Sunday, January 18, 2009

Save the light bulb!

This Green Lady is back after a long hiatus due to the production of a very resource hungry addition to the family...a wee, little baby!

But the trials and tribulations of trying to be environmentally responsible whilst rearing a little one will be the fodder of my future entries. Because today I am obsessed with the new laws regarding the upcoming ban on the standard, every day light bulb.



It's nothing short of lighting fascism!

You might think that I would be shouting hurrah for the new laws to get rid of the standard incandescent light bulb, forcing people to buy compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which are considered to be 'eco-bulbs', instead. After all, I'm trying to be a mother earth role model.

But this new law is one of the strangest and most intrusive that I can imagine. We'll all end up blind and bedridden with ongoing migraines because...those eco-bulbs suck!

I used to buy them, seeing it as my duty to spend more for them in order to use less power, but they create a hideous organge/green/grey glow, give me headaches and make everything look grimy. Not only that, but they don't last as long as they say (negating much of their 'green' credentials) and because we don't leave many lights on anyway, we never really saw a reduction of our kilowatt usage when we did start using them.

In fact, I found them so heinous that last year I decided to go back to regular 40w bulbs, the kind that create a lovely white glow and allow me to read without squinting due to grey/green/organge glow mentioned above.

The really insanely annoying thing is, while on one hand the government thinks it wise to annoy us with this light bulb rule, they are going ahead and pushing through a 3rd runway at Heathrow that has received massive criticism from everyone except airline executives.

Do they think we're unbelievably dim? (clearly, pun is intended)

So we will be forced to live in terribly lit homes on the one hand, whilst the government is okaying a plan that will require construction that will produce about a gazillion tons of CO2, just for the construction, and then another gazillion tons due to additional flight capacity. And more noise pollution for us West Londoners.

It's all completely insane. I'm a lifetime liberal but I can't take this weird, stifling government anymore. Bring on the general election.

In the meantime, I recommend you stockpile regular bulbs if you value your vision and/or sanity.

Find out more and read some very interesting comments at:

+ The Times Online: Light bulbs to be phased out
+ The Telegraph: Brussels pulls plug on old light bulbs

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Great Garbage Patch- the nastiest of all plastic dumps

I only just heard about what is called "The Great Garbage Patch" this week. It's a massive floating dump in the Pacific made up of plastic that collects and malingers, growing daily and destroying sea life in its path.

And when I say massive I mean massive - it's the size of 2 Texases (some say 2 continental North Americas)! A heaving mass of junk stuck in the Pacific gyre, a system of currents that provide the right conditions to magnetise all of the plastic debris chucked into the Pacific from land and ships.

Two times the size of Texas!

So how is it I have only heard about it now? I keep up on environmental news, I always read the NYTimes science sections, National Geographic, eco blogs - the types of publications that should be covering this type of thing.

After all, the great garbage patch is massive: physically environmentally and symbolically.

And scientists have been studying it for years...so why the lack of coverage, and action to get rid of it?

Maybe because it's hidden - the parameters of the great garbage patch start about 750 miles off of US shores and inhabit chunks of the Pacific rarely traveled by non-cargo ships.

Maybe because it's insidious - much of the plastic that makes up the patch has been broken down into tiny fragments that look like plankton, thus coining a phrase used by many oceanographers that it is like a massive sea of plastic soup. The marine life actually thinks the plastic fragments are plankton and ingest them regularly - thus killing off many animals. And for those that survive, ensuring plastic works it's way into our food chain.

It's a massive, skanky reminder of just how problematic the proliferation of plastic is. And with as estimated 80% of the garbage patch waste coming from land (i.e. the US) and 20% coming from passing ships, it seems criminal that such dumping practices have not been caught and punished.

It's also another reminder that the only way plastic can ever have a safe and useful place on this earth is when it's recycled and reused - the minute it is disposed of (even in sensible ways) it becomes an environmental hazard either leaking chemicals into the ground or polluting our oceans on a scale that seems unfathomable.

Bring on the plastic ban I say! Plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic food containers - they are a convenience, not a necessity, and have a huge environmental cost. (And then there are the health costs that are just now being understood.)

And more importantly, why is there no international body regulating massive problems like this? Can't we find a way to start to clean the mess up? Can't we prosecute and heavily fine ships that dump and land side dumpers? What's the point of governments if they don't deal with issues like this?

