Smog is all around

The tales of London’s epic historical battles with air pollution are among the most classic of environmentalism sagas. Many of the case studies one reads when examining the development of the environmental movement and rise of environmental legislation stem from the United States, but the narrative of the London smogs and poor air quality equal any American environmental anecdote.

Regrettably, they’re not yet history.

…millions of people are suffering serious health effects from exposure to particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and myriad other pollutants in the air … Despite these warnings the public seem largely unperturbed.

The smog in London itself was originally dealt with through increasing the height of factory stacks. Then it turned out that directing the emissions away from the factories in cities doesn’t make it disappear: acid rain became the dominant topic of environmental discourses. It took the UK a while to recognise the issue; longer than other European countries. Finally there was change, a response, and the emissions from coal-fired power stations began to be regulated.

But the problem is not yet gone – it’s just entered another phase. And as this personal anecdote from an ex-PhD student highlights: it’s costing health, lives and dreams.

The air quality in London is shocking. I’ve never before felt the desire to get inside a building so I could breathe.

Acid rain might be gone but, as the Telegraph agrees: something still needs to be done about all the other emitters and polluters – the nitrogen emissions from cars, power stations and farms also needs to be curbed. Until it is, it’s costing the nation not just its wildflowers, but its people too.

Carlos ZGZ

A very London picture (taken by Carlos ZGZ)


Summer Ball

In a month, exactly 1 month, I will be going to a ball. Which is really to say, I’ll be spending an exorbitant amount of money on one night for no particularly convincing reason, other than that it will be an experience to enjoy and remember with friends. My point isn’t really about the questionable function of balls, however, but about the dresses.

The thing about a ball is, it’s rather nice to wear a dress to it. As in, I enjoy wearing a nice dress to a nice night out like that. In fact, sometimes it’s even nicer to wear a nice new dress. I.e. a dress I haven’t worn out before. A new look for oneself, a surprise for friends. And that’s where I hit the problem: what’s the point in buying a new dress for potentially just the one occassion, the one ball?

Why is it problematic to buy something and only wear it once? (Aside from the rather casual treatment of cash, that is) Well, there’s a massive waste in many countries which is not being produced from food (something else I can go on about for long lengths of time – food waste) but from clothes and textiles. Apparently, Australians are one of the worst at this: they buy an average of 27 kilograms of new clothes and other textiles each year. Each year? What are we Australians doing with all that stuff – eating it?

This constant, ongoing clothes splurging isn’t just problematic because of the massive waste problem it creates (very little of what we donate to charities etc can actually be used by them, and all the synethic fibres are no good at decomposing) – it’s also problematic because the massive demand for new clothes is driving toxic, damaging industries like China and India (read more here).

How do I try to solve this problem?

  1. Buy less clothes in general. A few pairs of jeans is probably more than enough already – I only wear one pair at once, after all!
  2. When I do buy new clothes . . . buy only what I really need. So no new dresses (a weakness of mine), but yes, new underwear when necessary!
  3. And when I want things like dresses? Go second-hand, go to the charity shops, see if friends are getting rid of theirs, buy something locally made and buy just one and use it over and over and over again – and if I don’t think I’ll get much use out of it, maybe just don’t buy it after all.

My latest discovery is the Oxfam online store for women’s clothing. A great place for browsing thousands of dresses. And after quite literally browsing thousands of dresses I finally found my ball item. The choices are endless on there – so when it’s time for that new ball gown, get browsing and give it a go! You’ll be the only one in that dress!


Need an extra special dress for that occassion? Treat yourself to some gorgeous number like this one – from the Oxfam Online Store! (Image from here)

A little bit of stuff to share

I like to talk about how much stuff there is in the world.

I have too much stuff.

I have a screwdriver I have used exactly twice – both times on my bike. I have (exciting, thrilling, mind-boggling) plans to use it a third time – not even on my bike! But is using a screwdriver three times sufficient to justify my ownership of it?

Another one: the big, prickly, happy-to-grow (maybe a bit too-happy-to-grow) shrub near the back gate is getting bigger than ever. He needs a lesson taught to him. He needs to be trimmed. But buying a secateur just for this one big bush? That seems a bit over the top.

And that’s the kind of situation for which a Library of Things would be absolutely great. A place where tools, gadgets and other, well, things can be borrowed and shared. The Guardian reported on the Library of Things and similar iniatives in London, speaking of a continuing rise in the sharing economy.

I hope they’re right –

Until then, the shrub grows on.

Vaults and house (2)



Away with the speed humps

Cuts to carbon can happen everywhere, and sometimes it’s the small changes that add up to big differences. Take speed humps, for example. As a cyclist, they’re annoying. As a car driver, well, you have to slow down all the time. And it turns out that all this slowing down and speeding up isn’t great for emissions. So the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is suggesting that speed humps be redesigned “to stop cars speeding up and slowing down between them.” (from the BBC)

Which sounds great except – how is a speed hump going to function as a speed hump, if not to slow down cars?

What’s in a speed hump? (images from Brian Yap and Michael Coghlan, Flickr)

Fighting for the Changes We All Need

I wasn’t there last Saturday, but it was one of those days where a small group of people stood up for what they believed deserved more attention, public discussion and participation, and less top-down regulation, bureaucracy, and lobbying: the environmental costs of the expansion of Heathrow by adding a third runway.

Apparently the message of the mass die-in earlier this year (i.e. people die from climate change impacts, not to mention the direct pollution of flights) had little impact on the government, so on Saturday 19 November a group of protestors from RisingUp! took up the cause again, blocking the nearby highway as well as carrying out various other protest acts.

I may not have been there, but just as the government has a responsibility to regulate and reduce carbon emissions, we the public have a responsibility to make sure they are doing it.

See you at the next protest?



Airplanes: astounding creatures of the sky, but also with a regrettable dirty habit of pollution. (image from Flickr)

Climate Change Creativity

The problem with climate change statistics is often that they’re abstract, long-term and not easy to visualise. Some of the figures and calculations look far into the past and the future, discuss spaces that are far beyond what we can see from the window.

Which is why quirky visualisations, art, and other forms of engagement, can help explain to all of us what’s happening – not just to the logical, rational parts of our bodies, but help us feel what the heater and the air conditioning normally cover up quite nicely.

The Huffington Post released this compilation of climate change and conservation related art exhibitions and artists a few years ago, where the artists tackle everything from mining to ice caps melting to plastics. More recently, the Guardian shared the minute-long symphony of global warning: the musical quality might not be very high, but the idea touches a nerve.


“The Art of Climate Modeling” from Los Alamos National Laboratory

What climate change or conservation creativity have you run into recently? How did it affect you?

PS. Remember the school and artists who painted their local trees blue to raise awareness of their importance and the consequences of deforestation?