Green Investment Bank sold to fracking investor

  • Green Investment Bank sold to fracking investor – what could possibly go wrong?
  • Green Investment Bank – started with public money – being sold by the government to an Australian company.
  • The bank was set up in 2012 to fund renewable energy projects

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

gib_3The Green Investment Bank (GIB), set up by the UK government five years ago, has been sold to Macquarie Bank, with a value of £2.3bn.

The Treasury secures £1.7bn through the process, with a further £600m of liabilities taken on by the Australia-based business lender, which has holdings in fossil fuel and fracking projects.

The bank was set up to fund renewable and low-carbon projects and has invested about £800m per year so far. That includes total government funding of £1.5bn since 2012. The deal with Macquarie should see that rise to £3bn per year over three years. I am not holding my breath on that one though and the reader will see why not by reading further.

The deal does requires the new owner to retain its name and headquarters team in Edinburgh. But, as far as we can see, there seems to be no requirement to actually continue the business of supporting green energy and other ventures.

Macquarie Group, which bought the publicly owned body, claimed it wanted to use the purchase to develop a reputation as one of the “key green investment channels” in Europe. (Yeah, and pigs fly!)

Environmentalists, however, have expressed concerns about the future green credentials of the GIB given the Macquarie Group's other operations and investments.

The sale of the GIB is part of the UK Government's long-term strategy of selling-off state assets it calls “liabilities” and reducing the government's commitment to subsidizing green investment in any way. Campaigners have already criticized the UK Government for cutting subsidies to windfarms in 2015 and early 2016.

Those “liabilities”, as far as the British Tory government is concerned, also includes, no doubt the National Health Service and other still publicly owned assets. Everything that does not give them backhanders and makes money for their cronies is, obviously, a “liability”.

The green credentials of the supposed Green Investment Bank are now in tatters. Why would the new owners allow for genuine green investments to be made if they are going to impact on the profitability of the company's previous investments? That would go against all capitalist business sense. (The track record of the Macquarie Group speaks for itself, as we will see below).

Research by Market Forces has found Macquarie's fossil fuel exposure is at least £1.55bn since 2008, including £255m provided for the Maules Creek Mine in Australia, for which some of the vast Leard State Forest was destroyed.

Macquarie was also a key player in the purchase of opencast coal mine assets in Europe, and was fined millions by the US financial regulator for backing a shell Chinese coal mining company.

As an early supporter of the global drive for shale gas, Macquarie is the largest shareholder of Hutton Energy, which holds fracking licenses in the UK.

Still questions?

© 2017

The Key to Feeding the World? It’s Healthy Soil

Conventional farming practices that degrade soil health undermine humanity’s ability to continue feeding everyone over the long run.

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One of the biggest modern myths about agriculture is that organic farming is inherently sustainable. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. After all, soil erosion from chemical-free tilled fields undermined the Roman Empire and other ancient societies around the world. Other agricultural myths hinder recognizing the potential to restore degraded soils to feed the world using fewer agrochemicals.

When I embarked on a six-month trip to visit farms around the world to research my forthcoming book, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” the innovative farmers I met showed me that regenerative farming practices can restore the world’s agricultural soils. In both the developed and developing worlds, these farmers rapidly rebuilt the fertility of their degraded soil, which then allowed them to maintain high yields using far less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.

Their experiences, and the results that I saw on their farms in North and South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ghana and Costa Rica, offer compelling evidence that the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil. This journey also led me to question three pillars of conventional wisdom about today’s industrialized agrochemical agriculture: that it feeds the world, is a more efficient way to produce food and will be necessary to feed the future.

Myth 1: Large-scale agriculture feeds the world today

According to a recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, family farms produce over three-quarters of the world’s food. The FAO also estimates that almost three-quarters of all farms worldwide are smaller than one hectare—about 2.5 acres, or the size of a typical city block.

Read more here.

Cycling to work ‘could halve risk of cancer and heart disease’

'There’s an urgent need to improve road conditions for cyclists,' says cycling charity

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Commuters who swap their car or bus pass for a bike could cut their risk of developing heart disease and cancer by almost half, new research suggests – but campaigners have warned there is still an “urgent need” to improve road conditions for cyclists.

