Monday, 22 February 2010

Palm oil and rainforests

When doing your weekly shop look out for products that contain an ingredient that is leading to the destruction of rainforests, putting the orang-utan at risk of extinction and causing widespread environmental devastation. The ingredient in question is palm oil. It’s surprisingly common in many of the everyday products bought in supermarkets, including biscuits, sweets, confectionaries, margarines, breads, crisps and bars of soap. Palm oil is a cheap source of vegetable oil. The problem is that it is being grown primarily on land that was once home to the vast rainforests of Borneo, the natural habitat of the orang-utan. According to a recent BBC report, it’s estimated that only 3% of the world’s palm oil comes from certified sustainable sources. Further, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that the orang-utan population has declined by 50% in recent decades while the Indonesian government has acknowledged that 50,000 orang-utans have died as a result of de-forestation. It gets worse. Greenpeace has identified the draining of ancient peat lands to make way for palm oil as a global threat, leading to huge amounts of trapped methane being released into the atmosphere. Consequently, Indonesia is now the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind only America and China. Every time a shopper buys a product from a supermarket that contains palm oil he or she is effectively fuelling the destruction of the Borneo rainforests and hastening the demise of the orang-utan. So what can be done? It’s important not to underestimate consumer power. If the supermarkets can’t sell products containing palm oil then demand will dry up. However, supermarkets are in business to make a profit; they will largely ignore their impact on the environment if they can get away with it. That’s not just scepticism on our part. If supermarkets don’t label which of their products contain palm oil then it’s impossible for shoppers to actively exclude them from their shopping trolleys. Surprise, surprise then that current labelling laws allow supermarkets to list palm oil as 'vegetable' oil, without singling out the palm oil content, thereby preventing shoppers from identifying it in products. At this point we would like to congratulate Sainsbury’s supermarkets, who have taken a decision not only to single out palm oil on the ingredients list of their own-brand products, but to state directly that it is from a sustainable source. Other supermarkets have made feeble excuses such as arguing that their recipes can change and the amounts and types of oils they use can vary, making more detailed labels impractical. If that were really true, then how has Sainsbury’s overcome the problem? If you shop at Tesco, Asda, Safeway or Morrisons then why not e-mail them asking that they label products containing palm oil like Sainsbury’s now does? If they are unwilling to do this then tell them you will shop at Sainsbury’s instead. Supermarkets may not be concerned about the disappearance of rainforests but they will be concerned about losing customers to a competitor.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Is nuclear the low carbon future?

With the Copenhagen climate conference under way, the UK government under pressure to cut carbon emissions and Wylfa on Anglesey shortlisted for a new nuclear power station, BBC Wales' environment correspondent Iolo ap Dafydd asks if nuclear is the low carbon answer to energy security in the future.

US to build two new nuclear power stations

President Barack Obama has announced more than $8bn (£5bn) of federal loan guarantees to begin building the first US nuclear power stations for 30 years.

Two new plants are to be constructed in the state of Georgia by US electricity firm Southern Company.

Mr Obama said the plants would be "safe and clean" and were needed to meet the country's future energy needs.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Some interesting facts about rainforests

Tropical rainforests took between 60 and 100 million years to evolve and are believed to be the oldest and most complex land-based ecosystem on earth, containing over 30 million species of plants and animals. That's half of the Earth's wildlife and at least two-thirds of its plant species! Rainforests have a central role to play in the slowing of climate change. Some interesting facts about rainforests (source: The Nature Conservancy) Facts about the Global Coverage of Rainforests: Fact: Covering less than 2 percent of the Earth's total surface area, the world's rainforests are home to 50 percent of the Earth's plants and animals. Fact: Rainforests are found on every continent across the Earth, except Antarctica. Fact: There are two major types of rainforest: temperate rainforests and tropical rainforests. Fact: Temperate rainforests used to exist on almost every continent in the world, but today only 50 percent – 75 million acres – of these forests remain worldwide. Facts about the Rainforest as Part of our Global Environment and Well-being: Fact: Rainforests act as the world's thermostat by regulating temperatures and weather patterns. Fact: One-fifth of the world’s fresh water is found in the Amazon Basin. Fact: Rainforests are critical in maintaining the Earth's limited supply of drinking and fresh water. Facts about the Abundant Life and Important Resources that Rainforests Share with Us: Fact: A typical four square mile patch of rainforest contains as many as 1,500 flowering plants, 750 species of trees, 400 species of birds and 150 species of butterflies. Fact: Rainforests provide many important products for people: timber, coffee, cocoa and many medicinal products, including those used in the treatment of cancer. Fact: Seventy percent of the plants identified by the U.S. National Cancer Institute as useful in the treatment of cancer are found only in rainforests. Fact: More than 2,000 tropical forest plants have been identified by scientists as having anti-cancer properties. Fact: Less than one percent of the tropical rainforest species have been analyzed for their medicinal value. Facts about the Threats to Rainforests, Indigenous People and Species: Fact: Rainforests are threatened by unsustainable agricultural, ranching, mining and logging practices. Fact: Before 1500 A.D., there were approximately 6 million indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon. But as the forests disappeared, so too did the people. In the early 1900s, there were less than 250,000 indigenous people living in the Amazon. Fact: Originally, 6 million square miles of tropical rainforest existed worldwide. But as a result of deforestation, only 2.6 million square miles remain. Fact: At the current rate of tropical forest loss, 5-10 percent of tropical rainforest species will be lost per decade. Fact: Nearly 90 percent of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide depend on forests for their livelihoods. Fact: Fifty-seven percent of the world’s forests, including most tropical forests, are located in developing countries. Fact: Every second, a slice of rainforest the size of a football field is mowed down. That's 86,400 football fields of rainforest per day, or over 31 million football fields of rainforest each year. Fact: More than 56,000 square miles of natural forest are lost each year. "A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

