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Environmentalism on a budget

Sometimes environmental goals and economic ones overlap and we can do the right thing and save ourselves money at the same time. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the climate change problem and to feel helpless but there’s a lot of simple things we can do as individuals which can collectively make a difference.

  1. Eat less meat and dairy. Livestock farming accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector: that’s all the trains, trucks, planes, cars, and ships on the planet. It may seem difficult at first to reduce meat consumption and eat more plants but think of it as adding new and interesting foods to your diet rather than taking foods away. There are around 20,000 species of edible plants on the planet and yet we consume the same three or four species of animals over and over again. Plants are also cheaper so you’ll save money on the weekly grocery shopping.
  2. Ditch the car. Not everyone can afford an electric or hydrogen vehicle but if you give up the car completely you’ll save thousands of pounds every year by dispensing with car-related expenses like petrol, insurance, registration, and maintenance. We’re lucky in Aberdeen to have a car-club so it’s easy to dispense with the car but still have access to one, when needed.
  3. Turn the heating down and replace light bulbs with low energy LED bulbs. Not everyone can afford to install solar panels but we can all replace bulbs, when they blow, with low energy LED alternatives and we can turn our thermostats down. This will reduce our emissions and save us money at the same time.
  4. Take your own reusable bags to the shops. Plastic waste is not biodegradable and much of it finds its way into our oceans. Plastic is also made from fossil fuels. Take your own bag to the shops and you won’t have to pay for one.
  5. Go on local holidays. We’re lucky in Scotland to have so many wonderful, inspiring, and fascinating landscapes to visit. Support the local economy, save money, and reduce your emissions by holidaying in Scotland rather than flying to far-flung places.

I’m sure there’s more! Please share your ideas in the comments.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Reducing waste

I haven’t bought disposable pads or tampons in more than ten years. I stopped buying them after I gave birth to my first child when I discovered the cloth nappy community. We never used disposable nappies on our children and it made me question why I used disposable feminine hygiene products. When my periods returned I decided to use cloth for myself as well and have never looked back.

Women have been using washable cloth to absorb menstrual flow for centuries. The use of disposables is a recent and tragic phenomenon. Tampons take longer to biodegrade in landfill than the lifespan of the woman who used them and the average woman sends about 11,000 tampons to landfill during her lifetime. But it needn’t be this way. By switching to reusables we can reduce this waste and save ourselves money at the same time.

At Foodstory in Aberdeen you can buy Lilahpads which are organic cloth pads made by an Aberdonian mum. You can also purchase them online through their website and feel good knowing you are supporting a local business. At Newton Dee you can purchase a Mooncup which is a silicon alternative to disposable tampons.

There’s no need to buy disposables and the modern cloth alternatives are terrific and much better than the rags our ancestors had to use. They’ll also save you money over the long term. What’s not to like about that?

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Aberdeen Sustainability Festival

The George St Sustainability Festival is happening this Saturday, 7th July. It’s on George St, outside John Lewis, and is a celebration of sustainable living. There’ll be a farmer’s market selling a range of locally-produced food as well as some community groups, including Aberdeen Climate Action. I will also be there representing Cycling UK and promoting active travel. Please come along and show your support!

Article in the Evening Express.
Article on the Aberdeen City Council site.

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In common or alone: how to grow your own food!

Climate Café #5 was last Tuesday evening and the topic was growing your own food. Growing food encourages community, healthy eating, and makes out society more resilient to climate change and changing weather patterns. We had three speakers: Alan Carter from the Powis Community Garden, Bob Donald from One Seed Forward, and Greg Walsh from the Allotment Market Stall. Here’s my summary of the talks.

Alan Carter from Powis Community Garden

Alan Carter talked about how to transform a derelict and unloved space into a thriving community garden. How did he do it? There isn’t a formula for how to make these transformations a success, other than having one or two passionate people, but Alan shared some really great tips with us. For instance, he used the resilience of nature to build green space. Wildflowers, for example, are hardy and beautiful at the same time. Food crops like fruit trees and brambles can be dispersed to help mimic nature and avoid creating monocultures in one area. He also opted for plants that work well in a community setting like crops with high pickability and low nickability. For example, a lot of effort goes into growing cabbages but picking them is easy. Hence cabbages have high nickability and low pickability. Compare this with raspberries that don’t require much effort to grow but a lot of effort to pick and hence have a low nickability and high pickability. A low nickability is better for community gardens because you don’t want to make it easy for one person to take off with the entire crop in one night.

It’s also important to provide individuals with space of their own. The community space gives people new to gardening a way to dip their toes in and gather ideas. The individual space lets people take full control and thrive with their new hobby. The best community spaces have a combination of both.

The benefits of community food gardens are not just for the vegetables and the carbon savings. It’s also about getting people together, building relationships, and encouraging engagement with food which is particularly important at a time when 50% of the food in the UK is processed. There are also mental health benefits when people have agency/control over food production.