Cycling to work is linked to a lower risk of developing cancer by 45 per cent and cardiovascular disease by 46 per cent, according to a study of a quarter of a million people.

Walking to work also brought health benefits, the University of Glasgow researchers found, but not to the same degree as cycling.

The 264,337 participants were asked how they travelled to work on a typical day. Their health was monitored for five years and the results adjusted for variables such as sex, age, existing illness, smoking and diet.

Overall, people who cycled to work were found to have a 41 per cent lower risk of premature death from any cause, compared to those who drove or took public transport.

The scientists said: “The findings, if causal, suggest population health may be improved by policies that increase active commuting, particularly cycling.”

These policies could include “the creation of cycle lanes, cycle hire or purchase schemes, and better provision for cycles on public transport,” they wrote in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Read more here.

Reuse in the garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I know, we have, basically, been here the other day but nevertheless there are other things aside from the gallon buckets and such that can find a reuse in the garden.

Fireworks_Store-Greenhouse1_webWorking as a groundsman in a municipal park we come across some flytipped things every now and then and I like to make sure that nothing has to go to the tip that does not need to and that includes shopping carts. While the latter do, in fact, belong to the stores whence they came before they were dumped as the stores, generally, refuse to come an collect them they end up as scrap. Well, they don't have to. They make great – mobile – planters when lines with builders' bags (tonne bags) or some other means. Great for growing carrots as they are just the right height to be well out of the vector of the carrot root fly.

Coke_Can_Pot_Stand1_webHowever, there are also a few other things that I have made use of, not counting aforementioned shopping carts, such as old bath tubs that have been dumped, as well as a polycarbonate display cabinet that once held fireworks (see photo above) and a stand for Coke cans (see photo below). The fireworks display cabinet is a kind of greenhouse now and the Coke can stand holds plant puts with seedlings and cuttings. It may not look like designed by the garden designers of the Chelsea or Hampton Court Flower Shows of the RHS but then again it came for free. And who, anyway, could ever afford those designer gardens?

The large plastic water bottles, the 5 liter variety, which are mostly square, and being left behind during picnics quite frequently, make very useful cloches for tender plants or to bring on plants even when there is no longer a real risk of cold and frost. Again they may not looks as fashionable as the manufactured cloches one can buy but, then again, they cost nothing and keep those plastic containers out of the waste stream; for a while at least as eventually they will get brittle and need to got the way all others go.

Many old folks used to create path edging and edging for beds using empty glass bottles and this is something that, actually, can look very pretty indeed. But as I rather use tubs and other containers for my gardening I don't actually do that. I have other uses for glass bottles before they end up in the recycling stream.

Those are just a few thoughts and ideas about reuse in the garden. I am sure many of us, at least those that do do gardening, could come up with a few more things.

© 2017

2017 UK General Election

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

2010-06-26-solidarityIn a surprise move British Prime Minster Theresa May announced on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 that she is calling a snap general election for June 8, and on Wednesday, April 19, MPs have “overwhelmingly” backed her in this.

Now we are once again asked to make our choice who is allowed to lord it over us but as we have, at present, no better system at hand we have but one choice, that is to say choosing from two parties, the Tories or Labour. Everything else is a wasted vote and if you want a change to the destruction that is being meted out to this country by May's Tories at the moment, whether you are for or against Brexit, the only choice there is is Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.

A vote for the Green Party, for instance, is a vote for neo-liberalism as is a vote for the Lib-Dems, the traitors who betrayed the people the last time round when they went into coalition with the Tories. Already now Tim Farron has basically said, by not ruling it out, that the Lib-Dems could be prepared to go into coalition again with the Tories. All just so they can get – somehow – into power, even if only as second fiddle players.

The neoliberals of the Greens and the Lib-Dems will want to keep the UK under the thumb of the neoliberal European Union where democracy means absolutely nothing and which is not just headed towards a federal Europe but actually towards something that will make all the nation states in this one Europe into regions, with, if the lords of Brussels get their way, appointed governors and cabinets and the people having no say in the matter whatsoever.

