Saturday, 26 June 2010

When the wind blows

Along the same lines as the "arty" plastic bag video I featured in my recent post, here is another strange, but compelling, one.


Thursday, 17 June 2010

Why incinerators are green red herrings

I posted the following on an article about the waste handling policy of Amsterdam - which looks pretty short term - on the (people planet profit) website

Hi Leon,
Perhaps you believe that if each area such as Amsterdam works out what they think is the most immediately green(ish) answer for them that somehow the sum total of all the millions of areas in the world doing this will add up to an adequately globally sustainable solution. I don't think minimising or ignoring the international dynamics will bring home the bacon environmentally speaking.

Here's a post I made to another site that partially explains why incineration is a dead-end/red herring.

The whole point about why we talk about composting, waste/energy/greenhouse gas reductions etc. is because we are not living in a sustainable way. The United Nations Environment Program identified a couple of years that we are living at least 20% beyond what the planet can sustainably supply and so clearly we need to make big moves to address this, or we are in for some grief.

As an analogy, it's no good jumping, say, 6 feet to cross the ten foot crevasse that yawns between our current society and sustainability. Similarly, such things as incinerators, compost-able plastics etc are diversions that have green "feel-good" aspects to them but only 6 feet worth, not the whole enchilada. These apparent benefits are largely greenwash in the marketing of products to a naive public - the marketing industry shares a lot of the responsibility for the mess we are now in because they seem to work on the principle that if people think they are getting something, then that is just about as good as if they actually are getting it. In short, their business is identifying "needs", amplifying them into greeds then, with their evil twin the advertising industry, to set about marketing the various wares to satisfy these created needs/greeds. The incinerator industry has tidal waves of greenwash flooding around which sound sensible to short term analyses which do not sufficiently consider the long term goals.

Incineration with energy recovery, particularly if that includes district heating, is viewed as better than landfill and, from the greenhouse emissions perspective (particularly methane) that is probably right - but it's not good enough. We can’t cross the gap like that. Incinerators need a supply of burnable rubbish for their 25-30 year design life and so are directly antagonistic towards waste reduction measures. Anyway, the amount of energy they actually recover is a fraction of the embodied manufacturing energy of most waste. "Recovering" that fraction of the energy out of burning waste only appears, at a casual glance, to be a plus because most never think of the much larger amount of energy (not to mention the generated pollution, resource depletion, habitat change etc.) that was originally used to extract or mine, transport, process and manufacture the goods that became "waste" in the first place.

It's no good promoting incinerators by only looking at (what appear to be green) marketing points. Ultimately, any system which demands a steady supply of combustible waste will ensure that we will fail to make the other side of the crevasse. Proponents of the idea that they will provide a stopgap, while we are waiting for recycling/re-use systems to arrive, miss the point of how the presence of a convenient disposal system mitigates against the arrival of those systems.

It's also no good using shallow LCAs (Life Cycle Analyses) to point out the current shortcomings with plastic recycling and returnable schemes - these will take a long time to sort out sufficiently. Pressure and economic incentives will need to be applied to "encourage" manufacturers to change their materials, transport and packaging systems; ultimately their factory locations, product design and manufacturing methods too.

It took almost 100 years for the consumer society to get where we are now - we can spare 20 years to put right what once went wrong by re-imagining things sustainably, but we will have to ignore the siren corporate calls for easy disposal technology.

One of the chess moves that will lead to a sustainable society being created is the instituting of reliable collection of recyclable material ahead of the moment when there will be enough of a supply for most manufacturers to commit to greatly reducing, or eliminating, the use of "virgin" material. Thus we need a "build it and they will come" period for recyclable/returnables combined with economic carrots and sticks applied to discriminate against the use of virgin material and one-trip systems, so that the loop gets closed.

To cross the metaphorical crevasse successfully might need a hard ten mile frustrating sideways detour which, for a time might not appear to be getting closer to (or may initially even draw further away from) our destination, whereas moves like the big "incinerator jump" across might appear, with a shallow LCA analysis, to be rapidly crossing the ten foot gap to sustainability, only will prove to fail disastrously later on, having wasted lots of time.