If you’d like to learn more then head over to Alan’s blog, Of Plums and Pignuts.

Bob Donald from One Seed Forward

Bob is the founder of a particularly inspiring community growing initiative called One Seed Forward. It was founded in December 2016 and targeted Aberdeen City and Shire. The aim is to get people growing their own crops and is based on the principles of the Slow Food Movement – good, clean, and fair. It’s good for them and the planet, clean – no pesticides, and fair for the producer and worker.

One Seed Forward gives away seeds for free to individuals and community groups. The idea is that for every free seed you get you give two back in return. These can be given to your neighbour, your school, anyone. It’s about getting involved in food growing and encouraging others to do the same.

In 2017 One Seed Forward gave away 400kg of seed potatoes and 50,000 spring onion seeds. These were given to 13 schools and 16 community groups. They generated approximately 4,000kg of potatoes grown locally as a direct result of the initiative. In 2018 Bob plans to give away 625kg of potatoes.

Every attendee of the Climate Café went home with a bag of potatoes from One Seed Forward. Mine are happily chitting away as I type this and I plan to bury them at my plot at the end of this month. If all goes well I’ll have some potatoes in about 18 weeks. We were all encouraged to share our progress and the Climate Café Community (CCC) of growers was born.

Greg Walsh from the Allotment Market Stall

How many cabbages can you eat? This is the question that inspired Greg to start the Allotment Market Stall. One allotment gardener had a particularly prolific crop of cabbages one year and wasn’t sure what to do with them all. Greg then had the idea to gather all the excess produce from allotments around Aberdeen and sell it, thus reducing waste. At the same time he’d be able to promote growing your own food and a little bit of money would go back to the allotments.

They started in 2013 with a 5-week pilot during which they collected and sold excess produce for a total of £700. Since then they’ve done it every week over the summer, selling the food at Duthie Park. In 2017 1,664kg of produce was collected over 12 weeks. They sold 1,464kg, sent 116kg to food banks, and 80kg went to compost.

The Allotment Market Stall is run by 13 volunteers and in 2018 they’ll be selling produce at both Duthie and Seaton Parks in Aberdeen. They calculated the maximum and minimum food miles of the produce they sell and the largest is 23 miles while the shortest was 5 metres.


The next Climate Café is on the 3rd of April and the topic is Hydroponics and Permaculture. Please join us at Waterstones Bookstore in Aberdeen. The talks start at 7pm.

Environmental impact of the food system

The last climate café was on the impact our food choices have on the environment, which is right up my alley. I was looking forward to these talks very much and I don’t think I was the only one because it was our busiest climate café ever with more than 120 people turning up on the night. Here are my notes.

Professor Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen
Food choices and how consumerism can influence the carbon footprint.

Managing demand for livestock products is essential for future food security. By 2050 we can expect to need to feed around 9-10 billion people. This will level off to around 12 billion by 2100. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.  In developing countries we have a rising middle class and with increases in wealth comes increases in meat and milk consumption, both of which put more pressure on the food system. In the next 50 years we’re going to need to produce more food in the same land area than we’ve ever produced in the whole of human history. Increasing production by 10% or 20% is not going to be enough. This will be hugely challenging. It’s not like we’re currently doing a good job of this with some 800 million people going hungry.

One thing is certain: we cannot all eat a western diet because there’s not enough land. We must change our diets if we’re to produce enough food and make sure everyone has access to it – this is about food security. Furthermore, if we’re serious about tackling climate change then we need to address demand for animal products. This has two components: minimising waste and dietary change. In developed countries around 30% of purchased food products goes to landfill. This could potentially be reduced by 50%. Dietary change can also have a large impact on reducing our carbon footprint because meat products have a much higher impact than plants. There’s a 100-fold difference between eating ruminant beef compared with vegetables in terms of the CO2 emissions they produce. In other words, it’s 100 times better to eat a vegetable burger than a beef burger.

Currently 30% of all crops grown are fed to animals. If we weren’t feeding so many animals we’d free up land for other things like reforestation. Animals are not particularly efficient at converting protein from plants into energy. We’re about 10% efficient and so it makes little sense to filter plants we can eat through an animal that’s only 10% efficient and then eating the animal. We need to shift consumption from animals to the food we’re feeding those animals. Meat is a luxury consumption that we don’t need.

This doesn’t mean we all have to go completely vegan tomorrow. It’s not a binary choice of all or nothing. But we need to shift away from a diet centred on animal products to one that is more balanced and healthy. Doing so will give us benefits in triplicate: it will improve the health of the population, reduce the risks associated with climate change, and improve food security. The health benefits are a reduced incidence of diabetes and heart disease as well as a lower risk of some cancers. The challenge is how to incentivise plant-based diets so we can realise these benefits. We could tax the foods that put more pressure on the environment, the public health system, and food security.