The Communist Party in Britain did see this coming and that is why they advised to vote for leaving the EU and it was, basically, the late Bob Crow, a true socialist and working class hero, who started the campaign of NO2EU for the trade unions and the labor movement.

As I have said above, there is no other choice, as the current system does not allow for it, and a social democrat government by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is by far the better outcome than a continuation of austerity and the oppression of the poor and less well off under May and the Tories. The way May and her party are proceeding they will make Thatcher look like St. Francis of Assisi by comparison.

At present there is, as said, but one choice to effect any kind of change and that is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. A vote for any other party is a wasted vote.

Only a Labour government can guarantee our environmental policies to continue, and even improve, as far as green issues are concerned, and will put an end to austerity and the oppression of the poor. Another five years of May and the Tories will destroy the working class and the poor and literally lead to deaths among the less well off, the unemployed and disabled. We must put a stop to that.

I know that the ideal case would be a true socialist party to come into office – I will not use the often mentioned “coming to power” for the power should and must rest with the people – but that ideal case we do not, as yet, have.

Do we need a worker's revolution in Britain? Yes! When? Ideally now, but that is not going to happen as the ground just is not ready for it. Thus, the only option is somewhat socialism lite in the form of social democracy as the old Labour Party had and maybe the Labour Party could get again under Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

Unless you want to continue the same Tory agenda that we have at present and worse then vote Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister. Voting for any other party is a wasted vote that will keep the Tories in power and not voting does the same. If you want a change in the way Britain is governed – until we can get down to a revolution of the working class – then it has to be a vote for JC4PM. So, let's make June the end of May and the Tories and their war on the poor and the environment.

© 2017

The true cost of landfill rubbish sites

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

We might as well be burying sacks of cash: The true cost of landfill rubbish sites

LandfillIt's not just dumping rubbish in a hole in the ground, you know. The act of sending rubbish to landfill sites is far more expensive and damaging as most people think, because it isn't all about burying waste in a hole in the ground and forgetting about it.

It would appear that more people need to know the true financial and environmental cost of waste disposal to encourage them into better recycling habits, or better still the habits of reducing waste and reusing what they have, including some packaging, such as glass jars, etc. And this Blog is dealing often enough with the hows and wherefores of this, including instructions.

Recycling, as we have discussed before, is also not the be all and end all that it is made out to be so often by the powers-that-be and others.

The “hidden” costs such as constant monitoring of landfill sites mean that burying rubbish is not the simple relatively cost-free solution many people believe it to be – and if people knew the truth there would be more pressure on the authorities to cut landfill use to the bare minimum. The cost is thousands of pounds, per site, per year, until eternity, basically. But pressure must also be brought to bear to do the recycling bit properly.

Waste reduction, and that is where industry and retail also and especially has a great part to play, is the first and utmost priority. Then comes reuse, repurposing and upcycling, by individuals and others. Then comes recycling including composting and anaerobic digestion for methane production. The final small amount, and should really only be a small amount of things that can't go the other routes, should then be not buried in the ground but burned in waste to energy plants.

The uncomfortable fact is that even dormant landfill sites need monitoring years after they close. The threat of pollution and other hazards remains real decades after the last truck has delivered its load. In addition to that they leak methane for many more decades to come. Though as to the latter, the methane, that problem could be dealt with – if the will would be there – by using it as a source for energy generation. Even though methane being basically natural gas and thus can be used to power electricity generation and could also be piped into homes for heating and cooking most landfill sites simply vent it off. That despite the fact that methane is many times more dangerous a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide.

If people knew how much it costs – both in financial and environmental terms, everybody, I should think, would make greater efforts toward ethical waste disposal and also and especially hold authorities and industry to account.

All this monitoring is incredibly expensive, and the costs involved will continue over many years to ensure public and environmental safety. It is a sum of tens of thousands of pounds for every site in the country and thus we are talking millions in total, every year, for decades and decades.

We cannot afford to take our eye off the ball and stop monitoring, as this could easily lead to the threat of local environmental catastrophe. Sites which closed decades ago are still having to be watched for methane gas and polluted ground water. By continuing to use landfill as a waste solution only adds to this problem.

