Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Time moves along smartly as usual, but here it has been occupied by getting involved with the Earthworks Trust Sustainability Centre at East Meon, and a visit to the earthship in Brighton.

The Earthship tour was rather illuminating, and whilst I do not propose that we build something exactly similar, there were lots of ideas that I shall ‘pinch with glee’. Included with this are some pix, which will give you a view of what the whole thing looks like.

The whole thing is situated in Stanmore Park on the outskirts of Brighton, near to the University. There’s a section in the park, which the local council is renting out to those seeking to test alternative ideas – which includes a raft of organic growing, a small tree nursery, and so on. In the midst of this is the Earthship, which started off as the ‘brainchild’ of some 45 like-minded individuals, and is now approaching completion – some four years on – and will act as community centre.

The neat thing about it, as a Community Centre, is that its running costs will be virtually zero since it really is self-sufficient – water, electricity, sewage, heating. When we went on Sunday, and bearing in mind that it was a chilly, but sunny, three or four degrees outside, the interior space was a cosy 21 degrees centigrade, with no heater on!

Let’s take a trip around the construction. First, the whole thing is partially cut into the hillside. The back wall that provides the primary load bearing structure is made from old tyres and rammed earth.

In the first instance the Environment Agency threatened to prosecute them, because one is no longer permitted to bury old tyres willy nilly, and clearly it seemed to the EA that that was the general effect. However, after some discussion of what was intended, common sense (that rare event) prevailed, and they let them get on with it.

The dwelling area then effectively emerges from what is in effect a back wall of tyres and rammed earth. The whole thing is orientated East-West, and comprises just one story, so it has a very long axis with maximum exposure facing South, to catch the sun.

Most of this South-facing wall is taken up with glass, double-glazed, and coated with a silver salt that allows light through but reflects infrared back into the interior space – passive solar heating. Two thirds of this length is effectively double skinned, since there is a long ‘conservatory’.

The rammed earth wall at the back acts as a mass heat store, soaking up heat in the day and then slowly releasing it at night. The walls are ‘plastered’ using a wattle and daub formula employing the soil and clay from the site, and I have to say that I haven’t seen a better finish using conventional plaster.

Within the interior space are two deep gullies in the floor that will contain plants. These will be watered using ‘grey water’ – from the sink, shower, etc. This will effectively be cleaned by flowing through these planted gullies, and then collected at the end of the run to be used for flushing the toilets.

The ‘black’ water from the toilets goes into a sceptic tank, which overflows to a reed bed so that the final liquid effluent is just clean water, which soaks away.

All the water is collected from the building’s roof, and they have storage for some 8,000 litres – for the inevitable dry spells.

Electricity is generated by an array of 18 photovoltaic panels on the roof, and a small wind turbine. Water is heated using two solar water panels on the roof, and is supplemented by a wood chip burner in the main interior space.

So as long as the people using the place are sensible about how they use water and power, there is quite enough for all purposes.

And that, of course, is half the battle. We are so used to being utterly profligate with resources, without consequence, that we waste grotesque amounts. I am reminded that in the UK, and most ‘developed’ nations we use drinking quality water to flush our lavatories. Let’s hope that’s not too widely known among the 2.7 billion people with no access to proper sanitation and drinking water; they’ll be really pissed off when they find out.

I shall now go and fulminate over the next part of the Iraq debacle, as War on Want and others have blown the whistle on the cosy deal that the US and UK governments are doing to ensure that US and UK oil multinationals get the lion's share of operating the Iraqui oil fields. Now we see the truth. Greedy bastards.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Johann Hari of The Independent says that we should stop talking about Climate Change and start thinking in terms of forthcoming Climate Chaos. The trouble is that, while I agree that this conveys the need for alarm more effectively than just 'change', its use may cause conversational chaos at one level at least, since climate is in any case chaotic. That's what makes it so bloody difficult to predict precisely how the weather is going to be.

