Showing posts from 2020

Finally - the good news

  Sitting at my desk, about to pen my last column for the year, I confess I have no clue what I am going to write next.   Except that I do feel it should be something positive. There's a challenge: While the planet burns and melts, and the forests and species are disappearing, write something encouraging. OK here goes - Joe Biden has displaced the blight which was Donald Trump, and is promising to reverse a raft of idiotic measures which were themselves reversals of sensible ones. America is back on track and intends to become a leader in the race to beat climate change. Good for them and all (renewable) power to their efforts. Electric vehicles are becoming mainstream. Despite concerns about the source materials for the batteries and the environnmental cost of their extraction from the earth, this is, on balance, a good thing. UK renewable power output overtook fossil fuels for the first time in February of this year. Governments around the world are making serious commitments to

Recycle - is it or isn't it?

  We had the annual work do at our house last week; and very pleasant it was too. My boss organised the catering and so a van arrived at about midday with a load of food in various packages and containers. We collected empty bottles in a crate and the rest went into the garage with everything else where it gets sorted on a Sunday night, in time to be put out for collection - if I remember to put it out. This week I was sorting through the recycling and I found myself feeling dismayed by the sheer volume of waste which had been generated by our lunch. There were large thick tin foil platters for the meats - not hardy enough to be kept, but substantial enough to make me feel decidedly uneasy about throwing them away. Disposable cutlery, fair enough it was wood not plastic, but disposable nonetheless. Any number of large plastic containers for the salads - and I couldn't find a recycling symbol so I didn't know whether to put them in the bin with the yellow lid or straight into th

On the verge of stupidity

  Travelling on the Southern Motorway last night, towards the Bombay Hills, we found that we were approaching a mass of yellow lights and arrows telling us to slow down and move into the left lane. From a distance we couldn't see what it was all about: Was there   an accident? Was it more roadworks? As we approached we passed a vehicle on our left which was displaying a brightly lit sign telling us that the right hand lane was about to come to an end. Moving into the left lane we then came upon a much larger vehicle to our right carrying a much larger, brightly lit display, telling us to keep left. And then another. It was only as we passed this latest light-fest that we were able to see what was happening: Just out in front of the illuminated motorcade was a tractor with a lawnmower on the back, cutting the grass next to the barricades of the median strip.   I'll admit it was dark and I didn't get a very good look but it appears that this procession of three traffic contro

Good news - or is it?

Scanning through the news this morning, I noticed an article on BBC News which claimed 'One of biology's biggest mysteries 'largely solved' by AI. Normally I like the BBC writers, they make complex subjects accessible, but in this case after a very short time my mind had turned to fog.   The first few lines gave way to a discouragingly complex graphic which I skipped almost immediately in favour of continuing to bounce over the text without really understanding any of it. Reaching the end of the article I was aware that a significant advance has just been made in the field of AI which will be of enormous benefit to the study of medicine and proteins. That's good news.   Still a bit blurry on it, I turned to the Guardian version of the same story. I'm not sure exactly why, but this article was easier to read and made more sense - to me. I was still actively engaged with the text when I got to the bit which read "pave the way for designer medicines, more nutr

Don't believe what you read

  It must be the internet - so much information so easily. I don't remember being as suspicious of news sources in the days before the internet as I am now. It doesn't seem to matter what your view is on any given subject; if you search it on the internet you can find plenty of material to back up your view.   Just out of curiosity, I did a search using the words 'climate hoax', and was surprised to find that there is nothing to worry about. Forests are regenerating faster than ever before, polar bears are thriving and their numbers rebounding, and CO2 emissions are, in fact, not a problem at all. It's all just the natural rhythms of the earth. This latest bout of climate change (which happens all the time) is due almost entirely to the changing magnetosphere of the earth, and the resultant cloud formations.   No problem there then. And, as is usually the way with factually accurate and responsible websites, this one was fairly bristling with links which alerted me

Conflicted emotions

Many years ago a lawyer said to me that the most tiring thing about being a lawyer in his line of work, which was the family court, was permanently being in a state of conflict.  It's a bit like that today for those of us who endeavour to make ethical choices, ensure that our Ps and Qs are sufficiently PC, and just generally be good citizens of the global village. Ride the bike or drive the car? Take an extra few minutes in the shower after a hard day at work? Buy that thing you want even though you know it has an environmentally irresponsible amount of packaging? Choose pork belly from the menu when you know there's a better than even chance that the pig never saw the light of day? How to react to a joke, told by a friend, which was mainstream twenty years ago but definitely dodgy by today's ever-evolving standards. We met some friends for a drink last weekend, and afterwards went back to their house in the country for another - no I wasn't driving.  So there I was, si

Blind to the specs ...

