Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Amazon is as delicate as it is vital to the health of the planet. Now that valuing the services provided by nature has hit a chord with mainstream media, the catholic church in Brazil have chimed in with their two cents worth.

I've spent some time in Brazil. One of the many fascinations I had was the Brazilian flag. A starry southern sky emblazoned with "order and progress". Like hell!

Order and progress is the criticism aimed squarely at the Brazil government by the church. The church (who hold significant sway) quite rightly "opposes development that deprives populations of their future." Progress yes, but with some order to the pillaging of the land by soy growers.

If you cast an eye over last months National Geographic you wouldn't have missed the Amazon article. There is little order in the Amazon. Soy and beef production is stripping the land bare. The land is barely suitable in the first place so newly cleared forest land is doused in fertilizer.

The ecosystem services provided for "free" by the Amazon is genuinely under threat. Something to ponder the next time you put soy on your shopping list. We gotta start asking questions about the stuff we buy!

Update (6th Mar): keep an eye on this soy thread from Gristmill...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Flying is singled out as one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. So it may alarm some to read that there's a new domestic airline rumoured to be setting up using Origin Pacific infrastructure in Nelson.

Others will insist (and I would agree) that increased competition for the near monopolistic Air New Zealand is a good thing. The venture is reportedly being driven by Nelson iwi Ngati Koata - who have recently launched a range of "traditional" cloaks mass produced "using imported... feathers", and a biofuel project.

The small iwi's commercial vigour is certainly encouraging. But this move appears risky given the failure of Origin, Qantas deeming that "services have not delivered the result we expected", and carbon pricing uncertainties for this carbon intensive industry.

Speaking of pie(s) in the sky, the obesity epidemic does indeed have an impact on airlines. Also reported in Independent mag was the fact that Air New Zealand found "average weight per passenger [increased] from 89kg to 93kg" in the five years to 2004 (article not online but part screenshot here).

93kg just happens to be roughly my weight if I had my full 20kg of allowable baggage. I'm your classic skinny 6ft white fulla but I seldom fly fully laden. Is the average "flier" a little more porky than the average Kiwi? Without a parachute it's a tad dangerous to get out and walk, but these are intriguing stats.

I'd suggest that as time has marched on the planes themselves have become slightly more fuel efficient - thereby emitting less co2/n2o. But as the average seat dweller has become a little more plump and passenger numbers have continued to increase, these efficiency gains have been well and truly negated.

On balance, more competition out of Nelson will drive more efficiencies. Lets hope that doesn't cause more industrial action - just less overall fuel consumption. It'd be great to hear from someone who knows the per passenger fuel/emissions efficiency of say a standard 737 compared to the Jetstream 41s that Origin used to run.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I can see the story now; "the 2008 Coast to Coast course will be radically re-designed to improve accessibility." It's not out of the question if yesterdays report is escalated.

The Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand have quite rightly pointed out that DoC is "attempting to make the mountains safe instead of encouraging people to make decisions." DoC want to highlight the risks of tramping with signage placed numerously and conveniently along trails.

Issues of signage and safety have emerged following the deaths of two inexperienced foreign trampers in recent years. Interestingly the news source claims that family members (in England) "helped identify the risks of climbing in the Mount Aicken area". Clever people those English.

This article on sheep rustling in Devon gives an indication of the concepts of scale and remoteness held by some English. So yes, the New Zealand back country would seem an extraordinarily inhospitable place for many. But it's no basis for installing traffic lights along the Mingha-Deception.

Naturally we have sympathy for the families impacted, and for DoC's direct role in reflecting that. But nanny state criticism has grown during the current Labour Government term. Increased track signage seems another "there there my dear" intervention. According to the Mountain Clubs

"such changes have the potential to reduce, rather than improve, safety for inexperienced people, while diminishing the quality of the mountain environment for more experienced users. High-quality tracks can lull the unwise and unwary into a false sense of security."
It's just as well that DoC have no mandate for signage in Auckland retail areas.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Healthy communities sustain a diversity of culture. I realised this morning that my community grounding has been unhealthy of late - until this weekend that is. Being hard up and house bound can be a perpetuating abyss so thank god two events spurred me to lap up some culture. The Fringe festival and the opening of The New Dowse gallery in Lower Hutt.

