Sunday, 30 November 2008

Green Christmas Gifts

For the traveller: Recycled Travel Journal from

For the bathroom-hog: Frog Shower Timer from

For the comfort queen: Naked In The Meadow gift set from

For the little one: Organic cotton Lion Rattle from

For the green goddess: The Little Green Book of Beauty from

For the wildlife lover: Elephant Dung Paper Notebook from

For the kids: Santa wind-up or shake torch from

For the fashionista: Funky gear from

For somebody who has everything: Watering can donation from

And why not use Christmas tags that turn back into trees - Plantable Holiday Gift Tags from

Want to marry? Plant a tree!

According to the The Red Carpet Blog, some communities in Indonesia have introduced novel measures to combat deforestation. In Malalo village in West Sumatra Province, ancient tradition has a couple plant two trees before getting married. Steps are now being taken to enshrine this act in legislation. Now Balikpapan city in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, has decreed that before a couple can secure the recommendation letter required to get married, they too must plant a tree seedling.

Data shows that forest area in Indonesia has decreased from 162 million hectares to 98 million hectares in the 50 years up to 1996. The problem is compounded by illegal logging, forest fire and widespread corruption in forestry industry.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Stuff Your Rucksack

A great idea for travellers: provides information on equipment wanted by charities and other worthy causes at your destination.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Solar cemetary

Santa Coloma de Gramanet, near Barcelona, has found an unusual place to generate renewable energy - it has placed 462 solar panels over its multi-storey mausoleums. The panels will create enough energy each year to supply the needs of 60 homes.

The cemetery was chosen for the project because it is one of only a few open, sunny places in the city, which has a population of 124,000 crammed into 4 sq km (1.5 sq miles). The installation cost 720,000 euros (£608,000) but will keep about 62 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year

Santa Coloma de Gramanet has four other solar parks, mostly on top of buildings, but the cemetery is by far the largest. The full story can be found on the BBC website.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Train trouble

I want to travel by train, I really do, but they don’t make it easy for me. Travelling to North Wales this weekend began with a Friday afternoon Cross Country service to Stafford - a journey of about two hours. The train was late arriving in Reading and it soon became apparent that the reason for the delay was that the train was so full that passengers couldn’t get on within the scheduled stopping time at the stations. We had reserved seats in advance but to get to them we had to pass through a solid wall of people and luggage which had nowhere to go.

Inevitably, my son needed the toilet during the journey. We clambered through the carriage in one direction only to find that somebody had locked themselves in at Reading and despite much banging on the door was refusing to yield to needy passengers. So the only option was to repeat the ordeal in the other direction. Moving through the train was so difficult we decided to leave our seats at the previous station to ensure we had time to reach the door before our stop.

I assumed at first that this was an unusual situation caused by some unforeseen event, but no. Fellow travellers told me they use the service regularly and it’s always the same. The train is woefully inadequate - too short for the volume of traffic and with no luggage facilities to speak of, despite an itinerary that crosses half of England and links several large cities.

Inevitably the delays increased throughout the journey and we missed our first connection so our journey had to replanned along the way, causing much stress and delay. The journey back was even worse - we couldn't get on the train at all. In fairness to Arriva and Virgin the other sections of our trip were perfectly acceptable, but the damage is done. If I have to make that journey again, I'll take the car rather than trust Cross Country Trains to get me there.

It was reported this weekend that fares are to go up by 8% next year. If the objective is really to get more people off the roads and onto public transport, it’s the standard of service, not the fares, that should be increased.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Water from thin air

A new office water cooler uses technology developed by the American military for the desert to draw moisture from the air and turn it into drinking water. The O2 water cooler was developed by 1st4thirst in Slough to offer an alternative to bottled water in locations where a mains water supply isn’t available for a plumbed-in unit.

The units are being trialled at a factory in Slough, where they are able to be moved to any point in the production line on demand.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Low-cost electric car mooted

An amateur inventor from my home town has developed plans for the world’s cheapest electric car. Reading-based Graham North plans to sell the car through supermarkets as he believes car dealers are too closely connected to the oil market to provide sufficient focus. The Mass-EV is designed to be charged at home and will have a range of 100 miles, with a spec similar to the Focus C-Max. It would cost just £7,000.

