The Left must find its way back to its roots

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Red_flag_wavingThe Left, the Labor Movement, must finds its way back to its roots, to the true socialism and communism from which it sprang and must abandon the misguided idea of being able to reform capitalism and make it into a user friendly version.

The British Labour Party and other political parties that proclaim socialism and social democracy are but apologists and have came off the rail like a train that has hit a fault switch. The Labour Party, for sure, has deserted its roots, the labor and trade union movement which founded it and has stabbed the working class in the back and continues to do so.

Not that the British Labour Party is alone in this of all the working class parties of Europe and the rest of the world. Far from it.

Labour, however, is literally advocating the creation of capitalism lite and Ed Milliband appears to have said as much in February 2014 and this is a total abandonment of the working class and of the principles on which the party was founded.

The majority of the British trade unions are, today, also no better in that they too are but interested, the leaders that is, in their cushy jobs at the top of those unions, drawing salaries that equal those of captains of industry, while their members are forced to eek out a living at less than the living wage.

Democracy is the road to socialism, said Marx. That is fine and good as long as it is true democracy where the central institutions in society are under popular control. What is, however, masquerading as democracy under capitalism is not democracy by definition. It is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control and predominately by the corporations via lobbying and other way of influence exerted upon the do-called government. This makes capitalism, de facto, fascist in nature. There is tight control from at the top and strict obedience is established on every level and enforced.

Until such a time that all major institutions of society are under popular control of participants and communities it is pointless to talk about democracy and to claim that we live in one.

Having said that, however, we must also ensure that the parties of the Left do not tread the course that the CPSU did once Stalin got the helm and forced collectivization, for instance, on the peasants in a way that killed many tens of thousands of them in the villages and those that were, as kulaks and kulak agents, deported to the wastes of Siberia for no other crime than wishing not to forcibly be joined to the kolchoz.

The collectivization was intended, by Lenin, to be voluntarily but under Stalin and his henchmen it became something else rather, as did many other things.

The entire economy was turned into state capitalism rather than socialism and communism and the means of production instead of ending up in the hands of the workers ended up in the hands of the state. That, however, was already a fault in Marx's thinking itself and should never have been cropped up nor adopted.

The means of production must be in the hands of those that work with those means and that means the workers and not the state. The state, in itself, is something that should be reconsidered also.

It is true that public utilities and transport, such as buses, trams and trains must be, well, public but businesses of all other kinds should be worker's cooperatives, family or individuals and not state monopolies or so-called “people's owed enterprises” which are, in fact, but state run with the workers changing from wage slaves to a business owner or corporation to wage slaves of the state.

Having said the afore about public utilities and transport that is not to say that they cannot be run as worker-owned and operated enterprises. Far from it. In fact that may just be the best solution for all.

The roots of the Left are not Marx, Engels and Lenin but go much further back to what Marx and Engels referred to, condescendingly, as utopians, such as the Diggers, Owen and others in Britain of the centuries before and the same time, and those include the ideas of the Co-operative Commonwealth. And while those ideas, to a degree, may also have been flawed, in the current economical and political climate it is those that show that their way may be the one to embark upon properly.

We must learn from the past mistakes but have a look at the so-called and often discarded utopian systems for a solution. It is then a case of looking at all those systems and taking the best from all of them and creating a new way. And the one notion that we have to get away from altogether is the state and the necessity of it.

© 2015

The Surprising Side Effect of a Winter Hike

Why you really need to spend more time outside, no matter how cold it gets

Go hiking, then come home and write the Great American Novel? Spending two days hiking in the Tetons might not turn you into William Faulkner, but research published in PLoS Onesuggests that a few days in a national park may make you more creative in other ways.

The study followed 56 hikers on a four-day hike, without their laptops, cellphones, or any other technology, and the authors found that spending time communing with nature boosted the hikers' creativity by 50 percent, based on the results of a creativity test they took either before they left or toward the end of their journey.

It's all about giving your brain a break from the daily grind of technology and stress, says the study's lead author David Strayer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah. "The human mind is heavily influenced by the environment we're in," he says. "It's not useful to become a slave to technology." Disconnecting from social media, cellphones, computers, and stress allows your prefrontal brain circuits, which are associated with creativity and higher-level thinking, to get restored.

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Grandma was right: Common cold virus 'prefers cold noses', new study shows

Sick with a cold, blowing noseOnce again, your grandma was right (you eat your vegetables, right?). She might just have said "it's cold outside, you'll catch a cold" while the recent study published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences phrases it a bit differently ("Temperature-dependent innate defense against the common cold virus limits viral replication at warm temperature in mouse airway cells"), but the general idea is the same.

Rhinovirus, which is the most frequent cause of the common cold and "asthma exacerbations", can reproduce better at the lower temperatures found in a nose cavity compared to the warmer temperature found in lungs. It appears that this is because the body's immune system is less effective at cooler temperatures, thus giving the virus more leeway to get a toehold and, eventually, overrun our system.

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Study: Cycling keeps you young

cycling in copenhagenThere's a reason all those Copenhagen cycle chic people look so good, and it's not just those nordic genes and tight jeans. It's the exercising they are getting doing all that cycling. Now a new study confirms that not only will cycling keep you looking good, it will keep you young. Published in the Journal of Physiology, researchers from King’s College London and the University of Birmingham found that cyclists over the age of 55 "had levels of physiological function that would place them at a much younger age compared to the general population."

It should be noted that the study looked at serious cyclists, not those doing their local shopping. Men were capable of doing 100 kilometers in under 6.5 hours; That's a pretty small subset of cyclists. The researchers put the cyclists through all all kinds of tests and in fact couldn't determine their age from their measurements, everything varied from person to person and nothing correlated to age. But Professor Norman Lazarus is quoted in Road.CC:

Inevitably, our bodies will experience some decline with age, but staying physically active can buy you extra years of function compared to sedentary people. Cycling not only keeps you mentally alert, but requires the vigorous use of many of the body’s key systems, such as your muscles, heart and lungs which you need for maintaining health and for reducing the risks associated with numerous diseases.

The study concluded again what we all know apocryphally: people age at different rates, but if you keep active it will keep you younger. Professor Stephen Harridge concludes:

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Will your city go 100% renewable?

Copenhagen bike laneThe recent joint announcement that China and the US would both commit to curbing their carbon emissions was a welcome signal that the tide is turning on international climate action.

It was also, however, a reminder of just how pitiful most countries' clean energy ambitions really are.

While countries like Finland have committed to a legally binding 80% cut by 2050, most larger nations—the US and China included—are really only talking about modest cuts at this stage. (The United States is aiming for emissions of 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025. China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030.)

