dear Nick,
Thanks for your email. The material used to make the actual tea bag is a mixture of mainly cellulose fibres and a small amount of polypropylene fibres to give the heat seal. Under normal composting conditions the cellulose fibres will break down, as will the tea, leaving the very small polypropylene fibres which are normally so small they are not seen. It does however take a reasonable amount of time to do this and really needs to be placed into a proper compost heap.
If it has not broken down it may be because:
It has not been left long enough
It hasn't spent enough time at the centre of the heap where the temperature is higher
It has been put on the garden, not on a compost heap
It hasn't been mixed with enough vegetable or organic matter
The worm population is not high enough
Hope this helps
Kind regards
Sue
Tetley GB Consumer Services
Discover more about Tetley by visiting www.tetley.co.uk or www.tetley.com
Find out about our membership of www.ethicalteapartnership.org working for a responsible tea industry

------------------------------------------------------------------

MY RESPONSE

Dear Sue,
Perhaps you did not read my email or blogpost carefully enough otherwise you would not have replied with a P.R. "spin" type answer.
The facts are the plastic residue fibres that form the tea bag "ghost" net are not "normally so small they are not seen" - they are quite obvious. In a standard compost heap they are not easily seen because the turning process etc scrunches them up and "dirties" them by covering them with dark soil. Nevertheless, if you know they're there, they can be found. People do not want plastic in their compost.
As regards your advice, which clearly suggests you think I don't know the techniques of composting - I write a sustainability blog, don't you think it highly unlikely that I wouldn't know how to compost properly? In my wormery, which incidentally has a very high worm population, the worms rapidly eat the cellulose fibres, and the tea leaves, but leave the plastic - several years later, unsurprisingly, they have still not eaten the plastic and it has built up into impenetrable (for the worms) layers. I can tell you that unless you have plans to replace the plastic with something else natural, or a bioplastic that degrades to naturally occurring ingredients that worms can digest, you will be hearing more from the zero waste/sustainability/green movement.
sincerely,
Nick Palmer
For the planet - and the people - because they're worth it
blogspot "Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer" http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com

=========================================

PG TIPS TEA

Hi,

Firstly, let me congratulate you and monkey on your sustainable/fair trade type policies. As you can see from my sign off I write a sustainability blog and I would like to ask you if the teabag paper that you use is fully biodegradable in a compost heap or wormery? I ask for the following reason. After several years of composting teabags in my wormery, I noticed a "net" of teabag "ghosts" building up which proved to be indigestible plastic residue. Perhaps it is easiest if you look at a blog post I did about this for more details.

http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com/2009/05/worms-tea-bags-and-tissues.html

This problem does not seem to be known at all in the composting fraternity and I am almost fighting a one-man campaign at the moment. Emma Cooper at the respected and widely read alternative kitchen garden and coopette.com blogs has just done a post based on my observations.

http://coopette.com/blog/tea-break

Nowadays, many people are trying to reduce their domestic waste and are trying to compost as much as they can so having plastic residue in their organic compost is not welcome.

Thanking you in advance.

Nick Palmer

On the side of the Planet - and the people - because they're worth it

Blogspot - Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer
http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com

---------------------------------------------------------

REPLY

Hello from PG tips!
Dear Nick,
Thank you for your recent email.
In response to your query I would like to inform you that Pg tips are They are made of fibres and are bio-degradable and they can be made into compost. I hope this information will be of great use to you and thank you again for taking the time to contact us.
Kind regards,
Shabana Kausar
Careline Advisor
Unilever UK Limited Registered in England & Wales;
Company No 334527
Registered Office: Unilever House, Springfield Drive, Leatherhead, KT22 7GR
Unilever Ireland
Registered Office: 20 Riverwalk, National Digital Park, Citywest Business
Campus, Dublin 24

----------------------------------------------------------

MY RESPONSE

Dear PG tips,
If you had read my email, or my blogpost, properly you
would have realised that I already knew that the majority of a tea bag is compostable! I was referring to the plastic fibres that are a percentage of the teabag paper. These fibres, that are used for heatsealing the bag during manufacture are not biodegradeable and remain as a plastic residue which is not acceptable in compost. Please rethink your reply as it is not satisfactory. Your replies will be going on my blog and will be passed on to several other high profile ones too.
sincerely,
Nick Palmer
On the side of the Planet - and the people - because they're worth it
Blogspot - Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer
http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com

==========================================

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TV chefs to the rescue? – hot stuff to cool us off

Taken from http://www.dothegreenthing.com/spotify/copenhagen

Here’s a recap

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Monday, 16 November 2009

Another boring economics/climate change rant

One of the denialist movement's widespread tactics these days is to claim that it would cost too much economically to do anything to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Subtle sceptic/deniers like Bjorn Lomborg say that it would make more sense economically to instead spend the money (that it would cost to mitigate emissions) on adapting to any changes that may happen.

They claim to believe that the results of any man-made climate change will be much less than the overwhelming majority scientific opinion predicts (even though both sides may be being over optimistic!). Real world measurements coming in show global warming speeding up, harder and faster than expected previously.

