Friday 19 June 2009

Glastonbury 2009

I'm going to Glastonbury Festival on Tuesday, and I'm so excited I can't think about anything else any more. If you're going then don't forget to use the property lock-ups (which is where I'm working). If you're not then the weather forecast below will hopefully make you jealous.....

Thursday 11 June 2009

Easier Than Making a Decent Paper Plane

Daniel Harris of Freewheelers did a little impromptu survey of people on the Climate March last year to see how many had switched to renewable energy. Out of a random 53 of those people who had bothered to get out of bed, travel into Central London and march for the climate that day;
"7 people didn't know where their electricity came from; 24 knew they were using a non-renewable supply; 3 said they were moving to renewable electricity; and 19 said they were already on renewable thank you"
That's a bit rubbish, really. Only 36% of people marching for action on climate change had switched their own supply? It may be less exciting than dressing up as a parrot and a gorilla, but switching is a much more "direct" action and it's very much easier. I suspect that most people are just put off by misconceptions about how difficult it is to switch, given that almost no one understands much of the information given on their energy bills let alone which companies are "green" or which is the best tariff they offer.

But if you live in the UK and you want a green supplier then it's easy.

You really don't need to know what a kilowatt hour or a
standard energy unit is. You don't need to shop around, because there's only one company, Good Energy, offering 100% renewable electricity in the UK. You don't need to compare different tariffs because they only have one, and not only is it not rocket science, it's easier than making a decent paper plane.

The most difficult part is the very first step – you’ll need to find a previous electricity bill. This is tricky if your filing system is anything like mine, but do it for the planet…

That will give you both your meter number, which will be obvious because it looks like this;
and a rough idea of how much you spend per month on electricity. Go to the Good Energy website, click on "Join Good Energy" and fill in the form. It also asks things like your name and address, and they'll ask you to send them a meter reading as soon as you can, and that's it.

Uniquely among UK utility companies they actually answer the phone if you need to call them, so if you have any problems or if you'd rather do the whole thing by phone then you can speak to real human beings on 0845 456 1640.

However pretty the leaflets your current supplier sends you - even if it claims to be endorsed by the RSPB or Greenpeace - if you haven't done this yet then the very screen you're reading this from is unnecessarily damaging the environment, and it will continue to do so until you switch. Detail on whatever might have confused you about the "green" credentials of other suppliers is in Merrick's article "How Green is Green Electricity?"

But if all you need is motivation to just do it right now, imagine the embarassment of unexpectedly being asked to explain why you hadn't got around to it yet while wearing that parrot costume on a large climate change demo in the middle of London on a cold December day.

Thursday 4 June 2009

Don't Buy a "Green" Thing

There are so many “green” products out there – from eco ironing spray to solar powered cherubic water features – that it’s easy to miss the simple fact that avoiding a purchase entirely is usually the greenest choice of all. The truly green alternative to a mains-powered water feature, for instance, is not a solar-powered one with a huge manufacturing, transport and disposal footprint, but an entirely non-electric one (like this made from a bathtub rescued from landfill), or just doing without a water feature altogether.

Making something pretty by re-using what would otherwise be wasted is a nice idea, and there are loads of projects and websites on making funky clothes, jewellery and desk tidies from reclaimed waste. But how often are you likely to wear a newspaper dress, how many pen holders could anyone really need, and how much jewellery would you avoid buying new if you mastered the art of making bottle-top earrings instead?

We’re so hooked on consumption that we’re coming up with ideas to reduce it by essentially consuming more. We’re inventing more “needs” that we can satisfy with ideas borrowed from sustainable solutions, while forgetting that we already have real needs far more deserving of our efforts to meet them more sustainably.<

Along with this, almost all products which are actually useful have just about succumbed by now to the natural state of decay known as the Shoe Event Horizon, which caused global societal collapse on the planet Brontitall in “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams:*

“The foundation of the Shoe Event Horizon theory is that when depressed, people tend to look down, and when they look down, they see their shoes. To cheer themselves up, they might buy themselves a new pair. Thus, in a generally depressed society, demand for shoes will rise.

