Business calls for urgent action on “oil crunch” threat to UK economy

  • Taskforce warns Britain is unprepared for significant risk to companies and consumers

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A group of leading business people in February 2010 issued a call for urgent action to prepare the UK for Peak Oil. The second report of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES) finds that oil shortages, insecurity of supply and price volatility will destabilize economic, political and social activity potentially by 2015. Peak Oil refers to the point where the highest practicable rate of global oil production has been achieved and from which future levels of production will either plateau, or begin to diminish. This means an end to the era of cheap oil.

The report, “The Oil Crunch - a wake-up call for the UK economy”, urges the formation of a coalition of government, business and consumers to address the issue. The report can be downloaded from the ITPOES website at

The Taskforce states the impact of Peak Oil will include sharp increases in the cost of travel, food, heating and retail goods. It finds that the transport sector will be particularly hard hit, with more vulnerable members of society the first to feel the impact. The Taskforce warns that the UK must not be caught out by the oil crunch in the same way it was with the credit crunch and states that policies to address Peak Oil must be a priority for the new government formed after the election.

Having assessed the systemic changes caused by the global economic recession, coupled with the projected growth from non-OECD countries, ITPOES predicts Peak Oil will occur within the next decade, potentially by 2015 at less than 95 million barrels per day. (In 2008, production levels were 85 million barrels per day.) The study finds that the recession has delayed the oil crunch by two years. This provides invaluable time to plan for a future which will see structural increases in oil prices coupled with shortages and increased market volatility. The UK will be particularly badly hit by these factors with a tightening of supply leading to greater oil import dependency, rising and volatile prices, inflationary pressures and the risk of disruption to the transport system.

Key recommendations from the report include the acceleration of the “green transport revolution” to see the ongoing introduction of lower carbon technology and trials of sustainable bio fuels. This would cover private vehicles, but also extend to the general transport network, with the government urged not to cut investment in public transport. A focus on new clean technologies should be combined with wide scale behavioral change promoted through incentives and education to produce a modal shift to greener modes of transport.

ITPOES’ membership includes Arup, Foster + Partners, Scottish and Southern Energy, Solar Century, Stagecoach Group and Virgin Group. The report will be launched at an event at the Royal Society with presentations from Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group; Philip Dilley, Chairman of Arup; Ian Marchant, CEO of Scottish and Southern Energy; Jeremy Leggett, Chairman of Solarcentury; Brian Souter, CEO of Stagecoach Group; and Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic.

The Taskforce recognises that oil demand in the OECD area (developed countries) is now flat or declining but also recognises that demand in non-OECD (developing countries) continues to expand rapidly, having already recovered from the recession. Demand in the non-OECD areas already accounts for 45% of global oil demand and is expected to reach 50% by the middle of the decade.

The report issues a range of recommendations including:

General policies:

  • Government, local authorities and business must face up to the Peak Oil threat and put contingency plans in place

  • A package of policies are required to deal with the economic, financial and social impact of potential high oil prices

  • There is a need to accelerate the green industrial revolution


  • Government support should be boosted for alternative technological solutions and associated infrastructure, such as electric vehicles

  • Policies and fiscal measures to support and incentivize a shift from the traditional car to more fuel- and carbon-efficient modes of transport to be established

  • Government investment in public transport must be maintained

Power generation and distribution policies:

  • Government must provide a stable pro-investment regulatory and political climate

  • The nation’s power generation and transmission distribution infrastructure must be changed to adapt to new demand patterns, price spikes and supply interruption

Retail and agriculture:

  • Measures must be taken to protect the public, particularly the most disadvantaged, from the impact of rising fuel costs on food and other consumer goods prices

© 2010

In addition to downloading the report and reading it why not go and purchase the small volume entitled “The End of Oil” by this author. The book can be obtained via the website at

Record year for European offshore wind, UK leads the sector

  • UK has half of newly installed European offshore wind farms in first half of 2010
  • European total approaches 2.5 gigawatts, a threefold increase since 2006

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Renewable UK, the trade association for wind and marine energy - Britain’s fastest growing green energy sectors – welcomed today’s announcement from the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) that European offshore wind capacity in 2010 has grown faster than in the same period in 2009. RenewableUK has also drawn attention to the fact that 50% of new wind farms installed are in UK waters.

Peter Madigan, Head of Offshore Renewables at RenewableUK, commented: “Offshore wind build-out is definitely picking up steam across Europe. It is an emphatic endorsement of wind energy as a technology, as countries such as Germany and Denmark, which already have significant onshore wind installations are now pursuing ambitious offshore plans.”

During the first half of 2010, the UK hit 1GW of installed offshore wind capacity accounting for around 40% of pan-European installed capacity. It also has a total development pipeline of 49GW, with a potential do deliver 150 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity per annum, out of the UK’s total net consumption of around 315 TWh. The European installed total stands at 2,396 installed megawatts (MW), with another 4,071MW in construction and with planning consent in UK alone.

“Offshore wind can deliver not just electricity, but jobs and business benefits to the UK. Earlier this year we have seen some of the world’s best known companies commit to building offshore wind turbines in the UK. This is a once in a generation opportunity and the right time for Government to support the nascent UK offshore sector with well timed investment in ports and infrastructure,” said Madigan.

The problem is that the wind power industry, including RenewableUK, its professional body, is just that, another huge industry, and it not understanding, in the same way as the governments don't, the real need as to wind power, namely the notion of “every building a power station” and the need to change current and voltage.

The current alternating current cannot be stored and thus, when the wind does not blow enough and the sun does not shine renewable energy is at a standstill and what then. What then is an especially important question if all our power is made up of renewable power, of wind, sun, and water, though we should and must consider also using biogas plants. For then there will be no electricity at that time of no wind and no sun and we are up the creek without a paddle.

The UK wind industry talks in MW and GW and in high voltages and of Britain being able to become a net exporter of wind energy but that is doing very little for our own energy security for we would then also, at times, have to be importer of energy.

With the proper kind of renewable electricity, however, generated by micro-power stations all over the country, on every building, by use of wind and sun, with the addition of methane gas powered ones in many location, using a low voltage DC system we could be powering most of our need without having to think of needing to import.

But, then again, that would make the individual independent from the power companies and that is not something that they and government, it would seem, could countenance.

It is up to the people to lead the green power revolution and we must start this the day before yesterday.

© 2010

Eco Made Easier at B&Q

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

This autumn and winter B&Q is dedicated to helping the country to go green by making it easier. Taking small steps can save energy, time and money. So what could be more appealing than this, with the exception of getting something for free?

A sustainable approach to life and doing the right things should not be difficult, and that is why B&Q, as Britain's biggest home improvement retailer, is doing all it can to make things easier.

B&Q's goal is to help customers to reduce their eco-footprint – and I really like the way that B&Q does not use carbon footprint but instead considers our entire impact by calling it eco-footprint – by ten percent by the year 2023 and is making this target easier with:

  • PRODUCTS; There are now over 4,000 accredited products in the One Planet Home® range.

  • ADVICE; by the end of 2010, there should be a fully trained Eco Advisor in every store. B&Q Eco Advisor qualification – and eco NVQ – is a UK first and will see staff qualified to City & Guilds Level 2 Diploma in Retail Skills (selling Eco products) standards enabling them to advise and help customers on eco products for their homes.

  • ONLINE; To make One Planet Home even more accessible, it is also online at, providing hundreds of products with hints, tips and tools. The web pages include the One Planet Home calculator, which gives customers their own personalized action plan.

B&Q's 10 per cent target was set with sustainability experts “BioRegionals” and it is a stretching. This target is based on detailed analysis of what customers could achieve with B&Q's products and services.

BioRegional accredit all the products and services in the One Planet Home range and this range has been developed to help B&Q customers to create their own One Planet home.

The accreditation process makes sure that every One Planet Home product is in line with B&Q's principles and ethics policy and is made by suppliers who are working to reduce their own impact.

