How in the middle of a major city do you cultivate low food miles? By growing underground that’s how. Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr is now involved in what sounds a crazy scheme. In fact that’s what he said when he met Richard Ballard and Steven Dring who have been working on the idea for the last 18 months. According to an interview in the Evening Standard newspaper he was quoted as follows;
“When I first met these guys I thought they were absolutely crazy. But when I visited the tunnels and sampled the delicious produce they are already growing down there I was blown away. The market for this produce is huge.”
As we wrote in our book.
“The resource constraints that the world is facing will
mean that industrial agriculture in its present form will inevitably
falter and fail – and in fact it never did feed the world adequately
anyway. We are all likely to be eating more locally in the future. But
if we don’t plan for the changes that will happen, many of us will
have to eat less.”
What we didn’t envision was people would be carrying low food miles food up stairs from an underground den!
There are apparently loads of abandoned tunnels under London and this project uses tunnels last used during the blitz. They have started growing small amounts of herbs to show proof of concept. To grow them Ballard and Dring are using a hydroponic system based around discarded carpet. Obviously they have to provide light, but not just any old light, the mix of wavelengths would need to match that of the sun. The pair have sourced some specialist LED’s. When I heard them on the radio they said that they hoped to power the entire project using they own renewable generation. Apart from the low food miles another advantage is a lack of weather extremes (constant 16 degrees C) and no pests. What a great idea, I wonder which other cities could replicate the idea. I know there are loads of tunnels under Liverpool… The ultimate in low food miles- grow it under your feet. While you are here check out our lent guide No oil in the lamp – Lent guide.
Resource volatility and high prices set to last. That was the message that was contained in a report from the the Green alliance a couple of weeks ago. Over the last decade the price of oil, metals and food has soared. Look at this graph from their report. The correlation between fuel and food prices is very tight.
The impact of this on our cost of living has been huge. The Green alliance reckons that the combined energy bills would be half what they are today. Food bills would be about 25% less. Of course as I have blogged before the poorest have been the most affected.
They reckon this resource volatility is set to continue with energy bills approximately doubling by 2020. The question is what to do about it? They briefly come up with some ideas. We could cross our fingers and hope for the best. For example hope that if there is a food shortage other countries will continue to sell us food. Or we can conserve energy and food and recycle more in the way of materials.
Whilst I don’t disagree with their conclusions I think they need to emphasize the community nature of our response more. We need to cooperate to find a way through this crisis. So for example setting up local food growing projects. Sharing large ticket belongings more, we don’t all need to own everything we use. Churches should be good at this but seem myopic about the gathering storm… More ideas in our book.
PS don’t forget our lent guide… No oil in the lamp – Lent guide
There is a house in Brighton that is being built almost totally from recycled waste. This includes (and this is what really caught my eye), toothbrushes. As they write on their projects website;
“After a steady dribble of old toothbrushes over the last four months or so FREEGLE‘s Cat Fletcher hit on a huge source via Gatwick Airport. Cat discovered that toothbrushes are given away to every business class & first class passenger flying from Gatwick and all other airports. Therefore there are millions of toothbrushes collected and thrown away after only one use. We took delivery of just over 20,000 of them in one hit and filled 1.5 of our wall cassettes just like that! The toothbrushes were kindly collected, diverted from the waste stream and delivered to us by MNH Sustainable Cabin“.
The architect Duncan Baker-Brown worked with Kevin McCloud from the channel 4 programme “Grand Designs” on an ecological house in 2008. This new building seems to go one further. In our book we wrote on materials;
“As we wrote in an earlier chapter, one of the biggest problems is
our dependence on oil to make ‘stuff’, principally plastics but also
chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The replacement of these products
with alternatives derived from natural materials relies on scientific
research which has (worryingly) barely started, so actions in this area
are more limited. However, as we believe we will all have to do with
less than now, there are habits to be formed.”
What a great idea to build a house out of toothbrushes, this certainly goes some way beyond limited actions! Click the image above for the link to more details about the project. Don’t forget our lent guide available here… No oil in the lamp – Lent guide
With Lent fast approaching people are expressing ideas of what to give up. In recent years the idea of a carbon fast has emerged. The oil lamp is going to throw its hat in the ring and make a few suggestions under a number of different headings. We have written a lent study guide to help based around our book. This can downloaded from the bottom of the post.