Dr Stephen Whybrow, University of Aberdeen
Is eating less meat the answer?

We know we need to reduce our emissions by changing the foods we eat but what would happen if we all started reducing our meat consumption? The Scottish diet is already notoriously bad with too much sugar and fat and not enough fibre. How would switching to a plant-based diet impact our health and the micronutrients we need? Sugar and oils are high in energy but not much else.

The question is, how would meat-eaters change what they eat if plant-based diets were incentivised? If meat-eaters switched from lean chicken and veggies to macaroni cheese then this is not great for their health. One study found that 25% of meat-eaters would increase their dairy consumption if they reduced meat consumption and this is going to have only minimal benefits for the environment because of the high environmental impact of dairy farming. There’s also the question of whether people will compensate for no-meat days by eating more meat on other days.

In terms of nutritional requirements, will we get enough protein if we reduce our meat consumption? Yes, we eat way too much protein right now. What about iron? Iron absorption from plants is not as high as from meat. However the amount we absorb also depends on how much we have in our body. If our iron stores are low then we’ll absorb more. For most people iron is not going to be a problem. Of greater concern is B12 which comes exclusively from animal products. Folic acid also masks problems associated with B12 deficiency. What options are there? We could issue supplements to everyone or fortify foods.

Is eating less meat the answer? No, it’s only part of the answer. We also need to consider nutritional issues.


Scott Heron from RGU
Plastic: The Naked Truth

Inspired by a “naked onion” (an onion wrapped in plastic), Scott and his partner, Pam, decided to challenge themselves to go plastic-free for 30 days. Plastic packaging is a huge problem. Currently 13 million tonnes of plastic goes into the oceans every year. What happens to it? It will not decompose on human time scales so it will be there for a very long time. There is also the issue of micro-plastics which are ingested by plankton and end up cascading up the food chain.

How did Scott manage for the 30 days? He decided that everything they already had in the food cupboard could stay but all purchased things for the 30 days had to be plastic-free. It was hard to buy fruit and vegetables without plastic packaging. There’s no green grocer in Aberdeen. He tried to get meat and fish from the deli counters at the supermarket – at the meat counter they were happy for him to use his own container but this was not possible at the fish counter. He was told it was a health and safety risk. Scott was eventually able to source fish from the local fishmongers.

Part-way through the challenge Scott ran out of salt and went to a beach north of Aberdeen, collected some sea water, then boiled off the water to make his own. Two things that he found surprisingly difficult to buy without plastic packaging were pasta and coffee. He eventually found pasta in a cardboard box but there was a tiny bit of plastic in a window on the box.

At the end of the 30 days Scott found his diet had improved considerably and he was eating far less sugar. He’s also much more aware of how pervasive plastics are.

Scott and Pam are starting another plastic-free challenge on the 14th February which is in two days! If you want to join them head over to the Facebook page.

 

Protected bike path for Union St – Event

Where: At the King Edward statue, corner of Union Street and Union Terrace.
When: Saturday 3rd February from 11:30am – 12:30pm.

The city council has a masterplan to rejuvenate the city but the current plans include no cycling provision on Union Street, one of the most congested and polluted streets in Aberdeen.

To unlock the many potential benefits of the masterplan, safe cycle facilities must be installed on Union Street. Please join me on Saturday, 3rd February, to tell the council and sign the petition.

Kids welcome!

 

Renewable Energy: At Home & Work

If you missed Climate Café number 3, here’s a summary of the talks. The next café will be on the 6th February and the focus is on food and the impact our food choices have on the environment. Please join us!

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Neil Stuart from Home Energy Scotland

Home Energy Scotland has expert advisors who visit homes and provide free and impartial advice on how we can reduce our energy bills. They can advise on renewables, energy efficiency, waste prevention, and even transport. There are government incentives home owners can access to encourage the uptake of renewables and Home Energy Scotland can help explain how these work. They include feed-in tariffs and interest-free loans. If you can generate your own electricity then you can sell what you don’t use and people typically only use about 25% of what they generate. If you’re interested in investing in renewables then you can access interest-free loans of up to £17,500 per household for renewable energy systems. The Energy Saving Trust has a tool you can use to find out what technologies are suitable for your home. There’s also a green homes network which is a group of homes that have installed renewable energy or made energy efficiency improvements and are offering to share their experience with others who are curious to see how it all works.

Lauren Milton from Élan Hair Design

Lauren Milton shared her inspiring story of how the family-run hair salon in Inverurie went green and has become recognised in the UK as the most eco-friendly and sustainable hairdressing salon. It all started with a switch to LED lighting which not only reduced their CO2 emissions, but also saved them money. From there they went to PV panels, and implemented other measures which resulted in a 68% reduction in water use, a 95% reduction in CO2 emissions, and increased turnover every year. The sustainable business approach has led to lower costs, better PR, and increased customer loyalty.

