Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Gordon Browns' Halloween Treats

The wheels of environmental politics are indeed turning. Yesterday, at the launch of the Stern Report, Gordon Brown announced a raft of new green measures. Here is a summary of those proposed plans and measures:

  • Enshrine British climate change commitments in legislation, through a Climate Change Bill, including the goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, and to strengthen official monitoring and reporting.
  • Former US Vice-President Al Gore to become an adviser to Gordon Brown on environmental issues.
  • Establish a new commission to propose how to keep Britain at the forefront of the global environmental market seen worth almost US$700 billion by 2010. Brown said this market could create at least 100,000 more jobs in Britain over the next decade.
  • Form a partnership with Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica and the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, Germany (which holds the presidency of the G8 group of industrialised nations next year), the European Union, the World Bank and others to promote sustainable forestry. Environment has been placed on Germany's G8 presidency agenda next year.
  • Bring the private sector into a Global Energy Investment Framework which already involves public banks, to help achieve a target US$20 billion loan and grant fund for energy efficiency.
  • Launch a joint task force with Brazil, South Africa and Mozambique to promote the development of a sustainable regional biofuels industry in southern Africa.
  • To offer incentives, in future budgets, to the next generation of cellulosic biofuels.
  • Set a new European-wide emissions reduction target of 30 per cent by 2020, and at least 60 per cent by 2050.
  • Expand the EU carbon market to cover more sectors and more emissions, and to take it beyond carbon dioxide to other greenhouse gases.
  • To link up the EU carbon market with others, for example in Australia, Switzerland, northeast American states and California.

All delivered with time to spare for a celebratory warming bowl of homegrown pumpkin soup. Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Politics versus economics: The Stern Review

Today marks a definite political shift towards a higher (and slightly greener) gear. First we had the leaked letter from David Miliband suggesting implementation of green taxes (which has not resulted in the public backlash that the government feared) and today the Stern Report is to be published. Sir Nicolas Stern's Review of Climate Change is the first full economic report analysing the financial impact of climate change, and its conclusions give intellectual clout that the government must now give good leadership. It will cost us up to 20 times more if we fail to act. Stern argues in his 700-page report that failure to act now will cause huge economic upheaval and depression, on the scale of which will result to the equivalent of the economic destruction of the two world wars. This is probably the most authoritative economic analysis of the impact of climate change on the global economy; creation of a carbon market, green legislation and green taxes are at the heart of his recommendations.

The lumbering beast of whitehall is finally waking up. Al Gore, on the back of his hugely successful film An Inconvenient Truth presenting the scientific evidence of climate change, is to be brought in as a Government advisor. It now looks increasingly likely that a Climate Change Bill will be included in the Queen's Speech. The question remains however, will our government rise to the challenge and demonstrate world leadership to influence international (namely Chinese and American) policy? Time to act for the benefit of the new world is now.
[Photo credit: M Fearn]

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Green Solution: Solar Tower

A 25,000 acre sheep farm in the outback of Australia is the siting of the worlds tallest power-generating solar tower which is due to be built by the end of 2009.

Like many great inventions, the technology is essentially simple and the execution beautiful. Standing at 1000 meters high, it is surrounded by a skirt of glass, polycarbonate and polymer covering approximately one square kilometer. The air under the collector skirt is heated by the sun up to 70C and funneled up the hollow chimney by convection - thus the hot air rises. As it rises, the air accelerates to 35 mph, driving 32 wind turbines inside the tower, which generate electricity much like conventional wind farms.

Each solar tower can produce up to 200 megawatts of electricity. This would abate up to 920,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually from fossil fuels, which equates to over 250,000 return flights from London to Australia. It is little wonder the Chinese are interested in purchasing a few.

  • Solar Tower of Power Article

  • Enviromission

  • Solar Mission Technologies
  • Saturday, October 07, 2006

    Origin: The London Craft Fair

    The annual London Craft Fair has moved to the elegant courtyard at Somerset House this year. Running for two weeks, week 1 is almost at a close, with the last day being tomorrow before the show changes over for week 2 (which runs from 10 - 15th October). It is a celebration of some of the most esteemed craftspersons in the UK and some from further afield as well as being a showcase for new talent. Here are a few of my favourites from week 1 whose ethos is deeply rooted in the response to their surrounding environment or to that which they find discarded around them.
    Lizzie Farey, a weaver of willow, is internationally acclaimed for her breathtaking creations. Inspired by her natural surroundings in Dumfriesshire, her love of art and nature are ever entwined, and her ability to create great beauty from that which grows around her is truly magical.
    * Three Sisters
    * Pussy Willow Basket

    Su Blackwell, recently graduated from Royal College of Art, finds her inspiration in the old books she finds - sometimes her inspiration comes from what she has read, other times the vision comes first and she seeks out the appropriate book. It is in a sense a three dimensional interpretation of the very words she has read.
    * Magnolia

    Truly original and creative, the stories literally fly off the pages. Each one unique, they come boxed as if placed on a victorian stage, hinting at dreams of another place and time.
    * Wild Flowers

    For more information, go to:

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    What is in that paint pot?