That's why many clean energy advocates are looking beyond nation states, leveraging local politics at the city level to push much more ambitious, and potentially much more important, targets. The Guardian reports on a new grassroots movement aimed at securing commitments from cities to a goal of 100% clean energy.

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The problems in our big cities aren't caused by restrictions on density and height, but by inequality.

310 88th street New York Exactly one year ago today I wrote It's time to dump the tired argument that density and height are green and sustainable. It was part of my continuing rant about Edward Glaeser and Ryan Avent and Matt Yglesias who want to get rid of height restrictions and historic preservation rules and let a thousand towers bloom. Because:

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5 spices that are the most powerful anti-oxidants

fresh oreganoOregano

Spices are a rich source of polyphenols, which means we should all be eating more of them. Polyphenols are powerful anti-oxidants that neutralize the free radicals formed by constant sun exposure and anti-microbial agents that are plants’ primary defense mechanism against microbiological attack. By ingesting foods that contain high levels of polyphenols, humans boost their immune systems, reduce cellular inflammation, and maintain an optimal balance between the good and bad microbes that live in our digestive tracts.

Adding more spices to your diet is one way to increase the number of polyphenols entering your body on a regular basis, although, as Dr. Barry Sears explains in The Mediterranean Zone, you need to have continual daily intake in order to benefit in the long term, since polyphenols are fully metabolized within 24 hours of being taken into the body.

Here is a list of the top 5 spices that rank highest in terms of polyphenol content, making them the ones that you should try hardest to incorporate into your diet. ORAC stands for oxygen radical absorption capacity, which estimates the spice’s anti-oxidant ability. These values come from The Mediterranean Zone.

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Traffic in central London moves at the same speed as horse-drawn carriages

Horse carriage in LondonThe 1800s have called...

The theoretical maximum speed of all kinds of things is constantly going up; cars, trains, planes, boats... But in practice, we don't always get anywhere near those speeds. A good example of this is how, despite a century of technological progress, vehicles in London's city center are moving at average speeds comparable to the horse drawn carriages of yore (which also caused traffic jams), or about the same as a running chicken...

And that 10 MPH average is after a 1.5 MPH bump caused by the implementation of the congestion charge in 2003 (which is a 15% improvement -- nothing to sneeze at).

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Learning with Nature – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Learning with Nature
A how-to guide to inspiring children through outdoor games and activities
By Marina Robb, Victoria Mew and Anna Richardson
Published by Green Books, 29th January 2015
Paperback, 208 pages, 210mm x 210mm   
ISBN: 9780857842398
Price: £17.99

Learning_with_Nature_web1Learning with Nature is full of fun activities and games to get your children outdoors, to explore, have fun, make things and learn about nature and help them grow up happy and healthy. Suitable for groups of children aged between 3 and 16, the graded activities help children develop:

• Key practical and social skills

• Awareness of their place in the world

• Respect for the natural world

all while enjoying the great outdoors.

Written by experienced Forest School practitioners, using tried and tested games and activities, it provides comprehensive information for enriching childrens’ learning through nature. The games and activities are clearly categorized, with step-by-step instructions, age guide, a list of resources needed, and invisible learning points.

This new book aims to connect children with nature and through a broad range of outdoor activities and games, young people are encouraged to engage their senses and interact with nature. Doing this not only leads to a better understanding of the natural world but can also contribute to much broader agendas including personal and social development. Only by enjoying our natural world, and everything in it can we all to to a better understanding of how we are all connected to the greater natural world, develop the empathy needed to wanting to conserve and care for the environment. Proper care for the environment, for our woods and everything else, does, however, mean and require management.

This book is a unique must-have resource for families, schools, youth groups and anyone working with children. So, whether you are a parent or educator, “Learning with Nature” is full of ideas for fun in the great outdoors. It caters for children and young people of all ages and abilities – and comes with clear instructions and illustrations.

About the authors

Victoria Mew has followed her love of nature and curiosity in indigenous cultures since she was 12 years old She trained with Wilderness Awareness School, WA, USA, before gaining a BscHons in Human Sciences at UCL. She has since founded ‘Cultivating Curiosity’, an organization that works with people of all ages outdoors facilitating deep nature connection. She is also a qualified forest school practitioner.

Anna Richardson is teacher of foraging workshops, and works with children of all ages. Over the last 20 years, Anna’s interest in plants and traditional skills has developed through training, teaching and practicing bush craft. Passionate about new and indigenous ways to educate, Anna co-creates local community projects that enable people to share and learn together to reconnect with nature.

Marina is founder and Managing Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC, a leading outdoor learning organization. A qualified teacher who has specialized in environmental education, Marina’s approach brings together best practice from environmental education, Forest School, eco-psychology, and indigenous wisdom. She draws upon many years of working with young people of all ages and backgrounds to create unique and fun learning experiences.

As a professional woodsman I must take issue – unfortunately – with a couple of points about using a saw, whether this be a bow saw or a pruning saw. Do not, ever, put the free hands in the way described in the particular chapter. It is not safe – though it may appear thus – at all but a disaster waiting to happen. The hand belongs, with a right handed person, about one hand width to the left. With a pruning saw, if the limb is still attached to the tree (or otherwise totally secure), the free hand can be placed over top of the working hand on the handle. This gives a little more pulling power. Also please note that a pruning saw is designed to cut on the pull only and thus should not be pushed back forcefully.

Contrary to stated in the book when using saws the free hand should be “protected” by an all-leather work glove or a work glove with leather palm and Kevlar material back. The hand holding the tool should, however, be glove-less.

Please do not use a knife of the Mora kind (as in the picture in the book) to split a log using a mallet. Using a mallet on the back of the blade for this purpose may be fine when using a machete or a billhook but not for the kind of knife as shown. Is is not safe for knife or user.

Forest schools and forest kindergartens in the UK, alas, are still nowhere near the way that they are on the European mainland and our health and safety culture is to blame for that in the same way that it is to blame for the nature deficit disorder in our children in general.

Aside from those caveats indicated above this is an important book to bring children closer to the great outdoors and in proper contact with Mother Nature once again. There was a time when this kind of play came natural to most, at least the boys, such as exploring the woods, building camps, and while illegal, yes, even building fires.

Unlike today's children, and my own childhood only lies some 40+ years back, who spend most of their time in front of a screen, and that often even at school, we played outside, explored the countryside and everything in it from dawn till dusk, always carried a knife on us, and no one stabbed another. We didn't need to teach us the countryside; we lived it.