This subtle denier/inactivist "Lomborg" position does not admit in public that they are inviting us to effectively gamble with everybody’s future because they are so convinced that they are right, despite their beliefs being very far away from the best scientific opinion in the world. They may believe their position sincerely, or they may hold it because they believe that the industries and political ideologies that sponsor them are more important than our future.

Actually, the sceptic/denier position on the economic problems with greenhouse gas reductions is complete garbage. True, it will cost a lot to do but the costs of not doing it will be vastly larger.

Deniers/sceptics will never tell you that because they don’t want to believe it. Not believing it themselves makes them sound more convincing when they mislead people.

----------------------------------

What follows is a recent New York Times article which scuppers this denialist position and indeed predicts that the changeover to a green energy system will have positive economic benefits – about as far apart from the “convenient” economic doom and gloom consequences spread by deniers. It’s not “just” the assertions of greenies or scientists either, it’s the cream of academic economists’ thought.

Click for here for original article (you might need to register to read it)

economists

A New York University School of Law survey found near unanimity among 144 top economists that global warming threatens the United States economy and that a cap-and-trade system of carbon regulation will spur energy efficiency and innovation.

“Outside academia the level of consensus among economists is unfortunately not common knowledge,” Richard Revesz, dean of the law school, said during a press conference on Wednesday. “The results are conclusive – there is broad agreement that reducing emissions is likely to have significant economic benefits.”

The law school’s Institute for Policy Integrity sent surveys to 289 economists who had published at least one article on climate change in a top-rated economics journal in the past 15 years. Half of those economists responded anonymously to a dozen questions that solicited their opinions on a range of issues, from the impact of climate change on particular industries to how the benefits of reduced greenhouse-gas emissions should be calculated.

The survey found that 84 percent of the economists agreed that climate change “presents a clear danger” to the United States and global economies – hitting agriculture the hardest – even though the severity of global warming remains unknown.

Only 5.6 percent disagreed with that statement, while 7.6 percent were neutral and 2.8 percent had no opinion.

Not surprisingly, the economists favored a market-based approach to limiting carbon emissions, with 80.6 percent supporting the auctioning of emissions allowances, while 9 percent believed the government should give them away.

Climate change legislation before Congress would initially distribute some free allowances to industry while increasing the number of auctioned permits over time. “Some of the answers we get were fairly consistent with what we expected, to the extent that they are consistent with general economic theory, which is likely to favor an auctioning system,” said J. Scott Holladay, an economics fellow at the institute and an author of the report.

Nearly all the economists – 94.3 percent – said the United States should agree to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through an international climate treaty. Fifty-seven percent said the country should make such a commitment even without an agreement.

Seventy-three percent of the respondents agreed that the uncertainty surrounding the severity of climate change raises the economic value of implementing measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Such measures would increase energy efficiency and promote innovation, according to 97 percent of the economists.

There was far less consensus on how to calculate the economic damage from each ton of carbon emitted, which the survey called the “social cost” of carbon dioxide. The economists’ estimates generally ranged from $20 to $100 a ton, though one calculated the cost at $10,000 and another at $10 million.

According to the report, some economists who responded to the survey felt it was it too focused on the United States, while others objected to the nature of the questions.

“Several respondents argued that the questions were too simple to accurately capture the complexity of climate change or that specific questions could not be answered,” wrote the report’s authors.

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Sunday, 15 November 2009

And she’ll have Fun, Fun, Fun until the IPCC takes her T-Bird awaaay…

This blog has got lots of deadly serious stuff on it, like loads of other blogs but, as my title box shows, I have got a bit of a commitment to lighten things up every now and again by trying to inject some fun into the proceedings.

Once upon a time I was watching some trials bikes jumping over obstacles and flying over humps. Someone who knew I was a bit environmentally minded said that they supposed I would want to ban this sport. I said almost certainly not. My job is to work towards a civilisation where the “big things”, with the biggest potential impacts, are environmentally friendly.

Thus, it is is more important to persuade the majority to use alternative methods and fuels for such things as transport than to pick holes in a minority using a minuscule fraction of our planetary fossil fuel consumption. If the world only had a global population of 100,000 we could do whatever we liked to the environment and, apart from local temporary damage, we would have a completely sustainable impact. As we currently have 68,000 times that population (6.8 billion and counting) click for live current totals we have to be a lot more responsible than that.

Here’s a couple of videos from an initiative from Volkswagen (no commercial benefit to me for mentioning that!) that reckons that making going green more fun would be a good idea.

Firstly, a fab idea to encourage people to use stairs more, rather than lifts (elevators) or escalators. I was hoping that a couple of musical types would play “Chopsticks” - but give ‘em time.

Secondly, a system to help people to bin whatever non-recyclable stuff they feel they absolutely have to throw away.

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Friday, 6 November 2009

Because it's there.


The "morning glory" is a spectacular natural meteorological event in Northern Australia -click for wiki article.

This video is probably best downloaded and viewed in HD



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