Cold frame from scrap (pt 2)

Last week I finished my small cold frame for the balcony.

It took very little extra work, in fact: I just had to cut an appropriately-sized chunk off one of the 2m2 pieces of polycarbonate I brought home on my bike trailer a fortnight ago:

(Another demonstration of the truth of my long-held belief that you can transport pretty much anything with a bike.  Six miles — albeit quite slow ones — from Dulwich to Bermondsey and I didn’t have to stop and retie it even once.  I was very pleased.   NB: the polycarb wasn’t touching the ground at the end when the trailer (a Carry Freedom Large — fantastic piece of kit) was properly attached to the bike.)

The jigsaw went through the polycarb with no bother at all, and I taped the edges up with gaffer tape.  To get some air into the frame,  I’m using part of one of the planks I cut up for the slanted top: the polycarb lid just rests on it at the back.  I haven’t bothered to make hinges; I’ll rethink that if the lid doesn’t stay put.

Next plans: slightly bigger cold-frame for the table of herbs outside on the balcony, and much bigger one for the allotment.  Currently in the allotment there are three rows of various sorts of greens under mini-cloches (cut the top off a one-litre juice bottle), so the cold frame needs to be built before they outgrow the cloches.


Carbon tracking: travel

Continuing on my thoughts about my carbon footprint: travel. 

A significant chunk of the UK average 5.4 tonnes of carbon is car and plane travel. I don’t own a car, and I don’t intend to fly again, so that’s good for my footprint. Almost all of my practical daily travel is by bike, which has next-to-zero carbon; but I do take trains.

Rather to my horror, CRAG don’t include train (or tube) travel in their conversion factors table. Train data is surprisingly hard to find online (or I’m not looking right), but the splendid Seat61 site has a useful page which gives London to Edinburgh (return) as 24kg of CO2 (= 0.024 tonnes). (The Eurostar to Paris is 22kg return.) Resurgence give 0.1kg/mile for train travel. London-Edinburgh is around 700mi return, so that would be 70kg (0.07 tonnes) which… is rather out of whack with the Seat61 value. Hm.

For now, I’m going to work with the Resurgence value, because I’d rather overestimate than underestimate the cost.

So I’m going to start actually tracking my train travel (distances will be based on Google Maps and thus a little approximate). In September:

  • London to Southampton rtn: 160 mi.
  • London to Aberdeen rtn: 1060 mi.
  • Bermondsey to Battersea Park rtn: 8 mi.

Total 1228 mi = 122.8kg (0.123 tonnes).

No tube or bus travel this month. 

(In the interests of honesty, I should add that I also spent some time in a car on both of the long trips: in Aberdeen in particular there was a fair amount of mileage, although largely as extra passenger rather than cause-of-journey. However, for now I’m going to ignore social trips in other people’s cars, as these were.)


Carbon tracking: goals

I have been considering the matter of personal carbon footprint: what mine is, and what I should be aiming for. The many and varied online carbon calculators are a useful starting point, but they’re really a little vague. I want to make the effort to track and calculate my carbon emissions more accurately.

First question: what should I be aiming for? The Institute for Public Policy Research have been talking about personal carbon trading/rationing, but unfortunately their review is pay-to-read so I don’t know if they’ve talked about specific levels, and if they have, what those levels are.  The Carbon Rationing Action Groups network have a bit more information. Their figures give 5.4 tonnes of carbon per person as the UK emissions average, and 0.5 tonnes as a globally sustainable level.

Looking at their footprinting basic info, I’m a bit unclear on whether those figures are purely personal, or whether they include the societal per-capita output. But let’s assume that it’s the personal, and treat that 0.5 tonnes as what I should be aiming for.

0.5 tonnes is very, very low. I’m very aware that, living the developed-world lifestyle that I do, cutting down that far would be incredibly tough, and I don’t expect, being honest, to get anywhere close. However.   It is good to quantify, and to have that figure in mind.

Second question: where, approximately, am I at at the moment? The government calculator is again fairly vague, but estimates my current usage* as follows:

  • 1.85 tonnes for heating and lighting.
  • 0.33 tonnes for electrical appliances.
  • 0.3 tonnes for travel (I put in an estimate of 2 x 600mi return trips and 6 x 160 mi return trips by train per year; all other travel by bike).

Total: 2.48 tonnes.

The two major omissions from this are food consumption, and general consumption; and indeed, that site gives the UK national average as 4.46 tonnes, so they’re obviously missing that bit out. (I also think the travel is probably an under-estimate on my part.) The heating/lighting may be per-house rather than per-person.  It’ll do as a rough starting point.

So my aim now is to track things a bit more accurately than those estimates do, and to make reductions. I’ll be posting more shortly about the various sections of footprint and my thoughts on accuracy, problems, tracking, and potential cuts. You will note that although on that basis I’m well below the UK average, I’m still way above that sustainable 0.5 tonne level.

In the “change is possible” spirit of this blog: it’s important to remember that the difficulty of cutting down to 0.5 tonnes doesn’t mean that it is in any way pointless to make reductions. However, it’s also important to bear in mind that personal reductions are only part of this: we need to be looking at and campaigning for societal and structural change as well.

* I didn’t put in figures for my actual activities over the last year, because I am already fully aware that travelling as much as I have done this year, even low-carbon travelling, is outrageously carbon-costly. I’m interested in an estimate for what I’m consuming whilst back in the UK, so that I can move on from here.

growing things

Greenery for the winter: cold frame from scrap (pt1)

In my ongoing quest to reduce food miles by growing more greenery I have spent an hour or so building a small cold frame for the balcony.  It’s not quite finished yet (I have a huge piece of clear polycarbonate that I need to saw into pieces so I can use part of it for the cold frame top), but the frame itself now exists.

