Thursday, 15 October 2009

Thursday 15th October 09 'Blog Action Day 09'

As regular readers will know, and new visitors would find out if they looked at previous posts, this blog is really just a daily diary. I usually just write about what I do, and rarely express an opinion or have a rant (although sometimes something gets my goat so much I just have to let rip, see this recent post about my child's Primary School and it's lack of environmental awareness), but today is a bit different.

It is Blog Action Day and it's all about Climate Change. Well, my life has evolved and been directed to be as 'climate friendly' as it is possible to be in this country whilst living reasonably normally. So today I will share with readers what I did, BUT explain the climate/carbon or otherwise ethical reasons behind this.

Firstly, I work as an entertainer 'Professor Fiddlesticks' which means I mostly work at the weekend, and have weekdays pretty much free to do what I want. I do a lot of 'home making'; things like preparing food and cooking, washing up, and gardening including some food growing. The house is heated by two smoke free Clearview woodstoves and we don't use our gas fired central heating at all. I have to do a lot of wood collecting with my bike trailer and spend time cutting, splitting and stacking logs.

My job means that I do not earn a lot of money... but in carbon terms this is great! Rich people have far higher carbon footprints than poorer people, as one of the things which adds to your carbon footprint is the embodied energy and resources in the stuff you buy. So, as financially I'm poor, I don't buy much. Some of what I buy comes from charity shops too, which is re-use of unwanted stuff. Your home heating, power and your transport choices are a huge part of your overall footprint. We use electricity (and gas) from Good Energy, who supply only renewable electricity. We only use about £80 of gas a year (Gill bakes cakes in the oven, and we sometimes use instant hot water for showering) but we get this from Good Energy as it will enable us to qualify for a little annual grant when we install the solar hot water panel on our roof, which should be before Christmas. Smokefree woodstoves are a very efficient and a clean way of heating your space; we also cook on ours, and heat bathwater, washing-up water, and dry fruit (more of this later!). Wood is a renewable resource and much of what I collect is stuff which would have been shredded and left to rot, put on a bonfire, put in a landfill or just left lying around (although this last option also has some environmental benefits).

So, during the morning I dealt with more hedge, which my neighbour has asked me to remove and he will replace with a low wall and a fence. He is going to re-use some bricks which I salvaged from an air-raid shelter I took down ages ago, and re-use an oak fence that a neighbour was getting rid of, and asked me if I wanted it for my stove! I am grubbing out the hedge and cutting off the roots over 100 of which have already gone on Freecycle, and will grow more hedge. The larger sticks will be cut to length and dried for a year before being used for kindling on the stove, the smaller twigs are being fed through my 'quiet shredder' and will make good carbon-rich and aerating layers in my compost heaps. The hedge removal will allow us to grow more food; the existing roots extend into our raised beds, making them over-dry and robbing the soil of nutrients. The fence will be designed to allow both sides to be used to for climbing plants up... I'll be growing climbing pea beans.

And talking of beans, all through the summer I've been picking the young tender green pea beans (instead of buying flown-in Kenyan green beans), but today I picked a load of the pale papery pods with mature seeds in. Some of these I'll soak and cook... replacing shop-bought baked beans, but the ones in the longest pods I'll keep for sowing next year. I also often keep a few in my pocket for giving to people to get then started with this variety.

I also did some composting. Those who know me or read this blog won't be surprised by this (!) but I usually do some composting every day. I service a greengrocer, a supermarket and a cafe, and purchase their unsold fruit and veg 'resources' at a penny per sack, and reclaim what I can from this and compost the rest. The 100+kg I cycle back home every week would all go to landfill if I didn't recycle it. Landfills emit methane from the biodegradable material in them, and methane is a climate wrecking gas 23 times more powerful than CO2. My compost heaps may emit some methane but mostly the stuff decays to CO2, water vapour and leaves a rich soil-improving humus or 'garden compost'. I have about 34 compost systems, five of them are rotating tumblers and most of the other ones are 'dalek' bins or 'New Zealand' pallet bins. I also have wormeries, a 'green cone' and am trialling a spherical rolling composter at the moment. I LOVE composting! I even built myself a compost toilet which not only saves the valuable 'humanure' but doesn't waste water. Cleaning our waste water nationally takes between 2 and 3% of our electricity, most of which is generated by burning coal. So my compost toilet means my manure isn't adding to the national (or my) carbon footprint.

