What’s really happening to our planet? New book by Tony Juniper

whats-really-going-on-book“What’s in the package?” my teenage daughter shouted excitedly as I opened the envelope containing a copy of Tony Juniper’s ‘What’s Really Happening to our Planet?’ book. And as she feigned interest before returning to the computer to play Sims with her friends I was struck by the irony that Dorling & Kindersley had published this book. Back in the 90’s DK’s educational CD-Roms – known as DK Multimedia, had fascinated and excited my older children. They could get information, on such topics as the human body, without needing to read too much and what’s more they could interact with it! So nearly 20 years on a book, even one with lots of interesting infographics, has to work hard to capture a young audience.

That said, pulling together the complexities of the issues that affect our planet is no mean feat. There are some alarming facts in the book, such as ‘Energy use up five-fold since the 1950’s’; not surprising given our growing population. And in DK style the information is presented crisp and clearly, with bright charts and colourful graphics to communicate the woeful state of our planet.

As well as the changing climate, the rising sea levels and resource depletion, the author covers the problems of world debt and wide spread corruption as well as the rise of consumerism and challenges of the waste we produce.

It’s a great resource to dip and out of for snapshots of the threats posed to our planet. I can see it being useful in schools and colleges.  What’s good about having a good old fashioned book  is that you can flick through and find things without being led by specific Internet searches. Perhaps that’s why sales of books are on the rise.  However, I hope that it will be available in app format too.

whats-really-going-on-book-

It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by all the fact and figures and to feel powerless to change anything. Some sections of the book do include what individuals and society can do, but I had to look hard to find them. There are simple things such as eating less meat, using energy efficiently; recycling and using greener forms of transport that could help reduce the impact on our planet. But the really big dilemmas such as population expansion, the impact and needs of the developing world and squaring economic growth whilst sustaining a healthy planet, require more than us making green choices.

Perhaps persuading the games developers Maxis that Sims 5 should be ‘Sims Save the Planet’ could help influence the decision makers of the future. If we don’t look after it, mankind and the planet will die.

What are microbeads – is a ban on the way?

What’s the issue with microbeads?

It might only be a small success of President Obama’s reign, but on his checklist of achievements he can include getting microbeads banned from ‘rinse off ‘ cosmetic products. So if the U.S. can do it why can’t we? Well, a UK ban might well be on the way – even if it doesn’t include all our European partners, as the Environment Minister Rory Stewart recently told the Commons “If we cannot get a common position out of the European Union, we are open to the possibility of the UK acting unilaterally.” This will please campaigners such as the Marine Conservation Society who have been urging governments to act, following many years of evidence gathering by themselves and others on the harm caused by microbeads.

What’s the issue with microbeads?

Microbeads – sound a bit cute, they are anything but – they are small bits of plastic added to face washes, body scrubs, toothpaste and the like to help buff and exfoliate our bodies. The problem is that once they are washed down our drains they can’t be filtered out and end up in our seas, rivers and lakes, absorbing toxic pollutants as they go. Looking yummy to fish, they then enter the food chain and potentially we eat plastic! Excellently explained by this video by the Story of Stuff Project.

How can I avoid them?

Check the label – plastics are called many things, and listed in very small print, so if you can read it it’s best to avoid anything listing Polyethylene / Polythene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), – Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), – Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or Nylon. Alternatively, a handy app has been created see beatthemicrobead.org. You just need to scan the barcode and it tells you if the product contains microbeads. What can I do to help?

What can I do to help?

Vote with your pocket, and choose alternative products that don’t contain plastics, try Fauna & Flora International’s Good Scrub Guide for suggested alternatives and take the Microbeads pledge to stop using them. Also sign the petition calling for David Cameron to ban the use of polluting plastic microbeads in cosmetics. Perhaps the Prime Minister can add it to his ‘Things I’ve achieved list’ like President Obama!

More information on Toiletries & Cosmetics

A big thumbs up for Scotlands all-electric car club

Electric car sharing clubs in towns and cities have got to be the way to go haven’t they? Coupled with good public transport and safe routes for walking and cycling.