Five easy steps towards a One Planet Home®

  • Keep the heat in

  • Keep the cold out

  • Fit energy saving products

  • Upgrade your heating

  • Line dry your laundry

Over 50 percent of the UK's waste goes to landfill sites every year. That's an enormous 111 million tonnes of rubbish.

B&Q is actively looking at ways of using recycled materials to stop waste is going to landfill.

The new carpet underlay is a perfect and prime example of how recycling works. It is as effective as any other underlay but is created from 100 percent recycled clothing which would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. Using underlay correctly can also keep rooms warmer, so it is a winner all around.

The recycled underlay is available from 284 B&Q at £29.80 per 10sqm pack, making it a £2.98 per square meter.

Other news for this autumn from B&Q is the introduction of the company's fist ever Fairtrade bedlinen.

The linen is created from cotton from Pakistan and available in white or cream and will be available from 100 B&Q stores across the UK from August 2010.

B&Q's Fairtrade bedlinen costs from £6.98 for a pillowcase.

Have a look down to your local B&Q and check out the One Planet Home range. Some stores have a fully fledged Eco Store on board, such as the one in the London Borough of Sutton, and the Eco Advisor on duty there will certainly be able to point you into the right direction.

© 2010

China increasing pricing

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

China is ending being the world's cheap factory floor having announced in the beginning of July 2010 a probably four-fold increase of pricing across the board.

This should mean that “Made in Home” should be more than viable once again, especially when adding transportation cost to the products then. Once costs will be three or four times as what things cost presently, “Made in China”, and, as I said, the freighting costs are factored in then manufacturers may begin to look at producing at home once again.

The audit trail that is nowadays required – ethical and environmental audits – which is a good thing also means that the environmental and employment practices will have to be considered more and more by makers in China and, once the requirements will be the same, basically, in China as in the USA or the UK then it might be a lot better to produce again in the countries of origin of those makers.

As far as I am concerned this is not before time and it would be better still if makers would then no longer factor in obsolescence and, in fact, make products again in such a manner that they last and do not have to be replaced within a year or so. Shock! Horror! Products that could even be heirlooms?

I have been predicting already some years ago that China was about to do a Japan and that it was sooner or later going to be raising the bar in what they were going to charge the western manufacturers using their facilities.

This happened with Japan around the last two decades of the 20th century and that's why, suddenly, everything that was “Made in Japan” went to “Made in China”.

The fact also that transportation costs will be increasing and with the advent of “Peak Oil” especially taking manufacture back “in house” into our own home countries and “Made in Britain” or “Made in USA” might soon once again be the general norm, as it used to be, rather than being a novelty, as it seems to be in 2010 and thereabouts.

And, my prediction is, basically, that when “Peak Oil” and its aftermath are finally with us it will no longer so much be a case of “Made in Britain” or even “Made in England” but “Made in London”, “Made in Manchester”, “Made in Surrey”, and such.

Roll on localism...

© 2010


by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) believes that recycling is too far through the life cycle of a product to deliver the kind of carbon savings that are required to meet the UK’s ambitious emissions reduction targets. The focus for waste management should be on resource efficiency, prevention and using waste as a resource.

From a sustainability point of view, concentration on recycling may be misplaced as it occurs too late to be of maximum benefit to the environment. Although recycling saves on the use of raw materials, the process uses energy and produces products of inferior quality compared to the primary product. Therefore, CIWEM believes that recycling is only part of the answer.

The statement of the CIWEM that recycling produces products of inferior quality compared to the primary product is only partly true, such as with plastics recycling. When iron and steel, aluminum and glass are recycled there it no reduction in quality.

However, in the case of glass it would be better if bottles and jars would be returned to the manufacturers to be refilled rather than be broken up and remade into glass containers (or other products).

The UK generates some 342 million tonnes of waste per annum so prevention represents the most effective way to reduce emissions as it reduces the consumption of raw materials and the need to expend further energy in managing the waste further down the line. Another element is recovery where waste serves a useful purpose by replacing other materials that would otherwise have been used to fulfill a particular function.

CIWEM calls for improvements to be made to the system to promote minimization of the production of waste, supported by a circular flow of resources and materials designed to facilitate reuse and recycling wherever possible. In circumstances where waste cannot be prevented, it must be viewed as a resource for potential use in other sectors, based around the carbon savings and energy value of the resource. The current regulatory regime often penalizes the beneficial use of waste, so CIWEM believes that regulation of waste recovery activities, such as energy from waste, should enable efficiency.

However, in a newly published Policy Position Statement, the Institution cautions against over committing to one sector when trying to reduce emissions: “It is important that a holistic and proportionate approach to reducing emissions across the economy is employed, reflecting the contribution that all sectors make to the total UK emissions and the savings that could be most readily achieved. In this context, there is a need to be sensible about the resources that are committed to reducing the greenhouse gases from waste management facilities. It may be a wiser use of resources to expend efforts on the reduction of the emissions from energy consumption and transport use (about 57 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions) where we may be able to make greater and quicker environmental savings more economically.”

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management ( CIWEM ) is an independent professional body and a registered charity, advancing the science and practice of water and environmental management for a clean, green and sustainable world

CIWEM’s newly published PPS on Waste and Climate Change can be downloaded from

Much of recycling should not happen, that is true, as reuse and upcycling would be much better than breaking the product down and then doing something else with the “raw material” thus created.

It is heartbreaking for me to see when we waste energy to create bottles from bottles and glass jars from glass jars. It does not make sense, especially in the light of the fact that glass can be reused ad infinitum by cleaning and sterilizing it.

Even wine bottles should be reused and refilled with the product they originally held but this is just something that no one seems to even be thinking about.

All the talk is about, time and again, is recycling by collecting and breaking, as in glass, the stuff up and the melting it again into glass. Plastic bottles are another kettle of fish and cannot be reused and thus should be recycled into other things or turned into energy.

© 2010

The Transition Movement and the Working Class

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Attracting the working class

Transition Towns and the Transition Movement as a whole suffer from an image problem in that the ordinary man and woman in the street seem to see it as something only for the better of middle and upper classes; for those “who can afford it”, and those in predominately rural settings.

While there may now be sections of urban areas becoming transition towns, such as Brixton, in South-East London, once a notorious problem area, Ealing in the West of London and Tooting in the South-West, the perception is still the one previously stated.

The great majority of people still cannot see how they can become part of this even if they were entirely persuaded.

Then again, “going green” is seen by many in the lower income brackets, the working class, the proletariat, as something that they cannot be part of as they think that lots of money is required to do so.

Going by the prices that are being charged for “green” products the existence of such perception is not surprising, I must say.

Going green would, by ways of savings, benefit especially those on the lower incomes. They, however, do believe, due to all the false advertising, that there is no way for them to get involved and take part because all the things are so expensive.

No on e seems to want to communicate to them the message though that there rs, primarily, no investment needed.

The Green Movement and the Transition Movement have so far, in the main, been unable to touch the working class and this must change.

A way must be found to do that and to engage the working class and to bring to them the message that going green is as much for them and doable by them as by those with money.

Reuse and upcycling (see my book:”Let's Talk Rubbish”) is for all of us, whether rich or poor and will benefit those who have little the most. We all must get out of the consumption trap.

The frugal way was the way of the poor always bar, it would seem, in the late 20th and the early 21st century in the developed world. They used to use the principle of “Make Do and Mend”, of “Waste Not, Want Not”, and of others but they seem to have forgotten those by around the later 1970s; maybe before even, sadly.

I believe that, after the end of the austerity, resultant from World War Two and after, such as the end of rationing in Britain, people decided to “live it up”. Americans seem to have started this before the European in the so-called “free” West then, and those in Western Europe often tried and still try to aspire to and emulate the American Way of Life.

The American Way of Life is, predominately, built upon oil and especially cheap oil and with the oil going to be history sooner rather than later that way of life is going to come crashing down around their ears in the not so distant future.

The American Way of Life and its cousins in the Europe, including the spend, spend, spend society in the UK, are not sustainable, oil running out or not, and we must change our ways of living now before we have destroyed the Planet in our constant pursuit for more.