Learn more:

+ Alphabet Soup: A Look at Pollution in the Ocean (video part 1)
+ Alphabet Soup: A Look at Pollution in the Ocean (video part 2)
+ World's biggest garbage dump: plastic in the ocean (video)
+ Great garbage patch info site
+ The world's rubbish tip (in The Independent)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Marks and Spencers starts 5p plastic bag charge

After months of talking about it, and an official government stance in this year's budget that plastic shopping bags should be charged for, Marks & Spencer's has officially started charging 5p for every plastic shopping bag customers use.

Finally!

I know it's just one store for now, but it means a few million people a day will be deterred from getting a bag for a single sandwich or a soda, which happens ALL of the time. Prior to the charge coming into effect on May 6, every time I bought my lunch at an M&S it seemed everyone is front of me was getting a plastic bag for the tiniest of purchases, which made me want to smack them on the back of the head. Is it so hard to carry a small sandwich in your hand the whole 100 yards to your office if you don't have a reusable bag?

Me and the big guy have been bringing our own bags to stores for years and he now has his own discreet man bag, suitable for tough guys - a small black bag that folds up into the size of a pack of gum. He brings it everywhere with him now. My reusable bags are more flowery and when I forget one, I either try to hand carry what I've bought, or if I'm forced to get a plastic bag because I don;t have my own I a) mentally torture myself for being ditzy and then b) make sure I save it to put it into a specific bag recycling box, which they have at Tescos and Whole Foods.

I support a full ban on plastic shopping bags altogether, until they make them non petroleum based and completely bio-degradable. They aren't necessary and they leave a terrible legacy. 13 billion a year used in the UK alone, just sitting in landfill for the next thousand years. That's just nasty.

And if they aren't around people will be forced to use their owns bags, boxes, baskets and carts and that will be that. I doubt anyone will ever say 'Remember how great things were when we used to get those free little plastic bags?'

Find out more:
+ Official M&S bag charge press release
+Bag charge story in The Telegraph
+Country by country view of tackling plastic bag usage

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Extra insulation proves a hit

Our new cottage is proving challenging. Because we're renting, we can't go wild with winter-proofing it as we'd like. And when the temperatures dropped last month, every room was freezing with droughts coming in from the rickety windows and doors. The huge, ancient boiler chugged away trying to keep up to no avail. It was just so depressing.

Solution: Husband went out and bought rolls of foamy insulating tape and lined every gap and hole. He then put in a large wooden drought excluded to block the massive gap on our front door. The difference is massive. It gets warmer quicker and stays warm longer.

But it brings up the issue of environmentally negligent landlords. They don't double glaze, only buy efficient boilers when the ancient ones finally break down, and could care less about the energy leaking homes they rent out, as long as they're not paying for the gas bills.

They should all be forced to follow eco-codes for their housing stock. From what we've seen, they won't be progressive, or even sensible, unless forced to.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Recycling centre visit request

I have made an official request to visit any of London's recycling centres for an in-depth look at how they really work.

Questions like a) who sorts out the 'mixed bags' full of various types of recyclables and b) how are they actually recycled?

Most people I speak to are cynical that anything happens to the mixed recycling bags - and I myself don't understand how our typical mixed recycling bag, which will usually contain up to 6 types of plastic, aluminum, glass and various types of paper (including little bitty pieces) can possibly be efficiently sorted and unless there is a huge team rifling through it all on conveyor belts.

I want to know - is it all a London borough con? Where is the evidence of how it is all actually recycled? I can never find any reports on it, apart from % of waste that is sent to recycling sites, not how much is actually recycled or how it is recycled.

On an amusing note, one of our friends accidentally put his recycling bag out a day early on his street in Notting Hill (in the Kensington & Chelsea) borough. He was then issued with an £80 fine ($160) after they searched through the bag to get his name for improper disposal - because he got the wrong day. Huh? In New York City they fine buildings that have placed recyclables in the garbage area which makes sense - being punished for NOT recycling, not punished FOR recycling.

Summertime in October in...New York?

Me and the husband found ourselves with a spare week on our hands in October and decided to make a last minute trip to visit my family and friends in New York. It was mid-October and I thought let's go now so English husband can see the spectacular east coast fall foliage for the first time. So we bought last minute tickets - bringing our flight tally to 3 for the year - 2 short hauls (Berlin & Outer Hebrides) and 1 long haul (New York). Taking the train or driving to any of these places is a) impossible or b) ridiculously long (13+ hours) so I feel vindicated in my pollution choices.