The best thing we can do is to find greener, safer alternatives to burying our waste in big holes in the ground and pretending it is out of sight and out of mind and those are very much along the lines that I have mentioned above. It is serious time for a change if we do not want to create a legacy that – sooner or later and it probably will be sooner – is coming to haunt us and bite us in the proverbial. And that is aside from the money that it costs to maintain these places.

© 2017

Wooden Kitchen Implements

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

wooden kitchen implementsA simple stick was, more than likely, the first stirrer that people (would have) used for stirring the gruel in the pot and the Scottish spurtle, the traditional implement for stirring the porridge while it is cooking, is still very close to that original.

Sometime later, I should guess, the stirring paddle arrived, which then, later still, turned into the spatula.

The wooden spoon for stirring the pot, and especially for eating, I should think, at that time, was still a long way off and in coming. But it is evident from all this how ancient and traditional the use of wood is in the kitchen, and not just in the kitchen, obviously, and no one seems to have suffered any ill effects as the result of this use.

The stirring paddle, to some extent, is by far more efficient for, well, stirring, as is the wooden spoon though the latter has its uses for sure. More than likely the cooking spoon for use in stirring came about as as tool for multi-tasking, that is to say to also serve as a tasting spoon.

Wooden kitchen implements vary in design from culture to culture and often even from region to region, and that is just the basic tool. Each and every maker, no doubt, make variations on the theme (no, not Greensleeves).

Metal utensils, with the exception of the knife, and especially utensils made from plastic, have really only come into use in the last one and a half centuries or so; plastic obviously only in the last fifty or so years.

The Japanese use the Shamoji, the rice paddle, for “fluffing up” their rice after cooking (steaming); a tool that is virtually unknown in the West. Mind you, I still wonder as to whether one also might require a rice canoe to go with such a paddle. Some Eastern European cultures still the stew (or goulash) with wooden paddles (no, not the canoe kind) rather than wooden spoons and maybe we can learn something from those practices and cultures.

Wood in the kitchen is more hygienic that plastic, and metal even, including stainless steel, as many woods, if not indeed all woods, bar a few toxic ones, have ant-bacterial and anti-viral properties, some to a greater extent than others, with pine and the much maligned sycamore (Acer pseudoplantanus) in the lead here.

If you have used a plastic spatula in your skillet for some time you will notice how much of its original size will have gone over a couple of years, literally melted away. That plastic will have ended up in your food. Such will never happen with a wooden spatula.

Ever since the advent of plastic, from Bakelite until today, industry has tried to convince us that plastic would be so much better than wood and other natural materials and so much more hygienic and healthier for us. But this may not be at all the case as we come to find out more and more today. The damage, however, is done and especially to our woods and woodland industries. A reversal of the fortunes of both is possible but only if people change their ways and habits and return to traditionally crafted goods.

Yes, traditionally crafted wooden goods are somewhat more expensive than those mass produced wooden goods or those made somewhere in countries far away. On the other hand by buying homegrown traditionally crafted wooden goods the buyer invests in the local woodland economy and also in the woodlands.

So, put some homegrown wood into your kitchen (and other parts of your home).

© 2017

Trump's currency war against Germany

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

InGodWeTrump1_webNot so long ago everything was Putin's fault, now it's Trump's. At least for the moment Volodya can breathe a sigh of relief. Or at least that was the case at the time when I first started this article which was before the supposed gas attack in Syria.

It is not so much a currency war but a trade war against Germany (and the EU) and it was not started by Trump but by Obama.

Does anyone really think that the so-called VW emissions scandal, which also seems to have been, somewhat extended to other German and European car makers had really anything to do with cheating in the emission tests. It was known for a long time that that was going on and American car makers cheat better than all of them. It has nothing to do with that but all to do with the fact that Americans, in the eyes of the US government, have higher sales figures in the US than American ones. And that had to be stopped. Enter the emissions scandal.

On the financial front the attack on foreign, and again a German bank, namely Deutsche Bank, in the forefront, plus some British ones, with regards to cheating and other issues, runs along the very same lines. Also not started by President Trump but by the previous US government, under President Obama. But how could the Nobel Peace laureate be at fault. So, attack the new man. Especially as he is not liked by the neoliberal elite, to which Obama belonged and the candidate that lost, Hillary Clinton.