At 2.15 pm I set out on my bike to the Hazel Court Civic Amenity Centre, where people can dump unwanted waste and take their recycling. The 'rules' say that cyclists are not allowed in, as they are classed as pedestrians, and pedestrians aren't allowed up at the top area, just drivers. However, the drivers get out of their vehicles and walk around, and in my view, they are therefore pedestrians. So I regularly go there with my cycle trailer full of mainly drinks cartons, which are not collected in the kerbside recycling. Today, I took several electrical items, rescued out of skips, and according to the WEEE regulations (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) these should be recycled not landfilled. So, if on my cycles around York, I find a WEEE-able item in a skip, I generally chuck it in my trailer and take it to the WEEE area at Hazel Court next time I go. Today I took a bedside light, a 'boom box' radio, tape and CD player with the CD player not working, and a slow cooker. All the metal components of these items will be recycled. I guess most of the plastic will end up in landfill. I also took lots of soya milk cartons.

From here I went on to my building society to put in a Fiddlesticks cheque, and onto Edward's house for a meeting with two halves to it. Edward is centrally involved with York in Transition, and attended the Transition Network Conference in London in May, with me. We haven't yet written a report of this for YiT, so we reviewed our experiences there and will write a report each. My report will be heavily based on my blog posts for the event, see Day One, Day Two and Day Three. Transition Initiatives are providing information about climate change and peak oil, and are helping to enable local communities to develop resilience against these coming threats with some creative projects. Those wishing to explore Transition could look at the Transition Towns Wiki the TT Network and Rob Hopkins excellent blog, Transition Culture.

The second reason I was visiting Edward was because he is updating his EcoRenovation book and he really wants to use social networking to inform that process. So, although he's had a facebook account for a while, he hasn't got to grips with it and so I offered to give him a tutorial. We ended up getting his EcoRenovation New Edition page started. This facebook page won't be published for a bit (as of today there's nothing on it!) but when it is, people will be able to contribute their thoughts on the subject. Rewriting the book will be quite a job as technology has moved on, so has the climate imperative, and there is a lot more information out there. But renovating and retrofitting an existing house is in many cases far better in carbon terms than demolishing and rebuilding, although with some housing stock the best thing to do would be to replace with really up-to-date energy efficient homes.

I left Edward's at 5.30 and popped in to Country Fresh to pick up the latest load of compostable material. Richard had four boxes and a sack for me, quite a lot... perhaps 60kg. I was pleased to find two pineapples in this lot... with some damage to one area but the rest was fine. Most consumers won't look twice at damaged fruit, but I'm very happy to use it. I cut off the damaged or rotten bits and, in this case, I sliced the rest and put about 20 slices on my drying racks above the woodstove. I use this dried fruit in my muesli, and my children eat it instead of sweets. I dry apple rings, pear slices, whole bananas, kiwi, melon, grapes (make raisins) and sweet red pepper, which once dry, I put in a blender and the sieve the dust to make an excellent sweet red pepper paprika, which I add to soups and stews. I also make fruit leather... a blend of different fruit, sieved and then put in a non-stick tray and dried. When dry, this is cut into strips and it is wonderful. Obviously, the taste depends on what fruit is put in!

Later on, I made some soup (mixed veg, leek and potato) on the woodstove, and we'll have that with some crusty bread tomorrow teatime.

So, this was a fairly 'normal' day for me. A lot of what I did was low (fossil) carbon and climate friendly. Not everything I do is zero carbon and I don't think it is possible to have no impact. For instance, I have fathered two children with Gill and today Gill bought new shoes for one of them. An environmental impact. Gill also shopped at the Co-op and bought breakfast cereal. This was not organic (lower carbon option as no pesticides/artificial fertiliser used) and even if it was, there is still a carbon footprint involved in processing and transportation. However, because of the choices I've made re transport, home heating/energy, shopping habits, I have a carbon footprint (according to ActOnCO2) of half a tonne a year. Double this to include the public transport I use, and take some away for the stuff I take out of skips (maybe?) and I'm probably living with a footprint of about a tonne a year, possibly a footprint within the carrying capacity of the Earth. The main thing, though, for me, is that I'm happy and enjoying living this way.


Anonymous said...


Well done on an excellent blog today. One small note, in the section on trasition towns you wrote "My report will be heavily based on my blog posts for the event, see Day One, Day Two and Day Three." I assume the day one etc was supposed to link to those pages on your blog?


