Friday, March 16, 2007

One word... Trident.

Poseidon, the Greek god of antiquity, utilised his trident in numerous ways. He was claimed to have been able to cause earthquakes, manifest horses from nowhere, and manipulate the waves with his favourite three pronged weapon...

Trident also refers to the Royal Navy's nuclear Ballistic Missile system, consisting of Vanguard class submarines and Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missels.

I discovered that estimates as to the eventual cost of renewing the Trident program differed, with Government estimations putting it at roughly £20 billion whereas other sources listing it as closer to £100 billion.

I'm sure that I cannot be the only one who thinks Trident belongs in antiquity along with Poseidon...? Are we not as a human species past this...?!

The Cold War is over...we do not need nuclear weapons, and the rhetoric of renewal is plain hypocrisy given our Government's refusal to allow so called 'Rogue States' as Iran, the right to defend themselves using that very same technology...

As far as I'm concerned we do not need nukes...we need teachers, doctors, nurses...

So far, it seems as if policy makers are not getting the point...

Monday, March 12, 2007

What the Bird Flu Scare Really Tells Us

When it was announced that bird flu had been discovered in a Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Norfolk panic set in: poultry sales of all types plummeted; workers at the farm had to be treated with antibiotics as a precaution; hundreds lost their jobs; and thousands of birds had to be slaughtered. But if we look deeper, a far worse picture is painted.

According to the BBC about 160,000 birds were slaughtered as a result of the outbreak. These birds were kept, we are told, in conditions which have excellent bio-security.

Bio-secure living conditions eh? So what are they then? The answer of course is something so far removed from the natural habitat of the turkey (or any living creature for that matter) that the birds are no longer treated as living creatures which have to be respected, or that have rights, but as commodities. Bio-security is not about the safety or well-being of the birds, but about quality control and profit maximisation. Dear Bernard’s interest is in making sure that as many of his birds survive long enough for them to be turned into twizzlers, and not that these birds have a decent life, free from harm which might be caused by disease or equally by conditions designed to keep birds free of disease.

So, what the Bird Flu scare tells us that we have been blind for too long to the conditions in which our food is produced. I’m not a vegetarian - eating meat is fine by me - but you have to be aware of the treatment that the animals you are eating have had before you put them in your mouth. In practice, what this means is making sure that you only buy and eat meat from sources which you know and trust. Yes, I know this is more expensive and it certainly means you can’t eat from burger restaurants in town or processed meat dishes from the supermarket. The result will be that you will eat meat that tastes of something – how many people know that chicken has a taste all of its own? You will eat less meat too because it does cost a bit more. You will have to cook properly too, but that’s good for you and fun too.

We all benefit when we eat proper meat and not something that is mass-produced in a bio-secure barn. Do it for the animals but happy in the knowledge that there are plenty of benefits for you too!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

what a waste

With the recent scientific publication from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, its now generally regarded that climate change debate is over. Humans are adversely impacting on the most dynamic of the earths systems.

Yet still the sceptics led by the USA and Australia are bleating about creating technology to resolve the problem instead of reducing carbon emissions.

Three years ago, the UK government's energy review offered a five year window for the renewable sector to prove itself. Since then, the government has attempted to trash this, steamrollering a new energy review to incorporate Blair's legacy to proliferate the nuclear industry and by default leaving a waste legacy for hundreds of thousands of years.

Thankfully the High Courts have seen through this charade labelling the second energy review as flawed. The government now needs to rush through its next 'consultation' so that Tony can be the saviour of the nuclear industry before he leaves number 10.

Will future generations be thankful. I doubt it. Even if the go ahead was given today it would take 20 years before any nuke stations will feed into the grid. To combat the UKs rising emissions we'd probably have to have dozens and dozens of them all over the place - allowing a NIMBY renaissance!. This will come at a massive cost – and additionally we'd need to consider waste management and decommissioning costs too. More importantly we don't have the time. We need to reduce harmful emissions NOW, not in 20 years time.

The climate change problem is a multi faceted one and needs a variety of approaches to resolve. But let's look at what could be achieved relatively easily. The UK's electricity generation is based upon a system of a post war centralised system. It is highly inefficient with something in the order of 80% energy losses. Most energy is lost through wasted heat and the remaining through the grid transportation system and the remainder through energy inefficient housing stock.

A number of cities in Europe have evolved and run on de-centralised energy systems. Energy produced close to the point of use through a combination of sources such as CHP, and renewable micro energy, capturing heat and cooling systems. Utilising proven and clean technology that exists and is readily available. And it dramatically works. In the UK, the London Borough of Woking has been able to reduce its CO2 reductions by more than 70% through de-centralisation. Now, the Mayor of London is seriously looking to champion this across the Capital. There is no reason why, across the country, Local Authorities, business and industry cannot utilise decentralise energy.

The problem with climate change is not the technological ability to reduce CO2. The problem is a lack of political will. Blair ought to focus on his political will and show national and international responsibility to reduce CO2 and the development of clean energy technology – he can domestically champion international leadership through de-centralisation.

Monday, March 05, 2007

"Crash and Burn"

So...the stock markets are teasing us with indications of a potential crash. I must not be the only one to feel a certain degree of schadenfreude at seeing the monolithic beast that is international, corporate finance stumbling. Perhaps though, we must not allow this luxury of bitter-spite to cloud our analysis of such a situation.

One can be mostly forgiven for this indulgence, but let us not forget the way the Transnational Corporations operate. I believe to be highly unlikely that a crash will irrevocably strip these instituitions from the halls of power and influence.

Any problem that effects those at the top, will be visited tenfold upon those further down the scale. Economics will dictate to business that in order to make your business survive in a desperate environment, desperate measures must be taken.