This is what makes this book so very important as today's children – and even their parents – are so very far removed from the way we grew up and could explore, and it should be a manual that not only be used in kindergartens and schools but also in the homes. We must get away from mollycoddling our kids and packing them in cotton wool and allow them the freedom to explore and understand Nature and how everything is interconnected, including everyone of us.

Due to, in my opinion, problems with some of the advice as regards the use of saws, etc., I can but give this book a rating of 4.5 our of 5. That does not, however, diminish its great importance and value.

© 2015

Question everything

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Think for yourselfWe live in an age where people, to a large extent, have become rather gullible once again, believing everything the governments and media tell them.

Before the so-called enlightenment it was the church that could not be questioned – at pain of death, literally – and whatever the church said was believed and had to be believed and under feudalism it was the same.

Then came the so-called enlightenment and “modernity” and people began to question of what they had been told and what they were being told by leaders, church, state and the newspapers.

For some strange reason, however, ever since around World War Two people have become lethargic again in that department and more and more they take as gospel everything they hear and read and see on television, mostly without questioning. This is, obviously, exactly what the powers-that-be (and who should not be) want and it is a bad thing for sure.

Not that the belief in authority and the need for it and for government and state had ever really gone away. However, many people, especially also during the 1960s to about the 1980s had become more prepared to question what they were being told and many did rebel and question. Still though it was but a minority.

More people than for a long tine before now already appear to have become statists with the belief that government has all the answers and everything that the government pushes out through the media must be true, even to such an extent that they seriously believe that government would not lie to them. Yikes! And people really believe this, I kid you not.

The government and the media lie to us day in day out and the great majority of the media, owned by just a few wealthy families, are totally beholden to the government and thus put out the message that the government wants the people to hear and to believe.

Question not just what you are told but wonder what is being hidden while something is being pushed beyond the limit, so to speak. When the media keep pushing something like a doge worrying a bone then you must ask as to what they are not telling us; what bad news is being buried during that time.

But there are also so-called alternative media out there that push a hidden agenda and the question with them has to be, as with the “official” media channels as to who pays the piper and why this or that lie or half-truth is being peddled. But first you have to learn discernment and learn to recognize when something does not add up. Always do your own research and get your information from both sides of the divide and then take the middle ground.

Government and the powers-that-be have known for a very long time what power there lies in newspapers and other media and that was the very reason that the Nazis made so heavily use of radio, created a single broadcast entity, and made the listening to foreign radio stations a crime. The media is a great propaganda tool for the governments and many media outlets knowingly or unknowingly participate in the propaganda war on behalf of the powers-that-be.

It is therefore extremely important to question absolutely everything and not to take everything that you come across anywhere, whether official or unofficial media, as gospel; not unless you yourself have researched it and ensured yourself of the truth or the opposite.

Don't believe that just because they say so that it also is going to be so. The most important thing is to read alternative sources and especially to read books on all manner of things, including historical and dystopian novels such as, for instance, George Orwell's “1984”. That book especially will open your mind, as well as Huxley's “Brave New World” as to the capabilities the governments have and what they may be aiming at. But don't just leave it at that. Read to free your mind and to learn to question. And always question authority. Question especially authority and especially how they claim to have that authority they wish to exercise over you.

© 2015

'Reduce waste, buy packaged' crusade looks to bust food waste myths

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A campaign to educate consumers about the role that packaging can play in reducing food waste launched apparently in later summer 2013 to counter negative public perception on the issue.

INCPEN, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment, has launched 'The Good, The Bad and The Spudly' initiative in response to growing awareness of wasteful food habits, both in the home and throughout the supply chain.

Jane Bickerstaffe, the director of INCPEN argued that used wisely, packaging kept food fresher for longer and that over the past 20 years, material innovations had come of age.

"Packaging has got cleverer and cleverer at doing more with less," she asserted. "There's always room for improvement, there is some not very good packaging out there but we think it's in the minority. I believe that all parts of the [packaging] supply chain are trying [to be better]."

She also pointed to the fact that in terms of overall resource inputs, packaging accounted for a fraction of the overall food supply chain.

"More than 10 times more resources are invested in making the food than in the few grams of packaging that's used to protect it," she said.

"The packaging is a sensible investment in resources and if manufacturers can use it well, it will keep their costs down as well as their environmental impacts - it's a win-win situation."

Bickerstaffe said one key challenge was to communicate these benefits to the consumer in a way that was meaningful enough to influence their purchasing habits.

"It's very difficult, people aren't interested in packaging," she acknowledged. "What they want is their food in good condition so that's the message we need to promote - if you want fresh peas, then buy the packaged option, especially frozen."

She added: "People have been fed a diet of 'packaging is bad' - they will avoid packaging and buy unpackaged and wonder why it's gone off."

Questioned about the rising complexity of material use in packaging and the challenges this creates for reprocessing, Bickerstaffe admitted that far more collaboration was needed across the entire supply chain.

"To understand the environmental impact of packaging you have to have to engage with not only the raw material suppliers, the packaging manufacturers, the brands and the retailers - but reprocessors, councils and the waste management sector too."

However she maintained that compared to more recyclable materials, complex packaging such as foil laminate packs was just as environmentally beneficial as they used far less material at the design stage.

I must say that I have never heard as much rubbish but then they do represent the packaging industry, so it is not really a wonder. Though I do agree with the buying of frozen peas and other frozen vegetables as there is no waste aside from the packaging, in the form of a plastic “bag”. Anyone who wants to be frugal could, and I personally do so, reuse such bags as sandwich bags and as those bags are relatively strong they can be washed out and dried and then reused a number of times.

Foils laminate packaging, more often than not, cannot be or is not being recycled simply because it is too difficult or too labor intensive to separate the components and thus the packaging ends up in the landfill.

It is true that, as far as frozen vegetables, for instance are concerned, and they are packaged, for sure, it is less wasteful to use those, and that for more than one reason. First of you use only what you really need and the rest goes back into the freezer and second you do not have any peelings and trimmings, and you also, thus, save financially, as you only pay for the weight that you are actually going to use.

However, as for other packaged foods, I cannot help but disagree with the “findings” of the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment and see them as biased towards the industry that it represents. Period. Potatoes packaged in plastic do not, repeat, not keep fresh longer because in most cases they are washed and that treatment causes them to sprout and go off faster, and especially is encased airtight in plastic. But then, as said, they would make such claims as it is a body of the industry that gains from more packaging being used.

© 2015

Cargo bikes continue to spread, now in UK department stores

Johnny Loco cargo bike photoIn yet another sign that cargo bikes really are everywhere, UK department store John Lewis is now carrying cargo bikes from Dutch brand Johnny Loco.

