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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Revitalised and sun-tanned

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

This blog has had quite an extended holiday. And like most of us after a good holiday, it’s come back all revitalised and sun-tanned.

At last I’ve finally (what’s that they say about the cobbler’s bairns …?) upgraded it to WordPress software! All posts and comments have been transferred from the original manually-maintained blog. It should be a bit easier to use now, and much easier to find previous posts on various subjects.

I’ve also transferred my website hosting to Solar Host who are one of the very few hosting companies I’ve found whose sites are genuinely powered 100% by renewable energy. Several hosting companies, particularly in the US, are making a big deal of providing hosting powered 100% (or even 300%!) by renewable energy, but when you read the small print, you find that they use grid-powered data centres just like everyone else and the only difference between them and other hosting companies is that they’ve purchased “green energy tags”, “certified renewable energy credits”, “renewable energy certificate system (RECS)” or “carbon offsetting” to cover their calculated power usage. While this is undoubtedly better than nothing, and many of the companies seem genuinely concerned about the environment, this is “green” hosting by accounting convention only and is not really what it claims to be. It’s not hosting powered directly and exclusively by real world onsite renewable energy.

Ecological Hosting and Solar Host are different. They both host all their sites at a 100% solar-powered Californian data centre which is the only commercially available facility of it’s kind in the world at the moment. This data centre, created and run by Phil Nail of AISO, has an energy-efficient design and construction, uses servers controlled by chips that consume 60% less energy and generate 50% less heat than the most popular brands, source their water through rainwater harvesting, run refrigerant-free natural air conditioning to cool the servers and offices, use solar tubes for all their daytime lighting and are currently installing a turf roof. They don’t just use renewable energy, but work on being incredibly efficient in their use of power. Their Power Usage Effectiveness rating is 1.14 (1.00 would indicate 100% efficiency, ie. all their power is effectively used by the IT equipment). Most US data centres operate with a PUE between 2.0 and 3.0.

Ecological Hosting and Solar Host both rent dedicated servers from AISO which allow them to configure and offer their own hosting plans. There are also a number of UK resellers of AISO’s hosting plans, including Lightbeing CreationsEco Web DesignGreen Web Hosting, and Solar Web Host.

To me, this facility and the companies using it as their data centre are well worth supporting and encouraging as the internet continues to expand and demand more and more power to run. What amazes me is why there aren’t more facilities like this in Europe, particularly southern Europe where there’s no shortage of sun.

Changing times

Friday, January 30th, 2009

“I think if we could get Earth in a living and stable state, not a constantly degrading and dying state caused by our actions, then we have won some right to go to the stars. But at present I don’t think we’d be welcome anywhere else in the universe. You wouldn’t welcome anybody who’d laid waste to their house and wanted to live in yours, I’m sure.”
Bill Mollison

I finished my last post on September 7th (jings, was it that long ago?!) with the words “Time to emigrate …” but had absolutely no idea at the time just how prophetic they’d turn out to be. Not that we’re emigrating quite yet – there will be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over the next while – but the seeds are sown.

A lot has happened in the last 4 months. Rather than explain it all in great detail again here, you can get the full story at the new site I’ve created here, which is a much more personal one than smeddum is or will continue to be.

Really it boils down to the opening paragraph of my first blog entry on the new site:

The older I’ve got and the more I’ve observed of nature and how humans play their part in it, the more disgusted I’ve become with so much blind stupidity and greed, and the arrogance, hubris and species chauvanism that supports it. But disgust has little to offer (apart from being an incentive to change), and to stay in that state is to continue to be part of the problem, not the solution.

I’ve had more than enough of being part of the problem. Each time I’ve needed to do some maintenance on this site which has involved reviewing a page or several of this blog, I’ve found myself wryly but inescapably facing the amount of criticising I’ve been doing. Sure, much of it might be a reasonably accurate observation of the general craziness out there, but equally well I had to face the fact that it was as much a reasonably accurate observation of the general craziness in here – an expression of frustration at my own paralysis and inaction in the face of things which clearly called for a more proactive transformational approach. Time for ‘Disgusted of Finchley’ to get out of the armchair and get digging.

