17 December, 2008

Never so easy

It's sometimes difficult to be upbeat about the future of our planet with the daily stream of eco-related stories and reports that indicate the continuing decline of the earth's environment. I've recently given this some thought however, and decided to pay more attention to the positive stories and items that I come across. Yes, it's necessary to be aware of the (often depressing) facts to gain an awareness and appreciation of the need for change and action, but surely, once one reaches a certain level of awareness, it would seem healthier and probably more productive in terms of motivation, to focus on the positive news.

Anyway, this train of thought led to this entry. Recently, the number of products and services available in Japan to the ethical consumer appear to be on the rise.  In addition to the niche products and services which have for sometime now have been out there on the internet, more mainstream and visible products are starting to surface. Here are a few of those.

Carbon-free nengajo (new year's cards). These can be bought at post offices and for an extra 5yen a fund is collected to offset the carbon used in the production, and possibly delivery of the card. Last year 38,000 tonnes of CO2 were offset with these cards.

Organic wines now seem to be much easier to find. These include wines from Cono Sur which has gone one step further towards reducing its environmental impacts by using carbon neutral delivery. Look for the bicycle on the label if your interested in this wine. Available at Liquor Mountain.

It is also encouraging to see the growth of the fair trade goods from places such as Sisam, which has an ethical interior shop East of Hyakumanben, on Imadegawa, Kyoto, and People Tree, a long established fair trade outlet.

Other ethical and eco-friendly shopping links can be found here and should expand during 2009 

05 December, 2008

Beginnings of an idea

My major and main interests are in sustainable development so needless to say, buying a car had never been an option for me, at least, not until our first baby was born.

Living in the far north East corner of Kyoto, has the benefit of clear cool air and on-the-doorstep access to Hiezan forest. However, this comes with a cost; a long gradual climb finished off by a short but extremely steep ascent, which only a small percentage of the local population can regularly conquer by bicycle. So, with our house positioned as it is, and the growing weight of our daughter on the back of our bikes, the need for a car steadily grew

Over the past year, we were lucky enough to car pool a small k-van with some friends but this was only a short-term answer. By the summer of 2007, I was faced with the realisation that, as I saw it, I would have to fork out some real cash, and get a Toyota hybrid Prius. However, after a couple of months of prevarication, I started thinking more about the opposite end of the spectrum, opting for an old, cheap car, that might allow me to drive with an even smaller and less guilt-ridden carbon footprint experience than even a Prius could offer. And, it was more of a challenge - to run a diesel car on waste vegetable oil (WVO). Also referred to as SVO (straight vegetable oil) it is different than biodiesel in that, as the name suggests, only oil is used as fuel and no chemicals or heating is needed to process the fuel. This was the way I wanted to go, and in September 2007, my WVO project officially started.

Information and a complete log of developments (so far) with this project can be found at
http://homepage.mac.com/ifd66/WVO.html. A shortened version should be appearing here soon ....

03 December, 2008

Biomass for the masses

A joyful memory from my childhood is of wading knee-deep though accumulations of leaves along the pavements and roads leading home from school . Early early this morning, while passing a long, neat line of plastic bags, bursting to the brim with freshly fallen leaves, it occurred to me that my daughters here in Japan might might never be afforded the same autumn memories from their childhoods.

In Japan, there is a curious obsession with taming nature, with making it neat and tidy, and presentable. Yet in doing so, they are often destroying the nature that they so profess to love. It is a common sight in autumn to see large groups of city workers hacking off tree branches before the leaves have a chance to fall. What happens to the proceeds of their labour I'm not sure but with Japan's current measly 1% of energy coming from renewables such as biomass, wind, and solar, surely there needs to be a revaluation of the nations energy policies. Blessed with natural hot-springs (onsens) from almost every nook and cranny of this archipelago, why isn't it that geo-thermal energy doesn't supply a significant amount of Japan's energy? Japan should seriously follow the lead taken by countries already producing significantly higher percentages of their primary energy from renewable energies (Austria 65%, Sweden 44%, Portugal 26%, Finland 24%).

One of the more interesting successes in this field can be found in the city of Stockholm (and in particular, the district of Hannarbysjostad). Each house and apartment is connected to a network of collection tubes for biodegradable and burnable household rubbish. Periodically this is vacuum-tubbed away to a collection point where the biomass is used in a combined heating-power station. All sewage is collected in a similar manner and used to produce bio-gas for household gas supplies. This was also featured in a recent BBC Radio 4 podcast for the One Planet programme.

There are also many lessons to be learned from the traditional Japanese method of farming known as Satoyama. It was as little as 40 years ago that most farmers were still harvesting leaves from the forests surrounding the rice fields to use as fertilizer. In stark contrast, today, Japanese agriculture is now characterised by the pay and spray policies of its Government which ensures that Japanese farmers are among the highest users of agro-chemicals in the world.

Bring back the power and beauty of fallen leaves.

What's this all about?

This blog is an attempt to record my reflections, frustrations, and aspirations inspired by my daily coexistence with the environment. I hope much of the content will be positive and inspiring, though inevitably, there will also be content that will appear negative, but which I hope will highlight how small changes in the way we think and act can greatly reduce our impact on the environment.

There will, I hope, also be regular-ish updates on the Kyoto Biofuel project, the aim of which is to use a car that runs on waste vegetable oil (WVO) to help raise awareness of locally sourced, renewable energy.