I packed a bag of woolie sweater, jeans and scarves expecting the typical brisk autumn temperatures.

But when we landed in New York we were greeted with summertime, balmy weather. My skin instantly glowed and my hair went into a mass of waves. For 5 days I had to wear the same sleeveless t-shirt and light pants I just happened to bring.

We drank outside, ate outside and took long, sweaty walks along the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn and even had a beach day trip to CT. The warm weather felt fantastic, I have to admit. But it was freaky. Just like last year when we went to NY for Christmas and I had to peel my winter jacket off in the 60+F sun due to heat exhaustion.

And the hot temperatures retarded the famous burst of the foliage. Central Park was lush and green, barely an orange or red leaf in sight, and our trip up to the Catskills in the 3rd week in October was green for the first 30 miles before we started to see any colorful leaves in the spectacular mountain setting. The foliage was only at about 30% , versus the 80-90% it would normally be at that time of year. In fact, our first day visiting our friends' country house up there, it was so warm, we poured some beers and sun bathed in their gorgeous back garden which overlooked the green rolling hills. It was b-b-q weather. You could see the geese flying southward by in their fantastic migration formations, no doubt confused about why they were leaving such a summery place.

Back in London, there is no sign of bizarre warming in the least. It has been wintry for a good 6 weeks now, with a slight lapse into the low 50sF (12-13C) every now and then. And rain rain rain. Properly miserable November/early December. But the past week has been in the low 30sF (3-4C). And today is sunny and crisp - full hat and scarf weather.

Which means the heat is cranked up. Another tick in my sinner column. But it is supposed to be coming from green sources, which makes me feel not quite as bad.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Learning about biofuels

I love National Geographic. It's just about the only publication I trust. Each story is crafted and researched for months by experts, fact checked and fact checked again (unlike just about any other 'news' source). It explores the unseen, wild and exotic in a way that is tangible and captivating. With some of the best photography around.

It's the reason I know anything about the world at all, really.

The cover story this month is on biofuels. It is, as usual, a thorough and balanced view of the potential future of fuel plus excellent pub quiz knowledge like: this year's Indy 500 was won in a car fuelled by ethanol and driven by a Scot. (hey!)

As a bonus, there is a complementary interactive piece online that compares the different types of biofuels.

+ National Geographic's Biofuel Inteactive


I wonder if someday we can use our household compost to power our cars...?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

TGV - how energy efficient is it really?

We took another holiday, using the TGV instead of flying as our mode of transport, in August, as our attempts to keep air miles down continues.

But as we zoomed through the French countryside at 180 MPH, we wondered how efficient is the TGV, really? Or have we just bought into the hype that it is more efficient than flying? After all, I've never seen any hard statistics other than soft evidence provided by The Guardian and various news sources. So we've been told by journalists (not to be believed for the most part) that train travel is significantly greener, but with the electricity required to hurl a TGV through the countryside, and electricity plants being a major contributor to green house gases, what was real, non-hype comparison?

Or was my sudden skepticism just an excuse to trade the 5 1/2 hours on the stuffy train in for 1 hour on a plane? (Always fun going down and an absolute pain coming back.)

With a little investigating, I found some statistical information comparing the efficiency of various modes of transport, based on MPG (and L/KM) for gas consumption and MJ/KM for electricity usage.


+ Trains vs. planes vs. automobiles - oil usage
(research by James Strickland)

The difference in oil consumption is clear - planes with full passenger loads use 8-9 times more oil than a full high-speed train.

The electricity consumption per KM is also very interesting to compare - as the charts show, the TGVs fare well.

I now need to find some stats to calculate what the CO2 emission is per MJ/KM produced compared to the C02 emissions per L/KM consumed so that every mile of a TGV vs. a 747, Airbus or our car can be compared for actual emissions impact. In that comparison things like energy required to extract and refine and ship the oil should be included, as well as the energy required to electricity and the impact of the infrastructure to deliver the electricity.

Way too complex for me on a Sunday afternoon. In fact, I can't believe I even constructed the sentence above. (Maybe James Strickland can help.)

Consumptions and emissions aside, one of my serious pet peeves for plane and train travel is that none of the operating company's recycle. It's completely lame that they don't sort their rubbish, especially considering that most passengers buy canned/bottled beverages.