Solutions and Sustainability Headlines - 19 October, 2005
Click on the headline (link) for the full text.
Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage
Former City Dwellers Starting Organic Farms Bring New Spirit of Enterprise to Countryside
Jonathan Brown, interviews by Delia Monk, Independent / UK via Common Dreams
They have given up well-paid jobs in the cities in search of the good life. With no previous experience, but equipped with degrees, idealism and the skills acquired in the corporate world, they are breathing new life into the countryside.
These are the findings of a new report published today examining the astonishing impact that organic farming is having on England's rural economy. Such is the influx of new blood, it is estimated that one in three of all new organic farmers has no previous farming experience. Six out of 10 organic producers have worked outside traditional farming at some point, bringing a much-needed injection of fresh ideas, the report said.
The report's co-author, Matt Lobley of Exeter University's Centre for Rural Research, said: "If you look at the population of organic farmers, far more of them come from non-farming backgrounds. They have different skills and different attitudes and are very entrepreneurial."
Typical innovations include direct marketing of produce through farm shops, websites or organic vegetable box schemes. It is the kind of enterprise seen by television viewers on BBC2's Jimmy's Farm, which showed a new farmer, Jim Doherty, struggle to set up the Essex Pig Company with the help of a loan from the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a schoolfriend.
Dr Lobley said the incomers "bring business skills and often they have an enhanced appreciation of marketing, the media and getting publicity. They have much better experience and background in dealing with people and customers. The average farmer just doesn't have these skills."
The research, the first of its kind, was commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Of the 640 farmers surveyed, nearly half of the new organic farmers had a degree or higher qualification - a far larger proportion than the general population.
The report also found that organic farmers were on average six years younger than their traditional counterparts, with a much higher proportion of farmers aged 45 and under.
As well as being younger they are also happier, said Dr Lobley. "We think this reflects an increasingly popular lifestyle trend which is in part helping to shape the rural economy. They are working hard, but they seem to be happy with their way of life because they have made a positive choice to do it, and are not doing it by default."
(18 October 2005)
The latest investor in green energy - the CIA
John Dillin, Christian Science Monitor
Within hours, solar and wind energy units can be up and running in war or disaster zones.
ARLINGTON, VA. – What if you had a power unit that generated substantial electrical energy with no fuel? What if it were so rugged that you could parachute it out of an airplane? What if it were so easy to set up that two people could have it running in just a few hours?
Now there is such a device - built by a small Virginia start-up - and the federal government has taken notice.
SkyBuilt Power Inc. has begun building electricity-generating units fueled mostly by solar and wind energy. The units, which use a battery backup system when the sun is down and the wind is calm, are designed to run for years with little maintenance.
Depending upon its configuration, SkyBuilt's Mobile Power Station (MPS) can generate up to 150 kilowatts of electricity, says David Muchow, the firm's president and CEO. That's enough to power an emergency operations center, an Army field kitchen, or a small medical facility.
Privately owned SkyBuilt now has a new investor - In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm set up by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Skybuilt and In-Q-Tel will announce Tuesday that they have signed a strategic development agreement, including an investment in SkyBuilt.
(18 October 2005)
Conservation Agriculture and Global Warming in Africa
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanging
It reads like a story from decades past: experts are trying to get African farmers to change their farming practices. But this time, the experts are also from Africa, and the modest changes they suggest are to encourage the conservation of quality soil and water. But while the changes may be modest, they hint at a much more dramatic question: how long can traditional farming methods withstand an era of climate disruption?
The African Conservation Tillage Network, based in Zimbabwe, is assembling a manual on "conservation agriculture," a set of agricultural practices based on the specific needs of farmers in Africa, intended to reduce erosion and to save water.
(18 October 2005)
As energy prices soar, a city finds ways to cut the cost
Sara Miller Llana, Christian Science Monitor
NEW HAVEN, CONN. – They're not rocket scientists. But conservation consultants John Pierson and Parthiban Mathavan were able to save New Haven Public Schools $1.1 million in energy costs last fiscal year.
How? By peeking out the window and deciding that a mild winter morning does not require full-blast heat at the 50 schools they monitor.
"We are always dreaming up ways to be more efficient," says Mr. Pierson. Typically, heat or air-conditioning was on 24/7 - even if no one was in school. Stopping that saved $600,000 the first year. "A lot of it is common sense."
Their aims are part of a larger effort that has given New Haven something experts say few other cities have today: a lower energy bill.
(18 October 2005)
Gridlock Britain 'chokes economy'
Traffic congestion on UK roads is costing businesses about £20bn a year as productivity is hit by staff arriving late to work.
The number of cars on UK roads has risen by 70% between 1982 and 2003, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). This, its latest survey said, has put more pressure on an already creaking transport infrastructure.
ICE is calling on the government to increase funding for transport. In its State of the Nation Report 2005, ICE revealed that 69% of the public want improvements in public transport to help combat the UK's gridlocked road network. The report calls for greater investment in quality bus stations, taxi ranks and railway stations to create a "totally integrated transport system that people will want to use".
... With the exception of Denmark and Sweden, public transport fares in the UK are more costly than elsewhere in Europe. The answer to this, said ICE, is government subsidies to cut fares, making it more appealing for commuters to ditch their cars in favour of buses or trains. Another way to get motorists to think again is to introduce road tolls. Charging to use roads will make drivers consider whether their journey is really worth paying for.
"We've got no option other than the carrot and stick," said Dr Colin Clinton, ICE's president. "The carrot option is to encourage increased bus, train and tram use, the stick option is to charge drivers to use highways." A quarter of car journeys in the UK are less than two miles long and ICE believes most of these can be substituted by public transport, walking or cycling.
"Action must be taken before we can't drive to work or school in the morning due to permanent traffic jams outside our houses," Dr Clinton continued. "Unfortunately, the future of UK roads is simple - increased governmental promotion of public transport or meltdown."
(17 October 2005)
However interested I might be in the measures suggested, the threat of "permanent traffic jams outside our homes" is not one I can take seriously.-LJ
The Organic Experimental Engine (oxen)
John R. Scarlett, Mother Earth News
Suppose someone told you that the Exxon Corporation (formerly Esso) had
developed a farm vehicle as strong as a tractor but capable of going where no ordinary tractor can . . . through waist-high snow, knee-deep mud and up and down steep, rocky hillsides. That instead of using exhaustible and irreplaceable fuels such as gasoline and kerosene, this invention ran on any high-protein vegetable matter, even grass.
That instead of noxious exhaust it produced a biodegradable substance almost unequaled as a fertilizer. And that—on top of all these other advantages—it had a life expectancy of 20 years and cost as little as $50.00 brand new, with a resale value as high as $2,000!
If you were offered such a creation, would you be willing to spend 20 minutes a day on routine maintenance? And would you accept the fact that this mobile power source has no steering wheel but works on a remote control system that requires you only to walk alongside giving voice directions?
Well, believe it or not, the O.X.EN does exist . . . but it's neither experimental nor the invention of Exxon, for it's been used successfully as long as man can remember. In fact, we own two OXEN ourselves, and I'd like to tell you about them.
Cheers to John C from the RunningOnEmpty2 mailing list for pointing
this one out.