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A report from Highway BR163

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


As a visual artist, I use photography to communicate ideas and information about things I feel passionately for. Like the environment. In October 2005, with funding from howies Earth Tax, I travelled for the first time to the Amazonian rainforest, to document the impact deforestation is having not just on the natural world, but on the people who work and live sustainably underneath the vast, protective canopy.
Not only is the scale of the rainforest beyond descriptive words, but its destruction is too. Here's a statistic: In 2003, an area of prime, virgin rainforest equivalent to the size of Denmark was destroyed. Forever. And last two years have been the worst ever for deforestation. Why? Illegal logging, yes. Cattle farming, certainly. But the main threat now is the humble soy bean. It's a valuable cash crop which can help pay off its foreign debts and with the backing of foreign multinationals is making millionaires out of a handful of
people who will stop at nothing to see this industry spread. Along the unpaved highway BR163, which stretches for over 1100 miles through Para and Mato Grosso states, you see the destruction. The rainforest is being slashed, burned and cleared and soy planted
for human consumption, mainly in China and Europe.
Can we stop this madness and save the Earth's beating heart? Yes. By supporting NGOs, environmental pressure groups and charities working for the benefit of the Amazon and its people, we can preserve this precious, unique natural resource which benefits us all.
My journey along the controversial highway, the front line between the environment and rapacious development, was at once enlightening, depressing, stimulating and rewarding. I hope my pictures can communicate this.

Colin McPherson

To view more images
please visit www.colinmcpherson.co.uk

Each year howies gives 1% of its turnover, or 10% of pre-tax profits (whichever is the greater) to its Earth Tax to pay towards environmental or social causes that we care about. As we grow, so will our donations.

Bye Bye Icecaps

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


I believe the little things matter.
I believe we can make a difference.
I believe we can change things.
How many of us are there now?
Around 6.6 billion or so.
That's quite a lot, huh.
And if each one of us does a little thing.
Well, that little thing becomes a big thing.
So leaving the TV on standby is just one of those dumb stupid small things that doesn't really matter.
Except when millions of us all do it.
Well, then it begins to add up.
And before you know it, whole power stations are used to just keep little red lights on stand by.
So switch off the television tonight.
Those small things can add up.
After all, an iceberg melts one drop at a time.
Fact: about traditional lightbulbs Ð only 10% of the input power is converted into light, the rest is lost in heat.
Lighting from LED's - known as solid-state lighting is much more efficient.
It can convert 50% of input energy into light. A 2001 US department of energy report estimated that, if solid state was widely used, it could alleviate the need for 133 new power stations by 2025.

Current thinking

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Think back. Like before the Ipod, the Iphone, Google, the Breville toaster, even before black and white television, to the 1880s. Back then two men had a fight over the future of
electricity and how it would reach us.

In one corner was Thomas Edison. He backed DC (electrons flowing in one direction around a circuit). In the other corner was George Westinghouse who backed AC (in which the electrons shuffle back and forth). Edison lost. The reason he lost was because over short distances spanned by early power grids AC suffered lower losses than DC. Subsequently, it became industry standard.

So what’s the big deal? Well, these days
electricity travels much further than it did
in the 1880s. And DC suffers lower losses than AC. So not only does that make DC better in its own right but it would allow electricity grids to be restructured in ways that would make wind power more attractive. That would
reduce the need to build more conventional (and polluting) power stations.

You see, wind power has two problems. You don’t always get wind where you want it. And secondly, you don’t always get wind when you want it.

According to Jürgen Schmid, head of ISET, an alternative-energy institute at the University of Kassel, Germany, the answer to both these problems is a continental-wide power
distribution. Then the question of where the wind is blowing would no longer matter as the wind is almost always blowing somewhere. If it were windy in Spain but not in West Wales, current would flow in one direction. Conversely if it were a blustery day over here, then it would flow in the other direction.

The ‘when’ aspect of the equation would be to use a country within the European grid to store the electricity until you need it. So how does that work? Well, for example you could use Norway’s hydroelectric plants. The power is used to pump water up into the reservoirs that feed the hydroelectric turbines. That way the power is on tap when you need it.

Should the wind drop all over Europe, which happens rarely, the hydro plants could fill the gap for up to four weeks. Complicated, but at 
the same time, simple too.

The reason it has not been built goes back to that fight between Edison and Westinghouse back in the 1880’s. He won because high voltage is the best way to transmit power. The higher the voltage, the smaller the loss. Yet AC with its shifting current runs to earth easier, which is another way of saying it loses its power. Hence the eason why the pylons are so high off the ground.

In short, a DC pylon will beat an AC one over long distance (600 miles). And a DC line will beat an AC line at a distance as short as 
20 miles. That’s why Dr Schmid calculates that a DC continental grid would allow wind to supply at least 30% of the power needed in Europe. And do so reliably.

Edison was right. DC was the best way to transmit electricity of any given voltage. He was ahead of his time.

Speed read
1 AC may no longer be the future.
2 DC suffers lower losses over longer distance.
3 This will make wind powermore commercial.
4 A European-wide power distribution would mean that it won’t matter where the wind is blowing as it is almost always blowing somewhere.
5 Norway has started building DC power lines between Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany.
6 Edison may have been right after all.

Economist, Scientific American & Google

Design for Disassembly

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


In 2001, Japan worked out it was going to run out of places to landfill.