For those outside the UK, this story probably doesn't hold that much significance. But as someone who grew up in the UK, I can attest that John Lewis was the first port of call for my mum when we went shopping for kids clothes, gifts, and just about everything else. When mainstream retail locations like John Lewis get on the bandwagon, it's exposing a whole new audience to these powerful transportation tools.

Currently included in their line up is The Johnny Loco Earl Grey Cargo Bike (RRP £1,999, or about US$3,100), and the Dutch Delight E-Cargo bike (RRP £3,499/US$5,429). The company is also offering the Johnny Loco Womens' Husky—which features a pretty darned hefty looking frame.

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Study links certain parenting tactics to increased materialism later in life

Christmas morningIf you want to raise appreciative and grateful children, here's what NOT to do.

The temptation to use holiday gifts as bribery to ensure kids’ good behaviour is hard to resist. It’s a time of year when emotions run high. Stressed parents are busy shopping and wrapping gifts, and many kids come up with absurdly detailed lists of items they’d like (or even expect) to receive. Decent behaviour would seem a logical trade for all the effort parents put in to make the holidays good for their kids.

A new study, however, urges parents to avoid this temptation. The manipulation of material objects as a parenting tactic can lead to kids having certain issues later on in life. The researchers, who surveyed more than 700 adults about their childhood circumstances, relationships with parents, and types of punishments, concluded that three parenting strategies in particular lead to increased materialism:

1) Using gifts as a reward when children have accomplished something, such as good grades or making a team
2) Giving gifts as a way of showing affection
3) Taking away gifts or favourite toys as a way to punish children

Marsha Richins, one of the researchers who is a professor of marketing at the University of Missouri, explains why this is damaging:

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Homemade Laundry Detergent and Gift Idea!

Picture of Homemade Laundry Detergent and Gift Idea!Laundry soap is expensive!

I walked down the soap aisle of a store as a young mother and just cried while looking at the prices of laundry detergent. It was so expensive for our tight budget! On top of price, we all have high allergies and soap is packed full of scents and stuff that we are allergic to.

I felt defeated.

Then a friend of mine mentioned she had made her own laundry soap. I was thrilled--I may have hugged her for joy! I discovered quickly that making laundry soap was super cost effective, low on the allergens scale, and totally liberating as a budget conscious mother!

Cost breaks down to about $1 (or less) a gallon! I know--life changing!

And, I've decided to share the wealth to those looking to cut costs.

Laundry soap also makes a great holiday neighbor gift!

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6 reasons to remove your shoes inside

From harboring hitchhiking bacteria to tracking in toxins, here’s why you may want to leave your kicks at the door.

No shoes insideShoes are great. We’ve been wearing them for 40,000 years and needless to say, they’ve served us well. The first forms of protective footwear evolved from simple efforts to keep our trotters insulated from snow and cold – and given that we don’t live on a planet lined with smooth, silky grass and other assorted soothing surfaces, shoes are a basic comfort for many of us.

But do we need to wear them inside? Many cultures think not, yet in the United States and other countries, oftentimes the shoes come inside attached to the feet of their wearer. Some households have a no-shoes policy, which can be met with scorn from the unshod-shy. But there are plenty of reasons why it might be a good idea to leave the loafers off when you come indoors. Consider the following:

1. Bacteria

We’ll just go straight for the “blech” factor here: Your shoes pick up sneaky bacteria which are then spread about your home when you wear shoes inside. A study from the University of Arizona collected germs and microbes on footwear. The researchers found 421,000 units of bacteria on the outside of the shoe, including E. coli, meningitis and diarrheal disease; Klebsiella pneumonia, a common source for wound and bloodstream infections as well as pneumonia; and Serratia ficaria, a rare cause of infections in the respiratory tract and wounds, reports Reuters. Granted the study was co-sponsored by The Rockport Company, but even so, it definitely brings the point home.

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Circular economy 'could create more than 200,000 jobs' in the UK

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin says that the circular economy could deliver jobs where they are needed mostThe development of a circular economy could create more than 200,000 jobs across the UK by 2030, according to a new study by WRAP and Green Alliance.

The report entitled 'Employment and the circular economy: job creation in a more resource efficient Britain' was unveiled today (20 January).
According to the report, developing the UK's resource efficiency can "make a valuable contribution to improving Britain's labour market situation" and help address regional imbalances in unemployment.

Significantly, regions where unemployment is higher, such as the North East and West Midlands could see the greatest impact in job creation, especially among low-to-mid-skilled occupations where job losses are projected for the future, the report claims.

Reducing unemployment

According to the study, on the current circular economy development path, by 2030 the sector could require an extra 205,000 jobs, reduce unemployment by around 54,000 and offset 11% of future job losses in skilled employment.
The report also considers the potential geographical dispersion of jobs by circular economy activity. It states that reuse and open loop recycling are expected to remain the least geographically concentrated, followed by closed loop recycling, servitisation (business models that increase the life of products rather than using new ones) and biorefining (extracting valuable resources from biowaste), requiring activity across the country.

By contrast, remanufacturing is likely to be somewhat more concentrated and situated near to existing manufacturing sites, where "unemployment tends to be higher", according to the study. The development of the circular economy could create jobs for former employees of manufacturing industries in these areas, the report claims.

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English Heritage gifts Made in China

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

10891461_10153015694544813_3922972156006871284_nThe Quango, for a charity it hardly is, whose supposed task it is to protect the English heritage does not do much for it itself, it would appear. The heritage of England is not just its old (and not so old) historic buildings but also its crafts.

Instead of, however, having the pottery (and other stuff they sell in their gift shops) made by English heritage craftsmen and -women they get the stuff made in the Far East. If that is not a kick in the teeth for English heritage then I do not know.

The picture shows the bottom of a piece of English Heritage pottery on sale in the organization's gift shops and it is not made in England at all but in China as is quite obvious from the “stamp”.

Maybe someone needs to tell English Heritage that the heritage of the country is not just some of its old buildings but it is also and especially the old crafts that are still being carried out, though by fewer and fewer craftsmen and -women today. It is those crafts that are the country's heritage and more so than buildings whether old castles, manor houses or certain more modern buildings.

Rather than having “traditional” items made in China those should be made, according to tradition and heritage, in the country, in England, or at least Britain. But then again that would not give as much in the way of profits from the sales to English Heritage with which to fill its coffers.

It would, however, appear that English Heritage has absolutely no interest whatsoever in doing anything towards protecting the crafts heritage in England and Britain and to promote it; none at all. Instead they have their traditional English things that they wish to sell made in the Far East where it is cheaper and where, more likely, the workers who make them are exploited at the same time.

