Friday, 29 August 2008
According to a report in the Indy today, Boris Johnson has plans for a greener, cleaner London. He has launched a strategy to help the capital cope with climate change, which includes urban greening - more green spaces, tree planting and green roofs, addressing water loss by reducing pipe leakage and encouraging homes to become more water efficient and designing new buildings and adapting existing ones to reduce need for air conditioning. Johnson said that quality of life in the capital could be seriously threatened by climate change, especially extreme weather conditions bringing the increased risk of flooding. I recently read Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, insightful and timely fiction for teens on how climate change might affect London. In the book the Thames barrier can't cope with the pressure of freak weather conditions and London floods leading to devastating circumstances. Despite this, it is an uplifting tale with a strong community thread running throughout the book. Worth a read even if your teenage years are but a distant memory.
Well, since I completely missed posting about the last full moon on 16th August - because I was out having fun and meeting new people, in the true spirit of Aquarius - I figured I'd post about the New Moon tomorrow in good time. Both the Sun and the New Moon will be in Virgo meaning that it will be a good time to get things in order, complete unfinished projects and nourish the body since Virgo energies involve purification and whole body health. As Virgo is an Earth sign we can also benefit from forging greater connections to the earth at this time. This can be through practical activities such as gardening, harvesting or putting some time and energy into your local environment, or perhaps connecting on a spiritual level. I like going moon walking, laying still on the forest floor and blessing the trees around me to help me feel more connected to the earth. Am looking forward to some serious sorting out over the coming days. Certainly our office could do with a good ol' sort out after completing our October edition, which went to press this week. There's piles of proofs, books and paperwork everywhere but next week we'll be back to a clear organised base again on our crazy bi-monthly cycle - fingers crossed!
Thursday, 28 August 2008
According to a new study nearly half of Australia is untouched by man. 40% of the land or 1.1 million sq. miles (equivalent to twelve times the size of mainland Britain) make up one of the largest pristine areas of wilderness left in the world, alongside the Amazon and Antarctica. The edges of this area are predominantly peopled by Aboriginal communities who have managed to stem the growth of plants brought by colonial settlers, such as mimosa, in order to allow native species to thrive. However the report also highlights the high rates of extinction of endemic species in Australia and hence the Pew Environment Group and The Nature Conservancy have joined forces to protect this wilderness and the wildlife that it supports. Let's hope it's not a case of Whitey thinking he fix everything by waltzing in, conducting a survey and hammering in a few signs. I know I'm a cynic - I try not to be.
This is a bit of frivolous one but I couldn't resist after receiving a sheet of this colour your own recycled wallpaper this morning. Introduced to me by the lovely folk at Papergrain, Nineteen Seventy Three also offer a range of post consumer waste cards, postcards and giftwrap. In fact, Furochic is a new alternative to wrapping paper - reusable material gift wrap that requires no selotape and comes in a range of gorgeous big, bold floral designs. I fancy papering a wall with the Jon Burgerman wallpaper and having a family and friends colour-off but know only too well what happens when I introduce my kids to a labouriously papered wall - out come the fingernails and the malicious intent. They can't help picking at it. We're sticking with paints for now...
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
This week it's all about compost. Composting is one of the simplest ways of reducing your household waste and improving your garden's output. What a serendipitous circle - you can throw less rubbish into landfill and grow fatter, juicier tomatoes into the bargain. So here are a few ideas to get started with:
1. Get a bucket (preferably one with a lid) and start throwing your veg peelings, tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells and torn up junk mail inside. When full empty into a compost bin in the garden. You can make your own or buy one from a garden centre.
2. Find out whether your local council has any great offers on compost bins at the moment. Mine was half price (I think - it was actually a Christmas present from my beloved, deposited on the doorstep with him inside)
3. As a end-of-the-summer-holidays project try making a worm farm. These are easy to make and introduce the concept of composting in such a visual and captivating way.
4. Make a leaf litter bin ready for the autumn. Hammer five 4ft poles into the ground, wrap chicken wire round the outside and you have a bin to collect leaves in. After 1 to 2 years this will have decomposed into a good addition to your homemade compost.
5. Make a batch of homemade fertilizer with some nettles or comfrey. Put on some gloves and fill a bucket up to the brim with nettles or comfrey leaves. Cover with water and leave to infuse for a week or two, by which time it should be humming. Dilute one part fertilizer brew to 15 parts water and use to feed your tomatoes, sweetcorn, apple trees etc. A little treat for the plants, which might encourage the fruits to grow just a little bit juicier before harvest.
Hope you enjoy getting busy in the garden this week!
Thursday, 21 August 2008
Photography is a powerful medium through which to raise awareness of environmental issues. Images can speak directly to our soul, replacing reams of text that might not have as great an impact. Which is why I am excited about the Environmental Photographer of the Year awards that have just been unveiled. The award winning entries for the category Changing Climates show clearly the impact that global warming is having on our world and depict climate change as a human rights issue, which I think is an important distinction. It's not just about the devastation of plants and wildlife; we are all connected and human populations are already being affected. This beautiful picture of a woman and her child in Abhijit Nandi, India is the winner of the Quality of Life category. From 17th Sept to 11th Oct, visitors to the Art Pavilion at Mile End Ecology Park, London can view an exhibition of some of the entries.
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
It's World Water Week this week so I figured it would be a good time to turn my attention to the way we use water in our homes. We often take this essential resource for granted and can be very wasteful in our use of it, so I want to look at a few simple changes that we can make that might get us thinking about water's true value. Here are the week's challenges:
• If you have a conventional toilet (not a low flush or an ultra efficient loo) pop a brick or a hippo in your cistern. This will save around 3 litres per flush.
• Take the Aussie attitude to waste and follow the 'if it's yellow, it's mellow' rule. You could even put a little sign on your loo to explain this to guests!
• Ditch bottled water - globally we drink over 150 billion litres a year! In the US 86% of plastic water bottles end up in landfill. The remainder were incinerated, causing toxic off gassing or sent to China for recycling. Buying water like this costs up to 12,000 times the cost of tap water and according to Gomestic, around 40% of bottled water originates from our ordinary tap water supply. Fill a glass or plastic bottle with water when travelling and water plants with any that is left over at the end of the day.
• If you don't have one already, buy a small washing up bowl to fir inside your sink - this can save several litres per washing up session. It is also useful to have in the sink to collect the excess when you run the tap to get cold water. Use it to water plants.
• Get a water butt to collect rainwater and if you already have one, install another. You are sure to accrue plenty of rainwater at the moment, which will come in useful if we have an Indian summer. Fingers crossed!
Let's get saving!
Transport has been on my mind over the last week following the challenges that I set. We changed travel plans for a journey and we all bundled in the back of a friend's van rather than driving to a party at the weekend. I found a brilliant bus timetable which centres around a large map of the downs and all the places that you can visit, such as the Long Man of Wilmington and gorgeous woodland - Abbotts Wood, using local bus services and trains. We can also get to my favourite crystal shop with a short walk and a hop across a field - hurrah! We went on lots of bike rides last week, mainly locally - the kids are getting so confident on their bikes now. On one ride we cycled to a local village and found a rope swing behind the church, which made a fun rest stop. On the way home from that ride, we sang the whole journey and the hills suddenly didn't seem nearly so challenging. I signed up to Flight Pledge last year and we haven't flown for several years, but have taken holidays by train and car instead. I haven't yet discovered how much it costs to drive a mile but Chris Goodall, author of How to Live a Low Carbon Life, a fabulous sourcebook of crunchy figures and insightful comment says that it costs on average £0.10 a mile to make a car journey. I would like to work out how much it costs taking into account the road tax, insurance and initial cost of the car so will get back to you on that one. Out of curiosity I have been looking at the G Wiz electric car - apparently they cost £0.017p a mile to run and owners also don't have to pay tax. It does cost £6,999 to buy new though. Am going to ask the neighbours how they feel about car sharing too. New challenges will be posted later...
Friday, 15 August 2008
The Tree Council are publishing a book to celebrate 10 years of their seed gathering season events. Featuring 80 native and ornamental species, Trees and How to Grow Them gives growing tips and tree trivia as well as lovely colour images of each tree. Find out how to grow a tree from seed, what it's like being a tree warden and lots of facts and figures like where the oldest tree in the world is situated (it's a bristlecone pine, thought to be 4,600 years old, located in the White Mountains of eastern California) and the number of tree species in the world (around 100,000) Wowzer - I love trees. Some of my other favourite books about trees are: The Secret Life of Trees: How they live and why they matter by Colin Tudge, A tree in your pocket by Jacqueline Paterson, Myths of the Sacred Tree by Moyra Caldecott and the Healing Energies of Trees by P. Bouchardon.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
Well here it is folks - how to green up your travel arrangements, save money and have fun into the bargain. Try these five simple steps this week:
• Make a note of all your regular journeys and replace one journey this week with a different mode of transport - think bikes, buses, trams or shanks pony.
• Find a bus timetable for your local area and see what exotic locations you could visit!
• Go for a bike ride. If you haven't got a bike, borrow or hire one. Check out Sustrans for ideas of local cycle routes, including off-road trails.
• Calculate how much it costs to drive a mile in the car.
• Sign up to flight pledge. You can choose from options such as not taking leisure flights or not flying except in emergencies.
I'll let you know how we get on with these in the office a bit later in the week!
Monday, 11 August 2008
We're featured in the Irish Times in an article about green parenting after I did an interview with Sheila Wayman a couple of weeks ago. Also there's a piece in the South Wales Echo today in response to the report that I wrote a month or so ago about how you can save £3000 in the first year of your baby's life. We will be publishing an article in the December edition of The Green Parent about how to go green and save money.
Well, the assistants in the fridge shop clearly think that I am a loon. So what if a fiver can be pulled out of the fridge door - have I checked the temperature? Uh no - how do I do that? Apparently if "the temperature of the item retains a suitable temperature inside the unit, it is fair to say that the item is in perfect working order." They actually said that! Sales-speak gives me uncontrollable giggles so we didn't get much further than that. Back to the drawing board on that one. But, the corners of the mini ice box are stuffed with bits of paper and bubblewrap and I have hardly opened the fridge at all this week, preferring to eat fab food made by my mother-in-law and have a sneaky lunch out with my aunt. Am sure I have done other virtuous things too to counteract the vast quantities of chocolate consumed in the office this week prior to deadline, but they are alluding me. This weeks challenges will be posted up later - all to do with getting from A to B in the greenest possible way. Exciting - non?
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
Wow - its been baking here today. Luckily I only had a half day in the office as it gets a bit close working on a computer in the heat. This morning we had friends over and we went on a treasure hunt, which turned into a bit of a litter pick, due to a bunch of concerned kids. On the way home, laden with crisp packets, bottles and cans, I overheard my eldest and her friend talking about polar bears. Her friend claimed that we're killing them with all our litter (according to a TV programme she'd seen). I was surprised at how eloquently my daughter explained that that is an indirect result, the more immediate one being the threat to British wildlife. Although we do talk about global environmental issues, we tend to focus more on what's happening at home and in our community so it's good to know that she has managed to fit her views into a wider context as well. For us, so much of our home educating experiences centre round conversations. We always eat together, at least once a day, and a lot of family conversations take place round the table after dinner. Our youngest is intrigued by economics and how small scale independents compete with the multinationals. A wee socialist in the making? We have been talking around the subject of the Nestlé boycott and artificial milk marketing in the developing world. I am trying to present just the facts to ensure that they can make up their own minds - sometimes not so easy to avoid a biased opinion.
A new daily ritual is the bike ride after dinner - tonight we discovered a magical oak wood and went off-roading - feels very liberating to be able to cover such distances and explore our surroundings in a completely different way. Vive le velo!!
Tuesday, 5 August 2008
As a relatively new cycling convert, all things two wheeled make me very excited right now so when I heard about this I had to drop a quick post. On the third and fourth Saturday of every month - ie) 16th and 23rd August - residents of Waltham Forest in London, E10, can pick up a recycled bike for as little as £20. Visitors can also learn a bit of basic bike maintenance and those with unwanted bikes can donate them to a new home.
Monday, 4 August 2008
So I pulled the note right out of the door with no trouble whatsoever. Yep, my energy efficient A rated fridge (with a little icebox at the top - my children are deprived of ice cream and burgers and all other frozen stuff) that I only bought several years ago is not so clean and green after all. I have emailed the manufacturers and the place I got it (Currys - whisper) to find out whether I need to replace the seals or they need to buck their ideas up.
Apparently the coils have been recently dusted by the man of the house and I have yet to stuff the ice box with paper but will do so tomorrow to reduce energy needed to keep it cool in there. As for finding a cool spot for my fridge it already sits in the best (and only) possible space, temperature -wise. And I promise not to leave the fridge door open, staring at the contents, desperately hoping for a wisp of inspiration when 6 o clock rolls around. Anyone else up for this sorting-your-fridge-out mission? The first step in taking positive action to reduce your family's carbon emissions. It'll be fun, I promise!
An experiment at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has revealed the great power behind flying kites - enough to generate electricity for ten family homes. The kite was tethered to a generator and managed to produce 10 kilowatts of power. Leading the study, Wubbo Ockels, sustainable engineering professor, inspired by the great power of hurricanes viewed from space as an astronaut, sees kites as an exciting possibility in developing wind energy. They are able to reach much higher altitudes than turbines, where the wind power is greater. Ken Caldeira, climate scientist at the Department of Global Ecology has found that wind contains around 100 times the amount of energy that we need, but that most of it is up high, out of reach of current windmills and turbines. Others are in agreement that this could be a valuable source of renewable energy, cheap, easy to harness and really quite magical too.
According to a report in the Indy today dairy farmers are the latest to feel the credit crunch and are abandoning organic practices in favour of cheaper cattle food and higher yields. Cost of organic feed has gone up by as much as 80% in some cases (some of it is flown in from China!!?) and the 36p per litre of organic milk received by the farmer now leaves him out of pocket. Farmers need prices to increase by at least 4p but the competitive nature of the nation's supermarkets makes that unlikely. I like the novel solution from a group of organic dairy farmers from around Britain who practice tai chi with their cows (in the same field rather than encouraging the cows to join in - apparently the milk has increased levels of wellbeing), who have launched a site called Chakra Checkout. Choose organic milk rather than a fizzy drink for example to help balance your Sahasrara or crown chakra, the solar plexus will benefit from more healthy foods so carrots are a good choice to increase personal power, sensitivity and joy while the heart chakra, Anahata is more in alignment when you choose items that are kinder to animals and people, like fair trade products. I am not an advocate of the dairy industry, preferring to drink nut, seed or soya milk instead but those green consumers who do drink organic milk would be best off buying from local farmers or through local shops.
Ooh I love baking - even if my approach is usually a bit haphazard. I like to make things up according to what I flavours I fancy. Here is a sugar-free muffin recipe, adapted from a recipe by Tanya Barnard in How it All Vegan, which is really tasty and avoids that terrible nosedive that you can get from sugary snacks. Would like to be able to make a wheat-free alternative - haven't had much success with wheat-free flours, apart from using home ground nut flour in raw recipes which is delicious.
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp maple syrup or agave
2 tbsp psyllium husks in 4 tbsp water (If you can't find this at a health food shop, you can use a mashed banana instead)
150ml soya or nut milk soured with 3/4 tsp vinegar
4 tbsp oil
75g crushed macadamias
Sift flour, baking powder, bicarb and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add rest of the ingredients and mix until just mixed. Spoon into muffin tins or paper cake cases and bake for 15-20 mins at 200ºC, 400ºF or GM6.
Like to load up the oven when I cook to increase the energy efficiency of this incredibly power-hungry appliance so made a courgette, pea and basil tart (most ingredients from the garden - thanks Mum for the courgette plant!) and some crunchy roast potatoes and beetroot at the same time.
Have now finished work for the afternoon and am off on a bike ride with my two gorgeous girls. Yay!
Sunday, 3 August 2008
Here are five simple things to do that will help to reduce carbon emissions:
They are not very glamourous but will probably save you money as well as reducing your impact on the environment.
• Try and keep your fridge and freezer full (but not overcrowded) as this will use less electricity - fill space in the freezer with scrunched up paper or bubble wrap to stop warm air creeping in when the door is opened.
• Place a fiver on the seal of your fridge door and shut the door. If you can remove the money the seals on your fridge need replacing - cool air can escape through the gap and energy is wasted.
• Check the condenser coil on the back of your fridge - dusty or dirty ones waste energy. Give the coils a little tlc and you'll make your fridge more efficient.
• Obvious one this - but we have all lingered in front of the fridge trying to work out what to make for tea - keep the door shut and only open for very brief periods.
• Keep your fridge somewhere cool - if possible locate it out of direct sunlight and not near an oven or boiler, where it will have to work twice as hard.
So, I'm off to shut some money in the fridge, raid the craft box for bubble wrap to stuff in the freezer and dust off my coils.
Next week we'll take a look at transport and ways in which we can all cut carbon (and save a few pennies).
According to new research published recently by the New Economics Foundation we have just 100 months left before greenhouse gases reach tipping point. That's eight years and four months to solve the pressing problem of climate change. One hundred months is a dark count down calendar launched this week. At last count we have 2,950 days to go. The Green New Deal, a group, which includes Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth and Colin Hines of Greenpeace have joined forces to tackle the nasty trident of accelerating climate change, the credit crunch and escalating fuel prices. They believe that action is necessary at local, national and global levels and have the following recommendations:
• huge investment in renewables
• creation of 'green collar' jobs
• building relationships between environmentalists, industry and agriculture.
That doesn't sound very accessible to me so I thought we could put together a short list of maybe five actions to take, to work towards a low carbon society. Then each week we'll post them up here and we can all get handwashing our dirty socks and making solar ovens together. Well, obviously not together but in our own little corners of the world and hopefully sharing with our families and friends until we are a majority of gorgeous greenies with slightly grubby socks and a penchant for sun-cooked food. If you have any blindingly good ideas or quite smart ones, let me know and I'll add them to next week's list. First list coming up soon...
Peaceful protest at Kingsnorth power station, Kent officially started today. Kicking off a week of workshops, speakers and meetings protesters began arriving on Thursday night to take part in The Camp for Climate Action (CCA). This is a place for anyone who wants to take action on climate change; for anyone who's worried that the small steps that they are taking aren't enough to affect real change. Visitors who want to get involved are invited to come along and either camp for the week or join in for an hour's workshop. The site at Kingsnorth has been chosen to try and stop the building of new coal fired power stations. Plans are afoot to build a new power station which will emit between 6 and 8 million tonnes of CO2 every year. And that's just the beginning - six other coal power stations are planned around the country, which collectively would emit 50 million tonnes of CO2 a year. Burning coal is responsible for around one quarter of our global carbon dioxide emissions. One of the aims of the camp is to discuss alternatives ways to live on our planet whilst leaving fossil fuels (coal and oil) in the ground. Whilst the phase 'clean coal' is touted by energy companies, it is unfortunately an oxymoron - new coal fired power stations ARE slightly more energy efficient than the old ones, but the bottom line is still the quarter of global emissions caused by burning coal. CCA are keen to highlight the alternatives in the form of renewables and in fact solar panels have already sprung up to heat showers at the camp and windmills are planned to power computers, necessary for some of the workshops. The workshop programme is especially impressive boasting speakers such as George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas and hands on sessions such as how to bake a vegan cake. A children's tent with activities and fun is on offer for the whole week and families are always welcome, although there is some concern over police response to the camp, so many parents may feel unsafe about involving their children in the event. It all looks really exciting nevertheless - a self sustainable world growing in a field in Kent, complete with kitchen serving three delicious meals a day - and a chance to meet likeminded folk and work on solutions for the future.
Saturday, 2 August 2008
According to research by BBC Wildlife Magazine children prefer playing on the computer to playing in the countryside. The study which invited 700 school children to identify common native species and then quizzed the children on what their do in their spare time found that just half could identify a bluebell or a blue tit and 11% never visited the countryside. I was rather heartened by the findings that 78% of the children involved were allowed to play out on their own and that 79% had enjoyed an afternoon spent picking blackberries. But I am aware that many of the experiences that our children's generation has with nature can be sterile, contrived and not very wild at all. Which is why we have commissioned the wonderful Marina Robb, to write in our next issue about bringing our children back home to nature. She runs wilderness workshops for teens and is extremely well placed to write about the increasing disconnection from the natural world and how we can find our way back there. Dr. Martin Maudsley, the Outdoor Play Development Officer for Playwork Partnerships at the University of Gloucestershire (wonder what the plaque on his office door reads) has some good ideas too:
• Look for access to wild natural spaces for children - school grounds, community gardens, parks and reserves.
• Help maintain and protect local wild spaces.
• Give children uninterrupted free time to explore these spaces.
• Let places go wild. Create areas of mud and dirt for digging and playing with mud.
• Be prepared and kit your children out with waterproofs and wellies etc.
Look out for the next issue of The Green Parent, on sale next month, for more ideas.
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At 10:14 yesterday we entered the new moon in Leo. This is a time for big creativity, playfulness, passion and joy. It is a time for allowing your light to shine. Leo is a fire sign so this period can be great for connecting to your own inner fire, your passions, the things that drive you. On a physical level lighting a fire with friends or candle rituals can have extra potency around this time, feeling especially magical. The power of Leo can also have the effect of jolting you out of your daily life and encouraging you to take a leap of faith or to create a new path driven by your passions. Enjoy this fiery period and do share how it's affecting you here. For me the New Moon is the time when I feel I can really start to affect change and get any stagnant energies in my home (in particular) moving again. This period often heralds trips to the charity shop laden with boxes and a renewed interest in cleaning (noticeably absent the rest of the month).
Friday, 1 August 2008
It's Lughnasadh or Lammas, the Pagan celebration of the harvest. I am planning a few crafty activities so I thought I'd share them. Traditionally our ancestors would have made corn dollies at this time to represent the Goddess, honour the crops and protect their home during the winter months. We have made these for years with varying degrees of success - often I am left struggling to make something recognisable with a pile of wheat sheaves whilst everyone else has moved onto more engaging activities. Such as eating. Bread was baked from the first harvest of the corn and lammas literally translates as loaf mass. So there'll be wafts of fresh bread aroma filling the kitchen, unfortunately not using the first corn harvest as we have none to gather. The bread will be part of a harvest feast, featuring those veggies that the chickens have left well alone - so lots of carrots and beans, a few peas and tomatoes and some edible flowers such as calendula and nasturtium. Oops, gotta go, will post more later...