The problem with modern Western life is we are addicted to oil and more generally energy. This use is causing rises in temperature, environmental damage and an addiction which sooner or later (and we would argue sooner) is going to have to end. Cutting this energy use is very difficult because the addiction we have goes beyond energy use into materials. However, there are some simple things you can do to make a start at getting it under control covered under a number of different headings…
- Start by monitoring your use on a weekly basis, you may be surprised by how much you use. Read your electricity and gas (if you use it) at roughly the same time on the same day each week. Having done this we turn to ways to save a bit of energy.
- One suggestion that has been made is to remove a bulb from a prominent light during lent. There is a danger in our house that if we do that someone will merely leave another light on to replace it. A better idea if this is a danger is to replace the bulb with a lower energy alternative. As we have covered on this blog LED’s are now a viable alternative. Despite their high up front cost they pay for themselves in 1-2 years (at European electricity rates). I’ve been adding LED bulbs and recently bought a few more. I did a blog post on LED’s here.
- Other simple ideas include turning the thermostat down a few degrees or even more radically switching the heating off when its mild. Don’t switch your heating on an off throughout the day (letting the system cool in between). The warm-up each time uses a lot of energy.
- Only fill the kettle with the water you need when you need it.
- Consider putting in more insulation. Loft insulation is the easiest and most cost effective to do, but don’t forgot to insulate the loft hatch itself.
- Drive less! Don’t use the car for short journeys. Why not walk and pray at the same time. Cycle. If you do wear a helmet.
- If you drive make sure your tyres are fully inflated and cut down on the use of air conditioning.
- Drive carefully and don’t accelerate or brake wildly.
Everything we use either has oil embedded in it in some way either because its derived from oil (plastics) or has been transported long distances. Stuff and food (see below) are responsible for a lot of carbon emissions.
- During lent cut down on what you buy.
- Our homegroup is having a swap, share and donate next week (here is a short blog entry about it).
- Recycle as much as possible.
The modern food system has been described as a means of turning oil into food. It takes a lot of energy to keep the industrial food system going.
- The number on “No oil in the lamp” tip is grow your own. Whilst during lent its probably impossible to bring something to the cropping stage you can plant stuff to harvest over the summer. If you don’t have any land this is no excuse. Did you know you can grow Strawberries and potatoes in containers? Grow lettuce and herbs in window-boxes.
- Make your own bread (the subject of another blog entry), in fact try to cook everything fresh.
- Don’t throw food away.
- Buy local if possible
- Cut down on the meat, its better for you and the environment. Be careful about buying fish though, many species are getting fished out.
This is a quick run through of some ideas and our book has more and in more detail as does our lent study guide. Most of all have fun doing this and remember what lent is about. The lent study guide is here. No oil in the lamp – Lent guide
PS this is an updated post from last year.
We have learnt this week that the UK is not the only place where anti-fracking protests are taking place. Channel 4 news had a major report on anti-fracking protests in Romania. Like in the UK the protesters have moved beyond the usual bearded sandle wearing types. Lots of little old ladies were in evidence as well as Orthodox priests. The Orthodox church has massive influence in Romania and seems to have decided that fracking is satanic.
The situation in Romania is similar, but in many ways worse than in the UK. Similar; in that unlike the US there are no mineral rights to what lies under you, but worse in that there is no compensation at all for communities affected. These communities are desperately poor and all they seem to have got from an oil major so far was yoghurts and T-shirts. They turn up to do seismic tests on farmers land without any warning (or permission). (Something at present is illegal here but our government seems keen to change). The seismic equipment they leave is being vandalised at night or they are driven off by anti-fracking protesters during the day. Whilst many of the claims about the health threats (skin peeling off) are exaggerated, this is part of the world where people will draw water from wells. Contamination of these water supplies must be a strong possibility.
Unlike in the UK though its nice to see the church taking a definite stand. It looks like the anti-fracking protests in Romania will continue.
This Valentines day maybe we should learn to love our planet more. The ex environment secretary Caroline Spelman warned this week as the floods worsened we have lost sight of the need to tackle climate change.