World heading towards an oil crunch on par with financial crisis

Commenting on today's (10th Feb 2010) warning by the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES) that the world could be heading towards an "oil crunch" that will match the financial crisis within five years, Friends of the Earth's Executive director Andy Atkins said:

"Ministers must take this warning seriously and wean the UK off its addiction to oil - because ordinary people will experience the withdrawal symptoms when the wells run dry.

"It's been clear for some time that urgent action is needed to slash energy waste and develop green sources of energy - this will cut carbon emissions, increase energy security and create new green jobs and industries.

"The Government has been dithering for too long. We need bold political action to rapidly build a safe, clean and prosperous future for us all."

Worrying report on climate change scepticism

The number of British people who are sceptical about climate change is rising, according to a poll for BBC News.

The Populus poll of 1,001 adults found 25% did not think global warming was happening, an increase of 10% since a similar poll was conducted in November. The percentage of respondents who said climate change was a reality had fallen from 83% in November to 75% this month. And only 26% of those asked believed climate change was happening and "now established as largely man-made".

The findings are based on interviews carried out on 3-4 February.

In November 2009, a similar poll by Populus - commissioned by the Times newspaper - showed that 41% agreed that climate change was happening and it was largely the result of human activities.

It seems to us that this may have been affected by continued efforts from the oil and coal industries to confuse people and create uncertainty, refuting scientific findings and discouraging investment into cleaner forms of energy. Plus, of course, there was the contrived plan to suggest that scientists had made up claims about climate change as part of the recent e-mail fiasco.

Friday, 5 February 2010

We need to cool down the climate change row

Lurid insults and threats from the extremes on both sides of the climate debate wing around the blogosphere - but there must be a way forward, writes Geoffrey Lean.

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Photo: STEFAN WERMUTH/REUTERS May I tell you about two shocks I recently received from cyberspace? They made me think about the nature of the debate raging around climate science in the wake of the notorious University of East Anglia emails – and about whether there is a way forward that could gain support from all sides in the increasingly rancorous row.

Genetically modified seeds 'are everywhere'

For similar stories, visit the Food and Drink and GM Organisms Topic Guides
GENETICALLY modified crops are everywhere, it seems - even in Europe. Strict laws designed to keep the European Union free of unauthorised GM crops and products are not working, and are posing problems for the EU's €150 billion livestock industry, according to farmers' representatives. They say that supplies of animal feed for poultry and pigs are being refused entry at European ports when found to contain even trace amounts of unauthorised GM material.

Water vapour worse climate change villain than thought

A rise in water vapour in the atmosphere fuelled 30 per cent of the global warming that took place during the 1990s. This discovery suggests that the potent greenhouse gas plays a bigger role in climate change that we previously imagined.

Susan Solomon and colleagues at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration combined satellite measurements and weather balloon data to track changes in the concentration of water vapour 16 kilometres up in the stratosphere, between the 1980s and today.

India backs embattled climate chief Pachauri

Dr Rajendra Pachauri: 'The science... is as compelling as one would expect it to be'
India has firmly backed climate change chief Rajendra Pachauri - who has been under attack over recent scientific errors - at UN-led talks in Delhi.

PM Manmohan Singh said India had "full confidence" in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its chairman, Dr Pachauri.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, previously critical of the IPCC, said the government backed him to the hilt.

Code for Sustainable Homes Assessment: What’s it all about?

The Code for Sustainable Homes is a rating system that measures the environmental impact for new build housing in England. The code was officially launched back in December 2006 and was designed to complement the system of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) for new homes that were built or developed in 2008 under the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. The Code for Sustainable Homes Assessment is a mandatory assessment under current building regulations but it does represent important development towards limiting the environmental impact of housing. Currently the minimum Code level for newly built social housing is CSH Level 3. As of Autumn this year there will be a minimum target level of Code Level 3 for ENE category 1 new-build private dwellings.

The Code has taken over from the previous Building Research Establishment's EcoHomes rating scheme that was first used back in 2000. The Government owned scheme currently only applies to new build dwellings in England but the National Welsh Assembly recently announced a plan to adopt the code, while Northern Ireland are required to achieve a code level 3 on all public sector homes. The rating acts as an incentive to home builders to consider building to the Code's higher standards, whilst making the information routinely available will encourage consumers to be more demanding.