The best bit is that it’s made from 100% reclaimed bits.  The base is a wine box that I got from my parents (sadly by the time it reached me it was empty of wine).

The part of the top that gives it a slope (so it’ll catch the sun better) is made from planks reclaimed from a pallet. The pallet was part of a very small pile of wood left after Climate Camp, part of which I took home*.  I saved the nails as I took them out when dismantling the pallet, and enough of them were straightish that I could use them for this project. The measuring, sawing to size (including sawing the diagonals), and nailing together took under an hour: much quicker than I’d expected.

I was going to use a couple of pieces of dowel to hold the two sections together, but it seems pretty stable without. An old compost bag is providing a lining. 

The picture shows it on the balcony in its temporary “on top of the wormery” location.  (I need to rearrange the balcony space a bit.) The pots have rocket and bronze arrowhead lettuce seeds in: the hope is that the cold frame will keep the plants going over the winter & I’ll be able to keep having salads.  We shall see!

Part 2: cutting the top and finishing the cold frame.

* Technically doop took them home, as he was the one towing the bike trailer all the way down Blackheath Hill with 30kg or so of wood on it.


Staying associated: Kenya, climate change, and action

Last week I read this Guardian article on the effects of climate change in Kenya.  It’s upsetting, and angering, and it left me with a feeling of empty helplessness.  As I read the final paragraphs, I felt my ability to engage with the issues sliding away, beaten down by a layer of “well, shit, this is just too bad, too awful, for me to do anything”.

“Best not to think about it,” my self-protection told me.

I’m sure this wasn’t the aim of the writer.  But it is often the risk with this sort of disaster story.  Faced with however-many hundred words of bleak doom, the easiest reaction is dissociation.  Thinking about it is too miserable; there’s nothing in it to indicate that there’s anything that you as an individual can do; so the self-protective response is disengagement.

Which isn’t helpful: to those affected by climate change, to us (so far only minimally affected if at all), to anyone.  To counter that, here’s some things that you can do about this, and about other climate change disaster stories.

  • Change your own consumption habits.  There may be a limit to the impact that you all by yourself can have, but it’s not just about you all by yourself.  It’s about many people – everyone – changing their habits, and that is one of the things that must happen for us to have any hope of minimising the changes in the climate.  Check out 10:10 as a possible starting point.
  • Campaign for other, bigger changes: Climate Camp (the Great Climate Swoop is upcoming in October!), Climate Rush, Plane Stupid…  Direct action really can make a difference, and the more people are involved, the greater the likelihood that we’ll have an impact.
  • To help people in Kenya (and other affected areas) more directly: Farm Africa are working in Kenya, promoting projects that empower local communities to manage their own resources and increase their own resistance to water (and other) problems.  
  • The charity Concern are also working in this area. 

It’s important not just to throw money at the problem (however good the charity in question is) and forget about it: that’s another form of disengagement. To halt climate change (and thus to make real long-term changes for those worst hit by it), we all need to act.  You yourself can make a difference.  We can react to distressing news like this, not with helpless dissociation, but with action. That’s the only way we can make the future better.


Bikes and public transport

And the first proper post is a very practical one.  I spend a lot of time cycling, and when I go longer distances by train, I like to take my bike with me.  This can on occasion be a screaming nuisance.  Broadly speaking, local trains don’t require booking (and will usually have some variety of bike-space, of greater or less usability), but long-distance/Intercity trains do require booking.  Booking these days is free, but most of the online ticket sites don’t have a bike-booking option, which means either booking in person, booking by phone, or phoning up after you’ve bought the actual tickets (which can be… complicated, depending on who you speak to).

But!  There is good news amidst the confusion.  National Express East Coast have an online ticket-booking service which does allow you to book your bike on when you book your ticket.  They sell tickets for all trains, not just the ones they run, and the system, whilst Javascripty, is actually very usable.*  Highly recommended when you and your bike want to get somewhere.

Whilst on the subject of bikes and public transport, two questions:
1. Is there a good reason why the old-fashioned guard’s van (with lots of room for bikes and other bulky objects) can’t be brought back on modern trains?
2. Whilst in San Francisco a few months ago, I noticed that MUNI buses have bike-racks on the front (explanatory video also available).  This is a genuinely awesome thing.  I find myself wondering: are these things fittable post-hoc?  Could London’s buses (and other UK buses) be fitted with them? 

* I can’t comment on disability-usability issues – would be interested to know if anyone else can. 

activism, permaculture

An introduction

Of late, I have found myself wanting to write about a certain class of thing.  About the ways in which the world isn’t the place I want it to be; about the ways in which individuals can act to change that.  Right now I’m spending a lot of time thinking about environmental issues and climate change, but that broadens out very quickly, into considering the structural problems which have led us to the difficult and dangerous situation we are in today, and where we might want to be instead.

This blog is a space for practical tips: on cycling, and gardening, and reducing your own impact on the planet.  It’s a space for thinking about the issues: what is the deal with carbon trading?  It’s a space for thinking and talking about structural alternatives: how do we as a society make decisions, act collectively, talk to one another, and how else (how better) might these things be done?  It’s time to empower ourselves, through knowledge and skills, to create the changes we want to see in the world.