This is something that the poor in our affluent society can as much participate in as the rich and the Transition Movement and the Green Movement are missing a few tricks here in not properly communicating that message to those of the working classes.

We must, however, get working class people signed up to the movement, so to speak, and get them convinced so that they can spread the message to others.

I am working class and am involved in green issues and especially trying to live lighter on the Planet for donkeys years, probably every since childhood as a young Rom, and this should be proof enough that anyone can do it.

But this message must be communicated to others of the working class and also to those of other classes for unless we can get the great majority aboard we are wasting our time and it will remain all somewhat of a dream.

As I have said before, the fact that we have now a number of Transition Towns in inner city areas in the UK and also in Berlin, Germany, this does not detract from the fact that presently the Transition Towns and the Transition Movement are still something that is mostly something in smaller towns and in the countryside; in Britain at least.

The Transition Towns the Transition Movement, and the Green Movement in general, must work hard to change their perceived image for the poorer classes to be see as something in which they can become stakeholders as well.

© 2010

Urban allotment gardens key areas in times of crisis

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Allotment gardens have often been sources of local resilience during periods of crisis. During World War I the number of allotment gardens surged from 600,000 to 1,500,000 in Britain, supplying city people with food and other ecosystem services.

The gardens were planted in parks and sports fields, and even Buckingham Palace turned up the earth to grow vegetables. After declining abruptly in the 1920s and 1930s, World War II saw a new explosion in the numbers of allotment gardens in cities of Britain and other parts of Europe.

Germany, it must be said, had already allotment gardens, called Schrebergaerten, since well before World War I, as far as I understand.

In Berlin and Hamburg entire Schrebergarten colonies – that's what they really are called – sprang up and they can also be found in many other towns and cities around that country. Many people actually live in their garden houses, called Lauben, for the entire summer and some even have those as their only residence, living on their allotment all year round. Not something that could be done in the UK for reasons of planning/zoning laws.

A study has been undertaken as to the impact of urban gardening on the social-economic situation and so-called “social-ecological memory” of the people.

The article investigates where and how ecological practices, knowledge and experience are retained and transmitted in allotment gardens in the urban area of Stockholm. It is the first study ever to really analyze in-depth the concept of “social-ecological memory” as the carrier of ecological knowledge and practices that enable sustainable stewardship of nature.

Linking back to the story of allotment gardens during the World Wars, the specific aim of the new study has been to explore how management practices, which are linked to ecosystem services, are retained and stored among people, and modified and transmitted through time.

In the case of Stockholm, social-ecological memory in urban gardening is maintained and transmitted through imitation of practices, oral communication and collective rituals. It also resides in physical gardens, artifacts, metaphors and rules-in-use, and this no doubt will be the case elsewhere too.

Time to include citizens in stewardship

The researchers also found that the self-organised groups of allotment gardeners support critical ecosystem services that both underpin the production of crops and flowers and spill over to a much larger portion of the metropolitan landscape.

Therefore it is time for policy makers to appreciate and actively include citizens that engage in the actual stewardship of urban ecosystem services, whether it is about sustaining urban green areas or designing new ones.

As far as Stockholm is concerned today the city contains about 10,000 individual allotment garden plots, occupying 210 ha of land and involving about 24,000 people.

And these allotment gardens serve as “pockets of social-ecological memory" in the urban landscape and constitute a source of resilience for generation of ecosystem services while counteracting ecological illiteracy.

Without such physical sites experiences of stewardship of ecosystem services, or “social-ecological memory" could easily dissolve. Now when we are entering the so-called urban millennium, with more than 50 % of the global population living in cities, planning for sustainability needs to take these green spaces – and the social-ecological memory they maintain – seriously into account.

We need more such green spaces where people can grow their own food and interact with the environment in a beneficial way; beneficial to themselves in that they obtain some of their produce that way and beneficial to the environment in that the people, and here also and especially children and young people, connect back with the Earth. In addition to the above allotment gardens also can and will contribute to food security of the individual, families and the neighborhood.

So, let's hear it for allotment gardens.

© 2010

Teddies on an outing

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Colorado, USA, July 2010: Recently in Larkspur, CO, a bear took a car for a joyride of sorts. The bear got into the unlocked car looking for food and got trapped inside, in the process trashing the car, trying to find a way of escape.

The family, whose car this was, said that they learned something and that is not to leave car doors unlocked if there are hungry bears in the neighborhood and especially if there if food inside.

Bears are not teddies and are not Ben from Grizzly Adams TV. They are dangerous, unpredictable and they will go after anything food, and that even more so if humans are stupid enough to leave it laying about.

According to wildlife officers a shortage in the bear's natural food supplies has driven them to seek out other types of meals. McDonald's, I guess, was not an option. Then again, even bears would not touch that stuff, I should think.

In Colorado Springs, in another, non-confrontational settings, a female bear and a cub were observed taking nuts from bird feeders and taking a dip in the backyard pool, probably looking for fish as well.

Incidents of bears taking food out of trash cans and from camp sites are common and this is yet another reminder that bears will go after easy food if we are stupid enough to have it laying about and we cannot blame the bears for this.

Keep food out of reach and pick up and dispose of all trash properly and way from, if you are camping, your site is.

Cars should be locked, regardless as to whether bears are about or not, and maybe people must be a little more careful as to what they have in their backyards too.

© 2010

From Consumption to Greensumption

Where did we go wrong?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The same business as usual (BAU) economic growth model is being applied to the green “economy” in the same way as it is and has been to the economy in general and based on the more, more and more principle.

Almost everywhere you care to look in the green market place greensumption is beginning to be king, if it is not already thus, and we have just replaced one form of consumption with another.

Shopping tote bags made from sail cloth (recycled) for just under ninety bucks is just one of those ripoffs that are going on.

Advertising is now going all out for leather with green products or, worse still, greenwashed ones.

Then there is a stupid device called the “Eco-Button”, hyped by almost all green media. Did they test it like I did? I should think not.

And this goes on and on, such as with the reinvented glass bottle in which to carry your tap water for around twenty bucks.

The biggest problem, as I see it, it that people flock to buy those goods at those hiked prices.

Wind turbines and solar panels to buy is one thing but to buy a “recycled” bottle vase that's no more than an empty wine bottle with colored cotton string wrapped around it in the way that Hippie kids did it in the 1960s and 1970s for the equivalent of over sixty Dollars is stupid. But people do and do pay the high prices that are being asked for those products.

While I do not begrudge anyone an income from upcycling waste into goods that people want I do object to the marketing used and the prices charged.

Seeing those prices it is little wonder that those in the lower income brackets think that they cannot do their part in being Planet-friendly.

More emphasis must be put on enabling and empowering those low earners to be able participate in being green by teaching them green DIY; how to upcycle, for instance, without needing to consume.

This is something that I am trying to do with my book “Let's Talk Rubbish”... soon to be published.

But the green marketplace is general is all about consumption and, as said, we have just changed one kind of it for another.

This is not how many of us who have been in the green movement since the early days thought it would ever end up.

The hope had been to get away from the addiction to the more, more, and more economic model that requires and ever increasing consumption.

We have gone from “ordinary” consumption to “green” consumption or greensumption, running the “green economy on the business as usual (BAU) model, without any change in behavior.

I also have problems with supposedly green products that are, for instance, “Made in China”, the the same world factory as all the rest, and shipped across the globe in the same way as ordinary goods.

Green to a great number of businesses seems to be the ticket to another market and section of market and is a bandwagon to be jumped upon and also a prefix to -wash.

Many companies are very busy greenwashing themselves and their products and services and even the fossil fuel and nuclear industry tries it.

There is now talk of “clean coal” and of how green nuclear power is as it has no CO2 emissions. Right, OK, no CO2, but what about the radiation danger and real threat from the buried burnt out rods and such? They do not want to talk about that, it seems, and the government is as bad on that level. They too are promoting nuclear power as green and the “new” coal as clean. I guess they could even paint Hitler and his ilk as benign. “Clean coal” is as much as misnomer of the same magnitude as is the term “common sense”.