However, since the sequelae of anthropogenic global warming are likely to shatter the comfortable assumptions upon which global commerce and social cohesion are based, perhaps climate catastrophe would be an appropriate phrase to use.

The denialists of climate change will, of course, leap upon this as further proof of the use of hyperbole by the environmentalists, climatologists and others who watch the unfolding signs of irreversible change to the atmosphere and global climate with considerable alarm.

The oil lobby, and organisations funded by it like the Cato Institute (also in bed with News corp, Phillip Morris, etc., as well as Exxon, Mitsubishi and big pharma such as Pfizer), are desperate to poo poo any such worries. The cosy profit train must not be disturbed. But surely this is daft, when we have reached, or else will shortly, so-called 'peak oil'. As China, India, Brazil, and others grow, their demand for energy can only increase, providing increased competition for a dwindling resource. At which point the price of oil climbs inexorably to a point where energy becomes too expensive to enable us to carry on as we are in any case. That day is not so far away. Hell, even BP appears to recognise that.

So why on earth aren't we investing heavily in alternatives to head off this potential eonomic crisis, even if policy makers and governments couldn't give a stuff about the wider environment? It doesn't matter if you don't believe in global warming, a low carbon economy is the only possible solution for the future anyway.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Splutter, splutter, where did all this rain come from? But so far it would seem to be 'not enough', at least according to the water authorities who are still gazing gloomily on half empty reservoirs. Reading between the lines of a commentator the other day, we probably need it to rain constantly for the next three or four months in order to get back to a 'reasonably comfortable' position. Bloody hell, I'll have reverse-evolved into a fish by then!

What ever happened to Niger? Did everyone die, or are they still busy doing that? Poor old Niger seems to have been too soon in crisis after the Tsunami, so no-one paid attention to the imminent famine, and not soon enough before Kashmir distracted everyone again. One wonders what any remaining Nigerans make of it.

Here, however, we still wait for the Oak trees to start shedding their leaves. Finally they are beginning to turn, but it's rather late this year, like so much else. I've been looking forward to gathering leaves up to compost them (strange, but true), but the little buggers are hanging on resolutely to their twigs. I shall have to go and harangue them about this in due course - it's simply not cricket, holding a chap up like that.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Well, the search for gainful employment has cranked up again with two more applications away today. It's difficult to know, though, whether to pursue so many. I suppose that if they all come through I will have the luxury of picking the best for me. Here's hoping, nay intending.

It looks as if we may finally get rid of David Blunkett from government - Hoorah! I thought his policies as Home Secretary were generally execrable. He wasn't the very image of a Labour Party Home Secretary, rather one wondered why he wasn't signed up with Totalitarians R Us or something similar. And then he started bending the rules for his own convenience and, rightly, had to leave. So why on earth was he brought back?

If his judgement was crap then, why wouldn't it be so now? But, very helpfully, his arrogance led him to believe he was beyond parliamentary scrutiny, and bingo, it all comes out. Another politician with their snout in the trough. Perhaps he could get a job with George Bush as a special adviser in some capacity. George certainly doesn't have a problem with cronyism, but Tony Blair had better watch out because the smell from Downing Street is beginning to ripen like a piece of old brie.

Here in the southern march of the UK, the rain continues to fall, after a brief interlude yesterday. But at least in that time I was able to get out onto a local common and do some walking. And I can report that the fungi continue to be a delight this year. All the flowering plants may be having a poor time as the climate shifts, but the fungi, at least for now, are burgeoning. So far this year I think I have noted thirty odd different species on the common, but I'm sure that's probably only a proportion of the true number. However, one would need to do a proper survey to establish that.

The flowering plants, however, continue to worry me. This morning I woke up to a new rose on the climber in the front garden. That plant is going to be knackered by next summer if it carries on blowing resources on flowers at this time of year while it cannot replenish effectively photosynthetically.