The problem with consumerism

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

consumerism1We do this not because it is the only way to meet our needs but because we live in an economy which requires us to consume more every year or it implodes and can't meet anyone's needs.

At the moment the entire global economy seems to be built on the model of digging things up from one hole in the ground on one side of the Earth, transporting them around the world, using them for a few days, and then sticking them into a hole in the ground on the other side of the world.

We have, by now, more or less, been programed to perform in exactly that model, and all so that the economy can keep growing without manufacturers having to come up with new products really. And that is aside from all of the, mostly unnecessary, packaging.

Consumerism has so much become part of the (new) capitalist model that it is destroying the Planet right before our eyes but we either, because of having been programed in that way already, are not prepared to go another way, cannot see another way, or, and that is more often than not the case, feel powerless to do anything about it.

It has been said that capitalism carries the seed of war in itself like clouds carry rain, but to that we should add that it also carries the seed of planetary destruction in itself in the same way.

So, what is the answer? Simply put it is that we need a new system. The capitalist economic model of perpetual growth via predestined and pre-programed obsolescence can no longer – in fact it never could – function on a finite Planet.

Is socialism the answer? Maybe, then maybe not, as it would very much depend on the model that is being applied. The socialism and communism that we have, mostly, seen in the past – with a few exceptions – have not been proper socialism or communism but state capitalism and whether it is private capitalism or state capitalism, it still is capitalism.

Though, having said that, due to lack of resources mostly, many of the socialist countries, such as the German Democratic Republic, however, produced consumer goods that were made to last, in the main, such as, per example, the RG28 kitchen machine, made in the GDR, that still, after 40 years, is doing its duty in many a kitchen. The reason? It is made well and repairable, even by a user with some tinkering ability.

It has to be said, also, that until about the 1980s most products, also in the West, were made more or less in a similar way in that they could be easily repaired and the repair economy also existed. Today, if repair is possible, it is made so expensive that the real option for most people is to toss the old and buy new. The system is designed in that way nowadays and that deliberately. It is called built-in obsolescence. In other words the system is designed in such a way – and the products – that after a given time they either break down and cannot be repaired, or repair being too expensive or, in the case of computers, are no longer hardware compatible with software, and thus have to be replaced. This is how the current economic model functions and that means that we, the consumer, have to buy the same product, with some modifications, over and over again.

In fact it is not a problem with consumerism that we have, although there is an element of that in it as well, but a problem with the economic system which is designed to grow through us, the consumer, having to, as said above, the same product, with some modifications, over and over again, because of (1) that the products are made to break down and (2) that they have also been designed not to be repairable or repair being too costly.

By means of this model the economy grows, but to the detriment of the Planet as well as our finances. And does the economy actually really grow when this is the case? While, on the outside, it may appear to do so in all honesty, as we have to buy the same thing over and over again, it does not really make for real and honest growth. Just for well massaged figures, so to speak.

Unfortunately, as long as the system is skewed like this we have very little choice, unless we can afford it, to buy in the way we are being forced to do. The alternative, though much more expensive, is to buy well-made, ideally made in our own respective countries, products. Products that are made to last and that can be repaired and hand-made goods. But who has that kind of money as that does not come cheap?

Well-made, and especially hand-made, is not cheap because a great deal of work time goes into making each and every product, and this even more so with hand-made than with just well-made. That is the difference between mass-produced goods produced outsources in countries such as China and others. Already mass-produced goods in our own countries are more expensive and that is due to labor costs, and years ago that would have also been due to quality, though that is no longer necessarily the case.

Most consumer goods, nowadays, are produced as consumables, to be used once or a couple of times and then discarded, because they are either outdated, worn out, broken and too expensive to repair, etc., and we have to buy new. That is, however, the way the system is skewed against, us, the consumer and the Planet. It is all about quick profit for the corporations at any and all expense in human and environmental costs. That is why the system needs replacing, not just changing or “repairing”. It can't be repaired because it is not broken; it was designed this way.