© 2015

Lots of hugs may help us avoid the common cold

huggingThe tongue-in-cheek name of this publication might imply that we are already pro-hugging, but new research suggests that hugs may have preventative health benefits.

Affectionate physical contact, and the social support that comes with it, has previously been shown to make us feel good and reduce stress. We also know that being stressed out makes us more prone to getting sick. So, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University set out to see if people who hug frequently are more resistant to the common cold.

They also wanted to see if perceived social support—if people feel supported by their friends and families—is correlated with better resistance to infection.

The researchers surveyed 404 healthy adults about their frequency of hugs and about how much social support they feel in their lives. The participants were then deliberately exposed to the common cold virus, and monitored in quarantine.

Both participants who felt more social support and those who received frequent hugs experienced fewer cold symptoms.

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Don’t stop knitting! It keeps you healthy.

woman knittingLast month I wrote an article called “Why bother knitting a scarf?” Much to my surprise, I received thousands of positive reactions from readers who share my love of homemade, local, and beautiful “slow fashion” items. Clearly, knitting is being embraced by people from all walks of life who benefit from its peaceful, relaxing repetition. It got me wondering – what’s really going on when people knit? Why is it so tremendously popular?

It turns out that knitting has incredible health benefits. It makes people feel good in just about every way. A bit of research has revealed a wide range of ways in which knitting helps humans cope, physically and mentally.

1. Knitting is used for therapy. It’s a powerful distractant, helping people manage long-term physical pain. For those who are depressed, knitting can motivate them to connect with the world. It is a conversation starter, allowing people to interact politely without making eye contact. It builds confidence and self-esteem.

2. Knitting is supremely relaxing, which is extremely important for reducing stress and anxiety. Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, wrote The Relaxation Response, in which he recommends the repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity to elicit “the relaxation response” – decreased heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure. Knitting is likened to meditation, sometimes described by knitters as “spiritual” and “Zen-like.”

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Why has Roman concrete lasted so long?

Pantheon in RomeThe Pantheon looks pretty good for a 1900 year old building, considering that it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Perhaps it's because it was not reinforced, so there was no iron to rust and expand, or perhaps because Roman concrete was different than the stuff we use today. TreeHugger has noted before that Roman concrete was a whole lot greener than today's mixes; now a new study by researchers at the Berkeley Lab shows that the concrete actually gets stronger over time.

Unlike modern concrete which actually shrinks, opening up tiny cracks that propagate and let moisture in, Roman concrete, made with volcanic ash instead of portland cement, is actually self-healing as a crystalline binder forms and prevents the concrete from cracking any further. According to Marie Jackson of UC Berkeley:

The mortar resists microcracking through in situ crystallization of platy strätlingite, a durable calcium-alumino-silicate mineral that reinforces interfacial zones and the cementitious matrix. The dense intergrowths of the platy crystals obstruct crack propagation and preserve cohesion at the micron scale, which in turn enables the concrete to maintain its chemical resilience and structural integrity in a seismically active environment at the millennial scale.

So not only would concrete made with volcanic ash have a much lower carbon footprint, It would last a lot longer. Jackson continues in a more comprehensible tone:

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Overheated Kentucky city gets serious about trees and urban forestry

urban forestry louisville photoUrban vegetation can have an astounding effect on local air quality, and given that the urban heat island effect can kill well beyond the borders of a particular city, simply cooling down our city centers has immense benefits.

So it's good news indeed that Louisville, in decidedly red-state Kentucky, is getting serious about tackling its urban heat island effect through increased urban forestry, as well as efforts to promote reflective surfaces and green roofs.

Reported on as part of its What Works series on urban innovation, Politico Magazine has an inspiring profile of Louisville's re-greening efforts. Among the measures taken, the city has established a tree commission, it has spent $115,000 on a tree assessment, it has hired a sustainability director and an urban forester and, perhaps most importantly, the city has worked with individuals, companies and community groups to plant more than 12,000 trees in and around Louisville's urban core.

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Chemiefreie Textilien: Lidl geht Deal mit Greenpeace ein

Lidl-Greenpeace-Deal-TextilienLidl reagiert: Schädliche Chemikalien verbannt

Kleidung sollte nicht gesundheitsgefährlich sein! Dieser Aufforderung von Greenpeace geht Lidl nun nach. Der Deal: Es werden zukünftig chemiefreie Textilien produziert.

Textilien beim Discounter- kann Billigware wirklich gut sein? Diese Frage stellte sich vor kurzem auch Greenpeace und testete Kinderkleidung und –schuhe. Lidl fiel nicht nur in Bezug auf gefährliche Chemikalien, sondern auch in den Kategorien Rohstoffeinsatz, Sozialstandards und Wiederverwertbarkeit negativ auf.

Nun reagiert Lidl als erster Lebensmitteldiscounter auf das schlechte Ergebnis und geht einen Deal mit Greenpeace ein, wie am Mittwoch bekannt wurde.Zukünftig soll nicht nur auf gesundheits-, sondern auch umweltschädliche Zusätze bei Kleidung geachtet werden. Die Umstrukturierung erfolgt in mehreren Etappen.

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Change: It's all or nothing

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Change_ It's both or nothingIt is either all or nothing; there is no “I want things to change but I do not want to change myself”.

All too many people do want a change but are not prepared to change themselves. But you can only get real change if you change first. As the Mahatma said: “Be the change that you want to see in the world” and that means what? It means that you, we, all of us, have to change ourselves first.

No change can be brought about, in society, unless our mindset and our ways are changed first in such as way that we reflect the change that we want to bring about. Without changing ourselves from within there can and will be no change in society.

We all want change to the system – well, many do – and a radical change even but all too many do not want to change themselves, and definitely not radically. But it is either all or nothing. We can stand there for ever and say that we want change and we want to change things and society as a whole even but unless the change begins with us, with us being the change that we want to see within the world, the change is not going to happen, ever. It is as simple as that, and as difficult.

© 2015


493px_No_Television_svg_75367207c3f2The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set --
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink --
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rate and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

by Roald Dahl

Create your own DIY public signage for a walkable city

Walk Your City photoFrom lobster boats blockading coal shipments to a renegade activist who shut down an entire power plant, there are some forms of environmental direct action that are forever destined to be a thorn in the side of the authorities.