Erik Dalhuijsen on living offgrid 

Erik lives on a boat which has two solar panels that power everything except for hot water and cooking. He advocates for changing behaviour to match circumstances. For example, when there’s ample supply (the sun is out or the wind is blowing) run the instruments that require power. When there’s no power, turn them off. It’s very feasible to live this way and doesn’t make life difficult.

Dave McGrath from Grampian Energy

Grampian Energy can provide advice for homes and businesses in the North East of Scotland on renewables and energy efficiency. The first thing Dave recommends to those interested in reducing energy costs is to understand your demand and then reduce it. This is the single, easiest thing you can do. Most homes use about 3,500 – 5,500 kWh (kilowatt hour) per year and of that heating consumes around 60-70%.

An easy way to reduce demand is to replace all incandescent bulbs with LED. An incandescent bulb uses around 60W which is £35/year. LED lights use 6W which is £3.50. This is a huge saving for a very small investment. When buying new appliances get ones with a triple-A rating. Also consider the impact of cooking. For example Chinese cooking (e.g., stir fries) consumes very little energy whereas a roast which sits in the oven for several hours uses a lot. Consumer electronics also consume a lot of energy so think twice before buying a huge LCD TV for the teenager’s bedroom.

For heating costs, the amount of heat required to heat a building is equal to the amount that leaves it. The EPC rating of the property is very important and will give you an indication of this heat loss. The biggest loss is through the walls especially in Aberdeen’s granite homes that often have a thin layer of plaster as their only insulation. Some insulation is harder and more expensive to install than others. Roof insulation and double glazing is pretty easy whereas underfloor is hard to do. You can also reduce heat loss by sealing off drafts, especially around doors. Having a timer can also reduce consumption by turning on heating only when it’s needed. You can also turn it off/on for specific rooms according to need. You can fit radiators with TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves) which control the flow of hot water into the radiator allowing you to set the temperature of the room to the level you want.

In terms of renewable energy sources, free sources of power include solar PV, solar thermal, and wind. A solar PV system will set you back about £5200 for a 4KW system.  Micro wind works in rural settings but is not worthwhile in the city. A large system costs around 30k-35k. Other environmentally-friendly heating options are biomass boilers and heat pumps. A biomass boiler is good for people who have their own source of timber. Heat pumps are basically refrigerators in reverse but they’re very efficient producing around 3.5kWh for every 1kWh.


A big thank you to all our speakers for the inspiring and informative talks!

Tidal and wind power in Scotland, and adapting to a post-oil future

The second climate cafè last Tuesday evening was a great success. We heard two terrific talks. The first was on the future of tidal power in Scotland and was delivered by Dr Ian Davies of Marine Scotland Science. Then we heard from Dr Leslie Mabon from Robert Gordon University talking about the adaptation in the North East to a post oil future. Here’s my summary of the two talks.

The Future of Tidal Power in Scotland

Scotland is perfect for tidal and wind power with much of the Scottish coastline suitable. However before any project proceeds there are factors that must be considered. The Scottish coastline is also used by the fishing industry and there are ferry and shipping routes to take into account. There are also lots of protected animal species along the coastline such as birds and sea mammals. All these things are considered before a project is approved.

Stromness, which is in Orkney, is home to The European Marine Energy Centre. It’s a research and testing facility for wave and tidal power and is the only centre of its kind in the world. There are also a couple of offshore wind farms near Aberdeen. There’s one in Aberdeen Bay which is 2km offshore with 11 turbines, 176m high. There’s another just north of Stonehaven known as the Kincardine project which has 5 turbines. Just launched this year is Statoil’s Hywind project which is a floating wind farm and the first of its kind in the world. The cost of electricity generation from wind farms is falling rapidly and will continue to do so. The offshore wind farms are particularly good because there’s less concern from interaction with others. There’s also plenty of space.

Adaptation in the North East to a post oil future

For almost half a century Aberdeen’s fortune’s have been determined by North Sea oil. It created jobs and has made people rich. The average oil industry salary is £64,000, a substantially higher figure than the average wage in the UK which is £27,000. About 10% of all jobs here are in oil and gas. We have become dependent on one industry and this dependancy is a barrier to change. It has become a part of the fabric of the city. For instance, most airports have advertising for perfume, jewellery, or fashion but at Aberdeen airport you’ll see ads for drilling. You can even buy fridge magnets of oil platforms. For these reasons the people here will be resistant to change and maybe even defensive about the problem. What incentive does someone have to accept a much lower salary in a different industry?

What’s the solution?

We need to provide retraining schemes for workers as well as tax breaks and incentives for new industry. As individuals we can pressure politicians to support the transition.