There are the likes of N-Power, an electricity generating company, wholly owned by Germany's RWE, who in their sales pitch claim to be a wholly British company and only doing green energy. RWE has more nuclear plants than anything else and the same is true with EDF. However, such outright lies are being used in order to con the unsuspecting public.

How did this happen? Simple. The old system was used and just painted green. That is how and why it happened and too many people in the Green Movement must have been asleep or simply, because they are not economists, did not realize what was going on and is still going on. Some are also, I must say. Very naïve indeed when it comes to some of those issues and seem to think that a little green is better than no green at all.

Many so-called green- or even eco-stores too participate in the greenwash exercise of the companies and products by never, it would seem, checking our credentials of firms and products. The hyped but useless “Eco-Button” is one small – pardon the pun – example here. It is, however, not the only one. Bamboo fabric and -flooring is yet another one of those and is also total and utter greenwash.

I have yet to find a green-/eco-store, whether online or on the high street, or both, that does not have the same problem and no action is even taken by the stores when the truth is pointed out to them. In other words, rip off is king; or so, at least, it would appear.

Companies such as Walmart, Kimberly-Clark, Clorox, and others are in a confederation of sustainable companies, etc., thus trying to have the consumer believe that they are green and doing something good for the environment.

As far as Kimberly-Clark is concerned nothing could be further from the truth seeing that company's record as far as the destruction of the Canadian boreal forests to make into toilet paper and paper towels, as if recycled paper could not be used for that.

We must get away from being drawn into a new round and type of consumption, regardless as to the fact that the goods sold here are recycled or otherwise supposedly environmentally friendly and such like.

Greensumption must stop and it must stop now and we must come to our senses finally and realize that the green economy must be based on a different model than the old one is and has been.

© 2010

Knife Sharpening for the homesteader

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

This is yet another one of those skills that the homesteader of old and of the New Age has to know and be proficient in.

A knife – and any other cutting tool for that matter – is of little to no use if not razor sharp.

A dull knife, a blunt knife, is rather dangerous. Much more dangerous, in fact, than a sharp one, even though so many people with little knowledge are afraid of real sharp knives.

However, many serious knife injuries – self-inflicted ones – are caused by blunt knives. A sharp knife cuts where you want and that with ease while a blunt knife may require extra pressure applied, then slips and an injury has happened.

I really cannot stress enough the importance of of only using knives that are really and truly sharp.

Therefore learn the sharpening skills from the ground up and also how to use a hone and a steel and even a strop.

In order to be of use your knife will need to be able to shave the hairs on your arm without scraping (too much). If it cannot then it is not sharp.

The same applies to chisels, to hatchets and to axes. The shaving ability is not something though that you want in your axes, though. The edge would be too thin and get seriously damaged in use.

Any cutting tool should be as sharp as possible and no one should ever fear it because it is sharp. You would not want to try and shoot a deer with a gun with no bullets either, of that I am sure. So why try and use a blunt knife?

As knife grinders, such as what I once was, who travel door-to-door are rare presently – that is not to say that in the future we may not have them come back – you will have to learn how to do it yourself. The luxury of buying a new knife when the old one has gotten dull, as I know some people do frequently, will be gone when things go the way I think they will be going. Thus you will have to be able to service your cutting tools by use of so-called oil stones (but DO NOT use oil on them but only water) and files, hones, and such, alone yourself.

This is a skill that can be learned and developed. Perfection comes with time of doing. So do not expect the finest and best edge just the first time round.

Many people say that the angle should be this or that when putting the blade to the stone but the angle that you hold the edge to the stone depends on the angle of the original edge. Also the often quoted 20 degree angle is not shallow enough to get a sharp edge.

The importance of being able to properly sharpen a blade

Far too many people have no idea as to how to sharpen their knives and when they go dull go either out and buy new or ruin the blade of their knife by inappropriate means.

I have seen many an extremely good knife being nigh on destroyed by the use of, for instance, a bench grinder, and have seen this done even and especially by so-called professional mobile knife grinders to the catering trades.

No knife used for normal purposes will ever require the use of a grinder of that kind. Carborundum, India, Arkansas, and other such block stones should be all the is needed ever with, maybe on occasions, the use of a good fine mill bastard file, such as an Oregon flat file.

The right sharpening angle

The right and correct sharpening angle is not what any manual or book may tell you but it depends, primarily, on the edge of the blade and the original angle of the grind and should never, ever, be steeper than 20 degrees.

And Opinel pocketknife will require a lower angle than does many a larger, fixed bladed knife, for instance. So the Opinel, probably, need 12-15deg while the bigger blade would need an angle of 15-20deg.

The best way to learn the proper sharpening and honing (we will come to that in a minute) is to get hold of some old knives cheaply and work by trial and error until you have got the edge to full razor sharpness. This really is the only way to get it right for you.


A good collection of sharpening tools to have is a good idea but already a cheap double-sided carborundum stone that could cost as little as $5 and a small mill bastard file or two will do.

Ideally the file(s) should be for any real re-cutting of any edge only and not to be used, per se. If the blade does not have a proper cutting angle to the edge then using the file this can be re-cut this way.

After that only the stone should be used and to begin with you use the coarsest side doing ten even strokes as if wanting to cut into the stone, pulling/pushing the edge into the stone at the angle mentioned earlier.

I could waffle on and on here as to how to do it but, in fact, that will achieve nothing. Only by actually doing it will you stand a chance to learn and master the skill of sharpening a blade on the stones.


The final thing to do to a sharpened blade is to fine hone the edge and for this you can improvise a few things if you do not want to pay money for a special fine hone or two.

Here a word of warning! Do not hone/polish the cutting edge too much. You can overdo it and the edge, while being very fine and smooth, will not shave nor properly cut. A little roughness, I have found, is needed to enable a real sharp edge and thus a powerful cut.

My honing is, normally, done on an old glass bottle and on an only belt in lieu of a strop. Natural strop material is also available in the form of the so-called razorstrop fungus, the Birch Bracket Fungus, and that works a real treat. The slice to be used for a strop must be fully dry though for it to work properly.

When stropping a knife do NOT flick the blade on the strop. While this may look great in the movies it does not actually make for a sharp blade at all. Pull the blade backwards along the leather back and forth stopping and tuning the blade over without any flicking. Flicking can cause bur to form and, in fact, make the blade dull rather.

As I have said already, learning to sharpen and honing a knife is 10% knowledge and 90% trial and error learning and that is what I advise you to do, and then to practice until you get it right.

© 2010

Prime Minister launched the “Big Society”

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday, July 19, 2010, gave more detail on his vision for the Coalition Government’s Big Society agenda by outlining plans for a new Big Society Bank, and announcing the country’s first big society communities in Sutton, Windsor and Maidenhead, Eden Valley in Cumbria and Liverpool.

The Big Society Bank will ensure that all the money from dormant bank accounts made available to England is put to good use for the benefit of society. By expanding the social investment market place and helping to attract extra private sector investment it is expected that over time the Bank will generate hundreds of millions of pounds for charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to fund social projects across the country, creating opportunities for social action and community involvement. As a wholesale organization, the Bank will invest in financial intermediaries in the social investment market, who in turn will increase access to finance for front-line, social organisations.

The question that I would like to ask though is how the monies will be allocated and who controls those. I just hope it will not be the local councils that will have the control of allocation and distribution.

The Prime Minister made the announcement to an audience of volunteers and social enterprise champions in Liverpool at the first in a series of planned Big Society events, alongside the Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark.

He also announced the country’s first big society communities in the London Borough of Sutton, Windsor and Maidenhead, Eden Valley in Cumbria and Liverpool itself.

These four areas will now receive targeted and tailored help from the Government to ensure they can overcome bureaucratic barriers and take greater responsibility for the decisions that affect the local area and local people.

But, the way it would appear, this is yet again something that the government “imposes” from above by targeting certain areas to start with and, as it would appear, via the local authorities.

Community does not equal local authority, does not equal local council. Community is something apart from that. Still, despite all the talk even the new coalition government does not get it.