The Code for Sustainable Homes Assessment works by giving new build homes a star rating from 1 to 6, based on their performance against 9 sustainability factors, which is designed to assess the overall environmental impact of the house. Six stars is the highest by showing high quality development in terms of sustainability and one being the entry level. The Code has a number of sustainability criteria which include the following:

§ Energy and CO2 Emissions – This involves both the operational energy through the build and resulting emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

§ Surface Water Run-off – Surface water run-off patterns as a result of the development have an impact and are assessed. The consumption of potable water from the public supply systems or other ground water resources.

§ Materials – Construction materials are assessed for key construction elements.

§ Waste – The generation of waste as a result of the construction process and facilities encouraging recycling of household waste.

§ Pollution – Pollution levels have to be assessed from the operation of the dwelling

§ Health and Well-Being – The effect of the dwelling’s design and indoor environment has on its occupants.

§ Management – An assessment of the quality of management of the environmental impacts of the construction and operation of the home

§ Ecology – Assessment of the impact of the dwelling on the local land use, ecosystem and bio-diversity.

This vital assessment needs to be carried out by a company who can deliver on time and on budget without any hassles whilst also looking to save money for all parties involved in the long run. Syntegra Consulting have the qualifications and experience needed to carry out a thorough assessment of the dwelling and their approachable nature make them a joy to work with. Find out more about Syntegra’s Code for Sustainable Homes Assessors by visiting them at

Syntegra Consulting Ltd
6 Warren House,
17 St Peters Avenue

Tel: 0845 009 1625

Dragon's Den - opportunity for eco businesses

Eco-entrepreneurs from across the country once again have a chance to make their business dreams come true by appearing on Dragons’ Den. If you’re genuinely seeking investment for your business idea or invention, we’d like to hear from you.

Last series saw some of the most diverse range of inventions and business ideas receive offers of investment from the multi-millionaire investors. All the Dragons were won over by entrepreneur Sharon Wright and the simplicity of her cable wiring device; Rupert Sweet-Escott went into business with James Caan who was impressed with his unique range of aviation designs and prototypes; and Carol Savage chose to accept Deborah Meaden's offer of a cash injection into her tasty new food networking website. In fact, when the Den finally closed for business an incredible 15 entrepreneurs had managed to convince the fearsome financiers, they were worthy of their cash.

2009 saw Londoner Jason Roberts ask for a £150,000 investment in his innovative range of mobile phone and laptop protection products. After some tense negotiations, Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis joined forces to secure a stake in the company. Post investment, Jason says that he gets up to 5000 visits to his website every day, and the current range is available in eight nationwide chains. Agreements are in place with the major phone and computer manufacturers, and he’s now planning to launch a range of own-branded cases, across the globe.

Previous success stories in the Den include Brixton based Levi Roots who secured an investment of £50,000 for his secret recipe, Reggae Reggae Sauce. Just 4 weeks after his appearance on the programme his Dragon investors helped him launch his sauce in a major supermarket all over the country. Now Levi has increased his product range to 8 sauces, produced a Caribbean cook book, and won Best New Product at the World Food Awards 2009, even going on to present his own successful BBC Television series - 'Caribbean Food Made Easy’. Having also successfully licensed his sauce to one of the world’s largest frozen food manufacturers and to an international fast food chain, Levi says that thanks to the Dragons he has a business empire that is now valued in the millions.

Of course, not everyone secures investment in the Den, but that doesn't stop the most tenacious of entrepreneurs from achieving success. After a gruelling time in front of the Dragons in 2008, inventor Natalie Ellis failed to convince them to back her Road Refresher. But one year on, her product became the fastest selling dog bowl on Amazon USA. Natalie says her company now has a million pound turnover and that her range is currently stocked in 32 countries. Likewise Shaun Pulfrey wanted the Dragons to invest £80,000 in his rework of the hairbrush – the Tangle Teezer. Unsuccessful in his bid he claims he is now stocked nationwide in high street stores and top hair salons, with sales approaching 400,000 units.

The rules are simple: entrepreneurs ask for a cash investment in return for equity in their business. However, they must get at least the amount they ask for or they will walk away with nothing. The Dragons are prepared to listen to a pitch for any kind of business but they must be convinced that it will make money.

As demonstrated by the investments in the last seven series, ideas, businesses and products that meet some or all of the following criteria stand a good chance of securing the Dragons’ interest:

· A Unique Selling Point: a product that serves a need like nothing else.
· Scalability: something that can be up scaled to make real money.
· Route to Market: the clear way the product can be sold and marketed.
· Mutually Beneficial Arrangement: just what will the Dragons get out of it?
· Exit Strategy: a plan of how the entrepreneur/Dragon will exit and make money.

The BBC is currently searching for Britain’s best entrepreneurs and will be auditioning throughout the coming months. We want to hear from anyone who thinks they’ve got what it takes to enter the Dragons’ Den.

If you would like an application form please send an e-mail to or visit