And then there's Walk [Your City]

It was originally conceived of as a guerrilla "wayfinding" campaign, in which Matt Tomasulo designed and posted signage around Raleigh, NC, promoting just how easy it is to walk to get around. But as Alex already reported, while the signage was originally unsanctioned, Raleigh's powers that be unanimously voted to reinstate the signage as a pilot program to see how it performed. Tomasulo, however, wasn't satisfied with shifting perceptions in Raleigh. He also launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund an open source platform for designing and creating your own signage for your own city.

That site is now up and operational, and citizens around the country are using it to help themselves and others reimagine their urban spaces.

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The elders

An old friend and long-time member of our circle here in New England has been collecting a number of elder women in her area and brought them together to make a grandmother circle.  We need the grandmother wisdom, of course, and we need to bring the consciousness of western society to attend to them, and to the elders in general.  Wherever I go I see that is a lost value, when it used to be one of the most important stays of society.  I see elders being ignored, uncared for, and not thought about.  I see them standing in lines, and not at the front of the lines.  An elder would never have to stand in our old cultures.  I see them now being sent away from their homes, put in homes for the elderly and rarely visited.  In the old days they would be given a comfortable seat and brought whatever they need.

Neighborhoods of today are impoverished, losing their elders, their wisdom and their stories.  A people without their elders are not a people. The elders carry stories of their times, the people’s history, and stories are the glue that hold a people together, make them know who they are, see where they have been, ponder where they are going.  Without the stories of the elders we have no history, we are not a people, just a mass of struggling, stressed out individuals.  You have a story – it tells you who you are, what you are learning, what you need to learn.  A community of people must have a story to know who they are, to take pride in their history and humbly see what they must learn.  The sense of a community, the pride of a village or a tribe has largely been lost, and the people are not even aware of their loss.

Wherever I went as a young man traveling about Turtle Island, seeking the elders in every nation, I was always welcomed – and called ‘grandfather’ right away by those I had never met. I was unknown to them, but I was an elder to be cared for and listened to with interest and gratitude.  “Sit here, Grandfather,” they would say. “ Here’s a blanket for your shoulders, Grandfather, here’s a coffee.  Tell us about your people, can you tell us a story from them?”  And that began when I was only 38 years old!

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Roundup Weedkiller Found In 75% of Air and Rain Samples, Gov. Study Finds

The GM farming system has made exposure to Roundup herbicide a daily fact of our existence, and according to the latest US Geological Survey study its probably in the air you are breathing…

roundupA new study from the U.S. Geological Survey, accepted for publication online ahead of print in the journal Enviromental Toxicology and Chemistry, titled, “Pesticides in Mississippi air and rain: A comparison between 1995 and 2007,”[i] reveals that Roundup herbicide (aka glyphosate) and its still-toxic degradation byproduct AMPA were found in over 75% of the air and rain samples tested from Mississippi in 2007.

The researchers evaluated a wide range of pesticides currently being used through weekly composite air and rain sampling collected during the 1995 and 2007 growing seasons in the Mississippi Delta agricultural region.

The researchers discovered the following:

  • Thirty-seven compounds were detected in the air or rain samples in 2007; 20 of these were present in both air and rain.
  • Glyphosate was the predominant new herbicide detected in both air (86%) and rain (77%) in 2007, but were not measured in 1995.
  • Decreased overall pesticide use in 2007 relative to 1995 generally resulted in decreased detection frequencies in air and rain, but observed concentration ranges were similar between years even though the 1995 sampling site was 500 m from active fields while the 2007 sampling site was within 3 m of a field.
  • Mean concentration of detections were sometimes greater in 2007 than in 1995 but the median values were often lower.
  • Seven compounds in 1995 and five in 2007 were detected in ≥50% of both air and rain samples. Atrazine, metolachlor, and propanil were detected in ≥50% of the air and rain samples in both years.
  • Total herbicide flux in 2007 was slightly greater than in 1995, and was dominated by glyphosate.

According to the report, 2 million kilograms of glyphosate were applied statewide in 2007, or 55% of the total herbicide flux for that year (~129 μg/m2), leading them to state the high prevalence of glyphosate in air and water “was not surprising.”  Even though glyphosate was only tested in 2007, based on the 1995 figures on glyphosate use (147,000 kg state-wide) the researchers estimated that glyphosate added 3% of the total herbicide flux for 1995, or approximately 7 micrograms per centimeter (~7 μg/m2) per sample. This estimate, if correct, reveals that there has been an ~ 18 fold increase in glyphosate concentrations in air and water samples in only 12 years (1995-2007).   

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Cruise ship passengers cause lobster issue along UK coast

 Good-hearted cruise ship passengers who think themselves heroes for "freeing" lobsters by throwing them overboard off the coast of the United Kingdom are in fact threatening the local fish and lobster population.

Local lobster harvesters from Yorkshire have been catching a species of lobster called 'homarus americanu', which are native to the Atlantic coast of North America, reports Yorkshire Post. The foreign lobster are apparently being brought over by 'lobster heroes' on cruise ships.

The altruistic greenies who attempt to save the lobster, however, do not take into consideration that the Canadian lobsters on board are in fact completely foreign to the area near Yorkshire where they are being found, and may now be posing a threat to the indigenous eco-system around the UK coast, reports Huffington Post.  
Mike Cohen, from the Holderness Fishing Industry Group, says it is most likely that the the lobsters are getting thrown overboard from cruise ships. He told Daily Mail that people buy lobster for dinner on the ships, feel sorry for it and then ask the waiter to chuck it over board.

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9 small things you can do to transform the garment industry


1. Learn how to care properly for your clothes

Last week I attended the first-ever World Ethical Apparel Roundtable (#WEAR2014) held in Toronto. It was a fascinating glimpse into a world and industry that I know little about, although I certainly learned a lot after two days of lectures and panel discussions.

Because the conference was so industry-oriented, I was left thinking about how to apply the information to everyday consumers -- people like you and me who don’t manage garment factories or work as clothing retailers, and may feel as if we don’t have as much influence as those who are active within the industry. And yet, we, as consumers, are ultimately the reason for the existence of these companies, which gives us tremendous power over which direction the garment industry will take in future years.

As the Toronto-based non-profit organization Fashion Takes Action states on its website, “We believe it is important for consumers to understand the Buy It To Vote mentality, and the power that they hold within their wallets. The more consumers demand and pay for ethical, sustainable fashion, the quicker we can get to where we want to be.”

I left the conference ultimately with a great sense of hope. We can do this. We can make the changes necessary to transform an industry that is, in many cases, dangerous to garment workers and hazardous to both consumers and the environment. Alternatives do exist, some of which are based on shopping decisions, but many rely on simple adjustments to the way in which consumers treat their clothes on a daily basis. Here are some ideas for where to start.