In the critical condition, demand for shoes rises faster than the capacity to make good quality footwear. As shoe quality decreases, the demand increases further because shoes wear out faster and need to be replaced more often; as the demand for shoes increases, cheap mass production causes shoe quality to drop even more. What results is a spiral of increasing shoe demand and decreasing shoe quality. Eventually, this destabilises the economy to the point where it is "no longer economically viable to build anything other than shoe shops", and planetary society collapses.”

It seems to me that it is no longer economically viable to manufacture anything much other than cheap, shoddy products that don’t properly withstand normal wear and tear, that are deliberately designed not to be repairable by the average user and that are inherently disposable, thereby ensuring the future purchase of replacements as often as manufacturers think they can get away with. The result is that we’ve stopped expecting anything to last, we don’t expect to have to form the habit of maintaining anything, it rarely occurs to most of us to even attempt to fix anything that breaks and we’ve largely lost the skills we need to do so even if we wanted to.

How come so many people who grow their own vegetables don’t know how to sharpen the tools they use? Why, when everyone knows they should only boil the water they need, do they not also know to regularly de-scale their electric kettle to prolong its useful life? How many people use an energy efficient light bulb in a lamp, but throw the lamp away when it stops working because they don’t know to check and change the fuse? How many of those designing exciting “eco” clothing ranges throw away good versatile T-shirts from their own wardrobes when they don’t know how to get rid of a stubborn stain?

Instead of making very beautiful bottle-top earrings and pen holders, perhaps we should concentrate on things we couldn’t just entirely do without – basic clothing, tools, lamps, kettles, bikes, taps, everything that serves a useful purpose and is a solution to a real need rather than an invented one. We then need to teach each other about how these things are made, which designs are most durable, how to fix them when they break and how to maintain them so they break less often.

Why has learning simple repair and maintenance techniques yet to become fashionable the way "eco chic" apparently has, and where are all the reduce-reuse-recycle-but-see-if-you-can-REPAIR-it-first sites?

I’ve made myself a new “repair and maintenance” tag for this kind of thing and I hope you all have nice sharp garden shears now. I'll try to find something else to fix while you're busy descaling your kettle.

* Sorry to stereotype but I imagine I’ll now get Douglas Adams fans commenting that they’ve memorised the entire text of HHG and the planet Brontitall isn’t in it, so thought I’d better just mention that it’s only in the original BBC radio show and that memorising the entire text of HHG isn’t likely to get you a girlfriend.

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Introducing Mizzy

My good friend The Neighbour’s Cat suddenly and unexpectedly got sent to live with someone else just before Christmas last year. I had no idea she was going, didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, and for months afterwards kept thinking I’d glimpsed her out of the corner of my eye sitting on the windowsill or hiding behind the curtains.

I’d been thinking for ages about getting my own cat, and last week I finally took the plunge and answered a classified ad on Gumtree. Someone nearby needed a new home for a ten year old, overweight, black-and-white cat with dandruff, so I’m now sharing my flat with a fat old lady cat called Mizzy.

By pure coincidence she has very similar markings to Neighbour’s Cat, but measures at least twice as much around the middle and currently weighs about five kilos or 11lbs, which is a lot of cat. Apparently an “average” cat weighs about four kilos, which I worked out is roughly the equivalent of me weighing well over 11 stone instead of 9. She’s going on a diet.

She’s very chatty and friendly and lets me rub her belly, and her string chasing technique involves lots of amusing rolling over to use all four paws, so we’re getting along fine.

I’ll be adding her opinions to mine here if she has any interesting ones, although so far she’s still eating Go-Cat because I didn’t realise it was made by the evil Nestle, who she will be boycotting when we get to the end of the packet. She much prefers home-made toys like the string and a feather to the annoying jingly balls actually sold as cat toys, so that’s a good sign. We haven't discussed vegetarianism yet.