  I think I lost an argument with the wife last night. She was telling someone about a pair of glasses; where she bought them and how much they cost. She obviously noticed my thinly disguised 'harrumph' and guessed correctly that I was reacting to my discovery of the amount of money she is prepared to spend on a pair of glasses. "Well it's better than what you do - you and your +2.5s for $9 from the supermarket. Exactly how many pairs have you bought in the past couple of years?" My reply is what got me into trouble " I buy them because they are always breaking or getting scratched and it's cheap and easy to get a new pair". That was it really - I had walked blindly into the cactus. " "That's not very green is it? Why don't you buy a decent pair of gasses which isn't going to fall apart in five minutes?" Why indeed? And so it is across a huge range of products. If something stops working it is often more cost effective

Plastic - How fantastic?

  Great news: Plant-based milk bottles. Fonterra have announced new fully recyclable milk bottles made from sugarcane. The press release shows the bottle nestled on a bed of green leaves, with the text on the label proclaiming "I'm a plant-based bottle". When I saw the ad on TV last night I was properly impressed; this is great progress, and a fitting subject for my column this week.  Although the irony of the claim is conspicuous: milk not being a particularly environmentally friendly product, let's not dwell on that today.  The bio-HDPE is made in Brazil from sugarcane. Some might question, somewhat cynically, how long ago the farm on which the sugarcane grows was cleared of indigenous vegetation. But then surely all farms, everywhere, were once cleared of the naturally occurring plantscape to make way for cultivation of crops? So we can't have a go at them for that.  The bio-HDPE is then shipped to New Zealand where it is made into milk bottles. Mmm - I don

A forcing of nature

  I like a nicely mown lawn, and a tidy garden. So when the sun came out a couple of weekends ago I had no excuses left. Having put it off for weeks on end I had to get into it. My neighbour must have been working to the same time frame because he was out in force as well. Between us, during the course of the day, we unleashed the power of no fewer than seven pieces of petrol driven machinery on our unsuspecting gardens. It would have been eight except for the fact that my lawn edger is manual - a circular blade with a foot pedal and a handle. That was when I realised it was a bit ridiculous; as I hopped and lurched along trying to get this thing to cut through the thick outriggers of lawn which were making a break for the path - my neighbour breezed past me in a cloud of two-stroke fumes leaving a ruler straight divide between grass and concrete.   Apart from those we each had a line trimmer, a garden blower, and a lawn mower, although his is a ride-on so, again, he was cruising past.

Meat the greens

  Someone said to me a while ago: "I'm not a greenie". Fair enough, one doesn't have to be a greenie. But what does that mean? Does it mean, perhaps, that the person has looked at the evidence for and against climate change   and decided there is no problem? Or that there is a problem but it is not caused by human activity. Or, and this seems to be the most likely, the person simply doesn't care: "I'm OK, so I'm not bothered." Of course, in this country, at this time, we are all OK. We are not going to disappear beneath the rising seas tomorrow, but does that mean we should not be bothered? Last night the television in our house was tuned in to Country Calendar because there was story about a local butcher shop, Wholly Cow, run by a local family, which is doing very well. The business is intentionally as sustainable and kind to the environment as possible. There are many ways in which this family is attempting to lighten their step on the ear

As simple as 1-2-3

I've been thinking about the concept of 'indifferent consequence'. A bit of a clumsy phrase, but by way of explanation, allow me for a moment, to personify nature. That is to say, to attribute human qualities and traits to the universe, the laws of physics, the cosmos, the environment etc. as a whole. As an erstwhile parent of young children I have often employed the 1, 2, 3 device - you know how it goes: "Do as you're told - one... two... two and a half... two and three quarters... " It didn't work because the child knew I didn't want to get to three and so I would string it out - and so would the child. I once heard Dr. Phil on TV saying that 1,2,3 doesn't work. He said if you want your child to take you seriously, set an egg timer and tell the child that when it goes off so does the consequence. The child knows the timer is not going to play games, it will simply go off when the time is up, therefore there is a much higher chance of the child co