Graham helped develop an electric car for a company in Hampshire but now wishes to go into business himself. He is currently trying to raise funding of £100,000 to build the prototype, and around £1m to go into production. His plans are at

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

First Climate Change Refugees

According to an article on Treehugger, the first climate change refugees have begun to evacuate from the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea. The islanders have battled for more than two decades against the rising ocean, building sea walls and planting mangroves. However, storm surges and high tides continue to wash away homes, destroy vegetable gardens, and contaminate fresh water supplies. Three years ago the Papua New Guinean government authorised the evacuation of the islanders to nearby Bougainville, 10 families at a time. But the evacuation has not been able to start earlier because of a lack of funds - the evacuation will take six years and cost millions of dollars, which the islanders have to raise themselves.

Waters around the atoll have risen 10 centimetres in the past 20 years. This might not sound significant, but the total land area is only 0.6 square kilometres and maximum elevation is only 1.2 metres above sea level. It has been estimated that the Carteret Islands could be largely submerged and entirely uninhabitableby 2015. About a third of the 2,000 Carterets Islanders have apparently refused to be relocated, but in early 2009 the first 40 families will begin the exodus. A group called Tulele Peisa ("riding the waves on our own") has been founded by Carteret Island resident Ursula Rakova to drive the fundraising effort.

Take a look at the videos and photos about the plight of the islanders by independent film maker Pip Starr.

Monday, 17 November 2008

WWF Living Planet Report 2008

The WWF Living Planet report 2008 has been published, and provides a sobering reminder that the current economic crisis could pale into insignificance besides the consquences of continuing to live beyond our planet's resources. I found one page particularly poignant - it contrasts the ecological creditors and debtors from 1961 with the present day. I was born in 1961 so this really brings home to me the fact that so much harm has been done in my lifetime.

Debtor countries have an ecological footprint larger than their own biocapacity, and creditors exist within the limits of their biocapacity. Back in 1961 ecological creditors included the USA whose biocapacity was considered to be 50-100% larger than its ecological footprint; today its ecological footprint is considered to be 50-100% larger than its biocapacity. Other countries that have moved from ecological credit to debt include China (now at a deficit of 100 - 150%), eastern Europe and most of north Africa.

Humanity’s demand on the planet’s living resources now exceeds the planet’s regenerative capacity by about 30 per cent and at current rate of increase we will need two planets to support the World's population by the early 2030s. Despite these shocking statistics, WWF concludes that a sustainable world is not an unachievable goal: the solutions are there before us and within
our grasp given the personal and political commitment of individuals.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Earth from the Air

I was invited by the lovely people at Best Foot Forward to an event at Oxford Castle, where the Earth from the Air exhibition is currently located. The exhibition is a triumph. Stunning photos of both natural and man made scenes, presented alongside poignant facts about our impact on the planet. The exhibition is at Oxford until 11th January 2009, presented in the open air and totally free of charge.

The associated website is well worth a visit, although it has less impact than the enlarged photos and not all of them are included there. There are free ecards, mounted prints to buy and educational resources. Lots of relevant links and addresses, too.

This is a fantastic body of work in its own right, but it's given extra resonance by its mission to inform, inspire and educate. The courtyard of Oxford Castle provides an evocative backdrop, too. Just beautiful.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Poppies or planet?

In an astonishing act of environmental hooliganism, a million poppies were today dropped over the QE2 to say farewell to the ship which is being decommissioned to begin a new lease of life as a floating hotel in Dubai. Whilst we should of course honour those killed in combat, this seems like a ludicrous way to do it - quite apart from the waste of making a million poppies to create a spectacle lasting onlya few seconds, what about the pollution they will cause in The Solent?

It's astonishing that nobody involved in planning this event seems to questioned the wisdom of the act.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Formula One vs Formula Zero

Whilst I wouldn't want to take anything away from Lewis Hamilton's achievement, I do have issues with Formula One. I know that its advocates would cite its innovation into relevant technologies like fuel efficiency, but it's hard to imagine a more profligate use of fossil fuel.

Formula Zero, on the other hand, is a zero emission racing series powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology. Launched in August 2008, it already operates the world's first championship for hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles and, as the technology and commercial interest develop, it plans to scale up to full size racing by 2015. It's supported by the FiA's Alternative Energy Commission, and will only use renewable hydrogen sources.

Six teams from international universities are taking part in the inaugural Formula Zero Championship, including one from Imperial College, London, called Imperial Racing Green. The first race took place in Rotterdam in August 2008 and further races are planned in South Carolina, USA and London. Could this be the future of motorsport?