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude said that the launch event shows just how much of a difference a stronger society, where people do more for each other, can make.

And he continued: “The funds from the dormant bank accounts will enable us to start stimulating activity where there is none and also help existing charities, social enterprises and community organisations to make changes in their local areas.

“This is about a real cultural shift – we know that the era of big government, just tweaking things at the centre of power, didn’t work. We want to build a Big Society where local people feel empowered to bring about the changes they know their communities need and they come together to change the things they care about.”

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "We are turning Government upside down. Instead of imposing top-down diktats from Whitehall, we are asking people to tell us what they want to do to improve their lives. We will give communities the same support that we Ministers have - people in Government Departments to sort out the bureaucracy that stands in their way.

"No-one knows what's needed in Liverpool, Sutton, Eden Valley and Windsor and Maidenhead better than the people who live there. That is the essence of the Big Society - trusting people to know what needs doing, with Government enabling them instead of getting in their way."

So, instead of imposing top-down diktat from Whitehall it will be controlled by town hall, rather; or so it seems to me. That still is not giving power to the people. Local councils need reforming in a serious manner too so that – finally – the chief executive and directors become accountable to the people. They themselves, and not just councillors, must be made to stand for elections in a way that it is done in some other countries, including areas in the United States.

The four big society communities have already expressed interest in areas including:

  • Making budget decisions at street-level

  • Taking over local assets such as a community pub

  • Delivering broadband to local communities

  • Piloting the Government’s open-source planning reforms

  • Taking responsibility for generating energy locally

  • Deciding licensing rules locally

  • Building a volunteer programme so they can keep local museums open for longer.

The Government is committed to give these communities all the support they need and is pledging the following measures:

  • A firm commitment to respond constructively to every request made by the big society communities for new rights and powers to take control of their cities, towns, villages and neighbourhoods.

  • Dedicated support from officials from the Department of Communities and Local Government to help the big society communities overcome and break down any barriers they encounter as they seek to take power and responsibility.

  • A community organiser to help each community coordinate local support for, and involvement in, its plans.

The Government will continue to give new powers to neighbourhoods, including greater control over their finances and new rights to take over state-run services, and wants to hear from community groups and individuals who feel they are facing unreasonable barriers to making changes for the benefit of the local community.

Notes to Editors

1. The Big Society Bank will be an independent wholesale organisation that will work and invest its funds through existing financial intermediaries like social investors and community lenders, who in turn will increase access to finance for frontline, social organisations.

2. As well as private sector investment, it will be funded by dormant bank accounts as enabled by the Dormant Bank Accounts Act. These are deposits of money in bank and building society accounts that people have lost track of or forgotten about over a period of time. The Big Society Bank will ensure that all the money from dormant bank accounts made available to England is put to good use for the benefit of society.

3. The amount of funds available for distribution will be determined by the number of banks and building societies participating in the scheme, the success of the ongoing campaign to reunite individuals with their assets, and the sums held back for customer reclaim.

4. Our target is to establish the Bank by April 2011. A key milestone will be the creation of a Reclaim Fund to protect the interests of deposit holders, as required by the Dormant Bank Accounts Act. Co-operative Financial Services are currently in the process of submitting an application to the FSA to perform this role.

5. The four big society communities will be taking forward a range of ideas, which all come directly from proposals made by the people in those areas. They include

1. moving a community centre to a site chosen by the community; building a renewable energy generation project; a community buy out of a local pub; providing community broadband access (Cumbria/Eden Valley)

2. transparency of local spending decisions; participatory budgeting for parks budget; delegating budgets to streets; devolving further powers to parishes (Windsor & Maidenhead)

3. boosting volunteering at a number of key museums; creating a social enterprise to produce films and content for digital platforms; developing neighbourhood media and cultural activities in poorer areas (Liverpool).

4. establishing greater freedom to implement sustainable transport schemes and influence the provision of local public transport; identifying ‘place shaping’ champions who can build good practice in greener living; supporting the creation of a project involving young people that invests in the local community (Sutton).

The problem is that government still is not getting it. It is not local authorities that make a community, but diverse people do. It seems to make no difference as to whether it is a Labour government or a Tory one or a coalition one of Tories and Whigs.

You cannot “create” communities in the way as the PM has announced that government is creating those new Big Society communities and then basing them in local council areas. My G-d! When will the governments of this country – and other countries – actually understand this?

The local authorities do not work, not as they are at present and basing this “Big Society” idea in that way in local authorities will not work. Councils waste resources and money and are top heavy. A change is needed and a completely new way of doping things.

Having elected heads of councils would be one idea, like for the Sheriff and Council chiefs in most places in the USA. And ideally they should have to stand for re-election every year or two. That way they would take much greater care of how the taxes are spent. Only then, really, are the people empowered. When they control who runs their local authority. And this is aside from elected local councillors.

Then, talking of taxes, the council tax must be collected and kept local. It has no business going to Whitehall first to be distributed back from there around the country.

This will, I am afraid, as per usual, just a load of hot air and nothing really beneficial. It is a dressing up of cuts in involving the voluntary sector instead of really and truly empowering the people to do things for themselves, including the grassroots policing of their areas.

People and governments in Britain just do not get it.

© 2010

Colnbrook children pedal for picnic

On Saturday 10th July, pupils from Pippins School in Colnbrook took part in a bicycle ride and picnic organised by sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, to celebrate their first year as a Sustrans Bike It school.

Since Sustrans began working with the school in September 2009, the number of children cycling every day has increased from just one per cent to nine percent of all pupils. Last term, the school was the first in the area to be awarded a bronze Sustrans School Mark Award to congratulate the pupil’s, parents, and teacher’s effort in encouraging more children to cycle.

The six mile ride, lead by Sustrans Bike It officer Clare Robinson, began at the Honda offices in Colnbrook where a Sustrans National Cycle Network (NCN) route passes directly by. The NCN route was entirely off road and took the 24 cyclists – some as young as six years old - through three parks and past amenities such as the rugby club, scout hut and cricket club with views of Windsor Castle . The ride stopped in Lachelles Park for an afternoon picnic of fruit, juice, cakes and scones in the shade before riding the three miles back again.

Clare comments, “Everyone had a fantastic time on the ride. The weather was glorious; it was a great way to celebrate the achievements of the school over the last year. The teachers, pupils and parents are really dedicated to creating a lasting pro-cycling culture at this school.”

One parent added, “I thought I knew Slough like the back of my hand, but I never knew this cycle route was here- we'll definitely use it again.”

Sustrans currently works with 18 schools in the area (set to increase to 23 in September) in partnership with Slough Borough Council and Buckinghamshire County Council, to help children overcome the barriers which are preventing them from cycling to school. The project also receives funding from the Big Lottery Fund's Well-being Programme.

Source: Sustrans

VOLVO announces three-point plan to help the car industry improve UK air quality

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Volvo Car UK has launched a three-point plan aimed at providing all motorists with a broader range of emissions information when they buy their next car – irrespective of marque – to help combat the UK’s rising problem of poor air quality.

With the UK facing a fine of up to £300m for its poor air quality and the Environmental Audit Committee predicting 50,000 premature deaths through air pollution, Volvo believes that it is time to educate drivers of a car’s complete emissions picture rather than just CO2 in isolation.

Automotive emissions other than CO2 (NOx, Hydrocarbons and Particulates) are the key contributors to poor air quality, particularly in urban areas, and are one of the main reasons why the UK suffers from one of the highest recordable asthma rates in the world.

The nano particles from diesel engines especially, and diesel always was seen as a better choice than gasoline, are a major contributor to asthma in children and adults alike. According to some sources the bio-diesel and other bio-fuels emit even more of those harmful particles than does petroleum-based diesel.

Volvo is proposing:

  • The launch of an automotive air pollutants environmental label to sit alongside the already established CO2 label displayed in new and used car showrooms

  • To launch a phone/PC App, which gives drivers access to total emissions information when visiting a new or used car showroom

  • Setting up the Emissions Equality Think Tank to help put air quality to the forefront of peoples’ minds on a continued basis

Using the government's own Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) data (, that's also available at, it soon becomes clear that when a driver selects a low-CO2 emitting model, petrol or diesel, the waters are muddied and they aren't necessarily selecting a low overall tailpipe emission car. And it's the non-CO2 emissions that are affecting immediate air quality and health.