First, Friday, as part of the Fringe, at the Front Room, was Spartacus R. Their 8 channel octophonic sound extravaganza was something to behold. Experimental, clearly, but that's what these guys do. They held a full house spellbound for an hour or so with a seamless jam session that featured some spectacular bass work from Tim Prebble.

At moments gruelling, but all the time mesmerising - this was aural pleasure at it's most intense. Deep funk grooves held the eye on a combination some amazing guitar work and ridiculously simple hot-plate VJ mastery. This was a seriously great show.

The night ended with an airing of the Flaming Lips Zaireeka. I've been a Lips nut since seeing them at the BDO in 2004. But I don't own Zaireeka. Probably because I don't own four stereos. It was released as a 4cd set in 1997 with the intention that all four cds be played simultaneously. What better opportunity to run Zaireeka than through half of the eight channels set up by the Spartacus R crew.

Most of the punters had shot the gap by the time the channels were in sync, But for the few that remained it was something special. Kinda like having your very own sound studio (and knowing how to use it). I'd never heard Zaireeka before, and was somewhat surprised that it still sounded like the Lips. Coyne's distinctive voice, a typically absurd fibre-optic-jesus-esque story of dog toys, and more - all layered through and around some non worldly sounds. Thank you Spartacus R!

Second off the rank this weekend was Saturday's public opening of the souped up Dowse art gallery in Lower Hutt. It was crawling with people - so not ideal for taking it all in - but a feature is the VUW School of Design exhibition Domestic Futurists. I've gotta get out there and have a proper look, but this is urban sustainability at the cutting edge.

The exhibition poses the question "how will we live and work in 2017?" It's final year masters design student work that has significant industry support. The results are some brilliant efficiency solution prototypes - some of which will no doubt be commercialised. There's energy and water efficiency solutions, appliances, cladding, and a number of gems that combine all three.

I feel suitably re-charged. Especially having experienced the wonder that is Guy and Rosie's bean tortilla's!

More about: - - -

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Of course they've brought forth juniper berries! They're juniper bushes! What do you expect?" But maybe the British can't expect for much longer.

This line is from a wonderful scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where Brian is pursued by a maniacal band of worshipers. Hungry, they think Brian has given them a miracle of food. But he's turned the horde to a juniper bush owned by Simon - a recluse whose 18 year vow of silence Brian broke by jumping on his foot.

Simon's only form of sustenance was the juniper berries.

Although most gin these days is flavoured by berries grown in Italy and Eastern Europe, the British juniper bush is under threat.

The juniper bush "harbours about 40 species of insects, and is one of only three native conifers" in Britain. If Brits drank local gin I suspect that demand for berries would keep the bush alive.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Al Gore and the bloke who put together Live8 have come up with a series of "Live Earth" concerts to be held on the 7th of July.

Because we're daft and inclined to forget dates, there will be 7 concerts on 7 continents on 7.7.07. It's pitched as Save Our Selves. "SOS is designed to trigger a global movement to combat our climate crisis".

Now awareness raising is one thing, but associating a real and manageable global phenomenon with a series concerts seems a tad abstract. Lets look back at a few recent "save the world through music" examples:

Live8 occurred as a series of concerts tied in with Make Poverty History campaign. Which was funny because you'll remember that the white bands on everyone's wrist symbolising MPH support was a key criticism of the Live8 concerts; white bands performing for African poverty.

Live8 was not much more than a plea to governments to shell out aid money. But then again what else could be done? Awareness of the results of poverty, sure there was that, but awareness of why poverty exists? Probably too ambitious an aim for a concert series.

The two Wellington SurfAid concerts have been fundraisers for the work of SurfAid in Indonesia. The first concert occurred after the boxing day tsunami of 2004. The Indonesian community in Wellington were actively involved and funds went directly to SurfAid field operations. There is no means of benefiting an earthquake zone other than being there, being aware, or dishing out cash.

I'm stoked that a massive event like Live Earth is being planned to raise awareness of climate change. My beef is that there are so many easy, direct, and cheap ways we can make a difference. Maybe Live Earth is like Gore's film - aimed at getting lethargic "middle America (etc)" off their arses. If that's the case then awareness of the issue is a noble step: miss with the movie, hit with the music.

