"The Stone-Age didn't end because they ran out of rocks..."

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Job Hunt Progress

So, after the first week, here is what I have done so far in my search for gainful employment:

Closing Date
GERES Junior Energy Expert 27/06/11 Received my application. Nothing further. Date given is expect a reply date. NO LUCK!
WYG Sustainability Consultant 30/06/11 Emailed back on 31/05/11 to say that BREEAM quals were essential.

National Trust Senior Ranger 12/07/11 Received my application. Phone AH asap.
IUCN Junior Professional 13/07/11 Received my application. Check status online: https://hrms.iucn.org

ICLEI EcoMObility Projects Officer 31/07/11 Received my application. Expect a reply within 1 month of closing date.
Practical Action Energy Assistant 08/07/11 Received my application. Expect a reply within 1 week of closing date.
Steven Agnew/Green Party Research Officer No idea. No response. Emailed my CV & Cover Letter 08/07/11
Centre for Sustainable Energy Intern 25/07/11 Application received.

I'm not holding my breath. Poor attitude I know, but it just seems like I've maybe aimed the wrong way with my choice of master's degree. Any company in the sustainable development sector seems to be looking for housing surveyors (who have completed expensive courses offered only in England), engineers to maintain wind turbines or plumbers to install solar water heaters. Any consultancy work on offer requires 3-5 years of industrial experience. NONE OF THESE EMPLOYERS ARE LOOKING FOR MASTER'S DEGREES ANYMORE! Have a just wasted my time and money doing my postgraduate course??

P.S. Sorry that some of the table is off the page. I'm working on getting it fixed...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Apologies & the Job Hunt

To my two faithful followers, I am truly sorry. It has been far too long since I last had a rant on these pages, but that is hopefully all about to change. I have recently found a little more time in my life to indulge in the frivolities of the virtual world. My postgraduate course is coming to a close and I am currently engaged in the inevitable yet unenviable task of finding a job for myself come September. Hence, I am spending a lot more time online and can wax lyrical about the limited joys and plentiful woes of filling in application forms and drafting cover letters.

It may seem like this has little to do with sustainability, but this is far from the truth. Look on me as your scout into the world of employment in the sustainability sector. Through my efforts you will get a valuable insight into who might and who might not be recruiting, what kind of jobs are coming up more than others, and what kind of feedback potential employers are offering. I'll also put up some good websites for would be job seekers on the right hand side. Stay tuned.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Something for the weekend...

After a lot of talk, I'm finally going to do it. Starting officially on 10/10/10, after 26 years living the life of an omnivore, I have decided to embrace the challenge and become a vegetarian... Well, almost. A weekday vegetarian to be exact, meaning (in case it's not obvious) that from Monday to Friday I will not eat ANY meat. At the weekends, however, I'm free to eat any cute little animal I choose, except for beef.

Nope, I'm not becoming a Hindu. Nor am I taking this vow for ethical reasons. In fact, I think it's perfectly fine to kill an animal, so long as it's not tortured (think Chinese finger traps, hot pokers and toe clamps) and none of it goes to waste. I'm doing this because I want to see if I can. I'm ruling out beef completely, because I believe that the beef industry is completely unsustainable. I'm reducing my consumption of the rest because I believe that pork, lamb, chicken, fish and every other delicious animal need to be viewed as luxuries rather than staples.

This all links in with sustainability. Our capacity to endure. Some of the biggest issues we face on our planet are: land use efficiency, availability of water, energy availability, and waste management. Each of these four problems are greatly worsened by our desire for meat. A 2006 report by the Livestock, Environment And Development Initiative stated that the livestock industry is one of the top contributors to worldwide environmental degradation.

Large areas of land are required not only for grazing and winter shelters for the animals, but it is also used to grow their feed. The FAO have reported that livestock production is, "one of the main drivers of the destruction of tropical rain forests in Latin America." 

In terms of water use, it takes approximately 17,000 cubic metres of water to produce a ton of beef, but only 1,500 cubic metres to produce a ton of wheat. In comparison, pork takes about 5,500 cubic metres and poultry is less again at approximately 4,000 cubic metres. This is the main reason I have completely excluded beef from my diet. It's production is simply not sustainable.

But it doesn't stop there. Amazingly, approximately 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture (only about 15% comes from transport) and a larger proportion of these emissions are in the form of methane (23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) and nitrous oxides (310 times more potent.) This doesn't exactly help the problem of global warming.

So, by saying no to even just beef once or twice a week, we can help reduce deforestation in Latin America, save water and lend a hand to the global warming issue. It may not save the world, but it certainly wont do any harm...

Monday, 21 June 2010

Hero Spotlight: H.F-W.

