Thursday, November 01, 2007

A neat idea for encouraging the take up of solar.

It seems rare to find a local authority coming up with a really sensible idea for encouraging people to adopt solar technology, but I think that this one is a cracking idea.

Now before you get all excited, its not here in the UK, but in the city of Berkeley, California.

The city is planning to finance the installation of photovoltaic arrays and solar water heating systems and will place an additional annual assessment surcharge onto the customer's property tax (the equivalent of our council tax) to finance the repayments.

"some preliminary calculations show that a $15,000 solar array might add $1,300 to a homeowners’ annual tax bill"

"When you sell your home the solar array and the tax surcharge stays with the property, passing on to the new owner. In other words, there’s little risk that you’ll lose money by going solar."

The great thing is that the homeowner retains ownership of the installed equipment - it is viewed as a lien on a property so that in the event of any foreclosure, this is paid off first.

"as a property tax the solar assessment is a deductible on your federal income tax return". Oh how I wish we had a system like that here in the UK!

The full story can be found on GreenWombat.

What chance any of the UK's local authorities daring to try anything similar? My guess is zero.

Just for comparative fun, here's an example of the really radical thinking that our local authorities are coming up with - switching off street lamps - from Auntie Beeb.

Leaving Lovers and other lists

When in doubt, make a list: How to save the planet

Actually, to be semantically picky, quite a lot are ways to slow down the screwing up of the planet, but their hearts are in the right place.

I will await the document to arrive as I am on their mailing list and can't read PDFs onscreen easily, so it will be... interesting. First up I will be keen to see what constitutes a panel of experts .

But at least it is a 'to-do' list. That is a pretty big step in the right direction. To do. However, looking at numbers 1 & 2 I do wonder (I have highlighted in red and green what I think is a bizarro or a goodie, either in itself or its position. But a lot just mean diddly out of context or without further explanation.) how useful it is...

1 Dramatically improve the energy efficiency of electrical goods - just these?
2 Religious leaders to make the environment a priority for their followers
3 Encourage the widespread use of solar power throughout the world
4 Secure a meaningful post-Kyoto treaty on reducing the emissions that contribute to global warming
5 Encourage households to generate much more of their own power
6 Introduce tax incentives to "buy green"
7 Tackle the rapid growth in aviation emissions
8 Wean ourselves off dependency on petroleum
9 Encourage individuals to buy less non-essential "stuff "
10 Dramatically improve public transport
11 Aim for a "zero waste" culture
12 Install "smart energy" meters in all homes
13 Introduce a measure of economic success that includes the environment
14 Fully harness Britain's huge potential for generating renewable energy
15 Seek alternative, less damaging sources for biofuels
16 Bury carbon dioxide from power stations underground
17 Encourage hydrogen fuel cell technology in cars- drive less!
18 Implement government policies to control global population growth - top 5!
19 Reach international agreement on preserving rainforests - top 5!
20 Create better incentives to improve energy efficiency in the home -top 5!

And then one gets to have a say:

50 ways to save the planet

Though I'd be hard-pressed to agree with this: The Environment Agency's '50 things that will save the planet' list showcases some truly inspirational ideas... ranked as a list of actions in order of importance.

I loved that the idea of a global price for carbon ranked so low, but that's me just cherry-picking to suit my beliefs, as I think the top set are pants. But at least the notion of handing this all to be-suited traders is seen to be as dire as I find it when it comes to actually making a real difference to the planet and not just a minority's profits.

Here's wot i rote:

Very worthwhile, thought-provoking piece(s - both of them).

But there is a lot of tip-toeing still, no? And I'm sorry to disagree with Leo... I've about had it with awareness if it means more of the talkfests we have been subjected to so far, from headlines to vastly-funded campaigns. They don't seem to have worked too well to now. Put the money and energy in more actual DOING.

