20 October, 2009

Why waste time debating global warming?

Recently I was sent an article from the BBC: What happened to global warming? Yes, I had already read it, and had heard the arguments for doubting the existence of man induced global warming, as well as all the counter arguments.

I wondered though, why was this ONE article being circulated so much, and not the other legions of anecdotal and scientific reports from around the globe which continue to clarify the current consensus that climate change is here, is getting worse, and is unlikely to go away?

While reports of record warming of oceans, melting of ice-sheets, shrinkage of coral reefs etc etc, are easily enough to convince me of the realities of global warming, debating whether this warming is human-induced or not, or indeed is itself real or not, simply acts to deflect from the arguably more tangible, and less controversial 'facts'.

These are:

FACT 1: Given that our economies are doing very little to rid themselves of their addition to fossil fuels, CO2 emissions are directly correlated with economic activity, or more crudely, consumption (the definition of consume being to completely destroy) of the earth's natural resources.

FACT 2: The rate of consumption has become far too high with the current population consuming the resources that would take 1.4 earths to restore - And guess what? - there's only ONE earth (Global Footprint Network)

FACT 3: This unrelenting pressure on the earth's resources is impossible to ignore - Just check out the highlights of the UN's GEO-4 - Global Environment Outlook about the current state of the earth's soil, water, air, forests, biodiversity, and development. Unfortunately there, are very few, if any, positive trends to cheer the heart and soul.

FACT 4: If there is any progress to be made on solving all these solutions we simply have to reduce our decidedly corpulent levels of consumption (ahem .... waste). And of course there is the small matter of fairness - how is it we continue to consume such huge quantities of resources in our developed enclave without at least paying a fair price (as pollution - ahem - carbon taxes would help ensure))

So let's forget the arguments about CO2 and global warming. Just agree that, at least in principle, it's fair to call for a reduction in our consumption (ahem... CO2 emissions) to levels that will allow our children to enjoy a lifestyle similar to ours.

Why waste time debating semantics (ah humm ... human induced global warming)?

03 September, 2009

As if the World Matters

This is a very short selection of books dealing with the environmental and social issues of our time.

Plan B 3.0: mobilizing to Save civilization

This book by Lester Brown's shows how the earth's systems work, the ills they are suffering, and how they are all interconnected.

The author is very good about supporting his assertions—both on the problem side and the solution side—with plenty of numbers and statistics. Better still, he always puts things in context. For example, a population growth rate of 3% in an impoverished country does not sound extraordinary to us, until Brown points out that 3% annual growth means the population will increase almost twenty-fold in a century. Indeed, the facts, figures, and logic of Plan B 3.0 is not easy to dismiss, for environmental skeptics or anyone else.

As the name suggests, Plan B 3.0 is a third edition which is refreshed with new data and a new sense of urgency as the world's crises accelerate their convergence on civilization. It's a must read for anyone who wants to understand what we face and who wants to be part of the solutions.

Capitalism as if the World Matters

A very interesting read by Jonathon Porritt, a leading eco-warrior of our time. This book puts forward a powerful argument that the only way to save the planet from environmental catastrophe is to embrace a new type of capitalism, and to do it quickly.

Peak Everything: waking Up to a Century of Decline in Earth's Resources

Written by the author of The Party's Over: Oil, War & and the Fate of Industrial Societies and Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon world

This book deals with how we might make the transition from the Age of Excess to the Era of Modesty.

27 July, 2009

Fuji Rock and the blue sheets

Last weekend I went on my third pilgrimage to Japan's premier music festival Fuji Rock. Set deep in the Alps of Japan it offers the festival-goer many spectacular sights from mother nature. However, while impressed by the festival's ubiquitous efforts of recycling, and it's two areas set aside for eco & NGO focused stalls, and renewables-powered music stage, it was evident that for most of the festival-goers, materialism was still the dominant force in their lives and indeed their Fuji Rock festival experience.