© 2018

Philanthropy is a scam

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Philanthropy is a scamCapitalists are fooling the world with the hoax of Philanthropy

Philanthropy is a scam as it allows the (super) rich to influence global affairs and gain political power with no consequences. We can see time and again in the case of George Soros and his “foundations” and NGOs supported by the OSI when it comes to projects for Roma in Eastern Europe (none in the West need to apply) which he uses to gain access to and political power in those countries, such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, etc.

Capitalists use philanthropy as a tool that links charity, capitalism and development by investing in “fixing” complex historical problems in poor countries (and communities) to expand privatization and their agenda being only limited by their own resources.

They intervene in public life but are not accountable to the public, are privately governed but publicly subsidized, reinforcing the problem of plutocracy, the exercise of power derived from wealth

NGOs and foundations make it seem as if capitalism were the solution and not the cause of the world's problems especially the disparity between the poor and the rich.

Neoliberal practices are imported that ultimately harm locals who are pushed out of their own land or pay higher prices for public services.

For example supposed philanthropic projects in Congo involving Bill Gates, Monsanto and Howard Buffet proved to be devastating as local farmers will be forced to use GMO seeds and fertilizers only benefiting private companies. A model that is being replicated all over the world.

Will this kind of “charity” fix the system that allowed capitalists to become so rich? Don't for a moment believe that. It will not fix the system; it will perpetuate it. They need to have the poor, be it Roma – and that case also Antigypsyism – or others in order to be able to perpetuate their operations. They have no intention to fix anything in the situation of, say, the Gypsy People for if they would fix the problem then there would be no need for them to continue to operate in that field.

Philanthropy, just like much of the “charity” work today, has become an industry that can only continue to exist and gather funds, most of which end up in certain people's pockets, if the situations on the ground are not alleviated too much. Very much in the vein of “Mother” Theresa (of Calcutta) and her attitude to the poor and the sick. Her real attitude, I am referring to, and not the one presented to the world.

Philanthropy and many other NGO work has become an industry and poverty is being made profitable be that in regards to the homeless, the Gypsy, refugees, and so on. That is why only that much is being done and no more. A little like Margaret Thatcher when she said that for wages to be kept low the country needed a million plus unemployed, the charity industry needs the poor and marginalized and can't do too much otherwise it would lose its reason to exist.

© 2018

Uses for empty plastic containers in your garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

HarvestingTubs1Plastic bottles to garden cloches: It all, obviously, depends on the size of the bottles but I, personally, use everything from 1 liter (over 3inch pots) to bigger ones – for seed raising. The large one gallon water bottles that, after events in parks and such, are so often tossed out, I use as cloches for bigger plants in the garden itself.

The standard PET bottles of one and even two liter, with their bottoms cut off, fit nicely into the rim of or just over the standard 3inch pots and leaving the top intact and thus removable gives a chance to, when needed, give to air to the mini-greenhouses thus created.

Milk jugs can also be used in the garden as cloches, and they even, as they are opaque, are better for the plants to some extent, as they prevent scorching.

Plastic buckets: The buckets that I am talking about here are those in which various products come for the catering trade, whether it be mayonnaise, oil, or marinated herrings. Most are about a gallon in size, some are bigger, some also smaller, and they make for great bucket garden planters but, obviously, as well can be used as buckets for any number of tasks in and around the garden, as many do have handles, some steel wire, some plastic.

Uses for empty plastic containers in your garden1I have seen several market gardens where all the produce is grown in such buckets and so why should we not make use of those rather than have them go for, if they do, recycling or, as is mostly the case, to landfill. A couple of good sized holes drilled into bottom and the sides around the bottom for drainage and ready you are.

While it is true that many of those containers can be recycled they are not in some areas, or not all, even if they are put into the recycling bins. Thus us finding ways of reusing them is the better option. It also saves us gardeners money.

Harvesting containers: Plastic milk jugs of the 4pt and 6pt size, with a section cut out but the handle left in place and intact, make for great little daily harvesting “buckets”. They also can be carriers for small hand tools for the gardener. If you would want to you could slide one or even two of those onto a belt and then be able to work hands-free.

Harvesting or deadheading tub: This is made from the bottom section of a 4pt plastic milk jug (British) and for a belt loop a length of plastic from another jug was riveted to it. Costs were just a little time and a couple of rivets. (see main photo).