There is currently an awful lot of faux-sustainability thinking in the corporate planning arena and this is largely due to a failure to realise that business-almost-as-usual, but with a few bright green knobs stuck on, will simply not cut the sustainability mustard. Simultaneously, it muddies the waters with promises of apparently clean, useful solutions and relatively painless “keep right on consuming” subliminal messages which unfortunately will prove to be red herrings and a tragic waste of time and effort and will, in due course, end up with the planet and us broken at the bottom of the crevasse.


Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The existential life and not death of a plastic bag. And canvas bags – the music video

This magnificent vid is stolen from Beth Terry's Fake Plastic Fish blog. Tim Minchin does a David Lee Roth production number about taking canvas bags to the supermarket. It starts slow for the first minute but builds. Jersey’s already there with the canvas bags but not everywhere is yet

Here is a strange “arty” 18 minute vid, narrated by Werner Herzog. The life and death – not – of a plastic bag. You’ll get bored but it’s worth sticking with for the punchline. The Vortex mentioned is a reference to the Pacific gyre - a huge area in the Pacific where plastic fragments just go round and round killing wildlife, which inspired Beth Terry's quest to live without plastic.


Worldchanging: Bright Green: Raspberries, Pears and Chocolate: A Fresh Understanding of the Bee Crisis

Not quite as simple as varroa mite, American foulbrood and pesticides... our declining bees are subject to complex forces.

Worldchanging: Bright Green: Raspberries, Pears and Chocolate: A Fresh Understanding of the Bee Crisis


Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Earth Hour In Jersey – tripping the light fantastic

This report is a bit late, but hey ho. J-CAN (Jersey Climate Action Network) went out on the town in St Helier on Saturday March 27th to see how many commercial premises were showing willing by not leaving their lights blazing all night.

Earth hour on JCAN website

The following paragraph is stolen from J-CAN’s website.

“Earth Hour is a global celebration of our personal, commercial and civic determination to protect the planet against harmful climate change. At 8.00 pm for one hour on Saturday 27 March 2010, homes, businesses, civic buildings, and illuminated monuments around the world turned their lights off as a gesture of commitment and a demonstration of awareness and care. J-CAN were in St Helier. Have a look at our photo gallery to see what they saw”. 

A couple of highlights (sorry about pun). Chequers in Bath Street had full on shop/display lights whereas Costa Coffee, which is part of the floor space of that very supermarket, was in virtual darkness with only a few very low lights in the cabinets. Royal Bank of Canada had quite a few lights left on, which was embarrassing for Francis B. - who is one of J-CAN’s leading figures - because he is also the environmental officer for RBC! At our subsequent meeting we tackled him about this and he said that he had asked his minions to turn the lights off. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink!

Here is the list of shame/fame in not much of a particular order, apart from the first two.

Liberation station – full on bright lights everywhere

Sure/Cable and Wireless, King street - dazzling full on lights (see picture)

Liberation house near Waterfront - 10% lights

Carey Olsen, Esplanade - 50% lights

Jersey Telecom, Queen street - 20% display lights

Airtel, Queen street - moderate display lights

Bedzzz, New street - 20% lights

Top shop, King street - bright display lights

Dandara, King street - moderate display lights

Aqua, King street - bright display lights

Hallmark, King street - moderate display lights

Co-op Locale, Bath street - moderate internal lights - bright food cabinet lights

The Loft, Parade - bright display and internal lights

Fotosound, Charing Cross - window and internal display lights

HSBC, Queen street - 30% lights

H. Samuel, Queen street - 75% lights

Monsoon, Queen street - full on lights

Molton Brown, Queen street - 50% lights

Vision Express, Queen street - bright lights

Redvers - very bright display lights

Jeff le Marquand, Bath street - full display lights

Wesley Grove - full on exterior lights

Homemaker, Don street - moderate display lights

Bauformat, Burrard street - bright display lights

HSBC, Gloucester street - 50% lights

Barclays, Library place - all ground floor lights on

RBS, Broad street - ground floor 25% lights

RBC, Broad street - 50% lights

Chequers mini-supermarket, Bath street - all lights full on - Costa cafe, Bath street – cafe in the supermarket - all lights off