A wood in your ear...

22 Nov 2012

Woodbuds - photo Woodbuds

As you might have guessed from the Sceptic Tank's weekly missives from the front line of sustainability (sorry, we mean Innovation and Resilience), our life is pretty awesome.

When we're not wearing sustainable pants or suits, we're exploring our feminine side in solar-powered bikinis or carbon-neutral bras. And then hitting Chat Roulette with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

But there's always that sneaking feeling we could be living just a little bit more... awesomely (perhaps a thesaurus would help – Ed) – and that may just be where WoodBuds fit in.

Crafted from certified sustainable wood with bioplastic cables and packaging made from 100 per cent recyclable material, these headphones are most definitely green, while still coming in eye-catching red, yellow, blue, white, and black. In fact, we're really struggling to decide which goes best with the bra... SUIT. Of course, we mean suit.

Woodbuds - photo Woodbuds

And never fear: the highly rated sound quality means you shouldn't miss a single note of the latest world music and whale sounds.

The Yorkshire firm will even plant a tree for every 100 products sold, which is one of those admirable aims consumers seem to go for without questioning what type of trees and where. Imagine, for example, you wake up one day to find the cheeky chaps from WoodBuds have stuck a flipping great oak tree in the middle of your garden. Not cool guys, not cool.

Anyhoo, what with Christmas coming up and all, we thought WoodBuds would make an excellent gift for your family, colleagues, or even your favourite environmental journalists! And no, we don't mean George Monbiot – he's doing just fine already.

So Peter Lilley now likes wind turbines?

16 Nov 2012

Peter Lilley MP for Hitchin

Now if the Sceptic Tank is sure of one thing, it's that Peter Lilley, scourge of green campaigners, hates wind turbines.

This, after all, is a man who has been such an outspoken critic of renewable energy and taking action on climate change, that his recent appointment to the energy and climate change select committee caused all sorts of rumpus.

So imagine our surprise when a Greenpeace undercover journalist filmed Lilley apparently saying he "rather likes" wind turbines. It even sounds like it's his wife who has the problem with them.

It seems Lilley's main objection is that they are too expensive, which of course is a rather bizarre argument to make when onshore wind is already the cheapest renewable technology and is forecast to become cost-competitive with conventional power sources within the coming decade.

Anyway, with our faith so shaken we're now off to the woods to discover what exactly bears have been doing in there all this time.

Taking the p*ss ... for energy

14 Nov 2012

urine powered generator - photo Maker Faire Africa

Intros are particularly difficult for the Tank. So now we've got that first sentence out of the way, let's just skip onto the next bit, which is a lot of fun and may even contain some Bad Words, depending on just how liquid lunch was today.

You see, three Nigerian schoolgirls have literally gone where no-one else has gone before, by inventing a urine-powered generator. Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, and Faleke Oluwatyoin, all 14, and 15-year-old Bello Eniola came up with the unique device as part of innovation event Maker Faire Africa.

Apparently, you can get six hours of power from a litre of the yellow stuff, which is around a half to two-thirds of what the average person produces each day.

Hydrogen is separated out from the urine in an electrolytic cell, purified and pushed into a generator to create electricity. The user is then politely reminded not to attempt to fill the tank from across the room and to please wash his hands afterwards.

Of course, there are problems beyond the basic hygiene the Tank so struggles with – you still need power for the electrolysis process, while hydrogen has a nasty tendency to explode.

Still these are surmountable problems and we're pretty sure it's a better use of waste than this Korean 'faeces-wine' (you honestly wouldn't believe the things we do for research...).

In fact, judging by the state of the gents at The Tank's Soho basement, the only long-term flaw might be losing a great deal of this valuable resource to inaccuracy.

Islands powered by sun, that is what we are...

05 Nov 2012

Nukunonu Lagoon Tokelau - photo CloudSurfer

No man is an island, John Donne intoned. One might infer the famously bawdy poet turned Bishop meant self-sustainability is no mean feat - something The Tank can agree with, considering our latest attempt ended up in the eating of the very twigs we'd spent the last six hours trying to light after the sick rabbit we'd managed to trap escaped with our keys. Mrs Tank declared it to be the worst afternoon of her life, but as she's a Sheffield Wednesday fan it's hard to give that any credence.

Anyway, all this meant we were more than impressed that an entire country has become energy self-sufficient! And which pioneering, world-leading nation would have the vision, funds, and sheer chutzpah to carry this off?