The US, under Obama, was working very hard on undermining Europe and the European economy, by a variety of ways and actions.

Let's look, for an example, at which European brand of cars is sold in the largest numbers in the US. It is Volkswagen (VW). So, in order thus to attack the German (and EU economies) you find a way of attacking the manufacturer of the particular make that you have an issue with, and create an issue that is not the issue you actually have with them. Telling the truth in that department could go against WTO rules, for instance. I guess the reader is getting the idea now from which direction the wind really was blowing.

As far as the USA were (and probably still are) concerned the EU, with Germany in the lead, are dangerous to them as far as the economic power is concerned and that has to be curbed. But it was not the current President who started this, even though the neoliberal media and their paymasters, the neoliberal elite, in Europe (and elsewhere) want us to believe that without questioning. But questioning we must everything that the media and the elite, and that includes our very own respective governments, presents to us, and that more so now than before.

It is also for that very reason that the EU was pushed to impose sanctions against the Russian Federation, with Germany, alas, leading the push for those actions, being a good vassal to the USA, as is her place.

Those sanctions hurt the economies in the EU countries, affecting, in Germany especially, the small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), while US companies continue to do business unabated with Russia. Not, necessarily, officially sanctioned but nevertheless not being stopped either.

This, and I know I am repeating myself, is a trade war, not a currency war, and it was not started by President Trump but by former President Obama. That's something that we have to get right and understand. It was started by the neoliberal elite in Washington (and the US per se) and aided and abetted, to some extend, by the same kind of people in Europe, not even realizing (or do they?) that it could destroy their own SMEs, and very much in the agricultural and food sector, but also in other sectors.

© 2017

Meet the ‘fix-perts’, an army of experts determined to get Britain on the mend

The Repair Café names the seven easiest things you can fix yourself (and that includes laptops), saving you a small fortune and benefiting the environment

Every year British households chuck out £800-worth of electrical goods, nearly half of which goes straight into landfill. Yet many of those items – as well as wonky bits of furniture – suffer a premature death that could be avoided with a simple repair. Trouble is, most householders have no confidence in their ability to fix things, and have been (profitably) trained to dispose of goods and buy new. But householders in many parts of the UK can now find a Repair Café where, over tea and biscuits, volunteer “fix-perts” give them the knowledge to help themselves in future.

Martine Postma launched the concept in Amsterdam in late 2009, and there are now 1,256 Repair Cafés around the world. They are all staffed by volunteers and designed to be free meeting spaces where visitors can bring their broken items, or just pop in and browse the selection of DIY books. They join the increasing number of events and workshops across the UK that can help you tackle the repair jobs yourself.

Over on BBC2’s The Repair Shop, it too aims to be an “antidote to the throwaway culture” – albeit with an emphasis that is firmly on sentimental rather than monetary value, inspiring viewers to repair and restore much-loved but damaged heirlooms instead of throwing them in the skip. Items featured have ranged from a favourite childhood toy and a 70s talking Dalek that had lost its ability to, well, talk, to a late grandad’s cherished Victorian garden gnome so badly battered and bruised he had been hidden away in a cupboard.

Victoria Jackson set up a branch of Repair Café in Brighton five years ago. As she says: “Most things can be fixed with a bit of imagination and lateral thinking. Electrical items can be tricky and are most in demand as people have a fear of opening them. One of the issues with repairing, as an individual, is that it often takes place behind closed doors in the privacy of our homes. By creating these social – and they are very social – events, it becomes a shared activity.”

A survey this week by insurer Aviva revealed how little confidence people have with even basic electricals. It found that 21% are not confident changing a light bulb, while 43% are nervous about wiring a plug.

Read more here.

The City of Austin will pay you to keep a chicken coop in your backyard

Do you dream of having your own chickens?

Dream no more. The City of Austin is offering free chicken keeping classes and is willing to pay you for it.

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he city announced Thursday that as a part of Austin Resource Recovery's Home Composting Rebate Program, Austinites can attend one of five "chicken keeping classes," buy a chicken coop, submit a rebate application online and receive a $75 check from the city.

Read more here.