CO2 emissions are, and it is good to see that someone is finally tackling this, just a small part of the overall emissions of the internal combustion engine and some of the emissions are by way more harmful, to man and the environment, than is CO2.

For some incomprehensible reason, however, everyone, in the recent times, has but been talking about CO2 (carbon) emissions. It has become the new mantra while in the 1960s and 1970s the talk was, in fact, as regards to motorcars, about air pollution in a much more general term and the danger that this pollution was posing to the environment and to life in general.

The comparison between larger Volvo estate and saloon models against a selection of small cars makes for interesting reading. A Volvo V70 premium estate 2.5 petrol manual generates 201mg/km of non-CO2 pollutants, compared with the 1.4 litre Fiat 500 Start Stop which, counter intuitively, at 484mg/km, generates more than twice as many other pollutants. Similarly, a Volvo S80 1.6D DRIVe executive saloon generates 636mg/km of non-CO2 pollutants – around 5% fewer than the 1.3-litre Toyota Yaris diesel supermini (679mg/100km).

“In 1976 Volvo was the first on the market with the three way catalytic converter with oxygen sensor (Lambdasond®) which removes up to 90 per cent of noxious exhaust emissions and was the first company to sign up to the 1992 Kyoto Treaty on Climate Change,” explained Peter Rask, Volvo Car UK’s Managing Director: “Over many decades Volvo has been committed to designing and engineering cars that are kind on the environment and its drivers. Our cars perform very well in all tailpipe emissions and some, but not all, are best-in-class. However, this is more about encouraging greater transparency in the automotive industry across all emissions.”
“This isn't about reducing the focus on CO2, our campaign is about all drivers being given easy access to the complete set of pollutants information so they can make a more informed decision when they buy a new or used car,” he added.

The Volvo three point plan in more detail:

1. Volvo Car UK will encourage the Department for Transport and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to mandate a second environmental label covering non-CO2 emissions for all new and used cars up to five years of age. This would sit alongside the current CO2 label on all cars displayed. The CO2 and other emissions information shouldn't be combined in one single label as drivers still need to understand CO2 emissions for tax purposes. All of this information is readily available on the VCA website ( but needs presenting in an easier to understand format such as and be made more accessible to all drivers.

Volvo believes there is room for a new environmental label similar to the one in the United States of America, run by the US Environmental Protection Agency which scores the environmental impact of vehicles, including both air quality and CO2 emissions.

2. Volvo Car UK is launching a phone/PC App in the next few weeks to make all air pollution and CO2 emission information readily available to drivers for when they visit a showroom to choose their next car.

3. Volvo Car UK will create an Emissions Equality Automotive Air Pollution Think Tank to move the subject of emissions and air quality further up the agenda of the automotive industry over the coming 12-24 months. The Think Tank already has a number of high-profile members covering all sides of the debate, including Environmental Protection UK's Policy Officer Ed Dearnley, environmentalist and TV naturalist Chris Packham, Professor of Environmental Health from Kings College London Frank Kelly, the automotive environmental commentator Jay Nagley from and Volvo's own environmental consultant Don Potts.

Further discussion and debate will also be directed to and, where conversation will be tagged #EmissionsEquality.

It is, as I have said, high time that we looked at all the emissions associated with vehicles with internal combustion engines and not just on CO2. And it has to be added that, according to a fair number of studies and sources, it would appear that bio-fuels, that is to say, bio-diesel, bio-ethanol, etc. are even more harmful to the environment and to us than are petroleum-based fuels.

In addition to that we may not have to worry about it for all that much longer as, to all intents and purposes, it would appear that cheap oil will very soon be history and thus the infernal combustion engine will become a part of history too in the same way as did the dinosaurs.

Peak Oil appears to be very much upon us and the end of cheap oil and of the oil age just around the corner.

I have written about that and about what a world after the oil age could be like in my new book “The End of Oil” published by Tatchipen Media and available via: and you can read an extract here:

© 2010

Full Disclosure Statement: The GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW received no compensation for any component of this article.

Has the End of Oil arrived?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Some while ago there were many who were still poo-pooing the notion of “Peak Oil” and the “End of Oil” and the “End of the Oil Age” but recent developments definitely seem to be indicating this.

It would thus appear that my recently published small tome entitled “The End of Oil” is a very timely arrival then.

In February 2010 the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES) published a report entitled “Oil Crunch” ( where they seems to be running rather scared of the prospects of us all running out of the black and sticky stuff.

Now, in the beginning of July 2010 it was announced, and even though it went across the wires the media the world over stayed stumm, that the King of Saudi Arabia has ordered and end to all oil exploration in the Kingdom (

While he claims that he did this in order to preserve some of the oil and its wealth for their children and grandchildren it would appear that the truth might be somewhat different and they do not want to let the world know that there is, in fact, none of the black stuff left.

However, it is a known fact that Saudi Arabia's oil wells are nigh on empty, totally and thus this exercise is somewhat futile. It also means that the biggest producer has run dry and that means oil will, inevitably, go up in price once again and this time it, more than likely, will stay high and go higher and higher.

The USA has had a Congressional Peak Oil Caucus for many years already but very few people seem to be aware of this and few in Britain, I am sure, have been aware of the fact that British industry has one of those things as well.

While it may not be a governmental one as in the USA the fact that British industry – and the guys involved are not on the fringes – is having a Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security should tell us something.

The great majority of people in Britain have been thinking the people in the Transition Movement slightly bonkers with their talk, like myself, about “Peak Oil” and needing to transition to a post oil age world.

The fact that industry is taking the issue of “Peak Oil” and us running out of it very serious indeed should be a wake-up call to everyone who is still sleeping or slumbering.

We better get used to the fact that soon the car will become part of history in the same way that the dinosaurs did and that we will have to go back to other ways of transportation, including walking, cycling and the use of the horse, as riding animal and propulsion for the carriage. So, it is a return from the horseless carriage to the horse-drawn one.

Peak Oil also is becoming more and more now something that the mainstream media, such as BBC Radio 4 is beginning to talk about and a very interesting research on this was done for iPM by Hugh Sykes, broadcast on Saturday, July 24, 2010, and the podcast can be had via the BBC Radio 4 website under iPM.

There are still some ultimate optimists about though, such as Physicist and Mathematician Michael Soper who, basically, claims that the oil will last for ever. I am afraid though that those are rather misguided and hearing Mr Soper I must say also live in somewhat cloud-cuckoo land.

It is an established fact that all our fossil fuels are finite and the warning against basing out economy was given already in the last years of the 19th century by scientists then.

More coal and oil has been found since but, the other point is that we are not, in fact, running out of all oil that exist on Earth; just out of the stuff that can be cheaply and cost-effectively be gotten out of the ground.

© 2010

My book “The End of Oil” can be purchased via I am sure that this will be £3.95 for an E-book well spent.

London Borough of Sutton honored for getting people on their bikes

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The council of the London Borough of Sutton has won a major award for its work in helping people in the borough change the way they travel.

Sutton Council was named "Most Improved Transport Local Authority of The Year" in the prestigious National Transport Awards 2010.

Judges praised the authority for its Smarter Travel Sutton campaign, which has inspired a 75 per cent increase in cycling, a six per cent shift away from car use and a 16 per cent increase in people traveling by bus. This all can be only a good thing and maybe could be emulated in other, neighboring boroughs as well.

The three-year project is now being studied by other authorities across London and experts from Europe, South Korea and Singapore.

Cllr Simon Wales, Sutton Council's Executive Member for Communities, Transport and Voluntary Sector, said: "We're immensely proud to have been honored in this way but the real praise should go to the people of Sutton, who have embraced the campaign and got healthier while at the same time reducing pollution and helping to tackle congestion.

"By traveling by public transport, cycling or walking, residents are not just choosing the greenest option – they're also choosing the quickest, cheapest and easiest option."