Another beef is the lineup. In a word: naff. Live8 was criticised for presenting a bunch of has beens. Live Earth doesn't look much better... Bloc Party (great 1st album appalling 2nd) are playing - they'll be performing soft rock ballads with the likes of John Mayer and Snow Patrol. Shudder. My other beef is this "SOS/climate in crisis" language. Talk about dis-empowering.

But hey, I'm about good news - and on balance Live Earth is.

The good thing with climate change is that you can do something today. Page 4 of this weeks Capital Times has a starting point from yours truly. Although they butchered a paragraph in the edit room the message is simple: start telling your fave shops that you care about how they do biz. Pick up a copy - go to page 4...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

With all this biofuel talk the last few days, and my penchant for banging on about beer, I couldn't miss this chance: a US microbrewery is partnering a biofuel company to make biofuel from algae.

Helen wants to see 3.4% of all vehicle fuel pumped in New Zealand to be biofuel. And those with their ear to the ground will of course know that Aquaflow (of Marlborough, and mentioned here last month) have already road tested biofuel from algae.

But this is even better! The US brewery are "providing CO2 - a byproduct of fermentation and boiler operations - that helps the algae grow. After several weeks, the microorganisms are harvested and their oil is extracted and refined into biodiesel."

Making biodiesel from algae may help quieten criticism levelled the poor overall efficiency from plant based ethanol. Brasil it seems is one of only a few places where net energy gains from "standard" biofuels gan be gained.

Not only is it good to see a technology being advanced that's also being developed in NZ, it's great to see beer by-product being used. Cleaner production is a good thing.

This is yet another example of carbon offsetting. Offsetting directly, rather than paying someone else to deal with the issue, is just the path progressive businesses need to be looking at. Our dairy industry has a steady supply of milking shed shit that goes unused. Wine and beer makers usually trash their production waste. Wine and milk are often located in centres of production - so there are concentrated amounts of by-product for use. Martinborough and Canterbury for wine and dairy biofuel respectively makes sense to me.

Regardless, imagine driving your biofuel powered car to the bottle store along a road made from recycled glass to pick up a crate (along with the rest of your shopping of course). You'd be inclined to think you were making a difference!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Continuing the amok series is Slant magazine's one star review of Tenacious D's movie soundtrack The Pick of Destiny.

Don't get me wrong. Although this is crap, Jack Black is a clever chap. High Fidelity is one of my fave films and on the D debut album Black came up with the epitome of musical efficiency. Although inward singing hasn't taken off it held the potential to cross over piss-take and serious music.

Imagine the "filler tracks" on otherwise fine albums having (by decree of some recording supergod) to be halved in length through inward singing. Brilliant!

But I've seen this one in sale bins already. If only D took their own advice. This album would be ep length - thereby not subject to an album review. But they didn't and the Slant reviewer hated it:

"What was once a cult curio on HBO that affectionately sent up the inanity of the music business is now a brand name, something to be latched onto without really understanding what it's all about."

The music business. Abound with god-like talents, mindless egotistical pomposity, and morons. This cd review sums up the aims of the amok series in one clean hit.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Last week a British ethical investment fund outperformed "the market" for the first time. And easily.

The Co-operative Bank is a UK ethical banking stalwart. They're customer owned - like PSIS. One of their funds has taken top spot in the UK All Companies sector - outperforming the sector and also the FTSE by more than 100%, and clocking a three year return of 88.6%.

Not surprisingly, here in New Zealand our ethical investment market is a lot less mature.

In fact the NZ Government was pounced on by the Greens last week for investing Super Fund cash in nuclear and cluster bomb weaponry manufacturers. It's reminiscent of the LA Times Gates Foundation expose last month highlighting their investment in companies directly linked to the causes of health problems they sought to alleviate. The publicity prompted a Gates Foundation review. Our Government is to do the same.

The real problem is that the economic basis itself is fundamentally flawed. Over on FrogBlog last week the old "perpetual growth" conundrum was aired again. "Business as usual" is founded on resource use that seeks to contribute constant growth in order to pay constant investment dividends. Constant growth based on a finite resource base is bound to turn pear shaped.

We're seeing the start of the crunch now with climate change and peak oil. Technology can only help us along so far. At some point we've got to change the way we "do business". The term decoupling is sometimes used in the context of economic growth and it's relationship with GHG emissions.