She said “This flooding is a sharp reminder that everyone, sceptic or not, has to think about the risk of flooding, whatever they think causes it,” she said. “We need to adapt. What is happening now relates to what we were doing two decades ago [in increasing greenhouse gas emissions].”
Reactions to the links between the flooding and storms here and climate change have fallen into two camps. The Met office’s chief Scientist has directly linked them to climate change. Many right wing politicians still seem to be in denial, stating its just natural variation. Of course now the denial may have another element. That is if these storms are caused by climate change then at only 0.8 degrees C we are going to be in for a lot more of this type of weather. Not something most politicians want to talk about.
Nor most Christians apparently. There is an interview with Andy here explaining why. We can expect to treat our planet as we do and live without consequences. So this valentines day love our planet. Ideas of how to do so in our book.
Could energy storage have to move up the political agenda? Over the last two years the world has seen some very extreme weather. We have had a year of rain in the UK (2012), record winds (2013) and record rainfall and winds (2014 so far), leading to floods. In Australia there has been record heatwaves, droughts and flood. The US has had droughts, extreme snowfall and cold weather and a record hurricane. In the the Philippines there the record typhoon in the Autumn. As one scientist put it this week we were expecting climate change induced extreme weather like this to kick in the 2030′s – not now. Things can only get worse. The sight of a farmhouse flooded out with PV system on its roof got me thinking.
Energy storage is traditionally talked about in terms of time shifting variable renewables production to even out troughs in renewable electricity production. This is important and currently there as I have blogged about before there is one technology that dominates completely. That is pumped storage. The problem with pumped storage are several fold. Its large (so expensive), still centrally and not locally distributed and potentially environmentally disruptive.
To make the grid more resilient one idea put forward is to break it up in a series of interlinked microgrids. These are semi independent of one another. If an area is producing more electricity than it needs it exports it from its area to a neighbouring grid. The idea assumes a very high proportion of micro and distributed generation such as small wind hydro and of course solar PV. It also does not negate the need for very large generation kit but would at times very strongly reduce the need for it. If power lines go down or floods hit or air conditioning demand rise it may be possible to isolate parts of the grid which are unaffected and keep them going. Of course it also relies on local energy storage. As we wrote in our book;
“A vast number of energy-storage systems have been mooted. Many of these are chemical and we don’t think there will be enough of the earth’s resources to make sufficient systems to meet all demand. There are however mechanical systems that exist, such as flywheels and compressed-air systems.”
Could it be that in some cases energy storage is a solution to storm related power disruption? There is such a scheme happening in France but details are sparse.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has just carried out a poll on energy efficiency in UK. The findings are for the most part encouraging, but at the same time not wholly surprising. The top energy efficiency measure being considered was LED light bulbs. This is an interesting finding. Up until a year or so ago the light was still rather blue. As I have blogged on before not only is the light now OK, being warm and indistinguishable from incandescent bulbs of old, but the economics stack up very well, despite the high initial outlay. It looks like the general public is picking up on this. The main problem with LED’s is the range they are still not commonly available in wattages higher than an incandescent equivalent of about 60W.
The next most popular energy efficiency measure people surveyed are considering is installing photovoltaic panels (at 9%). This is again encouraging but not surprising in the same week that the UK energy minister claimed this technology gives a better return than a pension. Some people would say that’s not hard! In fact their return is better than savings generally with interest rates being so low.
The big surprise to me is over cavity wall insulation, only 5% of respondents were considering going for this energy efficiency measure. This is puzzling since the payback is good on cavity wall insulation. Its easy to do and there is so much concern over gas prices. Maybe people are concerned over damp issues that used to plague the industry, but I don’t think are a problem anymore. The energy companies used to subsidise cavity wall insulation but since the green deal its not as cheap as it used to be. Although the Energy Saving trust still claim its payback is about 3 years (and they are very conservative on such matters).
