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OTHER GREENING

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Links: Low Impact Living Initiative.

Apart from trying to cut CO2 emissions, we are keen to minimise our impact on the environment in other ways.

Organic and local

We try to buy organic food (and other products) partly to minimise our own intake of pesticides but mainly to reduce the impact of farming on the environment. It does look as if the sharp decline in populations of many British wild birds in recent years is related to the way most farming is done. It would be good if protecting the environment were 'automatic' and we did not have to pay a premium for it. Supermarkets seem to be slipping into the temptation to water down organic standards. Soil Association standards are the ones to go for.

It has been argued that, because much organic food is currently shipped from abroad by air, that the environmental damage caused by air transport outweighs the environmental benefit of the food being organic. This may be true but we believe the answer is to tax aviation fuel at levels that strongly encourage the development of alternative air transport technologies and also encourage the development of home-grown organic food.

We also try to buy from local sources such as our near-by farm shop (avoiding the few products they sell that are not local). As with the argument about imports of organic food, we believe that local food will get the market it deserves when the environmental costs of transporting food over long distances is reflected in the prices people have to pay.

Vegan?

In an interesting and thought-provoking article, Jonathan Porritt says that "An average burger man (that is, not the outsize variety) emits the equivalent of 1.5 tonnes more CO2 every year than the standard vegan. By comparison, were you to trade in your conventional gas-guzzler for a state of the art Prius hybrid, your CO2 savings would amount to little more than one tonne per year." But the implication—that we should all become vegan—is not as straightforward as it may superficially appear:

  • It is true that feeding grain to an animal and then eating the animal (or drinking the milk that it produces) is less 'efficient' than eating the grain directly in the sense that less land would be needed to feed a given number of people.
  • But the figures for CO2 emissions that are quoted by Jonathan Porritt appear to be based on the assumption that farmers will carry on fuelling their farm machinery with fossil fuels. But farmers, like everyone else, will have to cut their CO2 emissions and that means using new sources of power for their machinery (as discussed on the section on transport).
  • There is no mention of the fact that animals have a useful role in farming. Unlike people, cattle and sheep can, via the bacteria in their digestive systems, digest cellulose and derive nourishment from it. This means that they can make productive use of land—mountains for example—that would otherwise be useless for food production. Also, manure from farm animals is a very useful source of nutrients for plants, especially in organic farming.
  • Any attempt by politicians to persuade us all to become vegan is unlikely to have much success. And trying to make it compulsory would be electoral suicide. From the standpoint of practical politics, there are much better ways of making deep cuts in CO2 emissions.

Recycling

As of February 2004, Anglesey County Council has introduced a trial recycling scheme for some categories of rubbish. Each house in the trial area, including ours, has been issued with a red box for fabric, paper and cardboard and a blue box for plastic bottles, glass bottles and jars and tin cans. The scheme seems to be working quite well but there is still quite a lot of packaging that is not recycled, especially cartons for fruit juice and milk which are made of layers of cardboard, polythene and aluminium and must be a headache for any recycling scheme!

The county councils in North Wales (including Anglesey CC) are providing composting bins at approximately 50% of the normal retail price. As of May 2002, we have two in the garden and they are taking fruit and veg waste from the kitchen and grass cuttings, hedge trimmings and weeds from the garden.

Links: The Wastebook, Greenfinch Biowaste Digester.

GMOs

We believe GM organisms are a potential can of worms from an environmental standpoint and could easily be a problem in terms of allergic reactions and other negative effects on human health. It is nonsense to say, as Tony Blair has said, that "GM foods are safe". Every gene and combination of genes is different and each one should be assessed for safety to at least the same standards as are applied to new drugs. Environmental assessment means releasing genes into the environment but once they are released, they cannot be recalled! So far, no answer has been provided for this Catch-22.

Buying organic products (to Soil Association standards as far as possible) is one way to try to avoid GM products since organic standards exclude GM products. For anyone like ourselves trying to avoid GM products, there are pitfalls:

  • GM cotton may creep in to many products including fabrics made from mixtures of fibres. There seems to be no guarantee that there will be adequate labelling.
  • GM products may be used in animal feed. Alongside worries about animal welfare, this is a reason for trying to avoid animal products unless they meet Soil Association standards.
  • There seems to be no obligation on restaurants to make clear which dishes on the menu contain GM products or may potentially contain GM products.
  • GM contamination of supposedly non-GM products has already occurred on more than one occasion.

Noxious chemicals

We try to avoid the use of chemicals that may harm the environment or health or both. So far this means not using pesticides in the garden or for house plants and favouring paints or varnishes that minimise the release of volatile solvents into the atmosphere.

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