While the most obvious sign was the enormous queues in front of the official merchandise stalls, more interestingly was the fact that while everyone there seemed happy to be out in amongst nature, for most it seemed only to be on condition that nature was experienced from a distance - in a tamed and orderly manner.

What drew me to this conclusion was the en mass use of blue plastic sheeting to keep them, and all their possessions, separated from the ground. And for many, it seemed that it wasn't even enough to be sitting on a camp chair. The chairs themselves often need to be positioned neatly in the middle of an expanse of blue sheeting, which in turn is perfectly pegged out with proper stake mallets, and all transported on specialised camping trolleys.

And camping trolleys! Only the other day, while perusing a camp shop, I was thinking thinking what marketing geniuses the camp gear manufacturers must be. To have beguiled the camping public into buying so many superfluous items to take with them camping that they now need to buy special camping trolleys to carry it all on. Brilliant! And the greatest superfluous item of them all - the Colman (other brands are available) lantern stand. Granted, it may be, as they claim, multi-purpose, but really! And besides, isn't one of the points about camping to get away from it all, which in my view, includes light pollution.
Anyway, I'm getting away from the main theme; what - in my humble, and yes I know, cynical opinion - the ubiquitous use of blue sheeting represents. As well as a nature controlling device, I also see the blue sheets as a reflection of our ingrained materialism. The sheets seem to represent the desire to own and control material things which in this case is public space. At any one time, out of the thousands of blue demarcated property blocks, only 30% seemed to be occupied - in other words, the owners simply secured their space only to then leave it vacant (or vacantly leave it?) until when they see fit to return. Sharing public space is obviously not a virtue.

Again, I found myself reflecting on the themes that run through the very thought-provoking film The 11th Hour which reminds us that the world's social and environmental problems largely stem from the fact that we humans have separated ourselves from nature, and as a result, no longer see it's beauty. Without seeing the beauty of where we live, there is clearly no incentive by the majority to take care of it. So please, if you live in Japan, next time you go to a festival (of course, including cherry blossom viewing) - leave the blue sheets at home and share the public space with others, and enjoy the ground, the grass, or sandy gravel for what it is.

For a very entertaining and insightful blog on the music content of the festival, I highly recommend my fellow festival-goer's blog islandsofecstacy

29 June, 2009

Toyota paving the way ...

I read an article today Toyota Making Green Cars May Mean Destroying Japan Rice Paddies . As it goes, Toyota is set to pave over 1,600 acres of 17th Century old rice paddies and cedar forest in Aichi, by creating a new test track. When confronted with a list of endangered birds that will most likely be effected, Toyota made no comment. Probably, their 5 trillion yen in cash is enough said for the Japanese government - despite their own green-wash rhetoric about the need to increase Japan's self-sufficiency rate (currently only 40%). But what's another 1,600 acres of concrete ...

The Toyota president Akio Toyoda, who is clearly on a mission said:
“Over the next 100 years, I hope that cars will remain something that people will need. We must make sure that that happens.”
What a visionary! It's easy to see how he became head of the world's largest automaker.

17 June, 2009

WVO update

It's been a while since I added anything about how the project is going on running a diesel car on waste vegetable oil (WVO) or as it's also known straight vegetable oil (SVO). So here's an update...

Unlike the first winter, the car (a beaten up Toyota Hilux Surf) ran really well this winter. The reason: better lagging on the fuel lines under the car so that the oil, when heated by the heat exchanger on it's way to the engine, stayed heated. In the previous winter it was being cooled by the minus wind-chill temperatures under the car and so leaving the car powerless. On these occasions, the only solution was to switch back to diesel - made possible because the WVO system we use is a so called 2-tank system.

