Green issues

Calke Abbey – dual standards?

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I am a big fan of the National Trust and what it does in terms of preserving our heritage and also providing very pleasant destinations for a few hours walk or similar. As a family we have been members for many years and I do feel it provides great value for money.

Recent years have seen the Trust move towards increasingly more open and commercial approaches to their property management and ‘offer’. Some see this as a negative thing – but I don’t agree, it has made the properties far more popular and busy, they have to move with the times to survive and fund the works to their portfolio of properties and estates.

In many places the retail offer has been expanded to increase the provision of food and drinks – either by way of new cafe or restaurant premises within the properties themselves or in adjacent outbuildings. This is always done in a sensitive manner in keeping with the property and its environment – just as the National Trust do most things.

The new cafe
The new cafe

Calke Abbey which is one of my favourite local NT properties is a classic case in this regard, it is very popular and the restaurant has been ‘creaking’ for a number of years. There is an area to the rear of the restaurant which has been used as a picnic area for years and it has buildings around it which have cried out for refurbishing for a cafe use or similar for years. Finally last year this work was completed and there is now a very smart cafe in this area – and it has been completed in a very sensitive way to fit in with the surrounding buildings – well done National Trust.

However I am at a loss to understand why all hot drinks from here are served in disposable paper cups – this is surely totally at odds with the Trust’s ‘ethics’? One thing that is always noticeable at a NT property is the lack of bins – they expect people to take their rubbish home with them (which most do). So why have they now chosen to use something which I accept probably can be recycled but is surely nowhere as ‘green’ as using traditional crockery and then washing it?

Or am I missing something?

Double standards?

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The news this week that included in the Queen’s speech is the  provision for a 5p charge to be levied on plastic carrier bags at English supermarkets has to be applauded. We are way behind Europe on this (even Wales are ahead of us!) Bags for life are the way forward, and if the European offer is any example to go by they do indeed last for years (I have a collection from France, Italy and Spain).

BpPBMCpCUAAeYxk.jpg-largeWhat did make me laugh however is the Daily Mail’s claim that this change is down to them and that they have fully supported the drive to adopt this. They may well have been behind the campaign (they no doubt believed it appealed to the average Mail reader).

However, this is the same newspaper that has been telling its readers not to adopt energy saving lightbulbs and to stockpile all the old tungsten bulbs!

Proof if any was needed that newspaper campaigns are about selling newspapers – and nothing to do with saving the environment or even changing society for the better.

A Parisian discovery…

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20130409-195703.jpgI am in Paris for a few days, a city that I like to think I have a reasonable feel for, but today proved that you can always discover something new, even in a city you think you know…

New York is well known for its HighLine or ‘park in the sky’ – I am looking forward to seeing it in the summer when we are there as a family as I have heard so many positive things about it. However, today I discovered Paris’s own HighLine – la promenade plantee. This is a similar thing – a former railway line and viaduct in a city environment that has been formed into an amazing linear park. In addition the arches below have also been refurbished and created into workshops and retail space for artists and artisans. This in fact was the original High Line, built sixteen years before the New York model, and apparently it served as inspiration to it’s American counterpart.

The promenade stretches for almost 5 kilometers across the 12th arrondissement following the path of the retired ligne de Vincennes railway track from Bastille to the boulevard Périphérique. It is highly popular with runners as well as for ‘promenading’ and was quite busy mid morning when we were walking it. It is also beautifully planted and in places you would be hard pushed to believe that you weren’t in a larger garden rather than on a city viaduct!

20130409-195454.jpgIt is great to see regeneration on this scale in a city – the walkway itself is great, but the conversion of the arches below is simply stunning and provides fantastic space for new businesses. Sadly I can’t see this level of planning commitment or general vision in the UK – somehow I feel the use of bulldozers would have been more likely?

The Green Deal – a flawed deal?

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Today sees the launch of the Green Deal – you have possible heard of it, but probably don't know the details of what it offers or how it works. The government haven't in my opinion been very forthcoming when it comes to publicising it! So what does it offer and is it worth your time?

