Monday, 29 March 2010

Little Known Fact No 3 – Bottled Water

UK bottled water consumption reached 34 litres per person in 2008, up from 27 litres in 2001. Bottled water consumption is projected to reach 40 litres per person by 2015. In the US, bottled water is drunk at an average rate of 105 litres per person up from 67 litres per head in 2002. In Italy bottled water consumption has grown from 194 litres per head in 2002 to an estimated 200 litres in 2008.

The UK market has a lot of room to grow if the market follows the lead in other countries. People are responding to health advice that drinking water is good for you and are concerned that the water they drink is pure and healthy. This is big business with a large, and growing, resources bill for the bottles and their transportation.

There have been a number of studies comparing the quality of bottled water with tap water. For Helsinki, tap water comes out with an excellent report. In fact there is one company bottling and shipping Helsinki tap water to be sold in the Middle East. London tap water may not get such glowing reports but it is healthy and safe to drink.

Carefully managing water supplies is vital to human health. It might be better to ensure that all our drinking water is safe and put the bottled water business (and the associated resource consumption) out of business.

That would then lead onto tackling another associated anomaly – that we use clean water for flushing toilets. We would not flush the toilet with Evian; why flush it with tap water? Flushing loos should reuse grey water from our washing activities.

Rather than bottled water, we need protected water sheds and more complex plumbing.

Monday, 22 March 2010

The Wrong Ice Conditions

Sunday was a special day. I stood atop Suomenlinna, the Fortress Island that stands guard over the harbour of Helsinki. From there I looked out over the Baltic sea in one direction and across to the buildings of Helsinki on the other. Another high point on the island is surmounted by a church that doubles up as a light house. The regular pulses of light brought rhythm to the early dawn. Hopping across the snow in front of the church was a hare. The peaceful scene came at the end of a week when I had skied across the breadth of Finland from the Russian Border to the Swedish border.

The event was the ‘Border to Border’ ski marathon event. People from 18 countries came together to tackle the 440km route. The end point was Tornio a small town on the Swedish border. If all had gone according to plan; I would have ended by skiing across the Tornio River and right up to the lobby of the Town hotel.

It was not to be. Although this winter is the coldest for many years (dropping to minus 36 degrees C) the ice on the lakes and rivers was not as strong as it should have been. Heavy snows had come early in the winter whilst the ice was still thin. This had then provided insulation from the severe cold above preventing the formation of thick strong ice.

The ice on the Tornio River was strong enough to take skiers as evidenced by the large number of ice-hole fishermen sitting over their round holes in the ice with their short fishing rods. The problem was a river further to the east where there was water on the ice and snow on top of that. This river prevented us from going further. We were forced to end the journey a few km short of the full distance.

I still harbour the wish to finish the ‘Border to Border’ event at the doors of the hotel in Tornio, to take off my skis and walk downstairs and into the sauna to then relax. To fulfil my dream I will need to return another year when ice conditions are better.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Little Known Fact No 2 – Oil and Sheep

Did you know; that in The Falkland Islands there are 160 sheep for every islander?
Did you also know; that for every sheep there is thought to be 120,000 barrels of oil reserves?

The foreign Office official position is that the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands depends on the wishes of the islanders. The war in 1982 was not about oil; but as the world faces shortages of black gold it may be a convenient time to drill for more in the waters off these remote islands. When the prime assets are sheep, the incentive to fight over the islands is low. If there proves to be commercially viable oil fields then the game changes.

In the unsustainable world in which we live the politicians will weigh off the cost of protection of this remote outpost with the potential revenue streams – sticking, of course, to the official line that it is the wishes of the residents that are paramount.

There is another possible outcome. The world could take the huge steps required to learn to live without fossil fuel. It seems preposterous, but it is feasible. Saudi Arabia understands the dangers and this is why the kingdom is so obstructive in negotiations over climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions. Falkland Islanders should also not count their barrels of oil before they are pumped. If the world takes the required action to stop climate change, then the commercial and political case to make the Falkland Islands a new oil producing nation may never add up.

I suspect that there will be a window of opportunity for an oil boom in the Falklands. However wool from sheep is a better long-term bet for the Falkland Islands in a sustainable world society.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Hummer RIP

"General Motors said on Wednesday that it would shut down Hummer, the brand of big sport utility vehicles that became synonymous with the term gas guzzler, after a deal to sell it to a Chinese manufacturer fell apart." —The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2010

In 2007 I wrote about massive change in society that I described as the Sustainable Revolution. My book Adapt and Thrive was published the following year. I predicted that the future of the Hummer brand would be a barometer of when the revolution was ready to take off.

“Driving an SUV will be a good barometer of where we have reached. Having one is a proud aspiration of many drivers now, but when fashion changes they will not enjoy the ridicule that will be heaped upon them. This will not be a clear-cut transition, as, even if we push the costs prohibitively high, there could be a small hard core who take pleasure in demonstrating their ability to pay. It will only be when they are shunned socially for their choice of vehicle, and the latest Hummer is no longer the thing to be seen driving, that the SUV will finally leave our city streets.”
Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution, by Peter McManners 2008.

If I am right, then the death of the Hummer brand heralds the start of the Sustainable Revolution.