31 August 2009

No more tungsten bulbs

At last the end of the tungsten bulb is close - from Sept 1st, shops will not be able to order new stocks of 100w incandescent and all types of frosted light bulbs. The rest are being phased out over the next two years. OK, so there are problems with some of the cheap low E bulbs as they are not as bright, but the latest ones have a brighter, whiter light and can be dimmed. Also once there is momentum and money coming in, the manufacturers of these bulbs with be able to put more R and D into even better ones, such as the LED light bulbs.

So why make the switch? Firstly it saves you money as each bulb uses a quarter of the electricity and lasts up to 20 times longer, so replace a 150w traditional bulb with one of the latest low energy bulbs and you could save as much as £20 / year as well as reducing your carbon dioxide output by half a ton. The switch saves resources too. Think of all the glass and metal that goes into making 20 tungsten bulbs compared with one low energy bulb.

Find out more about the pros and cons of the different low energy light bulbs here: http://www.ableduk.com/alternatives.html

27 August 2009

Artificial trees and algal tubes

These are just two of the geoengineering ideas that the Inst. of Mechanical Engineers (IMECHE) have suggested in their report on geo-engineering. Geo-engineering is the manipulation of our built environment to counter the effects of global warming, such as taking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere artificially, and reflecting sun back into space. The highly efficient artificial trees would filter carbon dioxide and store it in underground in disused mines. They look a bit like large solar panels and are already in prototype. The report suggests that hundreds of thousands of them could be positioned along motorways and around wind farms.
Another idea is the use of bioreactors. Bioreactors contain green algae and they photosynthesise, taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to starch and sugar. The algae could be harvested and put to a number of uses, not least as a source of carbohydrate and protein. This idea is not new and there are a number of companies, especially in California that are pioneering bio-reactors, biofences and the like. However the engineers envisage tubes of algal being attached to the outside of buildings where they could take up carbon dioxide generated by traffic.
These and many other ideas will not solve the problem of global warming but they will reduce the rate at which the carbon dioxide levels are rising, giving us a bit more time to tackle the real issues.

18 August 2009

Spear fishing is for boneheads

I enjoy reading the thought-provoking blogs of one of our contributors, Christine Osborne. One of her recent blogs is about the spear fishing of tropical fish off the coast of Australia and how this has lead to the disappearance of some of the large attractive fish such as the giant parrot fish. This definitely has to stop.

10 August 2009

Can Britain be self sufficient in food?

Food security is back in the news and that's a good thing. I have long been concerned that the Government has done nothing to address the issue of food supply. Over the last 30 years, valuable farmland have been lost to development, leaving us with less space to grow our own food. Farmers have seen their incomes slashed and to make matters worse they are swamped with paperwork. On top of that there are the global issues of climate change, energy and water supplies, and the rapidly rising human population. More food is going to be needed and producing it is not going to be easy.

As a country we produce less food in the UK that we did in the 1980s, especially fruit, vegetables and beef. Its all very well saying we can import food, but crop failures caused by drought, or flood can easily change that. Countries will soon stop their exports if there is a shortage of food for their own people, as seen by the shortage in rice last year. Variabilities in oil price can push the price of cereals and fertilisers sky high and this is reflected in the rising costs in the shops.

So can the UK be self sufficient in food by 2030? At the moment about half the food we eat is home-grown. Of the rest, about two-thirds comes from the EU, the rest is sourced elsewhere. Reversing the trend is going to be a tall order and I think its going to mean changes in our attitude to food. For starters, we are so wastful of food - and thats the whole food chain - not just the consumer. As much of 40 per cent of the crops in the fields does not get to the shops because of damage, spoilage in storage, or failure to meet quality standards. Then there is wastage at the processors, distributors and in the shops. Finally the consumer comes along and throws away as much as one-third of the food they buy. That's a massive 6.7 million tonnes worth more than £10 billion.

One way forward is to improve the consumer's connection with their food and this is where the wonderful trend to 'grow your own' is going to help . I'm lucky as I have a small organic farm and we are self sufficient in eggs and meat, and for most of our vegetables. I know that I use all the veg I grow, even the mis-shaped carrots and nibbled cabbages, and all of the vegetable waste goes into the wormeries or the pig pens. Raising your own animals changes your attitudes too. Having cared for them for many months, you don't like the killing, but you are determined to make sure their meat is put to good use, otherwise you feel you have let them down. Consequently we have learnt new skills to process their meat into bacon, ham, pate etc, while the vegetable gluts are frozen, dried, or processed into chutney and the like. Then you discover that food excites you again and you want to experiment with new recipes, and grow more! It is addictive. So hopefully the great stories that I read about people growing veg on every available space, about community supported agriculture, pig-sharing and villages becoming self sufficient in eggs etc., mean that we will reduce our dependency on imported foods.

6 August 2009

Supporting honey bees

The news about honey bees is not great with as many as one in three colonies failing last year in the UK, and widespread colony collapses in the US. Now that more people growing their own veg and keeping chickens, there is greater interest in bee keeping. The National Bee Keeping Association reports a marked increase in new members and enquiries. Hopefully this will lead to more bee keepers and more honey bees.

So what can you do to help bees?
1. Become a bee keeper
2. Plant bee friendly plants such as foxgloves, hollyhocks, mint, sunflower, alliums
3. If you don't want ot keep bees, but have a bee-friendly garden or rooftop, offer space to a local bee keeper, in exchange for some honey!
4. If you see a swarm contact a local bee keeper
5. Support bee charities.
6. Sign the Soil Association petition to ban pesticides known to harm honey bees

What is Ecoscene doing? For every honey bee image sold during the month of August we will donate £10 to Bees Abroad. This charity works with communities in developing countries, helping them to establish bee hives. www.beesabroad.org.uk. The sale of honey from one hive raises enough money to put one child through their primary education while a donation of £15 buys the materials to make one hive.

Did you know there are more than 300 different species of bee in the UK including honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees?

Ecoscene has photofeatures available on the honey bee plus a supper collection of images on bee keeping, bees in flight and life cycle of the honey bee. www.ecoscene2.captureweb.co.uk/lbshow.php?lightboxid=387429465654

3 August 2009

Pneumonic plague outbreak in China

An outbreak of pneumonic plague has been reported in China, where the authorities have quarantined the town of Ziketan in Qinghai province, NW China. This is a predominately rural area where similar outbreaks have been reported in recent years. Two men died from the disease over the weekend.
The disease, a highly contagious form of plague, can be treated with antibiotics, but only if given early. It is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is spread by rats and other rodents via the fleas which live on them. Unlike bubonic plague, this plague can be spread by human-to-human contact.

Ecoscene has a selection of images showing rats that could be used to illustrate this news item.