    A good friend of mine asked me about eco-paint recently, which led to an exploration of what paint is made of, and as a result I decided to write about my findings. As she is hoping for a baby in the near future, I was concerned about her inhaling the fumes from the paint, which to me seemed a bad idea.

    This is what I discovered:

    VOC paint
    Have you ever felt dizzy or lightheaded when opening a paint-pot or stepping into a recently painted room? That’s because you are breathing in the 'volatile compounds' (VOC’s). What makes the compounds volatile is that they become a gas when released into the air. The gas then spreads around the room and you inhale the chemicals. Some materials can give off VOC’s relatively slowly, sometimes for many years, so they can remain in your home for a long time.

    Conventional chemical and synthetic based paints evolved as by-products from the petrochemical industry in the late 1930’s. These paints, once hailed as revolutionary, are now known to contain a variety of harmful substances that can affect our health and blight our environment; recent research tells us that VOC’s are a major contributing factor causing irritation and damage to the respiratory system.

    Although legislation now dictates that most chemical based paints must use reduced or low VOC’s, this has not solved the issue. Often other synthetics and chemicals have been used as replacements, which bring their own problems – one being disposal of any unused remaining paint. Plant or mineral based paints, in contrast, are biodegradable and can be disposed of safely on a compost heap.

    VOC-free alternatives
    Mineral paints date back to cave painters who would have ground up minerals from rock and ores to create colours which were then mixed with water for their cave paintings. Traditional buildings, from castles to crofts, throughout Europe have mineral paints on their exteriors that have been weathering the elements for hundreds of years. The simplest mineral paint is limewash also known as whitewash. Mineral paints are made with naturally occurring earth oxide colour pigments and can be used indoor and out.

    Mineral paints breathe. Not only do they allow your walls to breathe freely, but so can you. Such paint is permeable to air and moisture movement and it allows moisture in the wall, plaster render and/or joints behind it to evaporate out. One of the great advantages of a breathing paint is that it reduces the build up of moisture in a room, thus reducing the likelihood of respiratory problems.

    Plant based paint
    Plant paints, such as linseed oil based paint, are considered the most sustainable of all: their resource can be grown and harvested in a sustainable agricultural cycle. Originally popular in Scandinavia due to their ability to withstand harsh weather conditions, linseed oil paint is extremely durable, lasting up to three times longer than conventional paint. Moreover, it smells only of the delicious linseed oil! Unlike conventional paint, linseed paint does not flake. Instead, it nourishes and moisturizes the surface beneath, which is particularly beneficial for external wood by preventing it from rotting. Even after seven years, all that is needed to refresh a fading external door is a wash of warm linseed oil to bring it back to it’s original tone. You know when a little oil replenishment is needed when the paint begins to look slightly chalky. Holkham Hall, in Norfolk, produces its own delightful range of linseed paints in a beautiful range of colours for their estate and now sell online.

    There are numerous eco paints on the market now that use plant or mineral pigments, are acrylic free, VOC free, and are made without petrochemical toxins, solvents or pesticides. They are as easy to use, last longer and cost no more than conventional brands. Here are some of the best on the market:

  • www.auroorganic.co.uk

  • www.ecopaints.com

  • www.ecopaints.co.uk

  • www.holkhamlinseedpaints.co.uk

  • www.nutshellpaints.com

  • You can read the full version of this article at Concept For Living

    Sunday, October 01, 2006

    Welcome to my eco-blog

    Welcome to my newly born eco-blog. You may have to bear with me for a little while, whilst I work out how to do this properly - so forgive me if things are a little shaky and raw at the edges.

    This is a time of incredible opportunity and change. Climate change is a given fact - as Tony Blair stated "the debate is over". We now know that we are damaging and polluting our planet, in particular by our use of fossil fuels, with extremely damaging results. We now know that we need to take action to bring under control current and future greenhouse gas emissions. The solutions are out there, it's just a matter of embracing them and putting in place the right solutions for a brighter cleaner sustainable future.

    I want to tell you about what is happening, what solutions are being adopted on a global scale, as well as on a national basis in the UK. I will also let you know of ways in which we can all live more sustainable, energy efficient and environmentally friendly lives on a day-to-day basis. On this blog I will post some of the articles I have written, some pointers to helpful and useful eco-websites, odd eco-thoughts and anything that I come across that I think may be of interest. Do let me know what you think, or if you know of anything out there that you would like to see posted here, I would love to hear from you - just email me on polly@lazye.co.uk