Harder plastic bottles such as those from cleaning products can be made into soil scoops, funnels, and many other things useful in the garden (and also around the home).

Those, together with lotion bottles, also can be upcycled and converted into holsters, whether belt-worn or just as pocket protectors, for carrying the likes of secateurs (pruning shears), trowels, as well as sharpening stone(s) for scythe. But the uses are only limited by your imagination.

Personally I am always looking for new ways to repurpose and upcycle such container for use in the garden, around the home, etc., as in fact with much of the waste products that I come across. One just has to think laterally a great deal and sometimes get inspiration from homeware and gardening equipment catalogs. That is how the idea for the harvesting tub from plastic milk jugs came about.

The same I did with various upcycled milk jugs that are on my kitchen windowsill and hold all manner of things such as the dish brushes, etc. The idea came from plastic homeware items from a catalog. I don't buy if I can make it myself, is my motto, and thus such things can be rescued. Problem is only that there is only that many that you can actually reuse yourself, even if you make cloches for the plants in your garden. OK, I guess it depends on the size of your garden.

Waterers: PET and other plastic bottles can also be made into garden waterers, stuck into (spout down), or embedded in, the soil (bottom cut off for the former) and filled (and refilled) with water (as needed). Obviously the bottle needs some holes in it so the water can trickle out.

Whether in the home, the workshop, the garden, or even the home/office, there are reuse and upcycling possibilities for plastic bottles and other plastic containers galore and the possible uses would be enough to fill a book at least.

So, let's reduce the plastic waste that there is by making use of those items that come our way rather than even sending them for recycling. A bit like with glass jars that can be used for storage and such it means what you can reuse and upcycle you do not have to buy. A win-win situation for you and the Planet.

© 2018

Buying for the landfill

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

cobaltWith a great number of products the wear out is pre-programed. This deliberate limited lifespan is called “planned obsolescence”. There are some tech people who actually claim that many electronic devices and also white goods have a chip “implanted” that starts counting down a set time span after the device has begun to be used which shuts it down after that set time. But may that as it be (or not be). Fact is that there appears to be a predestined limited lifespan of our devices in order for the companies to be able to be selling us the same products again, and again, after a short space of time rather than, as used to be the case when products were made to last (almost indefinitely with care) and were repairable, having to bring out better versions or other products, in order to stay in business.

It would appear that the producers of light bulbs decided that the lifespan of the original ones was too long – almost indefinite – and that that would have to change. They seem to have been the first with this lightbulb moment for the capitalists. So they changed the design of the elements and, voila, it would only work for a limited time. In the same vein as when the new owner (a West German capitalist) of once people-owned glass-works in the GDR that made unbreakable (yes, they even had the patent for it) glass he immediately had all the machines removed with the words: “I am not going to make something that does not break.”

As a result of this capitalist model we have the modern “throw away society” because the manufacturers of those products also make it (almost) impossible to open the devices and repair them. That is also part of the plan. And in addition to that they now “sell” us a supposed sustainability of those products – that we have to toss after they no longer work – as they are, so they tell us, fully recyclable.

Whether it is light bulbs, nylon tights, printers, mobile telephones – most of those, and many, many other products, already have their expiry date preplanned. The consumer shall be induced to rather buy a new product than to have the old one repaired. Often, as indicated, this is (almost) impossible and where it is possible to costs can be several times higher than the purchase cost of a new one.

The deliberate foreshortening of the lifespan of an industrial products in order to keep the economy in motion is called “planned obsolescence”. Already in 1928 an advertising magazine wrote candidly: “A product that does not wear out is a tragedy for business.”

In the 1920s a cartel was set up to limit the lifespan of light bulbs and from then on everything went slowly downhill bar for say in the GDR where products were made not to wear out. Why? Because of scarcity of resources and because it was not a capitalist state.

Even after the light bulb story many products were still well-made and repairable, to some extent even by the user in the DIY-mode. Things begun to change after the Second World War. It was here that companies made big money due to military contracts but after those profits began to fall off. Realizing that this was due to the fact that the products they supplied to the military ended up destroyed in action they came up with the idea (no, not of another war, though that was not far behind either) to find ways to limit the lifespan of products other than what would be called “consumables”.