The last energy efficiency measure that is only at 5% consideration is heat pumps. This is no surprise. As we wrote in our book;
“Another problem is that ground-source heat pumps are very disruptive to fit. They require either a long length of thin pipe (slinky) to be buried under a wide area of ground (probably an area bigger than an average UK garden to heat an average-sized house) or a borehole. The boreholes need to be quite deep and usually multiple boreholes are required. The disruption doesn’t stop on the outside. These systems work best as low-temperature systems with special radiators or under-floor heating – which is difficult to retrofit in old buildings and therefore expensive.”
So a mixed picture – but even if 25% of households started installing LED’s and 9% of households installed PV’s our energy system would be transformed.
Over the last few month or so flooding has been in the news almost everyday. The met office figures for January 2014 have just been released and show it was the wettest January in England for 250 years. Records have apparently been kept in Oxford for that long. Looking at map of the UK the rainfall has been very localised. Whilst it is centred the middle of southern England its surprising some areas not so far away have had almost normal rainfall and other areas such as the north of Scotland have been comparatively dry. This latter occurrence happened in 2012 where someone we knew said her relatives on Harris or Lewis could not play football since the ground was too parched. Meanwhile the rest of us were flooded. Whilst there has been some flooding in Wales, Kent and parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland the main problems have been on the Somerset levels parts of which have been underwater for a month. I know this area reasonably well since my Grandparents retired there and I still have relatives in this area.
There are a number of issues relating to the flooding in Somerset that are causing controversy. Whether the main rivers should be dredged being one. For what its worth I think they should be. When I was a child they were. The recent weather is far worse than has been seen before. This is in my view clear evidence that the effects of climate change are being seen earlier than we expected. But to be fair we did have bad weather then and flooding was seemingly managed better. However, dredging the rivers is probably not the total answer. This thought raises another issue that is starting to be talked about. How far should we defend the land against flooding and given this land is largely farmland are we setting up competition between the sea and growing food?
This part of Somerset was traditionally a massive swamp. I remember my Grandfather pointing to an empty field and telling me Archaeologists had found a Roman port there. It was miles in land from the sea. Much of the Somerset levels are below sea level and were reclaimed from the sea starting in Roman times and only finishing fairly recently. They are now rich farmland (mostly Dairy). The question is should we write off this land and let the sea reclaim it? This is good to nature in one way, although the type of landscape and comparatively sustainable agriculture comprises an important wildlife habitat. Its a question not just for this part of the world but vast swathes of inhabited coastal land worldwide as sea levels rise and the weather patterns change. Chris Smith the head of the Environment agency (responsible for flood management in England) has raised this issue today.
In my view growing enough food at a price that is vaguely affordable for most is one of the most pressing issues over the next few decades. Man made climate change with its effects on the weather and peak oil will make providing enough food increasingly difficult. My gut reaction is except in very limited circumstances we should not abandon land to the sea.
This week two academics have warned we can not necessarily rely on a future without blackouts. They warn resource scarcity including peak oil, the rising dependency on electricity and more controversially renewables will make blackouts more likely.
The paper by Hugh Byrd, Professor of Architecture at the University of Lincoln, UK, and Steve Matthewman, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand is rather sociological and rather irritatingly the authors seem unable to use scientific notation instead using large strings of zeros. I also disagree with the point about renewable energy. The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) have suggested that running on energy system on 100% renewables is completely possible. This is not to say there could not be problems, ironically many of these problems are what to do when their is excess power rather when their is too little. (As we have described in Germany.) Byrd and Matthewman use the example of developing countries running out of hydro-power due to drought. They could also have added California to that list, the blackouts were not just due to Enron but also lack of hydro-power due to low rainfall. The problem with these examples are that no one is suggesting using just one type of renewables. CAT have done detailed analysis that suggest you can balance demand using different types of technologies. The authors also make a possible mistake seeming to suggest that renewables cannot meet the USA’s air conditioning needs. I am unsure from the wording whether they mean now (true) or in the future (probably false, although it obviously depends on the growth in use of air con). Byrd and Matthewman look at some of the consequences of blackouts such as economic costs, transport disruption and crime.
The authors warn that blackouts may become more frequent as electricity demand continues to grow. Its certainly true that if we electrify heating and transport our need and dependency on electricity will grow. We need to cut our current demand for energy drastically, something our book suggests how to start doing. Despite some minor errors this paper is a useful warning going forward.