H.F-W, otherwise known as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, is a true champion of sustainability. The celebrity chef, journalist, writer and 'real food' campaigner is perhaps best known for the TV series he presented on UK's Channel 4, River Cottage, which followed his efforts to become a, "self-reliant downshifted smallholder" who could feed himself, family and friends from food he produced himself or sourced locally.

Due to the development of intensive agriculture, food prices have become irreversibly intertwined with fuel prices. If the farmer has to spend more money to run his tractors, combine harvesters and other machinery, then he will inevitably charge more for the food that he produces to meet the increasing costs. This means that in a future where fuel costs are set to increase, food costs can only follow suit. There is no better time to start growing your own vegetables and even rearing your own meat.

H.F-W. shows us exactly how it is done and even better, how to cook amazing meals from your own produce. Some of the classics include rabbit haggis, veal stew and hemp dukka. I don't know exactly what that last one is, but it sounds... eh... delicious?

One of the best shows he did was part of his River Cottage Spring series (for people living outside of the UK, click here to view clips on YouTube) where he enlisted the help of six Bristol families to develop a smallholding in the middle of the city. He started by showing them how to grow their own crops (radishes, beans, lettuce etc.) and then went on to give them four pigs and a few rescued hens from a nearby chicken battery. It's easy to see the beneficial effect that this had on all the families involved, not just in terms of physical health, but mentally also.

For me, one of the most interesting things to come out of it was how he acquired the land in the first place. Apparently, an old law states that if a group of people get together and ask their local council for a patch of land to grow crops and/or raise animals then the council are obliged to meet their needs. I haven't found anything on the web to back this up, so I would be interested to find out more about it.

If anyone is thinking about starting this kind of project, either on their own property or as part of an allotment scheme, then you should definitely check out the River Cottage website for useful tips and other information. Help make your future a little more certain.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Leave Only Footprints?

These days we hear a lot about our carbon footprint and how we should be trying to reduce it. Sounds great, but what is it? Why should we make it smaller? And how do we do that as an individual? 

The UK Carbon Trust defines a carbon footprint as a measure of, "the total greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by a person, organisation, event or product." It takes into account all 6 greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride), but is measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. In simple terms, it's a rough measure of the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by the actions of something or someone.

For example, according to the CO2 List, for one kilogram of red meat to be produced, 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) will have been released into the atmosphere (the same amount of chicken or fish releases only 6 kilograms.) Your PC (or Mac) released approximately 61 kg of CO2 for every kilogram it weighs and the shirt on your back emitted about two kilograms of CO2 during it's manufacture. Even walking has a carbon footprint: approximately 320 grams of CO2 per mile walked. Why? It takes into consideration the food calories you're burning and the manufacturing process of your footwear. Intense stuff...

This is one of the main reasons we need to be aware of our footprint and how to reduce it; everything we do adds to it. Many governments around the world are already taxing carbon in one way or the other and this is only set to increase both in scope and scale. This means that companies with large carbon footprints will need to increase the cost of their products and services in order to cover the cost of these taxes. If you have already taken steps to reduce your personal carbon footprint, you will be less reliable on these products and services, thereby saving you money in the long-term. This in turn will contribute to your sustainability. This is why we should care.

So now you know what it is and why you should be trying to reduce it. Next up, how you can reduce it. I've said before that few things about sustainability are simple, but the following steps are fairly painless:

  • Check out fuel efficiency ratings before buying a new car. The UK Vehicle Certification Agency has a comprehensive listing of new and used cars made after March 2001. Not only will this reduce your footprint, but also save you a stack of cash when fuel prices increase.

  • Walk, cycle, car-share or use public transport to get to one of your regular destinations at least once a week.

  • Make your home more energy-efficient. This can be as simple as checking for drafts and insulating all the empty gaps or you can go a small step further by replacing all your standard light-bulbs with LEDs and replacing your old home appliances with newer, more energy-efficient versions (when the old ones stop working that is...)

  • Try buying your food from local, organic sources. This is often difficult and almost always more expensive, but some big supermarkets are making the effort to stock this kind of produce without a massive mark-up. You can also try and find a farmer's market in your area, or if your feeling adventurous, why not have a go at growing your own veggies in the back garden? 

You might be thinking this sounds like a lot of hassle and bullshit. And in the short-term, you're absolutely right. It's a pain in the arse. But start thinking further than 6 months down the line. It could only be a matter of years before your fuel, energy, and shopping bills become substantially higher than they once were. Prepare yourself for that future.

Monday, 14 June 2010

How the UK Can Kick It's Habit

Ok, first off, I have a confession to make. This isn't something that I'd normally admit to such a large number of people (I'm not sure that many people read my blog anyway), but I'm a little bit gay for George Monbiot. He's climbing up my heroes chart quicker than a monkey on amphetamines. He's made it to the table for my theoretical dinner party. He's almost up there with David Attenborough and Ray Mears. Enough said.