And now for the 'good' newsLine

  One of, if not the only, benefit of flying as close to the deadline as I habitually do is that I can change what I am planning to write at the last minute. My story of two neighbours will have to wait.   I attended an event organized by the Chamber of Commerce in the offices of a prominent investment services company in Cambridge this morning. There was, of course, a presentation during which I learned two things which I found surprising for an odd reason: My initial reaction to these things was that they are both positives, but they were presented as negatives. The first was that population growth rates amongst developed nations are slowing and this is presenting challenges to policy makers. The other is that governments and central banks around the world are actively engaged in trying to get inflation up to a pre-determined level which is seen as a good place to be, but by and large are not succeeding ie; inflation rates in the developed world are remaining stubbornly low. I hadn

On the path of least resistance

  I called in to the dairy at Hautapu yesterday and spotted a poster on the notice board. It was advertising the new Sharing Shed at Country Creche, and above the picture of shelves full of home grown produce, were the words: "Take what you need, share what you can." That sounds like a good idea - something to live by. The problem is the gap between what we need and what we want. This morning I wanted to drive the car to work; it had been raining all night, the ground was wet and the sky very grey with only the odd patch of blue. What I needed was to get to work. I finally made the decision to ride the bike, it keeps me moving and doesn't burn any fossil fuel. In fact, me riding around town on a bike is as much about fitness as saving the planet. I really don't believe that individual actions are going to reverse the current slide towards climate and environmental collapse. That is going to have to come from governments, and possibly David Attenborough, they do seem

It's a yes from me.

  Cannabis. Should we make it legal or not? I say we because we are shortly going to vote on the issue and that vote will determine the answer to the question. So it is very much we who will decide whether or not cannabis should be made legal. I have been trying to come up with an argument, either way, which has not been thoroughly aired and shaken out already. However I don't think there are any so we'll have to go over some old ones. Those in favour of legalisation raise points like; cannabis is in widespread use already; prohibition in the US was a total failure; the government may as well tax it; it is claimed that cannabis has medicinal benefits; if alcohol and tobacco are legal why not cannabis? All of these angles can be argued convincingly. Those against legalisation state that cannabis is harmful, it is claimed that cannabis has damaging effects on the human nervous system, causes long term memory and thought processing problems, and it is a known carcinogen. There

It's not our problem.

  Broadly speaking, my brief is to write a weekly column, with the odd digression,   on environmental issues. Some weeks I feel more   optimistic than others. This is not one of those weeks. Sometimes a quick scan of the news brings one stumbling to the realisation that despite the efforts of many wonderful and tireless people there is really no hope for the planet. That is to say, there is no hope for the planet as we knew it.   The seas are rising; the ice caps are melting; human activity has wiped out 60% of wildlife since 1970; atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise. These trends are not about to change any time soon; it's easy to see that by looking around. Modern consumer society takes all and gives nothing - and that's because we the people want to have all the nice things. Let's face it - the average person in the street couldn't care less if the Greater Spotted Womble Thrip becomes extinct. They would care if it meant they couldn't hav

Reading the blurred line.

  Since being asked to tackle 'End of Life' this week I have been thinking about how to present my thoughts. I toyed with the idea of an allegory (two old men on a park bench - one about to kill himself, and the ensuing discussion) to illustrate the points but it would be simpler to come straight out and say what I think. Also parts of it may have been unnecessarily upsetting to some readers who have been   affected by suicide. To be clear, the end of life issue we are shortly to vote on is not a discussion of suicide and its ramifications. There are factors and considerations involved in the suicide of a healthy person which are way beyond the scope of a conversation about euthanasia.  And therein, possibly, lies a blurred line. When does suicide become an 'end of life' choice? Terminal illness? Seemingly incurable sadness? An inability to care for oneself?  There's a slight irony here; it seems that a person might be eligible, in the minds of some, to choose to

Why I abandoned Google.

    I changed my search engine. That is to say I set the default search engine in the web browsers on all my electronic devices to something other than Google. What is this madness? Google reportedly processes around 70,000 search queries every second. That means 6 billion searches a day. That's mainstream by anyone's standards so you'd have to have a pretty good reason to deviate from that path, wouldn't you? It is well known that Google has generated enormous wealth and continues to do so. As long ago as 2011 one of the founders spent $45 million on a superyacht. And there's the reason - a superyacht is about as green as a bonfire in a coalfield with no reason for being other than the gratification of the owner. I do not propose to discuss whether or not any of us would choose a life of ultimate luxury were we able to afford it - I've done that in a previous column - but there is a better way. It's called Ecosia. It is a search engine founded by a 35 yea

Can we be bothered?