Compost John said...

James, you are absolutely right, and I remembered in the middle of the night, just putting it right now!

Anonymous said...

Towards the end of your post, you state: "The main thing, though, for me, is that I'm happy and enjoying living this way."

I'm curious as to whether your wife, children, friends, family, and people you interact with on a daily basis feel the same way. If not, how do you deal with this?

tapsearcher said...

Please review the Dark Side of Energy Saving Light Bulbs and the even darker story behind it at and

If we ignore Free Trade and all our production that was regulated in the USA but now sent to the wage slave labor markets of the world with production performed under "dirty" manufacturing conditions like the energy saving light bulbs are , then all we do to correct the environment here in the USA is worthless.

On top of this, if we ignore the cost of energy and the pollution coming from long haul ocean, air, train and rail for the imports to get here, we should rethink our priorities. The energy saving light bulb is an example. It is an 8000 mile light bulb. That is how far it has to travel to get here as noted above plus needing extra packaging and containers. In the making of the bulbs, there are open containers of mercury with impoverished workers exposed to it.

The shipping containers full of imports roll by on our railroads across America. The giant Chinese shipping company COSCO , owned in part by the Chinese Liberation Army sends the big containers one way. After they are used they are stored here in masses since the USA has nothing much to send back to China. The Trade Deficit is enormous and this too demonstrates the massivs assault on the environment in many ways. See our sites and blogs under one link at or start out with Ray Tapajna Chronicles that forecasted our economic crisis years ago based on the "Bewildered New World" writings and books by several experts in the field. See http:/

Compost John said...

Hello 'anonymous', thank you for your question.

My wife Gill and I have been together for 16 years, married for 10, and she loves me and accepts my way of doing things. She is the only person I know who loves me unconditionally, although there are some others who also seem to more or less accept me as I am.

My children do find it difficult to deal with some of the teasing they get from small people with small minds who think that 'shitting in a bucket' is weird, but they too both love me because I'm their Dad, and I love them to bits too.

I'm lucky that I get on well with my brother and sister, I love them lots and their families, and I think they accept me too.

My friends like me for my good qualities, and forgive me for any deficits and quirks. Anybody who finds my eccentricities, honesty and directness too difficult to cope with probably doesn't fit my definition of friend.

The people who find me most difficult are probably my parents, who love me but find some of my attitudes and behaviours somewhat challenging. I love them but find them challenging too.

My neighbours also probably find me difficult, as they don't like the look of a front garden strewn with logs, they prefer the 'tidiness' of two or three cars in their front gardens. I never criticise their cars and dont think I should suffer criticism for the visible manifestations of a low carbon lifestyle.

I wonder if any of my friends and family will answer this question for you? They can reply anonymously if they wish. And honestly, too, I hope!

Yours, John

Compost John said...

Thank you 'tapsearcher', I'll copy and paste your links into my browser when I have time.

Many industrial processes have toxic and dangerous sides to them, and you are right that many of the things which the US and UK imports are made in countries where environmental regulation is lax.

I believe that the benefits of cfl bulbs outweigh the dangers. But I haven't read your links yet.
Cheers, John

Compostwoman said...

From one compost "nut" to another...I LOVE reading about your activities John....

We use more fossil fuel than you ( living where we do, its difficult not to have to drive at least a bit, and paradoxically my Environmental Education work in various places in rural herefordshire often means I can't get to it by public transport carting loads of compost bins, tools, stuff etc around......hmm difficult decisions involved there...

But in so many ways your lifestyle is very similar to ours...

On the solar thermal..the Good Energy annual payment is a great idea, we get £120 pa, and over the 20 plus year life of our system the GE grant will more than pay for the cost of the kit, before we even take into account the saving on dino oil we won't be - win, or what!

We have only had our oil heating on a few hours so far since june...and that was just in the last few days, to top up the hot water from the solar tubes...the woodburner ( using coppiced wood from our woodland...) took care of the background house heating...

If you are ever down our way I would really love you to to come and visit us...

Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful and comprehensive answer, John. Many thanks!

Canada Guy said...

Lifestyle changes are good, but they can only slow emissions growth slightly, they will not reduce emissions. Personal lifestyle changes can only have an impact of a few percent at most. We cannot ignore the other 95 percent of the problem. Some have suggested that we can forget about caps and just focus on behavioural changes, which is insane.