Now, I always love watching that super-villainous cabal of corporate despots being taken down a peg or two, but corruption cases only display to us the nature of this beast, market-crashes will make us FEEL this nature...

In times like these, our schadenfreude should not let us fool us into thinking that the beast is dead. The faltering of finance will not automatically lead to an alleviation of the social pressures it brings, it is more likely to increase them. A market crash will make the search for a more socially just world that little bit harder, and a little more prescient. It should not be allowed to make us think our jobs as pioneers of progression are done...

...We are still responsible...

...We still have a job to do...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Wake up and smell the Coffee!

Here we are in FairTrade Fortnight. Hopefully we are all drinking fair-trade coffee and tea (although I’m still drinking the Cuban coffee I brought back with me from my trip there last April – but I guess that was pretty fairly traded – I gave them my convertible peso’s and they use the Euro’s I converted from to improve their economy the best they can. Let’s not get political about Cuba – but can you imagine 40 years of trade embargo and exactly what state OUR economy would be in? Forget the politics, think about the people.

To digress – Cubita – which to the best of my knowledge cannot be bought in UK – is the best coffee in the world. The smoothness of Kenyan but even better. A taste of smooth sunshine. If you like stronger, bitter coffee you CAN get Turquino (which is Cuba’s other roast from the more mountainous region) from various suppliers in UK. But for my taste – Cubita rocks. And the day they lift the ridiculous economic sanctions on Cuba and allow us to import it, I may well change career and become a fair trade coffee importer.

Yes, I am passionate about Cuba and about Coffee. And about many other things “ethical.” Yes, I know that the most one can do is just a small gesture against a huge “evil empire” but I still feel that “doing the right thing is simply the right thing to do” irrespective of whether you win or lose.

Back to the coffee. Fairtrade coffee is obviously the way to go for anyone who wants to make the world a better place. But did you know that at least as big a problem for the small coffee producers (the one’s we’re trying to help, I don’t mean the 4 large coffee barons (oops I mean roasters, no, really I mean barons) Nestle/Kraft/Proctor and Gamble and Sara Lee ) is soluble coffee. That’s instant coffee to you and me. I recently came across a really interesting report produced by Oxfam in 2002 called “Mugged” (which you can download from their website) I promise you, by the time you’ve read your way through the 59 pages you will NOT want to drink instant coffee.

The point is that because of the low quality required for instant coffee, large producers can buy up huge amounts of low quality stuff, thus making it impossible for our friends (the small producers) to grow the decent stuff.

Now I ask you – is it REALLY necessary to drink instant coffee? How long and how much effort does it take to make coffee properly? And how much better does it taste? If you drink the instant stuff, not only are you not drinking coffee, you are, with every gulp, lessening the life prospects of our friends (the small producers) and effectively working against Fair Trade.

Yes, I KNOW that even the Fair Trade brands make instant coffee options, but really, they shouldn’t. We should all get wise to the deeper issues and STOP drinking instant coffee.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Train to expense!

This morning I was cheated out of £22.60. And guess whose fault it was? Mine, of course, but I blame the railway companies or the ticket ordering process or something more along those lines. I always try to travel by train. It’s not as practical in rural Gloucestershire as it is in London, but we’re lucky – about 15 minutes away by car, we have a station. Although I would like to say that I made the journey to the station by public transport, the bus through the village only runs approximately every hour, at least it did until they withdrew it, now that it’s back, I don’t think anyone knows the timetable. Unfortunately the bus stop is five minutes walk away and it was raining quite uncontrollably this morning. However, had I caught the bus, I would have needed to change in Dursley (yes, Harry Potter fans, it is the same grotty place as J.K. Rowling named her characters after) onto the rail-link to get to the station - I believe that the total cost of catching these buses is almost equivalent to the rail ticket price. And so, excuses over, the long and the short of it is that I drove. On the plus side my car is fairly fuel-efficient and has the advantage of running on bio-diesel – relatively locally produced. Although there are those that would like to see an end to cars, I’m not with them. I think there’s a very practical side to life that is missed by such campaigners – rural life doesn’t provide the same transport links that city life does. Of course, I cannot understand why London residents would even dream of having a car (although, there are a few justifiable cases) as disregarding the quite impressive transport system (this is coming from a country girl), the thought of actually driving in the nation’s capital would fill me with dread.

Anyway, now to the bit where I was conned. My trip to Exeter was a pretty last minute thing. In fact, I decided to go last night. So, I looked on the Internet (we even have broadband out here) for ticket prices. I remembered to go through the whole process of checking each part separately – I needed to change in Bristol so part one was Cam & Dursley to Bristol - £6.30 with railcard travelling outside rush hour, part 2, Bristol to Exeter - £13.20 return. Excellent I thought, especially when I read that it was a walk-up fare. I assumed, quite wrongly, that a walk-up fare would be one I could buy on the train. As Cam & Dursley does not benefit from a ticket machine, although I did note that they are in the process of installing one, I didn’t book my tickets as having to pick them up from Bristol Parkway before using them would rather defeat the object of going by train to Exeter. However, upon seating myself on the train and having a little chat with the ticket collector, it turns out that the cheapest deal they could offer me on-train is £42.10. I was just a little bit upset at this hike in price, so I made enquiries on arrival in Bristol Parkway on the return part of my journey. I have discovered that apparently walk-up fares are only available if you have a ticket office or machine to go and get them from and that if you book online, your ticket reference number is sufficient to get you to your destination if no ticket machine is available. So, as I said, it was all my fault really, but at least I know another couple of handy tips (or injustices depending on perspective!).