Clothes can last a very long time, if cared for properly. It’s important to remember that “cold is the new hot” – washing in cold water is just as effective as hot and far more environmentally friendly. It’s also gentler on fabrics, as is hanging out clothes to dry, instead of stuffing them in the dryer. Learning how to mend can salvage many garments and increase their lifespan.

H&M recently launched its Clevercare label initiative, which educates consumers about how to get clean, dry, wrinkle-free clothes in an eco-friendly way.

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Freed from fear of war and perdition

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

"Befreit von der Angst vor Krieg und Verderben, befreit von den unproduktiven Ausgaben für militärische Zwecke, könnten die friedliebenden Menschen froh in die Zukunft schauen und ein Leben in ungeahntem Glück gestalten." ~ Wilhelm Pieck

wilhelm_pieck“Freed from fear of war and perdition, freed from the unproductive expenses for military purposes, can peace-loving people look towards the future in happiness and can create a life of unimagined joy.” ~ Wilhem Piek

Those words of the first and only President of the German Democratic Republic are as valid today as when he first uttered them many decades ago.

In fact one might want to add an “only” in front of the first “freed” or even both, as only then, when the fear and the expenses for the military are removed and the treat of war distant history can humans develop into what they are meant to be and create the society that is meant to be, a society where all are equal, where no one hungers and thirsts and where Mother Nature is valued and cared for too.

When we consider that a single fighter aircraft costs somewhere in the region of half a billion Dollars and each and every single “smart” bomb about quarter of a million plus, then we can, I am sure, soon add up how much for all that money could be done to benefit the people and the Planet.

However, when the economy is in the doldrums then all the governments seem to be able to think about is to put more money in the hands of the military industrial complex and look where to have another lovely war and conflict and then we add to that the “war on terror”, which is never designed to be won and thus becomes a perpetual state of war.

The “war on terror” is indeed intended to be just that, a war that will never end in order to reduce the little freedoms that the people are allowed to have by the powers-that-be, but which shouldn't be, ever more and basically create a live version of “1984”. Orwell's book was intended as a warning and not as a manual, but that is something that they do not seem to realize.

In Britain, while the austerity measures are allowed to tough almost every party of the public services, defense (the military budget), and that of “overseas aid”, are “ring-fenced”, that is to say, they will be given more and more money while everything else has its funding cut.

Peace is not given a chance and the war rhetoric is being stoked again, and Russia, once the Soviet Union, is the great enemy (which it is not) and that because Putin is not playing along with the wishes of NATO and surrender his country to the control of NATO et al.

The aim is regime change, regime change in Russia, and the “new” President has already been crowned at the end of 2014 in Berlin and his name is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch who, after having been released from prison and expelled from the country. He was being feted by the German Chancellor Merkel with the comments “the new President of Russian” who, when challenged by members of the media that the Russian people may have other ideas, retorted that the will of the Russian people would be irrelevant as regards this matter.

What is required, in order to bring forth the vision that Wilhelm Pieck saw, is a change of the system, a total and complete change, and not just a change of government via the process of “democratic” elections. As Mark Twain said, and I paraphrase, “if voting would change anything they would make it illegal”, and that, alas, is a fact.

© 2015

3 eco-friendly norms in Poland

Wroclaw RynekI’ve been living in Poland for about 6½ years. I’ve been around the culture and habits here so long that they are practically second nature, and thus invisible, to me. But there are clearly some big differences compared to what is “normal” in the US, my home country. Some things are of course “not as good,” while others are much better. For you good TreeHugger readers, I thought I’d run through a few of the good things.

First of all, let’s be honest: Poland is not the greenest country in the world. About 90% of its electricity comes from coal power plants, including some really old and dirty ones. The coal industry has so deeply influenced energy awareness in Poland that even very intelligent people I know have warped ideas about coal power, wind power, solar power, and global warming. Poland has been the key country blocking stronger renewable energy and climate targets in Europe.

That said, for a variety of reasons, many Polish people have a number of very green and energy-efficient habits. Below are three that I wish were much more common in the US.

1) Walking to the shop: A good number of Polish people simply go for a walk to go shopping, particularly grocery shopping. I think there are two big factors influencing this. The most important one is that many neighborhoods are densely populated, mixed-use neighborhoods with plenty of fruit and veggie shops, bakeries, small grocery stores, and even fairly large grocery stores. Despite coming from a city planning background and knowing well that Europe was the place to be for such mixed-used neighborhoods and corner shops, I’ve on many occasions been very surprised at how many shops, bakeries, etc., you can find near each other.

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The home of tomorrow will run on direct current

In fact, the home of today primarily runs on DC. We just have all this AC stuff running between it.

Poor Topsy. Thomas Edison killed the circus elephant, electrocuting the animal to demonstrate how dangerous alternating current was. Edison even described electrocution as being “Westinghoused,” after the company promoting AC. It was the apex of the War of the Currents, where the evil Edison was pitted against the brilliant Nikola Tesla. It’s a battle that Edison lost, and all because of transformers, simple coils of wire that could change the voltage of AC and made long-distance transmission of electricity possible, unleashing the power of Niagara Falls. However in the longer term, it looks like Edison's direct current is winning the war.

An Ikea wall-wartLook around your house. If you have, like me, banished incandescent bulbs, what is running on alternating current as it comes out of your walls? Outside of your kitchen or laundry, you might have a vacuum cleaner or a hair dryer. Otherwise, every thing you own — from your computer to your light bulbs to your sound system — is running on direct current. There is a wall-wart or a brick or a rectifier in the light bulb base that converts the AC to DC, wasting energy and money in the process. IKEA was kind enough to put its device in a transparent package. How much of the cost of the $20 lamp covers the yellow transformer and capacitors and diodes in this little thing?

Alternating current made sense once; that’s why Edison lost to Westinghouse in the current wars. Alternating current was easy to transform to different voltages, and higher voltages mean you can carry more power longer distances through smaller wires. And we needed a lot of power to run those incandescent bulbs, which are really little electric furnaces that gave out about 4 percent of the energy used as visible light. The new labor-saving appliances had little AC motors. Even the old television set took a lot of power, firing up those vacuum tubes and big electron guns in the picture tube. All that power can be dangerous, so we have licensed electricians running dozens of lines back to circuit breakers, all with an extra conductor just as a ground wire. Oh, and we need outlets every 12 feet along the walls so that dangerous extension cords aren’t needed. Total it all up, and you have 400 pounds of copper in the average house. Back at the mine, it takes a ton of copper ore to make 10 pounds of copper, so it takes 40 tons of ore (coincidentally the weight of an average house) to make the copper for one house. About 40 percent of the copper used in America goes into our buildings and houses. There is also the worry that we are approaching peak copper, with production peaking about 2030.