Here are some areas I'd vote for (rush draft without the concern of worrying to much how socially, financially, politically, etc they happen. Conveniently for me):

1. Reduce... population increase to break even (as this is a 'to do' list that carries scary connotations, so using PeeCee-speek analogies from the job market I'd say it's more 'voluntary redundancies' over time than 'firing', though often you hear the phrase 'natural wastage'. I guess nature may yet play a part, then:)

2. Stop using/wanting to use so much (we don't really need). And I write that with a straight face looking at the car and travel ads all around.

3. Reuse and/or repair at every opportunity until these options are no longer viable, and then recycle the leftovers wherever and whenever practically possible with an enviROI+ (so carting a 2litre bottle of fresh air to a recycling station 100 miles away doesn't count, even if it ticks a box).

4a. Deal with the biggies and quit sweating the small fry. So chill, sensibly.

4b. Encourage any and every actual way/initiative/idea that has DO at its core, especially those that offer clear rewards, and stop fussing over all the trivial nonsense that has 'don't' as its sole raison' d'etre. And all the bozos who make a lot out of dealing in that word.

4c. Leave anything that has guilt, fine, fear, loathing, ratings (and a bunch of other really negative vibes) at the door.

5. Take it all deadly seriously. But in debate realise there will be different views. So be civilised, pragmatic, understanding and keep a sense of humour. You'll win converts quicker that way.

Just as you guys have questioned some significant high ranks and absences, it all really highlights how diverse 'we' are. Perhaps what 'we' need is something that makes the human race pull together as one. Where's there an alien invasion when you need one?

Whatever... we may yet make it. It's what keeps me going at least.

Doing what I do.

ADDENDUM - A reply prompted a follow-up from me (whilst noting this topic - in the Guardian - has elicited 7 replies to date) :

'I am truly sorry to offend, but these questions are really silly. Stick a tax on carbon forthwith and see what happens. Hey presto! It works.'

'I am truly sorry to offend, but these questions are really silly. Stick a tax on carbon forthwith and see what happens. Hey presto! It works.'

I'm sorry too. I don't quite understand what you mean by 'questions'.

As to sticking a tax on carbon as you indicate I'm unsure how you know it works if you have yet to find out what happens when you do.

Actually I suspect you are right, at least in cutting carbon emissions. But I would also hazard it is not as simple as that. Take air travel, which really needs addressing. Tax its carbon to a point where it becomes meaningful as a deterrent and you are in the realms of political suicide and social division when it comes to creating something only the rich can 'enjoy'. And there's also the small (well..) matter of economics and employment.

Tax it to the point it stops, and the global tourism industry pretty much ceases. Which means you have roughly 10% of the global working population out of, and looking for a job. Along, one suspects, with the guys in power seen to have put them out there.

So it's really waaaaay more complex than guys like us can really do justice to, with either suggestion pro or con, in a few paragraphs. Which is why I don't envy the politicians. Allowances, the only way I can see that such as personal travel can be addressed, only work if it is fair and all comply. Sadly I am not seeing much statespersonship anywhere to have much faith it can be done effectively any time soon.

Human nature, its variation and numbers is a fact that will need to be lived with... and negotiated around.

I personally believe that, while there are many 'dont's' that could well have immediate and effective results, they have to be viewed in terms of those they are to be imposed upon. Look how well and how long anti-smoking efforts have 'persuaded' just the UK population. One problem is the lack of any perceived real compensatory benefits, though how improved health and bank balance doesn't sink in is telling.

So I think it must be baby steps, but as the topic of priorities has been raised, they have to be dirty great big ones, and where they can count. And if they are in 'unsexy' areas so be it.

How much waste is there in electrical distribution, for example? I've been told as high as 40%. Why? Can it be reduced? If not, why not? Money? Greed? Political Will? Lack of interest (making a grey box in a field a lot better at what it does certainly won't hit the national news as much as a town banning plastic bags)... Or simple engineering reality?

Or pumps. I have also been told that these all-pervasive tools of industry are immensely inefficient and hence gobble vast, unnecessary power. Can they be improved? And globally? Do we force a change? Or do we find ways to ease them in? Interest-free loans to companies backed by mandatory conversion orders . I don't know. But for my kids' sake I want big wins.

And if they are not sexy so be it. We can try and find stuff to keep the media and our pleasure centres happy once we have in place some things that really are doing their best to make a difference.

And then talk about the twiddly bits to our hearts' content.

No more 'Heroes'

Fresh form my own, minor, adventure, I came across this: Great environmental Britons

With HRH and Mr. branson getting in there I was tempted to pitch in, but life really is too short.

Doing business with government

Soem things you just have to share: Is trying to sell to the public sector a waste of time?

And which utter ninny has wasted just how much on all these 'services' and sites?

Please, guys... stop. I'm in tears. Mais, apres la deluge... the depression.

Were it that I had read the further adventures of Vic before attending the Business/Local Authority social enterprise/Third Sector meeting t'other day, where lots of guys in suits from even more separate (but oddly similar-sounding) quango-esque bodies expressed how they were there to help, to the beaming nods of other besuited public service representatives who would later, I'm sure, dine at their hotels.

I'm not sure, but I think one of them was a representative of the funding body who had turned down my application for a grant on the basis that it was 'too left field.. and has never been done before'. Its name was: the 'Creative Innovation' Award.

Links. Rechts. Vee ver only obeying targets!

Does the left hand know what the right is doing?

Now there's a question. I'm going for 'in your wildest dreams'.

We know that the Government is perfectly capable of dropping targets when they become inconvenient.

Unfortunately, we are still in the realm of ambitious rhetoric, rather than action, from the Government when it comes to climate change.

Ministers are still ducking hard choices that need to be made if we, as a nation, are to face up to the threat of global warming.

I'm also goingh with Janet Street Porter, who used not to rate on my radar but is now often a voice of soem insight (if not one I'd like to listen to): Convenience comes at a (very high) price

And as it is sort of related, though more yesterday's news, here's a bit more for the pot.

Not, perhaps the best news for local retailers whose main weapon seems to be the removal of plastic bags in 'a' town (I suspect the removal of same in all towns will not quite have the same PR/'get the punters in' impact, at least past day 1).

Indy - Fury and disbelief greets report's claim that Britain needs more supermarkets

Indy - Supermarkets: Big four off the hook

Many independent retailers have been hoping that an inquiry would eventually result in fewer supermarkets being given planning permission. However, a shake-up of the planning regulations which the commission proposes, could pave the way for more supermarkets to open.

Indy - Jeremy Warner's Outlook: Commission wants more supermarkets

It all rather leaves you wondering whether the whole investigation was not just another monumental waste of money. This is the third Competition Commission investigation of the supermarkets sector in seven years, and all of them have broadly ended up clearing the industry of "rip-off" practices.

Actually, no. Despite some confused thinking around the landbank issue, the findings are on the whole measured and proportionate. Britain's growing population means that there is a real need for more supermarkets, regardless of the competition issues. The planning laws have to be adjusted accordingly.

Guardian - Getting past the checkout is a breeze for Tesco

Gaurdian - The way we shop now

Gaurdian - Reality checkout

I don't know about left and right hands, but my RSI-ridden wrist is shot!


Certain things you steer well clear of. The McCanns (and what's the poor wee missing kid's name again?). Religion. Heather Mills-Macca.

So I have/am/will. Save to say with regards to the latter that, before I switched off the 'news' when it wallowed in how the news of the news of this news was handled, I heard a clip of her make a very fair point: the correction should be as big and as immediate as the thing that led to it.

So here is mine... ish. All full blog's worth.

A while ago I read that the Spice Girls were each getting their own Lear Jet, and while one was bad enough, five just seemed... excessive. And I was moved to make that comment a few times subsequently.

Now it seems I may have been wrong, in a BBC 'well we got it off the PA wire so it's not our fault as a multi-billion media organisation of thousands who can and should check before running it' kinda way. Or, indeed, I, and the place I got it from, may yet be correct.

All I know is that it looks like they may have slightly more modest travel plans: Virgin Atlantic in Spice Girls deal

And that may not involve any Lears. Sorry.

Bte they'll be offsetting the poodle's hair stylist seat too.

Waste... of food, that is

Well, it's here, as promised: Food Waste is Environmental Sleeping Giant Says WRAP

And as it is so significant, putting plastic bags and 4x4s, etc, into the shade, enviROI-wise, I will try and make the most of it on the site. And even here.

However, this is my blog, and I must get a few points off my chest first.

'A new Government backed campaign that reveals...' - unless I missed it in all the blurb I'll have to await seeing it. But the word 'campaign' fills me with dread already. How much? saying What? To whom? With what intention? Measures? And hence what hope of conversion for the money? The word 'reveals' fills me also with foreboding that what we will get is 90% scraping stuff into the bin and, possibly, 10% some celeb (free or funded?) saying 'don't do that' and then the Daily Mail finding what's in their restaurant skip the week after.

"... for every three bags of shopping we bring home, we effectively put one straight in the bin.' This IS staggering. I just hope the way it gets put across is designed to actually move folk to reduce it to zero.

In addition to press advertising and a supporting PR campaign that features celebrity chefs, home economists and well known personalities, the Love Food Hate Waste campaign features a website (How much to create? And run? And promote? And what bonusses paid on hits?unique visitors?) which gives advice, ideas on preparation, storage, portioning and recipes. - I've been to it. Are you as inspired as I am?

Key findings of our recent research on the nature, scale and causes of household food waste can be found here - worth a gander, for sure.

Indy Letters - Worth sharing (well, or not... you know what I mean)

With the usual sound of banging stable doors, after the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, Defra forbade the use of waste food for feeding to pigs. Traditionally ,of course, the cottager's pig had been fed in this way (and then recycled completely except for its squeak) and commercial herds had been supplied by army canteens and the like.

Not now. If I feed so much as a stale crust or a faded cabbage leaf from my kitchen to my pigs I am liable to be thrown in jail for two years. So into landfill, or maybe in some enlightened circles into compost, waste food must go – and there always will be some waste.

Of course the animal feed manufacturers have benefited hugely from this diktat. The organic pig nuts I buy have soared in price and are likely to go on doing so as the price of grain rises irrevocably. I think the public will soon begin to notice that cheap bacon butties and Philip Hensher's £3 chicken are things of the past. Which is probably good, but doesn't solve the landfill problem unless councils are able to set up composting facilities for all biological waste.

ADDENDUM - Well, I was wrong. No plate scrapings. And I like the line. However, and I simply ask as I think I may be too close as an enviro guy and an ad man, do these immediately make you want to stop wasting as you have been for the last X years? Shoo-ins for next year's Green Awards, though. I am... saddened.

As reported in the Indy : Britain's colossal food waste is stoking climate change

Well, any 'waste' is, by definition, adding to the processes that can possibly/probably cause climate change, so OK. This is the latest 'topic du jour'. And it's important.

So... does this sell it to you... 'Britons must swap their wasteful habits ... shoppers were warned yesterday'?

I was well on board by the second line. No, really.

If 'Most waste arose because people had "over-shopped" as a result of not planning; because they failed to keep their fridge cold enough, allowing food to go off; or because food had passed its "best by" date. ', then surely we need to inject ideas and effort into dealing with these facts and issues. A crying tomato doesn't do that, sorry.

And, while telling and true, tackling the consumer is not going to address "buy one get one free" deals in supermarkets.

And I am stumped as to how this campaign can address the habits of those with fluid work and social patterns. This 50 year-old homeworker works 6 -7 daily to make ends meet, as does his wife. We don't have much time to faff about. But at least I am in the house at lunch to deal with last night's leftovers. I'd say few others are. Plus I have the motivation. I'd say few others have. There are certain realities of a 24/7, stressed and oppressed society, and no amount of 'slots' on a cooking show (it's already smacking of a green special in the fashion rags) is going to change the facts of our leife demands.

You can't make people eat something without first making it seem tasty. And that applies to ads as much as food.

Indy - Our throwaway culture

The food and supermarket industries need to reform their practices. They should cease using spurious "best before" dates that are designed to encourage people to waste edible food. - This I didn't know. I thought it was legislation/litigation drive. If not, it should be stopped.

The Government should be treating this issue with a little more urgency too. Hahahahahahaha. Love that word 'should'.

Joan Bakewell: What a waste! Why can't we all be more thrifty...


And what is 'the Waste Reduction Agency'?

She's right of course.

What we need is a good example – in modern jargon "best practice". If we are to take the trouble to turn off electrical switches in our homes, what about those towering city offices that burn with lights throughout the night, even though the workers have long gone home? What about shops windows in every city centre blazing away at times when only a few lingering souls are about to see them?

Plus many, many more. Good examples, that is. Not payroll/pension parasites ticking another comms budget box.

Otherwise we're just tinkering round the edges.


Telegraph - Where's the cream?

No leftovers then?

I just ask, because 'we' are getting a multi-lord-alone-knows how much ad/PR/media assault, including the 'contributions' of many celebs, to advocate this in the cause of reducing food waste.

Rated about a day on Aunty's menu, I think.

Amid job cuts, BBC meals come with whine


Maybe it's all yet to come, but has anyone seen any of this after the first day flurry?

Go Figure

Democracy is a complex, fragile thing.

I have been following a 'debate' in/on a medium, that revolves around protagonists that I would roughly say fall under the (if they can ever be fair) categories of 'Liberal elite' and 'educated Right'.

The problem seems to have been the former rather see themselves (and in many ways I'd stick myself in a liberal camp, if not elite, much as I might on occasion be in the Right camp, if not too educated) as those who speak for the majority and/or know what's best for them. The other side I rather think feel the same way, but usually at least err on not being quite so smug in their presumption of pedestal power. Or at least acknowledge the value of personal choice.

This post is merely to share some info that was brought to bear to a LE advocate claiming that most of the population was now onside with 'their' way of looking at things.

Now it is just newspapers, but I have to say this list was... interesting, and surely would give anyone in Islington with a modicum of analytical grasp some pause for thought, at least when it comes to claims of representing the majority:

ABC's circulation statistics:

News of the World -- 3,446,476
The Sun -- 3,213,756
The Daily Mail -- 2,365,499
The Mail on Sunday -- 2,348,982
Daily Mirror -- 1,584,742
Sunday Mirror -- 1,451,980
The Sunday Times -- 1,244,218
The Daily Telegraph -- 890,973
Daily Express -- 814,921
Daily Star -- 803,726
Sunday Express -- 727,439
The People -- 722,148
The Times -- 654,482
The Sunday Telegraph -- 644,828
Sunday Mail -- 512,115
Daily Star - Sunday -- 485,415
The Observer -- 472,252
Financial Times -- 441,219
Daily Record -- 412,332
Sunday Post -- 410,804
The Guardian -- 367,546
Evening Standard -- 291,150
The Independent -- 251,470
Independent on Sunday -- 213,566
Sunday Sport -- 92,912

Now, am I comfortable with the notion that this country should be run be the dictates of those who 'write' for or 'read' the News of the World? Not really, but no more than I am by those who only read the Guardian or Indy shaping key policy either.

That's where this democracy thing gets tricky.

One (more) from the pot

My eyebrow is now so high that it joined my receding hairline.

I'm going to get political here.

Having spent waaaay too much of yesterday in the company of local authority senior persons, and having watched latest rabbit-in-headlights performance by a succession on Government Ministers I wouldn't trust with the pay booth of a municipal carpark, I glanced at this but then studied it: Councils want extra money for migrants

After a decade (or in the case of some LAs kept in power by giving those who don't contribute anything to the pot anything they want for their votes) of misrule, the various ways the whole sorry lot are trying to screw money out of tax and ratepayers is getting laughable. Especially in light of the remuneration that gets immediately steered to the very numpties that caused all these problems in the first place.

First it's climate change as a means of dealing with the waste problem. And now it's immigrants suddenly being discovered as being here, doing half the new jobs but remitting most of the dough back to the homeland.

Tell you what, I'd let most of these hard working, talented types try a few new jobs if we could just flush the whole sorry lot who claim to be serving us. Fat cats. Fat chance.

No chance in the UK!

This small article from caught my eye this morning; its a bit of an aaaaahhhh story, about the small Sicilian town of Castelbuono, which has replaced its four garbage collection trucks with donkeys.

Castelbuono's mayor claims using the donkeys saves money and is more environmentally friendly. And who can argue with that?

So could it catch on here in the UK? No chance whatsoever! All our donkeys are already in full-time employment ............. as councilors and politicians!

Eeee-awwww, eeee-awwww, eeee-awwways laughs at his own silly jokes.

One rule for us, another for big business and pols

If you, like I, thought that it was the major European motor manufacturers who had done all the lobbying with the EU about relaxing the proposed limitations on CO2 emissions for new vehicles, then think again.

According to today's Times, our own transport secretary has also been part of the lobbying exercise and is suggesting that the EU relaxes it's "target of 120g/km by 2012, which would require immediate action by the car industry to reduce engine size and the weight of vehicles" and replaces it with a new longer term target of 100g/km by between 2020 & 2025.

In my entire life, if I've been set a target, I've regarded it as a rule to be followed and I have always striven to meet it; but it seems if you are big business or a pol then that same rule doesn't apply.

Just what use are targets if they are continually to be ignored, slipped or amended?

Bags of fun

This is an eyebrow-cock. I just watched a full BBC news splash about a town that has banned plastic bags.

Rather intriguingly, it was headed 'If you want to save the planet, then come and shop in Modbury'. OK, I'll let the logic of that one pass.

Now I admire any and all eco-efforts and wish only the best for those who use the media to push their cause. But... enviROI?

The issue of the cotton bags shipped over from India was quickly glossed over.

And it seems that 25,000 bags have been spared. I believe that's one tenth of the saving of driving one Volks Bluemotion in a year. I am unclear as to what else they do, or don't do there, which might actually help the planet as much as the PR industry. I saw a few shops in the background ablaze with lighting, which I am sure is down to CFLs. And for sure no doors open as heaters blast away inside?

I look forward to the story on the town where all the retailers club together and put insulation in the pensioners' homes. And the media cover it.

And as I look now at the next 'slot', I'm sure all the reporters will get there in chauffeured Mercs by way of example.

Addendum - Just watched it again at lunch. Something about the core of it all being biodegradable bags. Well, I am about to stroll to my local Somerfield (let's not get into the small shop thing here) and they have 'em. thing is, what are the consequences of these things biodegrading again?

Blah, blah, blah.

Newsnight asked. I have replied.

To your specific questions: 'Do these reports do any good or are they counter-productive? If two-thirds of all cancers have nothing to do with lifestyle, is it wrong to give the impression that we can control the disease?

Constant, evolving research and hence further understanding of anything to do with something as impactful on the human condition as cancer is both vital and helpful.

However, rushing out every small step on the way, almost as raw data, to a news media that only understands and hence wants tomorrow's headline, is indeed counter-productive.

The moment I watched BBC Breakfast News and was greeted with 'red meat, even in small doses, can be...' I switched off. I am an omnivore living in a supermarket society in 2007 where meat is legal to produce and widely promoted. This information served no purpose as presented. Other than perhaps making me more likely to dismiss the next, possibly more worthy attempt at shaping our lifestyles as yet more spin being turned into hype.

And as for 'impressions' of 'control'. As with any science, when it can be done and is verifiable, then share it. The media culture of rushing out the next 'might one day', half-considered and always open to rebuttal, simply weakens the credibility of those doing the work and, if that's possible, the media acting as the conduit for such pointless messages.

BBC - Be thin to cut cancer, study says

Guardian - Stay trim and stop eating bacon, cancer report declares