Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The foxes

Here are some pictures of the foxes.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Photography and environmental footprints - how big are yours?

If you are interested in photography, have any Pentax kit, and are interested in green issues, you might have come across this excellent Pentax blog called OK1000.

I am keen on digital photography and have an old 3Meg Canon Powershot A70 and some Pentax SLR gear, including my prized ME Super that my father-in-law kindly gave me some years back.

It is easy to assume that going digital would mean that a consumer's impacts on the environment would reduce and would therefore be a good thing. No more chemicals in the dark room etc.

The scale of the pollution and harm linked to the manufacture of film has been highlighted on Leo Hickman's blog, with Kodak being the focus. Thankfully, their switch to digital has demonstrated a massive reduction in the amount of pollution they generate.

Digital has not done away with coated paper usage though. The cameras themselves with their LCD screens and funky features eat battery power. With all those digital images taken, there is an increased demand for more storage online or on huge hard disks. The manipulation of images demand higher spec power-hungry PCs or MACs. Then there are the costs and impacts associated with home, online or high street printing services. The solid-state memory cards are a product from the semi-conductor industry, itself making use of highly toxic chemicals.

Digital photo frames sold in their thousands last Christmas - they use electricity and all these digital gadgets can cause harm in their production and improper disposal.

One things is clear. The marketeers try to convince that we must have the latest, digital whizzy megapixel-beast or our photographs will be pants.


I'm still using my 3 megapixel Canon A70 and Pentax SLR gear and to be honest, a new camera would distract me from getting used to the equipment I have and practicising to improve my photography skills. Sure, I would like a digital SLR (so long as I can still use my existing Pentax lenses with it) but I would not chuck out the kit I have now. There is always eBay, Freecycle, or charity shops where you can recycle your unwanted stuff.

I'm not sure that digital has a smaller environment footprint than than traditional photography but it is clear that consumer behaviour can make things better.

It isn't all doom and gloom and I would urge all digital photographers to read this excellent post OK1000 Pentax Blog: Considering Green Digital Photography.

Urban foxes - pest or pleasure?

We discovered that we have a family of 9 foxes living in a den in our neighbours garden. One Sunday morning, we saw the whole family sunning themselves and playing in our garden. What made it special was that my little boy got to see them.

Our neighbours are not so keen on them. One couple have a veg patch on an industrial scale and seem keen on snipers being involved in solving the problem of these urban foxes. Apparently, the foxes are trashing all their hard work. You can understand their frustration but not their interest in extermination. Some Londoners seem to be pro-gun as the problem seems to be huge there, but you do get a more rational view as well on the HolyCow blog.

We suspected they were around before we saw them as something was digging holes in our garden. I've learnt now that this was probably them looking for worms to eat.

Worst still, it seems that a local Conservative Concillor has become involved, and an assistant of his quizzed us last week, just when we had returned from a long day at work and really could have done without the interruption.

Because of the talk about shooting them, I listened to what he had to say and it seems a more moderate approach may be attempted, namely a petition or involvement of the local press. I'm not sure what that will achieve, as I thought that once the cubs are mature enough, they will move on?

I grew up in the country in a large village and seldom saw foxes. I have lived in a number of cities and have often seen foxes in an urban setting. Makes you wonder about how our environment is changing.

We haven't lived in our neighbourhood long so it is one of those emotive issues that you want to avoid. The veg-growers are pretty territorial and were keen to tell us stuff and talk at us, with little interest in listening or getting to know us. We want to enjoy living in our new home but will not condone harm coming to these foxes.

There seems to be loads of wildlife coming into our garden, and we were lucky to have Great Tits nesting in our nest box (we missed them moving out as we were away that weekend...b****er!), and have started getting Great Spotted Woodpeckers climbing up our pine trees.

It seems that our foxes may be living on borrowed time. The Tory man seem to say that the Council are not interested in complaints about urban foxes and the RSPCA are not able to intervene unless animals are injured. The RSPCA have produced two useful factsheets called 'Living with foxes', and 'Wildflife Welfare'. I've also discovered the National Fox Welfare Society.

We did notice that one of the foxes is limping when it moves. Is this enough to get the RSPCA involved and possibly get the family caught humanely and relocated to a more rural setting?

I hope to look into this and if anyone has a suggestion about saving these foxes, do let me know.

When I get time, I'll post a picture of some of these foxes but their hearing, eyesight and my low-res camera mean that the pictures aren't the best.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Fairtrade Foundation replies to the BBC - missed opportunity?