So it’s great to see that E-Car Club, in partnership with St Andrews University and Transport Scotland, has launched an all-Renault fleet of eight 100 per cent electric ZOE hatchbacks plus two all-electric Kangoo Van Z.E, it’s first club in Scotland. The aim is to cut congestion and reduce air pollution. The 10 EV fleet will be available to hire around St Andrews, with the 100% electric ZOE hatchbacks and Kangoo Z.E. vans available on hourly or daily basis – great if you don’t own a car for those journeys that simply can’t be done by public transport.

The ZOE is a good looking car so it’s no surprise that E-Car Club chose the ZOE Dynamique and Kangoo Z.E. Maxi after they proved reliable and popular with its members elsewhere in the UK.

Renault UK’s Electric Vehicle Product Manager, Ben Fletcher, said: “This deal confirms Renault’s status as a major player in the EV market. We value the importance of electric car sharing in helping to reduce congestion and improve air quality in our towns and cities.

“Local residents and tourists alike can now take advantage of these schemes knowing they are benefiting the environment around them and saving money at the same time.”

St Andrew’s faces the same challenges as many UK town and cities in addressing congestion and air pollution, the introduction of a totally electric car club is a step in the right direction to help reduce the town’s carbon emissions. It also supports St Andrews’ goal of becoming the UK’s first carbon-neutral university. The scheme hopes to improve local mobility, whilst reducing parking and congestion.

It is important that the scheme is affordable, particularly with a large student population. Hire rates in St Andrews are £4.50 per hour – or £35 per day (24 hours) – for the Renault ZOE, and £6.50 per hour – or £50 per day – for the Kangoo Van Z.E. The price includes power and insurance.

Chris Morris, Managing Director of E-Car Club said: “E-Car is a low cost, flexible and environmentally sustainable transport option which we are confident will prove popular with the local community, university students and tourists alike.”

It’s good news for Renault to as sales of their electric vehicle range, comprising of ZOE, Twizy and Kangoo Van Z.E, rose by 90 per cent in 2014 compared to the previous year.

Wash day blues – Getting the washing dry when it’s raining

getting-washing-dry

I know I’m not alone in loving a dry day when I can hang my washing to dry outside on the line. There is something satisfying in seeing towels and sheets blowing around and not using any energy other than the wind or sun.  It makes me feel happy!  So what happens when it’s pouring with rain, just drizzling or is damp and foggy and nothing will dry?  The options are:

a) get out the clothes airer turn on the heating and load all your radiators with wet washing. – Clothes might dry a bit stiff,  and can create a damp atmosphere and associated health risks particularly for those with asthma or other allergic conditions;

b) Use a ‘Sheila’s maid’ or retractable clothes line in the garage, carport or porch – clothes might get a dry eventually!

c) Load it all into the tumble dryer, if you’ve got one, and worry about the energy costs later. (Check the running costs on Sust-it)

There are other options such as plug-in airers – however these potentially have the same issues as drying clothes on radiators – the moisture has to go somewhere.  A Rotaire Dryline (a rotary washing line with a cover), might offer a good solution if it the weather is initially dry but rain is forecast. You could also bag your washing up and take a trip to the local launderette – remembering to take a bag full of coins to feed the dryer.

Whatever, it’s a dilemma and I can understand the wash day blues, (cue Dolly Parton), and really admire how past generations coped.  Perhaps we should put more emphasis into designing clothes that need washing less or that are quicker to wash and dry.  Never mind Smart TVs – Smart clothing is what we need!

Does a blaze of berries signal a hard winter ahead?

The combination of a wet spring and a sizzling summer seems to have encouraged a particularly large crop of berries of all types this year. Blackberries, elderberries, damsons, sloes, rosehips and haws drip from the hedgerows providing a beautiful show and plenty of food for the birds. As the indian summer continues – the thought of winter seems a long way off – and mercifully no need to turn the central heating on yet, and long may it last. However, should we worry that a long cold winter is ahead of us? Well, apparently, whilst folklore and old wives tales might have us believe it, there doesn’t seem to be much scientist evidence to link an abundance of berries with weather conditions. There does, however, appear to be more evidence that berries are good for our health – although may be not when made into sloe gin, damson jam or blackberry and apple crumble! However, damson puree is really good on porridge… recipe below.