It’s got to be more than skin deep. Got to walk it right the way home to earn the right to talk it.

Happy New Year all.


Monday, August 25th, 2008

"I Shop Therefore I Am" by Barbara Kruger

“I am always telling people that our century is very important historically for the planet. There is a big competition between world peace and world war, between the force of mind and the force of materialism, between democracy and totalitarianism. And now within this century, the force of peace is gaining the upper hand. Still, of course, the material force is very strong, but there is a kind of dissatisfaction about materialism and a realization or feeling that something is missing.”
Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Back on the word meanings again. I do love how so much of what seems to be crying out for our attention is hiding in plain sight, or should I say lurking in plain hearing – in the everyday colloquialisms of the language that we let trip off our tongues without a second thought. This time it’s stuff.

Is it any accident just how eloquently the juxtaposition of the myriad colloquial meanings of the word (especially in British English) expresses the fact that stuffing ourselves has got us – not to mention the planet – well and truly stuffed? The sterner stuff that keeps us on the stuff-creating treadmill is ultimately just stuff and nonsense. We’re stuffed up with stuff. Time we told it to get stuffed. Is it any accident either that our newest coolest word for stuff – stuffage – seems to hint at a concept that’s passed its sell-by date?

I’ve just been reading Jeffrey Kaplan’s article The Gospel of Consumption which paints a disturbingly clear picture of the evolution of our presernt situation, and of how a more sensible, humane and human alternative was deliberately subverted. As one commenter put it,

“It is a strange experience to realize (again and again and again) that our society’s misfortunes can be attributed to the greed of a few and how far-reaching a handful of events, conversations, meetings, etc. can be in establishing a widespread, mostly-unquestioned paradigm. Kudos to the author for presenting this information in an approachable manner that will hopefully encourage a few of us hamsters to question the wheel and, perhaps, begin devising a way to step outside of the cage.”

And to go with the article, here’s some essential viewing (click on the image or here):

The Story of Stuff

As the blurb says,

“The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever. “

This sort of stuff is the stuff of real progress.

World wide web

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

“I’m always taken by how deeply women like to dig in the earth. They plant bulbs for the spring. They poke blackened fingers into mucky soil, transplanting sharp-smelling tomato plants. I think they are digging down to the two-million-year-old woman. They are looking for her toes and her paws. They want her for a present to themselves, for with her they feel of a piece and at peace.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés

One of the reasons this blog was so neglected this Spring was because I was spending a lot of time outside shovelling somewhere in the region of 7 tons of topsoil and manure into 2 new raised beds and a load of old car tyres, and planting them with vegetable seeds and seedlings. The desire to grow our own food (or as much of it as we can) became irresistible; not just for the process of growing, which is a miraculous and deeply satisfying thing, but for the knowledge that vegetables grown with love in soil you’ve carefully nurtured to be as fertile and free as possible of pollutants, herbicides and pesticides seem to give even more back in pleasure, taste and nourishment than you’ve put into them.

And despite all the difficulties of this growing season – the lateness of it, the relentless rain and slugs, the barely warm enough soil, the 21-hour days around the summer solstice that bring everything on to bolt, the occasional depredations by the free-range rabbit and a herd of cows staging a mass breakout – the delight in the garden and its produce hasn’t diminished one bit.

Consequently, it’s not hard to imagine the disappointment suffered by gardeners up and down the UK this year when their newly-planted potatoes, beans, tomatoes started to grow with leaves that curled inward like distorted spoons, growing tips tightly curled up liike fern fronds, and flowers and fruit that failed to form. People imagined it was something they’d done wrong, or some disease their plants had acquired, until – thanks entirely to allotment growers’ and gardeners’ discussion forums on the internet – they learned that the problem was widespread, and seemed to be connected with the manure people had faithfully dug into their plots earlier in the year. Deformed plants were sent away for analysis, and were found to contain traces of a hormonal herbicide, aminopyralid, manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, which was being released from the rotting hay and straw in the manure.

Aminopyralid damage at Green Lane allotments

Aminopyralid damage to potato plants at Green Lane allotments, one of the sites to have done most to define and expose this problem.