There was a response published on the Fairtrade web site on 23rd May to the news item about Pratt's Bananas, fairtrade and the exploitation of migrant workers.

I welcome the action taken in writing a letter to the company concerned and urging them to join the Ethical Trading Initiative but the rest of letter really is about damage limitation to the FAIRTRADE mark and the Foundation.

Using technicalities as a defence is not sufficient. We consumers used to trust the FAIRTRADE mark and saw the Fairtrade Foundation as custodians of fair trade.

Why don't they accept some responsibility here and see this as an opportunity to improve and make the FAIRTRADE mark and scheme even better?

We consumers see a fairtrade sticker on bananas and we assume that it means the whole supply chain supports the high standards of fair trade.

Why not evolve the labelling scheme to also become an international standard for ethical supply throughout the supply chain, from producer to consumer, as well as for fairtrade products?

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Fair Trade? Well we thought it was…

Following a critical article in The Guardian newspaper about Fairtrade on 10th May 2007, the BBC announced details of their investigation into the treatment of migrant workers at a so-called “Fairtrade” supplier of bananas to many of the UK supermarket chains.

I first came across fair trade products in Edinburgh as a student in the 1990s and believed then what a simple and important idea it was. To have an internationally recognised standard for products that recognised ethical practices in the supply chain, with producers getting a more reasonable payment for their products is fantastic. Just the sort of thing for consumers like me, trying to become more ethical and sustainable in what I buy, can look out for and make better, more informed choices.

If a scheme such as this is not being properly audited and is being abused by some companies to make a profit from the ethical and sustainability bandwagon, then it has been tainted and we consumers cannot trust it. As soon as the trust goes, so does the credibility of the FAIRTRADE mark and no doubt consumers will no longer see fair trade products as something good to buy, and rather as some sort of con.
I'm not alone in thinking this. An article on Green Options highlights the importance of transparency, accountability and trust in the supply chain for such fair trade schemes.

Isn’t time the Fairtrade Foundation woke up? We thought that they were the champions of getting a fair deal for producers in the developing world. This view is suggested by the definition of the FAIRTRADE mark: “… an independent consumer label which appears on UK products as a guarantee that they have given their producers a better deal”. Tell that to the migrant workers “employed” by Pratt’s Bananas in Luton!

I don’t want to give up on FAIRTRADE mark products quite yet but isn’t it time for the scheme to get tough, be rigorous and fight for its credibility and the producers that deserve a better deal?

We spend millions of pounds on Fairtrade products in the UK. Will members of the Fairtrade Foundation please use some of it to conduct rigorous checks on the Fairtrade supply chain and restore our faith in the scheme?

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Organic milk at any price?


This is my first attempt at blogging and I would like to get your help. Like a lot of people in the UK, our family is trying to make ends meet and we want to make sure we live as healthily, ethically and sustainably as we can.

In this blog, I would like your help in cutting through the unhelpful hype or misguided stuff on ethical and sustainable living, sometimes called the "greenwash".

It seems to me that the choices of what to do, what to buy are numerous and not straightforward. A recent example for us is whether to have organic milk delivered or regular milk. We have a toddler and the motivation to buy organic milk is strong.

We found out that the organic milk is supplied in tetra paks rather than glass bottles. Healthwise, there seems to be a strong consensus on the benefits of organic milk but buying the milk in this type of packaging concerns us.

In Norfolk there is a scheme to recycle tetra paks. When I contacted the City Council in Norwich, I was told that the pilots were successful, with 5.15 tonnes of waste not being added to landfill between February 2006 and April 2007. The scheme is available in my area and 5 out of 18 sites in Norfolk now recycle this type of waste.

My concern is that the tetra paks are recycled at a facility outside the UK (Norway I think?), and may involve transportation to a mill in Fife, Scotland before they are shipped overseas.

Is all this effort to avoid adding the waste to landfill and paying more landfill tax worth it? The transportation and processing costs, as well as the CO2 generated cannot be helping matters.

It is difficult to know what to do for the best. I have seen a bit of a debate on this in the It's Not Easy Being Green Forum and in a post on the How To Be Green blog, and certainly Tetra Pak promote themselves as being very environmentally responsible and espouse the benefits of their packaging.
We would like to buy organic milk and have it delivered to our doorstep but not if the costs are too high.

What would you do or what do you think?