And, especially when walking and cycling, the residents of Sutton not only, as Cllr. Wales said, are choosing the greenest option they are also choosing the healthiest option, one that can get and keep them fit.

Now in their tenth year, the awards recognize excellence, innovation and progress in the transport field.

Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond said: "I would like to pay tribute to the winners for the work that they do and the difference they make. With their dedication harnessed to the full, we can make our vision of a world-class British transport system a reality."

The ceremony of the awards was hosted by radio and television presenter Grant Stott, drew over 500 transport professionals to Manchester.

I can but hope that they all came by train, bicycle and walked...

© 2010

Volunteer Vegetables

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Some of my readers may understand the meaning of the headline while others may not. Therefore, allow me to explain what I understand under volunteer vegetables, or volunteer plants in general.

A volunteer is a plant, whether vegetable or other, and we are not talking of weeds though a volunteer can be seen as a weed in some contexts as it is indeed a plant in the “wrong” place, a place you did not intend it to grow, is one that just springs up where you did not plant it and never even came close to the place with one.

This year the containers in my garden – I do most of my vegetable growing, and gardening per se, in containers with some raised beds – have had lots of potatoes spring up what I had never set there.

There must have been viable sprouts of them dormant in the compost – this is compost that I produce from kitchen scraps and such – and they, as far as the foliage goes, are enormous.

I know they say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating and thus the jury is still out as to whether the result of the plants are many good potatoes but ... it sure looks good.

The photo shows the way one – or several – plants have sprung up in an old bathtub that was – originally – supposed to be planted with courgettes.

As said, there must have been some viable sprouts from potatoes from a year or more ago that were in the compost and thus have now turned into potato plants. We shall soon see what they have to show for their loads of leaves. I sure hope that there will be a good crop beneath them and hope that I am not going to be disappointed. I shall let you know when the first plant has been harvested, for they are not just in the bathtub.

Two huge potato plants are growing in large tubs that were used to hold the compost that has been taken out of the composters and I thus ran out of home-produced compost to add to planters.

In another tub there is a large lettuce plant that arrived just like that – probably by feathered carrier. I never have grown that type even before and thus it cannot come from my compost.

If the result of that lettuce, an Italian kind with curly leaves, is anything to go by then I hope for many more volunteer plants – as long as they are not weeds, with the exception of dandelion, as I use them as lettuce – in years to come.

So, learn to distinguish weeds from volunteers and also learn to distinguish edible weeds that you may like to keep and cultivate from those that are not beneficial.

Now let's hear it for the volunteers...

© 2010

The demise of the “real” Charity Shop

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

More and more nowadays we see new “crap”, for lack of a better word, being sold in so-called Charity Shops, to about forty percent and more.

In my area this is very much in evident with the stores from the Queen Elizabeth Foundation and the Cancer Research Fund and the same is also the case in many other places with stores by those, and also some other charities.

It used to be that Charity Shops would sell donated goods, whether second hand or new, but, in general, no stuff that they actually bought in from wholesalers for resale. A loophole, as far as I am concerned, in the law allows them to do that and it is being exploited by many of the charities now.

Those shops that stick with the old way are the Salvation Army, Save the Children (in the main), Oxfam (thought they do sell crafts and some Fairtrade goods), and a good fair few others.

Personally, I must say, that I have begun to boycott those shops that have gone from donated goods to the majority of new purchased products and here especially those where the range is now predominately new brought-in stuff.

Greed at play, once again, as so often.

Charity Shops once were the stores where the poorer folks would shop for clothes, especially for clobber for their kids, and other stuff secondhand cheaply.

Then, however, came the greed to many of the charities running those “goodwill” stores and they marked up good as if they were being sold as antiques and at times new branded but nevertheless donated clothes, for instance, are priced at no more than twenty percent down from priced on the High Street.

This certainly is now how those stores were ever intended and envisaged.

Now, as I have said, many of those shops are now half-full of new bought-in junk for sale.

I wonder how many people donating to those Charity Shops are aware of how their donations are sold and also how much actually gets thrown away because they cannot be sold at high enough prices.

But, as in so many cases, ethics just seem to have gone right out of the window once again.

Everywhere, including many green shops and vendors, the consumer – what an ugly word now – is being taken to the cleaners and being ripped off.

When I can buy quality new cheaper on the High Street then the same secondhand in a Charity Shop then somewhere along the way and line something has gone wrong and seriously awry.

Greed has taken a hold and the general Anglo-Saxon shopkeeper's attitude of wanting to make big bucks on individual items rather than selling more items to make a similar return, as is done by the likes of Primark and such.

The same attitude prevails in business in most of the Anglo-Saxon world as a whole, it would appear.

There are now, I must say, a number of those so-called Charity Shops that I personally no longer frequent and from which I have withdrawn my patronage since they have gone down the road of commercialization of this kind.

Boycott often is the best reply to such practices and, maybe, we all should take a close look at businesses, whether Charity Shops or green ones, and withdraw our custom from them if we are not happy with such practices.

Just some food for thought...

© 2010

Sutton residents warned of 'phishing' scam

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Residents of the London Borough of Sutton are being warned to be wary of a 'phishing' scam run by fraudsters who claim to be working for Sutton Council.

The fraud aims to get people to give out their bank account details by convincing them they are on the wrong council tax band and are owed money.

The conmen claim to be working for a company which collects council tax on behalf of the council. However, the authority collects council tax directly from residents and does not employ firms to do it for them.

The calls are made by telephone and not in person, which is already something, and I would suggest you are always wary of any cold called and simply do not speak to them.

The victim, from Wallington, who was targeted by the cold caller, said: "A man called claiming he was working for the council and said that I was on the wrong tax band and could get money refunded to me if I confirmed my bank details. It was obvious it was a con, so I hung up and informed trading standards about what was going on."

Cllr Simon Wales, Executive Member for Communities, Transport and Voluntary Sector on Sutton Council, said: "Luckily as far as we know this scam hasn't been successful in getting residents to give out their bank details.

"I would like to thank the resident who came forward and alerted us to this scam. People should be very careful about the information they give out over the phone and they should never pass on bank details to a cold caller. If the council requires personal information we will provide a number for residents to call."

The council does not determine which households are included within each council tax banding. These decisions are made by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), which is part of Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs, so the 'phishers' even had done their research incorrectly.

While this is something that, in this case, has happened in the London Borough of Sutton it may be something that fraudsters may try, or am trying, in other areas.

So, please everyone be careful and beware of any telephone cold callers. Cold callers at your door? Request their ID card and contact the issuer as to whether this person is one of theirs and authorized to be calling on you.

Any bona fide council worker in the UK will have at least a staff identity card and should be willing to show them to you and even be able to give you a number to call to verify their credential.

© 2010

Post “Peak Oil” Transportation – The Bicycle

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Transportation after “Peak Oil” will be very much a return to the times before the motorcar and this will mean, theoretically, only three modes of transport for most people. In fact probably only two as the third may not be as feasible for those in the lower income brackets.

Once the balloon has gone up finally and the oil, the cheap and exploitable oil, is gone transportation will be different and we will have to return to walking and cycling and we want to look here at bicycles and maintaining them “after the event”, as I like to call it.

As said, aside from walking, for the great majority, adults and children, the mode of transport will be the bicycle but I think that, for ease of maintenance, we may have to rethink the kind of bike that we have and the gearing used.

The problem with the so-called Shimano gears with the derailleurs by the crank and especially by the cog wheel cluster on the back wheel is that those derailleurs are worked with wire cables (but then so are the brakes) and that they tend to be only effective for a number of years before they, especially the back wheel one, need replacing.

Those derailleurs can also be rather sensitive to impact and especially to mud and dirt. The springs, however, are their weakest points and ones they lose their strength they have an adverse impact on the cogs and thus can cause damage to the rest of the bike.

From what I have seen so far is that they appear to need replacement every five to eight years, depending on use of the bike, and that may be a problem for when we have lost the oil and motor transport and with it a great scale of manufacturing we will not be able to get those dérailleurs easily or cheaply.