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Veganuary, weekday vegetarians, Meatless Mondays and now reducetarians...

supermarket meatJust before the holidays, Brian Kateman emailed me about a new movement he had co-founded called Redecetarian, which aims to encourage reduced consumption of meat, fish and dairy with a view to both reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and improving public health outcomes. Here's the scoop from the press release:

“Many people are aware that their food choices have real-world consequences but believe that the only solution is to completely eliminate meat from their diet,” said Kateman. “While this all-or-nothing mindset can be discouraging to the 95% of individuals who are not vegetarians or vegans, the #LessMeat Pledge empowers everyone to make healthier and more eco-friendly food choices in a manageable way under an inclusive identity - Reducetarian.”

I confess, I was initially a little skeptical.

It's not that I disagree with the goals of the campaign. After all, reducing meat and dairy consumption is a prerequisite for tackling climate change and improving human health, even if it's politically tricky to bring about. It's just that we already have so many different terms, diets, concepts and movements being promoted for what is essentially a similar thing: Meatless Mondays, Weekday Vegetarianism, VB6 (Vegan Before 6), plant-based diets, veganuary etc.

You get the idea. I was pondering on the value of yet another conceptual framing of a fairly simple idea. But I might be overthinking it.

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Why we need public libraries

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

libraries1“When I graduated from high school... I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for ten years.” ~ Ray Bradbury, author and library lover.

That's why we need public libraries... and that's why we need to fight to keep them open, in Britain and elsewhere. They are a lifeline and a way of learning for many if they would just be introduced to them properly.

But what is a public library. Is it only one that is paid for and run by the local municipality, local authority? A public library, first and foremost, regardless who runs it and pays for it, is one where the public, all of the public, have access to, free at point of use, to read books and also to borrow books.

I never went to school at all, and I thank my lucky stars for that, and got my education, after having been taught to read and write, through having access to a large library and devouring books, including a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1942 Edition).

While the library that I used as my reading room was not a public one in the general sense but based on a military post the same goes for public libraries with general access. They are a lifeline to those youngsters, and not just youngsters, who do not have access to books at home, or have not got the money to buy themselves every book that they would like to read.

On the other hand public lending libraries are also a very green option as one does not have to, then, buy all those book which one only has to dispose off at a later stage or, like me, who hates to part with books, ends up with a library of 1000s – literally – of books at home. And that again takes up lots of room.

So, let's hear it – listen up government – for public libraries.

© 2015

Preserve your brain, live in a walkable neighborhood

walkable streetWalkable neighborhoods are great on many levels. The latest news is that they help to preserve your brain.

I've lived in 9 neighborhoods in the past 9 years. Several of those have been very walkable neighborhoods, but some more than others of course. I've realized in my current one, one of the most walkable yet, that a nice, walkable neighborhood is a tremendous value that cannot be quantified by calculating the transportation and time savings. Well, I have known that for ages, but it has really been registering for me lately as I walk with my wife and baby daughter to one wonderful park ~3 minutes away, a huge park/forest ~5 minutes away, or a low-key but super useful shopping center ~4 minutes away. If I miss a day of walking around the neighborhood, or if I haven't yet been out as the mid-afternoon rolls around, I can feel something is just not right — with my body and with my head.

Still, this recent piece of news surprised me: a study from the University of Kansas has found that "neighborhoods that motivate walking can stave off cognitive decline in older adults." My guess is that such neighborhoods also help with the cognitive functions of not-so-elderly adults and children as well.

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Why going to the library is one of the best things I do for my kids and the planet

childrens section libraryMy two kids and I head to the library every week and it's one of my favorite things. I love getting a huge bag of books and feeling the excitement to get home and read them and see where they take us. It's a strong memory I have from my own childhood and I cherish getting to repeat it with them, but the more time I spend at the library with my family, the more I realize its benefits go beyond just a bag of new books to read.

The resources libraries provide and the values they reinforce are making my kids into better human beings and helping the planet along the way.

The original sharing economy

Libraries were participating in a sharing economy long before Netflix or Airbnb. There is a major environmental advantage to sharing copies of books, DVDs and other media over all of us purchasing new copies, but more than that it's how libraries foster a commitment to sharing that is so beneficial and can carry over into the rest of our lives.

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Three Loaves movement takes on hunger with real food for real people

Blueberry Thyme breadHere's how you do hunger activism and community-building in an accessible, scalable, social, and fun manner, three loaves of bread at a time. Plus, a tasty bread recipe.

Four years ago, as part of a project to spread as much happiness as possible with just $100 (Yahoo!'s Ripple of Kindness), Jerry James Stone and a few friends spent hours baking a bunch of bread to give to the hungry in San Francisco, which ended up being a rewarding, yet exhausting, experience. That type of event, says Jerry, "was just too hard" for him to regularly repeat, so he's come up with an easier, and more participatory, way to feed the hungry, while also building community.

Initially begun through Jerry's food site, Cooking Stoned, the Three Loaves movement is rather simple at its core, and it enables everyone to make a difference in their community through food. Every month, participants receive a "fresh, seasonal" bread recipe via email, and then they make three loaves of bread - one for them, one for a friend, and one for someone in need. Since its inception in July of this year, the Three Loaves movement has been picking up steam, growing to about 400 participants so far, and now has its own dedicated website.

I reached out to Jerry (who is also a former TreeHugger writer) to find out a little bit more about this project:

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Brazil faces the worst drought in 80 years

Young boy carries water to his home in northeastern BrazilUnless the desperately needed rain arrive, São Paulo residents are being warned to "prepare for a collapse like they've never seen before."

Brazil is a country with 12 percent of the world’s fresh water supply and just 3 percent of its population, but it is at risk of running dry. Brazil is currently in the midst of the worst drought it has seen in eighty years, and there’s no sign of it letting up.

In the southern state of São Paulo, where 44 million people live, at least 14 million have been affected by the lack of water. There are days when people come home from work, turn on their taps, and nothing comes out.

Flávia de Souza Carvalho told the Washington Post, “We can’t shower, wash dishes, do laundry. I have a sink full of dishes because there’s no water coming out of the tap.”

Water has been scarce in the south for the past ten months, ever since the last rainy season produced only 40 percent of the usual amount of rain and failed to replenish adequately the rivers and reservoirs on which São Paulo depends. Satellite images from NASA show the significant difference in the depth of water reservoirs from August 2013 to August 2014.

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