Friday, 15 July 2011

Snippets from the Interwebs 7

The US EPA conditionally approved a new herbicide – Imprelis - for sale last October.The chemical name of the product is aminocyclopyrachlor, one of a new class of herbicides that has been viewed as more“environmentally friendly” than earlier weed killers. Imprelis is used for “improving” lawns by killing broadleaf weeds like dandelion and clover and is sold to lawn care professionals only. Unfortunately reports are coming in of widespread severe effects to conifer trees such as Norway spruces and Eastern white pines. Investigations into the cause are continuing but the application of Imprelis to nearby turf looks to be a significant factor.

imprelis pine

Picture taken from New York Times article (click for source).

Dr. Cregg, an associate professor of horticulture and forestry and an extension specialist with Michigan State University who has fielded many calls from landscapers and inspected affected trees, said the problem existed across the country. He said

“This is going to be a large-scale problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of trees, if not more”


The Ford motor company are now using old car tyres and soy to make  gaskets and seals for their vehicles


Back in 2009, Volvo Trucks in North America joined 31 other companies in a ten-year energy efficiency challenge issued by the U.S. Department of Energy, and it looks like Volvo has beaten everyone else to the punch. The company has announced that it is the first to meet the energy efficiency goal of a 25 percent reduction for its New River Valley plant in Virginia, and then beating it with 30 percent.

Paragraph taken from


Ever wondered about those small bars of soap they give you in hotels? If you just stay one night or so it seems pretty wasteful if they just throw them away barely used, when they clean your room after you’ve gone. People around the world die every day from acute respiratory infection and diarrheal disease because, amongst other causes, they have no soap. Each year more than five million lives are lost to these diseases with the majority of deaths being among children less than five years old. Studies have shown that simple hand washing substantially reduces the spread of these diseases.

Clean the World gets soap to people who really need it. They organise soap collection schemes with hotels etc then sanitise it, ship it overseas, and distribute it


There may not be as much US shale gas as the hype suggested. This link to a June 25th New York Times article Insiders sound an alarm amid a natural gas rush  shows that concerns have been raised internally that economically recoverable reserves have been inflated to attract investment, and faster than expected field deterioration rates are suggesting  that fields will not last as long, or be as productive as expected. Shale gas was thought, in America, to be a bit of a get out of jail free card for their future energy “needs”, insulating them against many of the consequences of the peaking and decline of conventional oil reserves. Here’s another link Is shale gas a huge Ponzi scheme?



New research shows that adverts can "implant false memories" in order to manipulate consumers.

Taken from the New Economics Foundation blog

For anybody who worries that the advertising and marketing industry is artificially creating insatiable wants in people, the latest edition of Wired magazine makes disturbing reading.

It describes a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, and it is all about how advertising can trick the part of the brain that deals with long-term memory (the hippocampus).

The experiment used 100 students and introduced them to a non-existent new product, Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Fresh Microwave Popcorn.  Some of them watched adverts based on slogans and text about how delicious it was; some of them watched what are called ‘high-imagery’ commercials, of happy people enjoying the popcorn at home. 

Then they were divided again.  Half went to a room and given a sample of the popcorn; half were just given a survey.  A week later, they were asked what they remembered.

Here’s the scary bit.  Those who watched the high-imagery ad were just as likely to say they tried the popcorn as those which actually did.

Even more scary, they rated the product just as highly as those who had actually tasted it.  Also they were extremely confident about their memories.  They knew why they liked it – not because of the advert, but because it tasted so good.

This whole story is disturbing on a whole range of levels.  But one of them is just how subversive the system is.  It desperately tries to keep economic growth higher by selling us things we don’t actually want, and our poor befuddled brains say ‘more!’


After San Francisco banned styrofoam in 2007, over 50 other municipalities in the state of California followed suit, and now, the entire state is poised to make it official–35M+ people will now get their take-out food in containers made from reusable or renewable materials as opposed to the lightweight plastic known as expanded polystyrene. The shift this law (beginning January 1, 2014) will have on the take-out industry as a whole is hard to fathom…it’s realistically the beginning of the end for styrofoam.

Taken from


Starting in October, the 7,000 McDonald’s across 39 countries that serve 13 million customers daily will have the option to eat a locally named fish sandwich that is MSC-certified (Marine Stewardship Council). The MSC has, however, received some criticism from NGO Food and Water Watch

Like that of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), this eco label should not be regarded as giving carte blanche to consumers to use/eat as much as they want!


Food price inflation is going to reach severe highs by 2030 and many of the world’s poorest people will not be able to afford to feed themselves. A recent FAO report stated that approximately 1.3 billion tons of food gets lost or wasted every year. It goes on to elaborate that consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes). Here’s a 2010 map of global hunger to think about (red areas are regarded as “extremely alarming”). Click on the image for a much larger, higher definition, version.


The report is probably the first of its kind to distinguish between food loss and food waste. Food waste is an entirely preventable phenomenon mostly occurring richer countries involving throwing perfectly edible food away by consumers and retailers alike. Food loss on the other hand occurs mostly in developing economies where poor infrastructure does not ensure optimal preservation of food during processing, transporting and other intermediate steps.

The report states that per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg a year. Considering that agricultural land accounts for roughly 36% of the Earth’s land surface, wasting food is tantamount to wasting nature. Agricultural land is often land that was previously a habitat like grasslands, forests, and even deserts which were previously supporting complex ecosystems. Apart from land usage, agriculture is extremely energy intensive using vast amounts of fuel, fertilizer etc. Food wastage therefore is one of the worse kinds of preventable abominations.



Unilever has been recognized as a sustainability leader in a 2011 survey by SustainAbility, and the Ethical Corporation awarded the company its Responsible Business Award in the High Performance category. CEO Paul Polman talks about how the company has lowered its carbon emissions by 40 percent in the last ten years, how, as a large palm oil producer it is looking to move toward sustainable palm oil, and how it is working to change consumer habits to aid in conservation.

Polman urges other businesses to move toward sustainability. “It is a very simple message: you can wait for governments and use it as an excuse, you can wait for technology and use it as an excuse, but there are many things we can simply do now, and that business can do now. And it does make good business sense. There may be a slight cost in acting in some cases, but I think they are the exception. The cost of not acting and the cost of failure is going to be far higher.”



Many products that one can purchase have “planned obsolescence” built in. They are designed to last a certain length of time and then fail – usually they are also designed to be too expensive to repair economically, forcing most to have to buy another one or the “next generation” model over and over again. Good for GDP but bad for pollution, energy use and depletion of resources not to mention bad for one’s wallet. In short, not very sustainable on several levels.

Marcin Jakubowski has started a project (click link for his Ted talk) to give away blueprints of the 50 most vital machines that are needed to run civilisation. Like Firefox or Linux in the computer world, these are open source so anyone can modify them or improve them. These machines are designed to be built with basic tools and to be robust, long lived and economically repairable. Once people have them, they have them for a long time and a lot of time and effort does not need to be wasted buying them over and over again

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that's only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000).


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