First Steps

Just like everyone else I have a long list of things to do / organise / put in place which really do not take much effort or time at all.  One of these things is to increase the recycling that we do at work.  I have now taken the first step and we have installed a textile bin on site to collect old textiles on behalf of the firefighters charity.  The main idea behind having the recycling bin is to give us somewhere to put old uniforms and gloves, but it is also obviously available for people to bring their old clothes etc in from home.

As well as reducing the waste going to landfill, we will be donating to a worthwhile charity and raising awareness of the amount of things that can be recycled rather than wasted.  In many ways however, this is more a case of reusing rather than recycling.  Any useful items of clothing are sent to poorer nations in Africa, and any textiles that are beyond use are reused as industrial rags etc.  It was really easy to set up and the next step is to put these bins on the rest of our UK sites.

In a separate project, a colleague of mine has found a way to recycle (or upcycle as it is more correctly known) crisp packets – which is a pretty good idea considering that an average of 5 or 6 packets are eaten per day in the office (and there are only 8 people in the office!)  They are now collected up and sent to a PO Box for the Philippine Community Fund.  They are shipped on a boat that is already going to the Philippines and there they are made into bags and purses – about thirty crisp packets making a bag (or one per week for the office).  This is intended to reduce child labour in the Philippines as it means that the children of these ladies can then go to school.

Carbon Taxes and Cap and Trade

I recently completed an Economics Diploma for which I had to choose a topic for a research project.  Bearing in mind my interest in most things environmental I stupidly supposed that this would be a good subject area and decided to look at the effectiveness of government policy in reducing carbon emissions from business.

Now this was a more tricksy issue than originally expected.  I quickly decided to avoid anything relating to transportation for two reasons.  Firstly I am a little biased about car, plane etc usage, and, more importantly, it is difficult to differentiate business and private travel in government figures.  After a short time I decided that there was no point looking at the CRC scheme or the Feed In Tariffs even though I had gathered a lot of information about them – the problem is they are just too new and therefore data relating to their effectiveness (or not) will not be available for some time.

So I concentrated on the Climate Change Levy, Renewables Obligation Certificates and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Climate Change Levy is a tax on energy use by business and was introduced in 20o1.  From what I could see, probably due to its relatively low level, the fact that it didn’t change in level for 6 years and came in just after the price of electricity dropped dramatically, it has had no perceivable effect – after all it is just another number on the bottom of a utility bill (a quick calculation gives it a price of around £9 per tonne of carbon).

The renewables obligation certificate was meant to encourage energy suppliers to invest in renewables by obliging them (wonder where they got the name from?) to either obtain a specified amount of energy from renewables or to pay a fine which was then distributed to those that did comply.  It seems to have increased the amount of renewable energy generated, but the costs are passed onto customers (business and domestic) and government targets (10% by 2010) are nowhere near being met.  An improvement was made when they changed the level of certification for different types of renewables so that newer technology was worth more than established sources such as wind.  I think that the renewables obligation has also helped reduce methane emissions from landfill as the majority of these are now capped and used as an energy source.

The final scheme is the fabled EUETS – a cap and trade scheme.  This hasn’t worked to reduce emissions either.  It was aimed at power suppliers and high energy users such as cement manufacturers.  However, initial allocations appear to have been higher than business as usual scenarios – perhaps they were optimistic about growth prospects, more likely the government had no way to check the figures and did not want to ‘impair competitiveness’ – it was not just the UK government that was guilty of over and free allocations.  The first phase of the scheme has passed and the second and third do not look any more promising.  No minimum price has been established for carbon and probably never will as there are too few participants and the cap on emissions is not low enough meaning the true value of carbon is not seen.

So, overall I found that when I looked at emissions figures from 1997 (the year of the mythical Kyoto treaty) although emissions had dropped in some cases, it was not by much and did not seem to have been as a direct result of policy.  The only thing that did seem to have occurred, particularly with the EU ETS (and I think is the saving grace of the CRC) is that the issue of energy usage has become a talking point in the board room.  A favourite quote that I found was that for business to change their energy use they needed not only a carrot and stick approach but a tambourine as well.  As usual I think that government was too afraid to annoy business, energy companies and voters to do anything radical or useful – I came away from the project feeling more than a little demoralised.

Where Costa Rica goes can we follow?

I noted a news item in a magazine this week that was highlighting the environmental credentials of Costa Rica – not a country that particularly springs to mind when thinking of environmental achievements.  They have been awarded the 2010 Future Policy Award in recognition of their Biodiversity Law ‘as a milestone of excellence in meeting the goals of the UN convention on Biological Diversity’.

It would appear that Costa Rica, which is rich in flora and fauna, has developed policies designed to safeguard these habitats recognising their importance as an ecosystem and for bringing in ecotourism revenue (a topic I am not overly comfortable with).  The part of the policy that particularly got my attention was that at a time when it is rumoured that the UK coalition ‘greenest’ government is contemplating selling large tracts of forest and national parks, the Costa Rican government is channeling revenue from fuel tax, energy fees and car stamp duty to pay for the management of nature reserves and environmental services.

The immediate question is, if Costa Rica, a so-called developing country, can take such a stance to protect its habitats, why, when we are so wealthy, can we not afford to do the same?  Why do we not value what we have, whilst pointing the finger at developing countries for destroying their habitat.

Shaggy Ink Cap

One of the many things that I find mysterious in life is how anybody becomes an expert at identifying Fungi (and flies for that matter).  I have been on a fungi foraging / identification course and came back none the wiser.  I think this is in part because there are so many little brown jobs (bit like bird watching I suppose), some of which are even called ‘deceivers’ because they look like some other type of mystery mushroom.  However, there are some mushrooms that even a lazy idiot like me can identify, fly agaric is one, and shaggy ink caps (coprinus comatus) are another.

Fly agaric is the fairy tale red toadstool with white bits on the top and is to be avoided at all costs as it is pretty toxic.  Shaggy ink cap on the other hand is edible, but this is only recommended if picked when young and eaten almost straight away.  You have probably all noticed shaggy ink caps at some point, but just passed them by – when young they look a bit uninteresting, just white, cylindrical mushrooms covered with scales.  However, as they mature they start to change colour, and look much prettier.  Unfortunately for the fungus this is because as it degrades, which it can do in the space of a day, its gills start to change colour and secrete a blank ink as it autodigests itself.  Despite the cold weather there are still a few about, such as the one I took a picture of (which also left my fingers a little blackened as I moved some of the grass out of the way to get a better shot).

Pickers beware though, there is also a common ink cap which is more fawn in colour than white with which the shaggy ink cap could be confused – if eaten within a few hours of consuming alcohol then nausea and vomiting will occur.  Best be on the safe side and leave the foraging to the experts and fungi in the wild for photographers and nature spotters to enjoy.