Many suppliers of manure hadn’t been aware of its presence, so had supplied their product in good faith. Straw, hay and silage bought in for winter feed and bedding didn’t come with a warning that it had previously been sprayed with this herbicide. Most farmers assume the herbicides they use will degrade quickly. Most (so we’re told) do. Aminopyralid, and its precursor clopyralid, also manufactured by Dow, do not.

Evidently the problem isn’t new, though the scale of its effects – in the UK at least – appear unprecedented. The herbicides are used to control the growth of broad-leaved plants like docks and thistles in grassland and pasture. Grasses are unaffected by the chemical, but it’s taken up and incorporated into the lignin, the woody tissue in the plant. There it remains, until released by decomposition.

As an Ohio State University fact sheet explains:

“The problem is that, unlike most pesticides, clopyralid is very persistent in composts and manures and is largely unaffected by the composting process. Most plants are not damaged by clopyralid, even at rates used on lawns and agricultural crops. However, plants in the bean family (Leguminosae), the potato/tomato family (Solonaceae), and the sunflower family (Compositae) are very sensitive to this herbicide. It can stunt tomato, clover, lettuce, pea, lentil, sunflower, pepper, and bean plants at levels in compost as low as 10 parts per BILLION! Since the level of clopyralid on grass the day of application is 10,000 to 50,000 ppb, even a small amount of contaminated material entering a composting facility or directly applied to sensitive crops can cause major problems.”

(You’d think Ohio State’s Departments of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and Horticulture and Crop Science would have known how to spell Solanaceae, but hey ho …)

This is not just disappointing to many gardeners, but devastating. It seems cruelly ironic that this herbicide should be particularly pervasive in compost and manure, the two staples of organic cultivation. This has further implications too. If herbicide residues are found on organic farms, it can lead to a loss of organic certification for several years, even though there is presently no requirement for organic farms to provide bedding from organic sources.

Effects of aminopyralid aren’t limited to the 3 plant families listed as susceptible to clopyralid above either. There have been several reports of damage to plants of the Rosaceae (strawberries, raspberries, roses) and Ranunculaceae (delphiniums).

As a result of growing public outcry, UK authorities have imposed a hasty, but temporary, suspension on the sale of products containing aminopyralid – there is an online petition calling for a complete ban – but ‘experts’ estimate that ground fertilised with contaminated manure will take 2-3 years to return to usefulness. The manure itself may take far longer to break down. Much of what has been used in gardens this year is already over a year old.

Problems have even been reported growing tomatoes in gro-bags sold as ‘organic’. Some gardeners report problems with manure sourced from organic farms, showing that even the most concerned and vigilant amongst us aren’t immune from contamination. The inter-relatedness and interdependence of our communities and our use of the land make its spread inevitable and uncontrollable, much as the spread of GM crops can’t be limited to the fields in which they grow..

Most commentary on the subject seems restricted to the immediate and personal concerns of each individual commentator, but as ‘Marti’ wrote:

“This may seem a small point, but if the public think it is only the odd bag of manure that is contaminated, or that stables are being irresponsible or whatever, we are missing the point. This is not a case of a “bad batch”. This is a case of a chemical company marketing a product that is so potent, and so long-lasting, that it has enormous consequences straight down the supply line for an indefinite amount of time.”

Leaving aside for a minute the unremittingly anthropocentric perspective of all the commentary I’ve read on the subject, it also shows, yet again, the extent to which linear thinking is incongruent with the processes of the natural world. The very obvious impact of a powerful herbicide on the plant it’s designed to eradicate is limited to that impact only in the realms of our imaginations – just like drugs and their ‘side effects’ – while all the while its ramifications are rippling out though the web of life, unseen until once again its unpredicted effects cross our field of vision and we are startled out of our somnolent one-track minds to confront a reality of unity and interconnectedness in which whatever we do to a small part, we do to the whole.

Just like the whole nitrate fertiliser question.

Oh hell. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Just turn over and go back to sleep.