FrogBlog uses demand for energy as an illustrative example:
"...if NZ electricity demand were to grow at 3.5% per annum we would need to double our generating capacity every 20 years. This would be a major challenge."

Maybe we need a decoupled investment fund. The Co-op bank in UK and Prometheus here in NZ are more "decoupled" than the typical investment offering. And of course if ethical investment products pull in business that would otherwise go to standard funds we're moving in the right direction (remember the Aquaflow offering).

As more of the environmental and social costs of "business as usual" are internalised, ethical investments can expect to outperform the market as a matter of course. As cleaner business becomes the norm the concept of a diversified portfolio will start to make financial and ecological sense.

Update: in another move toward a pigovian tax environment, the NZ Greens have proposed that companay tax shifting occurs in order to incentivise cleaner production.

Another update: there're some quality comments in this subsequent Frogblog post - including from a fund manager.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The 4th assessment report (pdf) from the IPCC commenced it's roll out on Friday. You know the one. The one that gave the paper reason to use "global warning - violent storms, floods - tropical diseases spreading - water running out" as a headline.

And you know the Dom. The outfit that in 2005 placed a front page pic with high tide half way up the hill behind Oriental Parade. 'Cos that's what climate change is all about. Selling frikken newspapers.

So what's the story? None. No new science, no new remedies, no news. But boy has it got some coverage. There've been two quite testy comment salvo's over at Kiwi blog - the second of which denigrated to mudslinging despite raising some key points from a NZHerald article by Fran O'Sullivan.

O'Sullivan's article titled "cooling the hot air debate" is full of ill considered here say. But it also contains gold:

"The Government will regulate to ensure industry reduces pollution for broader environmental reasons such as cleaner air, water and soil, and the rest of us will be responsible for using energy efficiently for conservation purposes.

It shouldn't take the threat of climate change to get these aims on the policy agenda. They stand in their own right."
Bingo! My biggest bug bear about the climate change "debate" is the loss of reality. What's happening in the real world?

Sceptics hold that mad scientists are fiddling the books and politicians label sceptics as delusional fringe dwellers. All the while nobody seems to be looking out the window. Take a step outside people!

Christchurch swims in smog, kayakers keep their eyes and mouths closed on the Mangles River, chunks of the North Islands' east coast wash away when it drizzles, the south Wairarapa crayfishery is gasping for air... You get the picture.

Although this 4th report is only the policy makers preliminary for a comprehensive edition due in November, the reaction to it is intriguing. Its media coverage hasn't done much more than allow the "sides" to dig into their corners and turn up the volume.

Although it is fascinating to watch, the actions of policy makers in the next little while is the test. It'll reach its crescendo in the election race next year. Who'll have the most sense. Who'll have the balls to put a price on carbon. Who'll have had a good look out the window?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Many rightly insist that the natural habitat for sitka spruce is SE Alaska and Canada, muso's say it's as the top of acoustic guitars, others insist it's home is in Asian houses. Wherever it is, a key component of great guitars is at risk.

If over cutting continues we'll have to satisfy ourselves with second rate sad-sap casino-circuit guitarists with a penchant for squinting. Air guitar will become cool and chaps like your man on the left will be heroes.

Either that or shitty sounding guitars will become revered.

In response Fender, Gibson, Taylor, and Martin recently teamed up with Greenpeace to establish Forest Stewardship Council certification for sitka spruce. Certified timber in guitars has been an issue for some time. Gibson started looking into it in 1994, and in 2001 partnered with the Rainforest Alliance - eventually creating the 100% certified Les Paul SmartWood.

If you're in the market for a new ax ask about certification. I'm looking forward to taking a closer look onstage at the next gig I get to - I may have to wear my specs...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Yesterday the Greens put out a statement that mirrors at least two of my previous posts.

Many of our export consumer markets are a hell of a lot more aware of the potential environmental impact of consumer goods than we are here. The food miles debate is evidence of that.

Nevertheless, Kiwi consumers are increasingly seeking goods that reflect a greater awareness of the impact of climate change. We're looking fix our shopping.

"If Government takes a lead now to help businesses re-evaluate their production and distribution methods, New Zealand can retain a competitive advantage" the statement says.