The best way to prepare some bicycles that you have – and for this purpose some bikes that some people have discarded are ideal – and turn this bike or those bikes into single-geared ones.

Those are not the so-called fixed-gear ones that have also become rather popular in recent years but they do have freewheel hubs and, in fact, can be directly converted from a standard mountain bike wheel for instance.

There is no need to go through the rigmarole of taking the cassette off and replacing it with a single freewheel cog, saving thus cost, though it is true that, generally, the single cog seems stronger than those of a 5 or 6 or even 7 gear cassette. But not really by that much again.

I believe that single geared bicycles will be the ones that will get us through as they will be less liable to have problems as those with the gears. How many hours have I spent fixing and realigning gears I have not counted but sure enough many.

Yes, it is true that a single geared bicycle is a bit more hard work especially in rougher terrain and uphill but then, who said that you have to cycle up the hill; you do much better pushing the bike up and then coasting down the other side. That's how I do mostly, much to the annoyance of those that pedal like mad in low ratios and arrive up the hill all out of breath.

Also, do you think you really have 15, 18 or 21 (or even more) gears on those fancy bicycles that you see? The truth of the matter is that it is maximum 3 (in words: three) gears – the three cogs at the crankshaft with 5, 6, 7 or even more sub-gears for each gear, amounting to the number they like to quote of whichever amount of gears.

So, as you can see, really not much has changed since the three-gear hubs that came about in about the 1930s or so, though there remained the single-geared bike for many years still. They were the cheaper work horses.

It is easy and – I believe – worthwhile to convert an old bicycle or two, especially if you can get hold of them cheaply, to single gear.

Building” a single-speed post “Peak Oil” bicycle

“Building” a single-speed post “Peak Oil” bicycle is a very simple undertaking for anyone with a little common sense and the wish to tinker around a little.

First you remove all the gear tools. This is to say you take off the front and the back dérailleurs with all the associated cables and hardware, including the gear changers on the handlebar (or wherever).

Then you shorten the chain – which will be rather longish – to fit relatively tightly from the second cog up on the back cluster to the middle cog (if you have three front cogs) of the ones where the pedal crank is.

And now you have a single-speed post “Peak Oil” bicycle and you are all set.

Shortening the chain: If you want to reuse the original chain that was on the bicycle – and not one with a “joiner”, as used to be the standard on the old style bikes – you will need a chain tool. This is definitely a tool worth investing in, as it will come in useful on many occasions when a bicycle chain needs repair.

A chain tool can be bought from the Internet and also instructional videos can be found there and instructional texts. However, I would recommend you purchase the tool at a bike store and ask one of the people there so show you how to use one.

If you have never used one of those tools before it is good to actually be shown – physically and actually – in person – how to “break” a chain and how to put it back together.

The chain, when you have shortened it, should be as tight as possible from the back cog to the front one as you no longer have a dérailleur acting as a chain tensioner.

Changing an old mountain bike from Shimano multi-gear to single-gear can be done in less than an hour.

When I am finished I am going to have at least two of these kind of rebuilt bikes, all made from salvaged old bicycles that were thrown out by folks.

THE REASON for advocating this simple bicycle for post “Peak Oil” transportation is because it should be very low maintenance and should be much less prone to problems than the bikes they are made from.

© 2010

To learn more about Peak Oil and what a society post Peak Oil might look like get and read the book “The End of Oil”. You can obtain the book via

Medicines from the Wild

Wild plants ancestors to many modern drugs

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many of our present day medicines are based on medicinal herbs and plants extracts in one way or the other. Therefore the attitude of the medical profession against herbal remedies is a totally strange one.

Let's look at Aspirin, for instance. It is salicylic acid which, originally, was directly derived from source, namely the Willow tree and here specifically the bark.

Our ancestors used willow bark against headaches and other pains and the American Injuns used it both dried as a powder or sucked the juice of the bark. Not something I would like to do; salicilic acid does not taste really great, but it works.

Beecham's Powder was, originally, nothing but dried and ground up willow bark that would then be suspended in water to be thus taken orally. You can do the same and make your own Beecham's Powder to treat headaches and such.

Another plant from the wild that used to be used is Ribwort (Narrow-leaved plantain). This was used to make a poultice for wound healing.

Others of great use are feverfew, chamomile, and mint. There are a great number of varieties of mint that you can grow in the garden and then there is mint that can be found in the wild, often hear water courses. It is very small and insignificant but very potent and the real spearmint.

Chamomile is used as a soothing tea and mixed with other herbs of the same use make for a great tea to induce a healthy sleep.

An entire pharmacy can be found out there in the wild and not just pharmacy, for many wild plants can be used to so many other things, such as treatment of dandruff, keep moths at bay and away, repelling midges and mosquitoes, etc.

If you are using herbal medicines you must know what you are doing and must treat them with respect.

Many herbs are extremely powerful and should be treated like any other medicine; with care. Some can have potentially fatal consequences if misused.

It is possible to overdose on some herbal remedies, especially when they are mixtures of several, mostly it seems, though, that herbs have an inbuilt countermeasure to overdosing. How and why I have no idea but ...

While, for instance, you can overdose quite easily, so I understand on Aspirin it seems not to be possible, at least not as easy as with the manufactured drug, with its origin, namely willow bark, whether fresh or dried.

Using Valerian root, from which Valium originally came, is non-habit forming while tat is definitely not something that could be said for Valium, the manufactured drug.

Clinical trials have now found that Valerian root is also much better than Ritalin and Prozac as it has no apparent side effects and is thus suited ideally for use with children and young people.

There is an entire pharmacy out there in the wild if we but know where to look and more and more ordinary medicine if been proves wrong in their beliefs that herbs do not do anything really.

Study after study is now finding that the so-called old wives tales are not tales but, in fact, the truth.

Mankind would hardly have survived that long had there not been herbal healers who knew their trade and indeed healed people with the use of their concoctions. That there were also charlatans about that killed people goes without saying. Not much has changed anyway.

Sure there were things that the old ones were unable to treat and for which there is no herb growing as a cure there are many that have not, as yet, been officially discovered.

Nature's pharmacy is waiting to be used and if you actually decide to even grow those plants at home without the need to go foraging for them the better. Growing medicinal herbs at home together with culinary herbs is a case of killing two birds with one stone. In fact many culinary herbs also have medicinal value.

© 2010

Israel demands sharing of data of all EU citizens

Move blocked by Ireland's veto

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Brussels/Strasbourg, EU: In the middle of the month of July 2010 the EU was considering in session a request, or should we call a spade a spade and thus call it a demand, from the State of Israel, to be given access to the data of all EU citizens “for reasons of security of the State”.

The only country in the EU willing to stand against this, it would appear, was the Republic of Ireland (Eire) and whose veto, thanks be to G-d, has put an end to this; but only for the moment, I should guess.

What valid security reasons could we think of that would give the State of Israel right to ask or demand access to the data of each and every citizen of the European Union?

None, as far as I can see, but we seem to be getting such weird requests from the state that recently committed an act of piracy on the high seas where nine people were murdered by government terrorist in the uniforms of the IDF.

Rumor has it, and I say rumor, for I have no further proof as to this, that the United States has begun making data on all its citizens available to the State of Israel in a supposed data share.

Those states that enter such a “data sharing” agreement will very soon find, as always with Israel, that it will be a one-way street with data being accessed by them but access denied to most stuff that the FBI or the CIA would like to have a look at.

There is no legitimate reason for any country to have the data of all the citizens of another country just handed over in one lump and then be allowed updates to such data as well, not Israel, not any other.

Apparently the US gets a lot of data of the citizens of the UK handed on an ongoing basis and that too is a total anathema to me and should be thus to any freedom loving person in this country and elsewhere.

It is bad enough that your own government can get its hands on all that personal information of each and every individual citizen and resident in the country. But foreign powers to be able to peruse such data should be a total NO! NO!

We must stand up for our freedoms before we suddenly find that we have lost them all – in “the war on terror”.

© 2010