“The notion that all these fragments is separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion. Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today. Thus, as is now well known, this way of life has brought about pollution, destruction of the balance of nature, over-population, world-wide economic and political disorder and the creation of an overall environment that is neither physically nor mentally healthy for most of the people who live in it. Individually there has developed a widespread feeling of helplessness and despair, in the face of what seems to be an overwhelming mass of disparate social forces, going beyond the control and even the comprehension of the human beings who are caught up in it.”
David Bohm

Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007
Climate change

Well it’s supposed to be that season, though with the current thickness and intensity prevailing in many areas of community and inter-community relations the world over, things feel very far from peaceful.

Astrologically, the conjunction of the Sun, Jupiter, Mercury and Pluto at the Galactic centre, which was at its closest December 15 through 21 just as Saturn was stationing to turn retrograde on the 19th, made this something of a tipping point in relation to negotiations between different thought systems. With conscious awareness (Sun), thought systems/communication (Mercury) and destiny/the big picture (Jupiter) aligned with the planet of transformation (Pluto) and insight into the fundamental nature of things (Galactic centre), the opportunity arose to re-evaluate the nature of the structure and boundaries (Saturn retrograde) of our notions of “reality”. And with this little party in broad opposition to a loose grouping of Mars (also retrograde), Hades and Kronos, the battle lines are clear: the foregoing are challenging the forces of will (Mars, in internalised mode) and authority (Kronos) which are mixing it with the forces of disintegration and primal “Dreamtime” reality (Hades). Hades trine to Apollon, the manifestation of the unfolding expression of universal laws and principles, also underlines the disintegration of outmoded ways of being in favour of greater harmony and balance, as does Saturn’s quintile aspect to Hades.

Chart for December 18 2007

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Appropriate then that the closing days of the Bali climate conference strayed into this astrological territory. While producing nothing of any significance in terms of concrete measures, the drama nevertheless signified a massive symbolic victory for the forces of sense, compassion, reason and people power over human greed and hubris. Protocols were broken, David took on Goliath. In the face of the US delegation’s sabotaging of every initiative towards progress on CO2 emission targets, the delegate for Papua New Guinea, Kevin Conrad, stood up and said

“We seek your leadership. But if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.”

to loud cheers from the assembly, while any continued attempts of the US delegation to block progress was treated to booing and hissing. As the leading article in the Independent of December 16 put it,

Last week was the week, and yesterday was the day, when the world finally showed that it was terminally fed up with the simple-minded, short-sighted and self-serving outlook of George Bush. The moment came not, as it well might have done, amid the dust and bloody debris of Iraq or the torture and state terrorism of Guantanamo Bay, but in Indonesia’s lush and lovely Island of the Gods. And, appropriately, it came over climate change – the issue on which the “toxic Texan” first showed that he was going to put his ideological instincts and oil-soaked obstinacy over the interests of the rest of the world and of future generations.


It is simply not done in international negotiations for one country to single out another for criticism; it’s the equivalent of calling someone a liar in the House of Commons. But from early last week other delegations were publicly, unprecedentedly and explicitly blaming the US for the lack of progress. Worse, they were beginning to point the finger at President Bush himself, suggesting that things would improve once he was gone. That is the kind of humiliation reserved for such international pariahs as Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein. But even they were never subjected to the treatment that America received yesterday morning. When it tried, yet again, to sabotage agreement the representatives of the other 187 governments broke into boos and hisses. When Papua New Guinea told the US to “get out of the way”, they cheered.

Meanwhile the hysterical attacks on homeopathy in the UK continue apace. This vocal minority of sceptics might be more plausible if they actually stuck to the facts of the matter, yet as we’ve seen, even supposedly august scierntific journals are not above publishing falsehoods in support of the editor’s own opinions on the matter (see last month’s posts). The facts of the matter are that the “hard” evidence is inconclusive, which means … ummm … it’s inconclusive: neither validating nor invalidating. However, such enthusiasm for distorting the evidence can only ultimately be seen for what it is. Hopefully the recent planetary alignment will provoke a breakthrough and lead to more reasoned and properly evidenced debate on the matter.

As it happened, December 19 saw the publication of an article in the Guardian by Rustum Roy entitled Homeophobia must not be tolerated, though to date, judging by the voluminous comments to the article, no Bali-style turning points have materialised.

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard