Swansea Bike Scheme – Bikes4Swansea

The bikes4Swansea team are in a race to win a £100,000 investment from Santander. How? By raising more money than the competition. The crowdfunding  closes December 8th 2017!

What are their goals?

  1. Win £100,000 investment by raising the most money. (Pledge HERE)
  2. Put 50 bikes in Swansea split between 5 locations.

Why is bikes4Swansea important?

Cars are one of the biggest emitters of green house gasses. Less people in cars and more people on bikes is a great way to reduce the impact. On top of that, cycling is one of the best ways to stay fit and healthy. It’s a win-win.

Where will the docking stations be?

Where can you pledge?

Visit the crowd funding page here:

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bikes4swansea

 

 

 

 

The Problem with Solar and Wind Energy

Touted as the next big thing for energy, solar and wind are given exalted status – first in the news and now in our minds. But lets have a look at some of the issues and make sure they are as good as we think they are…

Intermittent

I live in Wales so I can tell you first hand that it’s not always peak conditions for solar power… I can’t tell you the same about the wind however because those turbines look like they are always turning. APPARENTLY the wind isn’t always trying to knock people over in other parts of the world…

So whats the problem with these sources being intermittent? Our demand is constant. Unfortunately, we don’t desire power only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Luckily in the year 1800 our mate Alessandro Volta improved on his mate’s electric frog idea and invented the voltaic pile. This was the first ‘true’ battery. Other chemicals such as lithium have been added in the 20th century and we now have batteries in every portable electronic device. Cheers Alessandro.

What does this mean for renewable energy? Because we can now store power through batteries, if you get enough of them (or perhaps just one big enough) you can store the energy generated on the sunny/windy days for when you need it. Now your problem is a centralized infrastructure which has to store the power for millions of homes. If everyone generated their own power then each household could cater for their own storage needs, but that’s a topic for another post.

Expensive

A big argument people have against renewable energy is how expensive personal systems are. New technology is always expensive at the first stage of the cycle. Furthermore, with countries like China investing huge amounts into the renewable markets, capacity will shoot up and innovations will come think and fast. As demand increases so will the supply, creating equilibrium in the price. “For the second year in a row, renewable energy accounted for more than half the new power generation capacity added worldwide.” (FT, 2017)

Unsightly

This is one that I hear regularly and it always astounds me. Talking to an academic about the turbines on the hills near where I live he said “Bloody nuisance, can’t get away from the things.” I could’t believe it – when I see a wind turbine it fills me with hope that we are progressing towards a green society that doesn’t smash our surroundings to pieces. I also think the way they smoothly rotate is mesmerizing. I could be biased because I write for a blog like this but i’ll let you decide for yourselves. Take a look at the two pictures below and tell me which one you would rather see.

Big ugly concrete cooling towers.
Cooling towers. Big. Concrete. Ugly. Would you prefer this or a wind turbine?
Wind turbines. Ugly or therapeutic?
Wind turbines. Ugly or therapeutic?

Wind Turbine Noise Pollution.

This one relates directly to wind farms. I love turbines but this is something that needs to be addressed. A couple of lines from an article in the telegraph sums up the issue:

“This is not about saying no wind farms anywhere, this is about saying lets have wind farms in the right place with the right regulations,” she said. [‘She’ is Jane Davis, a resident affected by the noise.]

Dick Bowdler, an acoustic consultant, used to advise the Government on wind farm noise. However he resigned because he felt concerns about noise from wind farms were not being followed up.

“I have no doubt that there are some people who are seriously affected by wind farm noise,” he said. (Find the full article here)

Jane’s Case.

First lets examine Jane’s case. You have lived somewhere for years then they build a wind farm within earshot of your house. Endless wooshing is now the soundtrack to your life. I have lived next to motorways and under the Heathrow flight-path. I can tell you, not nice. Sure you can get used to it slightly but that feels more like your body trying to keep you sane.

Right thing, wrong place. What Jane said about having wind farms in the right place is great. Here in England we are an island. How about more offshore wind farms? Out at sea the regulations allow for bigger turbines too, so more power can be generated from one unit. {An offshore wind farm generates it’s own set of issues such as construction and energy transfer.}

Bad regulation. 

The acoustic consultant leaving or not is arbitrary. What we have to be careful of is the proper integration of new technologies. We need people to be on the team when it comes to climate change and one way to guarantee the opposite is to badly manage the transition. Noise complaints are an opportunity for great publicity. Who wouldn’t want to see the big corporation (with their planet-muncher reputation) helping the little guy?

 

Here’s a summary:

This post talks about wind and solar energy and although there are other forms out there that are making waves (tidal energy pun) solar and wind are at the forefront right now.

  • Intermittent – more storage is needed.
  • Expensive – the price is coming down.
  • Unsightly – better than chimneys.
  • Noisy – better management could eradicate this.
Check out THIS post on Sea-level rise.
Or THIS post on vertical farming.

 

Facing up to Waste

As a species we create an astonishing amount of waste. Tonnes and tonnes are produced per person every year. Furthermore, what happens to this waste once it is out of our hands remains mystery to most. The principles of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ play their part to hide this problem and business goes on as usual.

Landfill. Is this really the best solution?
At the dump

We had some sofa’s given to us by a family member recently. Our old sofas were given the boot. Two tip runs later and I am face to face with the iceberg that is our waste production.

It took roughly an hour between dropping the first sofa into the very bottom of an enormous skip and arriving back with the second sofa. There was not enough room in that same skip. Piles of old lamps and unwanted books covered the first sofa and we were forced to use the fresh skip adjacent. The cavernous grey bucket eagerly awaiting it’s turn to consume the excess our material lives afford us.

It was hard to believe good quality items I was seeing being cast aside. Brand new boxed Toshiba speakers and a new copy of the Times Atlas of the World caught my eye as I asked one of the attendants how much got thrown away: “This is nothing. You wouldn’t believe your eyes.”

 

Where does it all go when we throw it away?

Check this out:

I’m a Hypocrite and so are You

I’m a Hypocrite and So Are You.

What do you consider yourself to be a hypocrite about which you want to change?
What things could you consider yourself to be a hypocrite about?

 

I want to call myself an environmentalist but I know I am part of the problem – I’m a hypocrite. I eat meat with most meals, routinely do long journeys in a fossil fuel powered car, have baths and leave the lights on. Just like most people in the western world. Unfortunately for everyone (not just us living it), it is this lifestyle of consumption and excess that is causing much of the damage.

Why are we in a situation where climate

change is real? How is it possible that as a collective we have allowed destruction on such a global scale to become a reality? Why are we having to come up with solutions to problems which have risen out of a selfish desire to consume and dominate? Is the ‘me me me’ attitude so all consuming that it is worth causing the suffering or millions/billions of beings who also share this planet?

Real Change Starts at Home

I want companies and governments to do more about environment damage but the real change is going to start at ho

me. After all, corporations and governments are there to serve us (even if it doesn’t always feel like that). Everyone has to do their part because unless you do not have to consume (TELL ME YOUR SECRETS), we are all part of the problem.

Here are the main areas I think I need to improve to be less of a hypocrite:

  1. Meat Consumption
  2. Water Consumption
  3. Waste Production
  4. Power Consumption
  5. Food Miles

Meat Consumption

I love meat. However I also re

 

alise that if I want to call myself an environmentalist then I am going to have to alter where I get the meat that I am consuming. Furthermore, on a moral level the way that the animals whose meat I get from the supermarket are being treated isn’t acceptable

Water Consumption

I don’t do too badly with this one. I know there is always room for improvement however, especially when you consider that your water consumption is not just what you drink but also how much water is used to treat your sewage or in the production of your food and possessions. By buying less meat (and consuming less in general) this water consumption will fall. A couple of changes that will help though would be to cut down on the baths and fill a bowl with water rather than washing up with the tap running.

 

Waste Production

Now this I am guilty of on a big scale. The black bin liners seem to fill and fill and fill, every week more and more bags. Not only has everything I buy got more packaging than product but I am lazy with disposal.

I feel like the best way to deal with this problem is to control it at source. Stop buying things that come in mountains of packaging and instead buy the items with the least amount of packaging.

Solution 1: Buy things with less packaging.

Solution 2: Stop being so damn lazy!

Power Consumption

I think we are all guilty of leaving the lights on. How about the TV? Turning stuff off is easy and the less you leave on, the less you are going to spend.

Food Miles

 

A hidden cost associated with our food which is eventually going to have to be paid. It’s a marvel of the modern age that we can get beans all the way from Kenya to your table. For less than the price of a coffee. Think about how many people in the chain have to handle the produce before it gets to you. Now also think about the exhaust fumes coughed into the air to get those to you. It does make you think though that for £2 a pack, someone along the line is being exploited. These beans are starting to not sound so nice. For a potential solution to our food mile woes, check out this article on vertical farming.

 

The last thing to say here then is what are we going to do about it?

Michael Pollan: A plant’s-eye view Ted Talk

Michael Pollan makes us question who’s in charge: the man, the bee, or the potato?

My favourite take away from this video is what Pollan has learned from Joel Salatin:

With the right techniques we can take what we need from the earth and actually leave it in a BETTER state than when we started!

Vertical Farming – The Perfect Solution?

At our current population level, an area the size of South America is needed to grow food and raise livestock. By 2050 it’s estimated that there will be close to 10 billion people on the planet, which will require additional area of arable land the size of Brazil if current farming methods are used (Despommier, 2010). Couple this with the growing demands of developing countries wishing to live western lives and consume at the rate we have been enjoying and it makes for a dangerous situation. How can we satisfy an exponential demand with a finite planet?
Population increase is not the only thing straining our food production capabilities. Relentless production has demolished the quality of soils around the world so that chemical fertilisers must now prop up the machine if we want it to keep churning out food. As well as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides which have been drowning our food for years are becoming less and less effective as pests develop immunity. Check out this article  if you would like to see the impact some of these chemicals are having on vital pollinators.
I think you are getting the idea…
The current system is the only one that is currently providing the food we need at scale (I’m not knocking it for that) but it is unsustainable if we want to keep this beautiful planet habitable. What we need are some alternatives which use DRASTICALLY less water, little-to-no inputs from nasty chemicals and production which we can locate as close as possible to where the food is going to be eaten. If only there was something like that available…
Whats that you say? Vertical Farming? What the hell is that?

I’ll tell you.

Vertical Farming is the process of stackable food production. Instead of one level of crops along the ground, a series of shelves are stacked one on top of the other, thereby massively increasing the productive capacity of a single square foot. The term vertical farming was first coined by Dickson Despommier (Author of The Vertical Farm). I have taken the quote he uses to introduce vertical farming in his book:
“By applying state-of-the-art controlled-environment agricultural technologies as an integrated system contained within a multi-story building — vertical farming — the world could rapidly become a much better place to welcome the next generation of humans.”
Before we go into the advantages of vertical farming I will show you the general principle and how some of the systems work.

Basics of Vertical Farming

Vertical farming uses a combination of aquaponics, stackable shelves and LED light bars.
Aquaponics:
 
Plants grown in an inert material such as lava rocks, with their roots in a liquid solution. The water is first passed through fishtanks before being passed over the roots of the plants.
Here is a great video by Plant Chicago which explains it better than I can!

Stackable Production
 
This can be over the many floors of a building or can be shelves one on top of each other with enough room between shelves for the plant and the led light.
Led Light Bar
 
High efficiency bulbs are used to mimic the sun’s rays and provide energy for photosynthesis. The bulbs used in vertical farming are tuned to exactly the frequency which the plants need, removing any wasted energy from being used on areas of the light spectrum which are not used by the plants. Here is a 20 second clip to show you what I mean.

Benefits of Vertical Farming

In his book, Dickson Despommier lists 11 major benefits of vertical farming. I have chosen three to elaborate on:
  1. Use of 70-95% less water.
  2. No use of pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers.
  3. Year round crop production.
1: Use of 70-95% Less Water
 Traditional farming methods use an astonishing amount of water which  we don’t have allot of as it is.
From the National Geographic Website:
Freshwater makes up a very small fraction of all water on the planet. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.” (National Geographic)
So then, I guess you would agree with me that using massively less water is a great idea?
2: No Use of Pesticides, Herbicides or Fertilisers
As well as increasing the amount of fossil fuel energy needed to produce our food, pesticides and herbicides are designed to KILL. If they are designed to kill something else,  they probably aren’t doing anything nice to me once I eat them. I wouldn’t eat rat poison out the bottle yet I don’t go out of my way to buy organic food? Something is backward there.
Another great reason to celebrate not using these harmful chemicals is that there will be less negative impact on pollinators such as bees! THIS article discusses neonicotinoids and THIS post has a great video on honey yields from rural bees vs urban bees (the results might surprise you!)
3: Year Round Crop Production
 
SAY WHHAAAT. No longer will we be constrained by those pesky seasonal changes!
One massive upside of growing in a controlled environment is that each aspect of the lighting and temperature can be simulated to mimic the exact growing conditions plants need at each stage of their lifecycle. With these systems it no longer matters when you plant your seeds, adding another level of protection against fluctuations in supply. One-nil for food security.

Awesome Vertical Farming Videos:

This Farm of the Future Uses No Soil and 95% Less Water – By Seeker Stories

Earthrise – Japan’s Future Farms

 Growing Roots – This Farmer Is Taking Root On Your Rooftops // Discovery on Viddsee

 What do you think about vertical farming?

References:
Despommier, D,. (2010) The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century. St Martin’s Press, New York. pp77.
National Geographic. A Clean Water Crisis. National Geographic [Accessed: 12 March 2017] (Available at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/freshwater/freshwater-crisis.html)
Hydroponic Infographic:
 

5 Hydroponic Fun Facts and Figures

From Visually.

– See more at: http://visual.ly/5-hydroponic-fun-facts-and-figures#sthash.PyDVKlhD.dpuf