So now the car is running pretty much trouble free and my focus is on getting the WVO:diesel ratio as high as possible (or do I mean as low as possible?). Anyway, for the 21 months we've been running the car on WVO, and including all times we needed to nurse the car up steep hills by switching back to diesel, of the total amount of fuel we have used, 76% has been WVO. Given a few long summer holiday trips; to Fuji Rock music festival this July (1,100kms round trip), and Hokkaido in August (2-4,000kms round trip), this percentage should be well up, may be even to the 90% plus area.

Of course the more kms we cover, the more money we are saving, despite the criminally low price that fuel is still at - Oh where are the CARBON TAXES?! Although the goal of driving carbon neutrally, rather than cost saving, was the motivator for this project, costs are always interesting to consider. And here are a few details...

While the cost of the car was only 100,000 Japanese yen (JYN), the total costs of equipment and garage fees connected with the WVO 2-tank conversion came to 270,000JYN. We have now used 2180 litres of WVO which comes to a saving in diesel of about 218,000JYN (using average prices over the last 18 months or so).

And in this top graph is a record of the monthly fuel we used in 2007/08. In the winter, the amount of diesel and even kerosene (to prevent the vegetable oil from freezing) are higher than in the summer when the long trips and minimal use of diesel really starts to show. A similar pattern should appear this summer too after the month of June 2009.

Finally, it's worth noting that I finally got around to changing the extra filter (Delphi HDF296) the other day after 8,000kms, and although very dirty, hadn't been causing any problems despite some blogs mentioning that the filters need changing after every 2,000kms or so. This might be down to diligent filtering of the veggie oil before it gets put into the car.

If anyone would like to know more details on this project or WVO systems in general, contact me or visit my homepage where I have or details and useful links.

18 May, 2009

Addicted to growth (part 2)

The latest in the Japanese Government's drive to get people back into the shops and spending again is a policy offering so called 'eco-points' to people who buy new energy efficient appliances. A good idea at first glance. After all, in Lester Brown's Plan B3.0 Mobilizing to Save Civilization there is a full chapter dedicated to the importance of energy efficiency. But here is the part which to me screams Green-wash! The bigger the TV, the more 'Eco'- points you get ... the larger the fridge, the more 'Eco'-points you get. ...What!?

Similarly, the government is spending billions on reducing the cost of highway charges so that people will get out and travel more and hence spend more. In the same article was the governments claim that it is committed to fighting global warming. So again .... What the !!??

When environmental collapse is becoming more reality than remote possibility, the Japanese government, as with most other governments still fixated on economic growth, would do well to reflect on the words of Meadows in his 2001 article Economic Laws Clash with Planet's:
Economics says: Compete to perform efficiently. The reward for successful competition will be growth.
The Earth says: compete yes, but keep your competition in bounds. Don't annihilate. Take only what you need. You're not in a war, you're in a community.
Governments: Just forget about growth. Instead, how about committing yourselves to real policies of substance that are clearly thought through, are genuinely based on long-term goals which favour stability over growth, reward fairness rather than greed and power, and that will genuinely give the planet a chance to provide a lasting quality of life for future generations.

06 April, 2009

Gaia's free gifts

Last year I decided I needed to start growing food for the family - the logical solution if you are looking to minimize your carbon footprint from the food you eat and ensure it's chemical free.

By the end of the summer though, it was evident I am not a natural gardener. The only success was a tomato plant which actually sprouted from soil from our compost. Almost everything I
had actually sown, failed to provide any significant produce.

Consequently, I decided that foraging was far easier and provided a better prospect of a return.
This proved to be so, and during the autumn, and now this spring, I'm finding I'm able to regularly provide a healthy green salad for the family without trips to the shop.

I also discovered that acorns used to be a staple food in Japan, North America and many other parts of the world. Unfortunately living, as over half the world's population now does, in cities, people are far removed from nature and indeed the knowledge about the potential harvests that can be provided and as a result, sustainable foods like acorns have virtually vanished from all the world's dinner tables.

On the plus side though, this means in autumn, there are plentiful amounts of acorns to be collected and turned into a very agreeable flour for a truly brown, brown loaf of bread. Labour intensive but well worth the experience and taste.

One other strategy taken to offset another possible poor showing in the vegetable bed, was to plant fruit trees, bushes and vines - with the hope that they are more difficult to fail with...

Although my foraging is going well, I have decided to return to the garden and try again this spring to grow a various collection of vegetables, salads and herbs. So far, my daugher's cress is doing very well, and there are signs that our beetroot and peas have decided to give it a go.

As an update, I will blog again on growing one's own food later in the year - and particularly if my efforts prove more profitable than last year.

31 January, 2009

Addicted to growth

"We used to think you could spend your way out of recession ...  I tell you, in all candour, that option no longer exists. " Jim Callaghan 1976 Labour party conference.

Whether or not those words were true then, in light of the 'recession' we are unwittingly bestowing on Gaia, they are certainly true today. In very crude terms, the more the economies of the world grow the more the natural economy of the earth is compromised and displaced.

Recently there seems to be a growing realisation of this more serious airtime given to the ideas of the growing base of the enlightened among us who see this global recession as an opportunity to re-evaluate the core values of the world's economic system and as a real chance for building a better economic system which values decisions based on quality of life rather than profit and the futile pursuit of unlimited growth and increasing GDP. 

As Herman Daly reminds us in his paper on the virtues of Steady-state Economics: the verb "to grow" has become so overladen with positive value connotations that we have forgotten its first literal dictionary denotation, namely, "to spring up and develop to maturity." Thus the very notion of growth includes some concept of maturity or sufficiency, where by physical accumulation gives way to physical maintenance; that is, growth gives way to a steady state. It is important to remember that "growth" is not synonymous with "betterment."

Still though, world leaders are unquestioningly following growth as the ends rather than the means to the ridiculous point where we have the Taiwanese government giving each citizens over $100 shopping vouchers as if it will be a cure to the countries economic woes. And here in Japan, we have the Prime Minister proudly announcing a similar scheme, while a local city government is giving over $1,100 to people who purchase a new Mitsubishi vehicle. 

Consider for a moment - giving people more money to consume when every kg of consumables produced by our current economic system, in turn, creates a staggering impact on the environment - an average of 32kgs of waste. 

Alternatively, rather than wasting money on these mindless and irresponsible schemes couldn't it just be redirected to public social and environmental programs?  President Obama seems to be more in line with this reality by pledging to implement a huge spending scheme to create new jobs in the renewable energy sector.
As highlighted in the film the 11th Hour when is the time going to come when, all governments and policy makers switch back the ends and the means so that once again quality of life rather than growth is the focus for 'development'? 

The first step is to ditch GDP as a measure of a country's development and replace it with one which more accurately measures development .... but that's another blog I guess

06 January, 2009

Conditioning from conveniences

On a very merry night out in Osaka on New Year's Eve, while coming out of a pub housed on the 1st floor (2nd floor in Japan), seeing exiting customers waiting for the lift to go down to the floor below got me going. 

How is it that we have got to the point where people unquestionably wait for a lift (elevator) to come to their aid for moving up or even down one floor, when next to the lift there is a 'manual' device (stairs!) which invariably offers the same service in a quicker and cheaper (in environmental and health terms) manner?

While my cohort on that night's merriment thought that moaning about this point was perhaps taking things too far, but for me it represented a larger problem - our conditioning that comes from conveniences, which paradoxically, leads us to lose-lose habitual actions and decision-making. 

In everyday life similar the results of this conditioning can be seen everywhere. Just go to any check-out counter to see shop assistants putting single items into tiny plastic bags and customers with bags and pockets, unquestionably accepting them.

Anyway, sorry to start the new year with a bit of a moan but once you notice these things you may see that it soon becomes something you need to periodically vocalise, or indeed, blog about.

May 2009 be filled with a greater awareness about how we are being conditioned and where it is leading us.