Blackberries and damsons

Damson puree recipe

  • 600g damsons
  • 200g caster sugar
  • Water to cover

Put the damson and sugar in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 30-40 mins (keep an eye on it to check that it doesn’t burn – more water can be added if necessary). Cool and then remove stones – they should have separated but lots of recipes claim the stones should pop to the top – they don’t all obey and it’s all a bit messy – pick out what you have the patience to do and them resort to a sieve (still a bit laborious – but worth it). Check the sweetness and add more sugar if necessary.

Either store in the fridge or if you are making greater quantities – bottle in jars, or freeze.

Great on pancakes, poured over ice-cream, or used in cakes.

Energy saving tips for students

Student accommodation has come a long way in recent years – the purpose built – en-suite, well equipped, serviced flats that many first year students experience is very different from the cold, damp rooms I remember.  No worries about energy bills or how many showers you can take, it’s usually all included in the rent.  So it can come of something as shock when students move on to house sharing, and realise that you have pay for electricity, gas and even water!  Some canny landlords include an ‘extra’ cost for utility bills – requiring payment even during the long holidays.  Beware of this, one student told me his house of 8 were all asked to pay £11 per week for utility bills – paying the landlord £4576, they did the bills themselves, paid £25 per month and saved £2,000.

However, there are many students living in damp, poorly insulated houses – and all too aware of the cost of energy.  I’ve heard stories of students, like older people, not daring to put the heating on because of the cost.  With many students wanting to grab the best houses for next year it’s worth reminding them to look at the heating system, and look for any energy guzzling appliances and to think about the energy bills with any property.  In the meantime, GreenChoices have put together some tips for students on saving energy, saving money and staying warm!

  1. Check out the energy performance of any property and likely bills before you sign anything. The less you have to pay for heating the more you can spend going out!
  2. Get that boiler working right – make sure the landlord has it serviced and that it is running correctly before you move in – it’s a legal requirement! Get familiar with how the heating system works.
  3. Don’t be tempted to save on the gas by plugging in an electric heater. You’ll be clicking up the kilowatts and the £’s, not to mention the CO2 emissions.
  4. Boring …  but do as your parents say and put on an extra jumper before turning up the thermostat.
  5. Cook in bulk or together – saves on washing up as well!
  6. If you have a tumble dryer– check the filter is clear, and water container (if a condenser model) emptied. Don’t overload and keep use to a minimum. See how much one costs to run at Sust-it
  7. Stop draughts – Pull the curtains – and ask your landlord for thermal linings (worth a try) or pick up some heavy retro curtains from the charity shop.
  8. Defrost the freezer – it will be easier to open as a result!
  9. Turn things off! Chargers, lights, straighteners, TV’s – it all adds up.
  10. Wash your clothes at a low temperature and go easy on the detergent. Share your loads so you always do a full wash.

Fancy a conservation holiday in Scotland?

If lying by the pool in the sun doesn’t float your boat, then how about an eco-holiday with a difference? Fancy doing something active and at the same time help restore some of Scotland’s wilderness?

You can do just that with Trees for Life as they restore about 1,000 square miles of Caledonian Forest, in the Highlands to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness back to wilderness. Trees for Life is running Conservation Weeks at eight locations in the Highlands between mid-March and November. In addition, to mark the Year of Natural Scotland, Trees for Life is introducing new Wildlife Weeks for conservation volunteers who also want to spend extra time learning about and observing the Caledonian Forest’s outstanding wildlife. The specially-designed Wildlife Weeks include day trips to the Isle of Skye to see white-tailed eagles, the third largest eagle in the world; to Aigas Field Centre at Beauly, Inverness-shire to see the beavers living on the loch; and the opportunity to feed wild boar at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Estate in Glen Moriston to the west of Loch Ness.