20130127-195824.jpgWell, on the face of it the scheme is a great idea, providing funding for home improvement that make a property 'greener' – by way of new boilers, better insulation etc – you get the idea. The repayments are handled by your services provider, the idea being that the savings you make on heating are paid for by the cost of your loan – so in effect your bill doesn't drop, but your house is more efficient – but here lies the problem;

The loan can be over a long period – up to 25 years and passes with the property. So if you do a lot of green deal improvements and then a few years down the line sell up, the loan passes to the next owner.

Perhaps even more of a problem is that the loan is not interest free and this can actually make it more expensive that just borrowing the money on tHe high street to do the works!

But the real killer is that the initial survey is not free – costs of between £100 – £150 are quoted, and this is not recoverable if the green deal won't actually work for your property!

People will only do these works if they can see a benefit in their pocket – everything about the way the deal works goes against this – and is possibly why since October when green deal surveys could start to be done only a handful (literally) have been done!

So a great idea, but very badly managed. Cost to the government will be the reason for the charges and interest payments, but I cannot see the Green Deal doing much business until something changes…..

The future of lighting?

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The move away from the ‘good old’ tungsten bulb is now almost complete. Some people have stock piled them in cupboards as they don’t like the much more efficient and longer lasting alternatives – compact fluorescents and LED’s. but generally there does now seem to ba an acceptance that the move away from old style bulbs is the way to go (unless of course you read the Daily Mail!).

It appear now however that there is a new kid on the block – the plastic bulb. Sounds strange I will admit, and it is currently at a very early stage. But according to the inventors ( in the US) it gives a much nicer light. So what is it exactly?

The new light source is called field-induced polymer electroluminescent (Fipel) technology. It is made from three layers of white-emitting polymer that contain a small volume of nanomaterials that glow when electric current is passed through them. 

The inventor of the device is Dr David Carroll, professor of physics at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. He says the new plastic lighting source can be made into any shape, and it produces a better quality of light than compact fluorescent bulbs which have become very popular in recent years.

And the first versions should be available next year!

A better approach?

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As one of the Worlds major economies we are used to hearing the mantra about growing GDP (gross domestic product) in the UK – if it falls it is apparently ‘the end of the world’. But what if there is a ‘better way’?

The tiny country of Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not GDP.

r733829_5941383Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, it has gained an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La. For the past three decades, this belief – that wellbeing should take preference over material growth – has remained a global oddity. However in the current world which is beset by economic and environmental disasters this approach is beginning to interest the larger world players, and will be discussed in Doha at the UN climate change conference.

Bhutan’s stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan’s GNH model can be replicated across the globe.

Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure. At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.

We all hark back to simpler times at some point in our lives, perhaps this is a further example that some of the ‘old values’ are perhaps even more valid today than they were then?

Not down to us?

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I had an extremely pleasant evening last week at the Mattioli Woods charity dinner in support of Rainbows Hospice – a fabulous cause and hopefully one that benefited greatly from the night.

The guest speaker was Lord Lawson – known to the younger members of society as Nigella’s dad, but better known to the rest of us as the Chancellor during Maggie’s three periods in office. He is now in his early 80’s, so it was going to be interesting to see what his take on things as they are now was. And in many ways we were not disappointed – he is undoubtably a very bright man, and if I am half as active at this age I will be very happy!

However, there was one part of his speech that did worry me – he will always play to the ‘Daily Mail readers’ in a room, and the other night was no different. But his views on Global Warming I did find rather blinkered, especially after his comments about it being ‘a religion’ that no one was permitted to challenge anymore! He basically appears to believe that we are having no effect upon the planet and that burning fossil fuels is definitely the way forward!

I accept that it is not a clear-cut case – but the current extreme weather, the melting polar areas – not our fault?

The photo above is of my home town, Malmesbury in Wiltshire. As a family we have been there over 40 years and I cannot recall a time when the bottom of the High Street has flooded and blocked access into the town – even before all the flood alleviation work was done a good few years ago – so do we assume this is just a fluke event?