Well, the tiny south sea islands of Tokelau, most famous for not actually being a country, but a territory of New Zealand, and sporting a rather impressive record at lawn bowls.

A new 1MW solar array, thought to be one of the world's largest off-grid solar systems, has been installed across the three low-lying atolls that make up Tokelau for the princely sum of $7.5m.

The array replaces costly oil imports and, as it supplies one and a half times the 1,400 inhabitant's energy needs, it allows Tokelau to export excess power. The resulting fuel savings will be used to pay off the cost of the system and increase investment in health and education for the Tokelauns? Tokelauites? Tokelaus?

Fossil fuel imports comprise up to a third of total imports for some nations in the region, so it's no wonder Jovilisi Suveinakama, general manager of the National Public Service of the Government of Tokelau, advised other Pacific islands to follow Tokelau's example.

"Our commitment as global citizens is to make a positive contribution toward the mitigation of the impacts of climate change," he told Inter Press Service. "We are proud of this achievement."

And rightly so. Tokelau sufferers from extreme weather storm surges, droughts, coral-bleaching, inundation of land, and salination of groundwater, all of which is likely to get worse as a result of industrialised nations' carbon emissions.

Yet these very same countries are amongst the first to get on board with low carbon energy strategies, some of which have led by ambitious islands including the Maldives and our very own Isle of Wight embracing plans to become energy independent.

Other governments need to realise that while no man is an island, the planet certainly is - and there's no getting off. At least not until we get around to building that Death Star.

Arsenal land in hot water after flight to Norwich

24 Oct 2012

arsenal logo

You have to feel a bit sorry for Arsenal fans. The team hasn't picked up a trophy for over seven years now, while every summer it seems they lose another of their best players – and all for the price of the most expensive season ticket in English football.

But while supporters were clearly disgruntled with Saturday's poor 1-0 defeat at struggling Norwich, at least the team had a decent excuse for this latest capitulation: jet lag.

Yes, the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Arsenal's London Colney training centre to Norwich's Carrow Road ground was clearly deemed far too arduous for such cosseted superstars, so the decision was taken to fly from Luton – a flight that spends a grand total of 14 minutes in the air. 

"It is absolutely absurd," raged Norwich Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Jennifer Parkhouse, missing the open goal of a "given the poor performance Arsenal clearly chose flight over fight" gag.

"I cannot see any reason why they would have flown, other than it being a rather ostentatious display of the players' and the club's wealth," she added. "They must have spent more time just getting on and off the plane than in the air."

Weirdly, a quick search reveals you can fly to Norwich for as little as £20, which is a damning indictment of travel in this country right there. Although, you'd imagine that Arsenal's millionaire footballers could have quickly spent any money they saved buying enormous Toblerones at the airport.

The Arsenal press office refused to get back to the Tank yesterday, so we've nicked quotes from elsewhere –specifically a press conference given today by gaffer Arsene Wenger ahead of tonight's Champions' League tie with Schalke.

"Usually we take the train and there was no train available," he said. "So in the end we decided to fly because we had to drive up on Friday afternoon at the moment when you never know how long it lasts."

No, that made little sense to us either. Fortunately, a spokesman for the club elucidated in widely reported comments (again, comments not given to the Tank, despite the fact we specifically asked for them – it's enough to make you think Arsenal's press office doesn't want to answer questions about how flying to Norwich fits with the club's lauded sustainability strategy).

"The club considers all transport options available for the first team when travelling to an away fixture," he said. "Given the severe disruption to rail services at the weekend, the most time-efficient option was to fly, hence the first team made the journey by plane from London to Norwich."

But how this fits in with the club's stated aim of "taking steps where practicable to minimise any adverse impact that we may have on the environment" must be left to the imagination – much like Arsenal's title bid this season.

All this is a bit of a shame, because the Emirates Stadium itself has a number of green features, such as a recyclable pitch, LED lighting, and voltage optimisation equipment that reduces power consumption by up to 20 per cent, while the club says it is investigating installing solar panels or wind turbines at the training ground.

But perhaps it highlights just how far Arsenal have fallen from their 'Invincibles' team in 2003/04. After all, as some wags have pointed out, this would never have happened in Dennis Bergkamp's day.


The Sceptic Tank blog provides a unique take on all the latest weird, wonderful, and downright infuriating green stories from around the world

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