The work can be physically demanding, so volunteers need a reasonable level of fitness, but the Conservation Weeks suit all abilities and anyone over 18 years old can take part. There is no upper age limit. “We have pledged to establish one million more trees by planting and natural regeneration within the next five years. Every volunteer who takes part in our Conservation Weeks will be helping to achieve something very special,” said Alan Watson Featherstone.

You might want to combine the trip with a week in a Scottish log cabin or cosy cottage, the EcoHolidayShop has lots to choose from with green credentials.

BBC Wildlife Magazine has voted Trees for Life’s Conservation Weeks as one of the Top 10 Conservation Holidays in the World, a green choice of a holiday for sure.  For more details, see www.treesforlife.org.uk or call 0845 458 3505.

Why not explore Britain’s best cottage holiday destinations this summer

On a dull January day, nothing beats the blues like booking a cottage for a short break or summer holiday. The UK has some great holiday destinations and a wide range of self-catering options, many in our beautiful National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  And, although it’s early to think of a dip in the sea, how about considering the cleanliness of the beach and the water quality? A must if you have young children. You can search for Blue Flag beaches on Cottage World, as well a looking for properties in National Parks, holiday cottages that allow dogs, or are near a pub! There’s lots of choice, from a Grade II house in Pembrokeshire that sleeps 10, with it’s own hot tub to a cosy barn conversion in Exmoor for just 2.  

How to spot Ash dieback?

Out walking the dog this morning, I thought I would look for how many ash trees I could spot along my usual route and imagine the impact on the landscape if they fell prey to ash dieback fungal disease or Chalara fraxinea to give it it’s proper name. Ash dieback, has been found across Europe since it was first identified in 1992 after a large number of ash trees in Poland were reported to have died. If it takes hold in the UK, it could have a devastating impact on our countryside as ash is our third most common species of broadleaf tree, and provides an important habitat for flora and fauna.  It is quicker growing than oak. So over the short distance of my walk I spotted at least eight mature trees, and one that appeared dead, it looked as though it had been dead for some time, but how would I know if had ash dieback?  What do the symptoms of ash dieback look like?  Time to consult the Forestry Commission website. Helpfully they have a video showing the symptoms of Chalara fraxinea on young saplings, and a leaflet with photographs of the disease on mature trees, which I will consult in more detail.  The government have been criticized for not acting quickly enough to ban imports of ash trees, as the Horticultural Trade Association raised this as a serious issue in 2009.

The government have been criticized for not acting quickly enough to ban imports of ash trees, as the Horticultural Trade Association raised this as a serious issue in 2009.  This isn’t, of course, the only disease to threaten our native species Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum) was first recorded in the UK in 2003, and Natural England have a list of over 30 plant diseases of pests that may require intervention in order to protect England’s biodiversity.  In September 2012 Natural England established a plant disease and pest prevention control scheme.  Let’s hope it isn’t too late.

How can you reduce your energy bills?

Now that the clocks have changed and the chances of a late Indian summer diminished, thoughts of staying warm and saving money come to mind. And whilst high energy prices rather than the worry of climate change may be the main motivator in reducing our energy bills, for some, reducing their ‘carbon footprint’ will be what it’s all about.  So, it won’t be saving money in order to afford flying to a ski resort in the Alps, it’s about looking at the bigger picture and reducing our overall impact. The complexities of how you can develop a thriving economy whilst reducing our carbon emissions are for those with bigger brains than mine, but it seems not Lord Heseltine’s: “No stone unturned in the pursuit of growth”  makes no mention of the need to create a greener economy – not even the words “green shoots” appear!

And it’s surprising how much energy we still waste, and at the same alarming that people are scared to use their heating because of cost. So what can you do to reduce your energy usage?  Nothing revolutionary to offer here, just some suggestions…..

Stop the heat escaping if you can –  free loft insulation is still available in many areas.

  • Check draughts around doors and windows and fit draught excluders
  • Turn off appliances and lights when not in use and don’t forget all those ‘phone and laptop chargers left plugged in.
  • Try to use appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines only when full.
  • Fit curtains with thermal linings.
  • I don’t want to say put on a cardy and some thick socks – but and the same time don’t be tempted by the “Hollyoaks” effect and expect to swan around in a bikini – TV studio’s are hot places!