  I wonder if this is it. All this interminable rain - is it climate change or just some inclement weather? I have no idea whether we are experiencing more rain than normal for this time of year. I don't even know what normal is. I do know that one of the predicted consequences of climate change is more extremes of weather and they do seem to be happening. The highest temperature ever recorded on earth - since humans have been measuring it anyway -   happened just recently in California - that's an extreme. Sea levels are, in fact, rising. Stories of storms and tempests across the globe seem to be ever more frequent on the news. But are they? It certainly seems that they are, but we can't be 100% certain unless we count them and compare the statistics with past figures. This is why we need science. Scientists count and measure things, and then, using knowledge and expertise gained through years of study and research, they attempt to draw conclusions from the information th

Keeping us in the dark.

  Having dropped the kids off at school this morning, I found myself behind a milk delivery truck. On the back of it was a big picture of a milk carton along with some joyous text promoting the new 'triple layer light proof' milk bottle. Of course I share their enthusiasm: Before I gave up drinking milk I would regularly eat my cornflakes in the pantry, where it was nice and dark. It just tasted better than milk by daylight. Have you ever noticed what lovely teeth vampires have? Must be all that calcium by night. Then I would begin my daily fitness regime followed by my dental health routine, beauty, mental well-being, and spiritual awareness. I don't know where I would have ended up were it not for the jojoba and aloe vera scrubs and the many and varied potions and supplements each containing just enough 'real authentic genuine' something to be able to use the name of it.  When I was an under-nourished musician somewhere in the nineties I saw an ad on TV telling

Food farms: Good for the planet?

  Let's peer into the future for a moment, but before we do, let's look at some recent events. Over the past  few years there have been a few stories in the news about houses in certain parts of the developed world selling for ridiculously low prices, and I have just seen another one today. In some cases the local authority will practically give you a house if you agree to spend a certain amount of money doing it up - and then undertake to live in it for a certain period of time. Of course the problem is that the newly welcomed residents then have to find gainful employment in their new, often a bit isolated, community. But it's the lack of economic activity, and therefore employment, which has caused the situation in the first place. There have been stories in the news about food technology, and how food may very well be 'grown' in factories to an almost limitless array of specifications. Management will be able to dial up a run of steak, or flour, or milk to na

Examining the greenness.

What a day. It started at home in Cambridge. I had to go to work for an hour, and then pack up the car and the family and drive south, and now I am sitting in a cabin in the holiday park at Foxton beach.   Something I have been aware of for some time has been brought into stark relief in the last couple of days: I am constantly evaluating the 'greenness of things'.  Last night two young men visited our house; one is an apprentice diesel mechanic and the other is embarking on a career in the dairy industry. A quick, involuntary evaluation yielded the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that in twenty years time both of those industries will be niche, if at all. I feel almost traitorous for thinking it, but to my mind it seems inevitable. As we left Cambridge I was evaluating the ethical and environmental justification for going on this trip at all. I am afraid to say that the outing is ecologically indefensible. We are down here to collect a new puppy for my daughter, and not a CO2

My beef with some burgers.

  One step forward, two steps back. France has announced a ban on outdoor heating which will come into force after the northern winter. And if you eat a burger in Europe there is a good chance the animal it came from will have been fed on soy grown in illegally deforested areas of the Amazon. Announcing the outdoor heating ban in France Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili said outside heating or air conditioning was an "ecological aberration". And so it is. From any point of view heating the street doesn't make a lot of sense. They have also said that any shop running air conditioning must keep the doors closed.  If this outbreak of sense continues we might have little to worry about before long. Never fear though - there are plenty of idiots to counteract the good work done by the few. JBS for example, the largest meat processing company in Brazil, and by volume the world, says that it does not process meat which has come from animals farmed on illegally cleared land. Y

Gaga on Gaia - or not.

  I've been a bit conflicted this week. I read an article online about the proponent of the Gaia theory, James Lovelock, who has recently done two remarkable things. Firstly he surpassed the age of 100, and secondly, in a video interview, he expressed the opinion that we shouldn't bother trying to save the planet. This led me to do a bit more research on the Gaia theory, although technically speaking it's more of a hypothesis than a theory, but even for me that's a bit pedantic.  At first glance, or rather 'quick net search',  The Gaia theory appears to be based on perfectly sound common sense and I do appreciate common sense so I was taken aback to read that the 'theory' had been ridiculed by one Richard Dawkins. Now, as far as I am concerned, Dawkins walks on water. Well of course he doesn't actually walk on water, no one ever has. But if perambulating on H2O was up for a bet, my money would be on Dawkins, Hitchens, Gould, or Fry to name but a