So the government passed a law adding the cost of recycling home appliances to the retail price. The law guaranteed revenue to invest in recycling plants. Now over 80% of Japan's TV's are recycled.
Another bill passed in the same year made it law for computer manufacturers to take back and recycle obsolete computers. A mark on the computer indicates that recycling costs have been pre-paid.
But what is really inspiring is that companies like Hitachi and Toshiba are developing Design for Disassembly software to help them create more sustainable products. How a product will be recycled is now built into the design process and informs how the product is made. In comparison, the European Union has not been nearly as successful as Japan at dealing with the problem. Yet electrical goods are the fastest-growing waste category in Europe. In the UK alone we produce 1 million tonnes a year. And instead of showing everyone the way, the UK will become the last (yup, the last) major European country to comply with the WEEE (waste electrical, electronic equipment) directive.
So when we are told how Green this government is, maybe they are taking the Weee out of us all.

Related facts
Worldwide, discarded computers now account for 5% of waste.
In the US, between 14 million and 20 million PC's are dumped each year.
In 2005 a new product was launched every 3.5 minutes.
80% of the environmental impact of a product, service or system is determined at the design stage.
Mass production decreases our emotional attachment to our possessions, making them easier to discard.


There is an energy debate about to happen.

The powers that be think the answer is nuclear power.

Its even being called the environmental choice by some.

It's good to see the art of spin is still alive and kickin'.

Of course, we think the answer is to consume less.

And yup, we are all part of that problem.

And therefore, all part of that solution too.

But at the same time we need to invest in renewable energies.

To harness the wind, the sun, the waves, to develop bio-mass fuels etc.

Yup, the technology needs to be worked on to make it
more efficient. But so does the desire to do so.

So before we get railroaded into building more nuclear power stations, can anyone tell me what we are going to do with the waste from the last one's.

Answers on a postcard please.

There's no rush.

You got a couple of thousand years.

(Illustration: Jenny Bowers)

Earn a penny a day

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Imagine if you earned a penny a day and doubled it after each day for a month. On the second you would earn 2p a day and so on. And so on. Indeed, if you carried on doing that for a month, you would have earned over a million pounds.

It's funny how little things can add up like that.

We think that in order to make a difference, we need to do big things. We always want to hit that home run. But more often than not it's all those tiny little things that will make the real difference.

A little can sure do plenty.

So tonight turn your television's red standby light off. It's not a big thing. It's more of a small thing.
But as daft as it might sound, it could save a little on emissions.

It might even save you a few pennies on that darn electricity bill.

And oh boy, you know how those pennies can add up.

We could save 150 million a year just by switching off our TV's and Videos.

Friends In High Places

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Ever looked up at the sky at dusk and noticed those huge flocks of birds flying together? Swarms of them group together on their journey, where they form dense clouds that swirl about the sky like a living tornado (smaller birds like starlings seem to do it better). It’s really quite a sight. The way they spiral, twist and turn in complete unison is incredible.

Collectively, they can change direction in a split second without ever falling out of formation. I mean, how come they don’t crash into each other? It’s as if they can instinctively anticipate their neighbours’ next move, seeming almost telepathic at times. Now that’s a lot of trust.

It’s one of those natural phenomena that just makes you go wow, nature really is smart, and it got me to thinking... What if we humans followed our instincts like that? What if we all had that kind of intuition? What if we were all able to work together like they do? What if we all had that kind of blind belief in one another? And what if we all had that kind of knowledge of self and awareness of others? (Crikey, that’s a lot of what ifs.)

Seems like we could pretty much achieve whatever we set our minds to. We wouldn’t fear anything. We wouldn’t get on each other’s nerves. And people who have a common vision and share a common goal could get further faster by working together.

I guess sometimes you just need to unlearn what you’ve learned, remember that you’re an animal too and follow your instincts.

More info:

Is This All We Will Leave Behind?

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Will the landfill say more about us than our obituary?
Will the stuff in our lofts say more about us than our gravestones?
Will we carry on consuming without a care for tomorrow?
Do we care about tomorrow if we will not be in it?
Can we think of others anymore?
Do we really think Ebay is the answer to recycling?
But we have the answers.
Man is the smartest critter on the planet.
He has changed the flow of rivers.
Taken down mountains, rock by rock.
He has even started to change the climate.
Now itÕs time for man to do the hard thing.
To change his behavior.
The trouble is, man is hard wired to consume.
We will not stop man wanting to consume more and more.
We will not stop consuming, we all know that.
The human is hardwired to consume.
What we will have to do is to be better consumers.

Junk mail

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Every day the postman brings us more and more junk mail. Most of it hasn't been asked for and most of it goes unopened. Last year in America there were 52 billion pieces of junk mail sent out to people. When you start to think about numbers like that, you can get a sense of how many trees are being cut down for little or no reason.

So, even though recycling is a good idea, it is still better to get people to use less paper than to recycle it. That's why we thought we would target the junk mail companies to stop sending us stuff we don't want.

After all, if companies can send you their junk mail, why can't you send them yours?

This is how it works

Most companies will give you a freepost return address when they send you some mail. Just attach this to whatever junk you have and send it back to them at their expense. The heavier it is the more they'll have to pay.

The Royal Mail will have to deliver the item - it's their duty, and the company will have to pay the charges. And they won't know who sent it back as they send millions of them out.

Other practical ways of reducing junk mail.

Every time you fill out a form, give yourself a false middle name or initial. That way you can trace which organization has sold your name. You can then con-tact them and ask them to stop passing on your information. Whenever you order anything over the phone or fill out a form, always request that the company does not sell your name and address.

(the Mailing Preference Service) can effectively re-move your name from up to 95% of direct mail lists.

Note We only send our catalogue out to people who have requested it, and we don't sell our mailing list to anyone. If you don't want to receive future catalogues, please unsub-scribe from our mailing list.

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