Monbiot first came to my attention when I was about 22, searching through the non-fiction section of my local Oxfam bookshop for something interesting to read. I found his book, "No Man's Land", and was soon educated about the struggle of nomadic Tanzanian and Kenyan herdsmen against safari parks, game reserves and Canadian cereal companies to keep the lands they had been grazing for hundreds of years. If I'm being completely honest, I wasn't hooked immediately. I think I was intimidated by his passion for his subject. Something I was yet to experience.

He has, however, become omnipresent in the environmental and political activist arena and as his CV shows, he clearly deserves it. More about George Monbiot here.

Anyway, as the title suggests, this post isn't all about the man himself. It's about a cracking article he wrote for the UK-based Guardian newspaper on the 20th of May, 2010, titled, "Out of Sight, Out of Trouble."

In this mind-blowing piece he outlines how the UK could not only end it's dependency on non-renewable energy sources by the year 2050, but also become a mass net energy exporter. And how exactly are we to accomplish that? No doubt through the building of expansive onshore wind farms and environmentally damaging tidal barrages, eh? No. Exactly the opposite in fact. The report which Monbiot draws his information from (the Offshore Valuation report, published by the Public Interest Research Centre) suggests that all of this energy can be produced by offshore wind farms and tidal energy systems.

The cost of construction, implementation, and training would of course be huge, but, according to Monbiot, not that much greater than the building of the North Sea oil and gas infrastructure and even if we were only to capture 29% of the potential, we could produce the energy equivalent of 1 billion barrels of oil per year. This is on par with the average amount we've been getting from North Sea oil and gas over the last 40 years. Also, it would create jobs for over 140,000 people and generate an annual revenue of approximately 62 billion pounds. As an added environmental bonus, it has been shown that the building of such offshore windfarms can increase the abundance of fish and crabs (link).

So what do we need to get started on this awesome project? Strong governmental backing, investment, and a change in the general mindset towards clean energy initiatives. In a perverse way, the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico may be the catalyst we need to make these things happen. Fingers crossed that some good comes of it.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Leading From the Front?

As many of you may already be aware, the recent UK election resulted in a coalition government, with seats in parliament being shared by both Conservative and Liberal Democrat members. Both parties have, in the past, had very different views on big issues such as climate change and nuclear power, so I was interested to find out what kind of lies manifesto this new government would produce on the subjects of the environment and energy. Click on the titles for links to Her Majesty's Government.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As you would imagine, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs program contains a lot of pledges concerning key issues that have faced the British public in the past, namely Foot and Mouth Disease, the fox-hunting debate, badger culling, flood defences, and the Dangerous Dog Act. 

One point that particularly interested me was the promise to, "work towards a ‘zero waste’ economy, encourage councils to pay people to recycle, and work to reduce littering."

As one commentator points out below the publication, 

"Recycling is a total waste of money. It costs councils more to send 3 seperate vans/trucks around once a week than to send one a week. Where [does our waste] go? We collect our plastics to be recycled and they’re sold to China who burn them in their power stations, polluting the atmosphere, damaging the ozone layer and causing climate change."

This seems like a ridiculous allegation, but The Independent newspaper did indeed write a story a few years ago that more or less backs it up. (link)

I don't agree that recycling is a waste of money, but I do agree that it's pointless to spend extra money on separating our waste if it all ends up in the same pile anyway. While some of the waste shipped to China remains separated, a lot of it is just burnt in huge incinerators run by private enterprises and illegal waste-smuggling is becoming a huge problem. Whether processed within the law or outside it, our exported waste is wreaking havoc on the local environment of many Chinese waterways, and this passing-the-buck system of waste disposal is absolutely despicable.

I think the government would be better in focusing their efforts towards the cause of the problem and not the solution. Supermarkets need to re-evaluate their packaging policies and the government needs to penalise them heavily if they don't. We've already seen the plastic bag take a huge popularity dip. It's about time that individually plastic wrapped fruit and vegetables and other over packaged products went the same way.

Energy and Climate Change

On the energy front, the new government has indeed promised some progressive implementations. Not enough specific targets for usage of renewable energies for my liking, but they're talking my kind of talk. 

In my opinion, one of the more important promises is the, "reform [of] energy markets to deliver security of supply and investment in low carbon energy, and ensure fair competition..." In normal language? Basically, they hope to encourage investment in energy systems that don't rely on oil, coal, or natural gas. However, this will only happen on the scale that we need it to when investors and innovators can be guaranteed that renewable energies are a safe bet for the future. This can only happen if the government imposes a floor price on fossil fuels that will ensure that the price of, say a barrel of oil, will never be less than $100. This will drive the market to produce more efficient renewable energy systems, knowing that eventually they will become cheaper than the 'dirty fuel' systems and everyone can save some money.

I'm also excited about the 'Green Deal' mentioned in the publication, but so far my search for more details on this has proved fruitless. More to come later...