Slowly, however, people in general are getting fed up with this model and are beginning to demand – once again – products that last. The manufacturers, though, are responding rather with the “sustainability” model I mentioned earlier, that is to say the claim that their products are entirely recyclable and thus the consumer does not have to worry about buying new then the previous one breaks as everything goes back into the loop. That is not the point though, is it.

Whether or not the everything in a product is recyclable and even if everything goes back into the loop of making new products the impact on the environment, not to speak of our pocketbooks, is not elevated really. Recycling of electronic goods, and recycling in general, is a dirty business which is why most countries have outsourced it to countries where the environmental codes are lower to non-existent and where there are also no protections for the workers in this industry.

With China now refusing to take much of our recyclables the nations of the so-called West are in a quandary as what to do and are looking – no, not so much at reducing waste and making long-lasting products – to other, poorer countries where they can dump their recyclables.

However, nothing is going to change unless either the political model changes and capitalism is tossed on the landfill itself, the landfill of history, or consumers vote with their feet and wallets. What must become obsolete are not products but the system that created this willful “planned obsolescence” and the idea of infinite perpetual economic growth on a finite Planet with finite resources.

And while we are at limited resources let me, just for a second, touch upon the batteries, the rechargeable Lithium-ion ones, that our devices devour rather also quite often. The rare earths required for this, including cobalt, and others, are not just mined in a way that ravages the Planet and which are polluting, but which also ravage children who work as slaves, often literally, in those mines (and the factories making the batteries). But then, oh well, seems to be the attitude of so many, it is not in our countries and it is far away.

© 2018

US trade war with EU

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

US trade war with EUThe recently announced punitive tariffs by the US President Donald Trump on imports of steel and other goods and products is primarily aimed, no doubt, at countries of the European Union, including Great Britain. Also the, though prior to Trump's watch, issues with Volkswagen and other German automobile manufacturers was the beginning of such a trade war considering that, aside from Japanese cars German ones are the most sold ones in the country.

What the POTUS does not seem to realize, and that is the very problem with Donald Trump in that he does not seem to realize much of what the real political world is like, is that a trade war has also other protagonists and also that the world stock markets might not like this idea. He seems to forget that running a country is different to running a company. Not that he has been very successful with many of them either.

Unlike his assertion that trade wars are good they are the opposite and the US may be shooting itself in the foot with such actions. It is quite easy for European and other countries to boycott American products in retaliation.

The best answer to the US' trade war against, primarily, the EU should be to get back together with the Russian Federation and literally give the US the middle finger, for the EU sanctions against Russia were, more or less, imposed on the EU by America. There are two sides who can play a game such as this.

Yes, the US has military stationed in EU countries but even Donald Trump would not be that stupid to use them should the EU retaliate in the trade ware department. Just saying.

© 2018

Bioplastics and biodegradable packaging

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

bioplasticsA more sustainable solution? Maybe and then again maybe not.

Plastic packaging is all over the media at the moment and that in an incredibly negative light. Consumers have growing concerns about how plastic packaging is managed at end of life, and are worried about leakage into the ocean. This has brought in a focus on what can be done about plastic waste.

The most obvious option is to reduce the amount of plastic packaging, but simply from a cost point of view this has already been on the agenda for brands and retailers for many years. What we are mostly left with now is packaging that has been carefully designed for its function - but not always with end of life considerations.

So, what is the solution? Most logically, several steps must be taken:

1. Reduction of amount of packaging where possible;

2. Rationalization of polymer types used in packaging to simplify the sorting and recycling process;

3. Design packaging with understanding of how it will be handled at end of life;

4. More recycling infrastructure, funded and ultimately subsidized through Extended

Producer Responsibility schemes; and

5. Consumer engagement to ensure as much packaging as possible is captured for recycling

What could the role of bioplastics and biodegradable packaging be in all of this? Should we completely switch all packaging so that it is made from “bioplastics” and which is “biodegradable” so that it will disappear once disposed of and will be made from renewable resources?

The short answer to this is “no”. Bioplastics will certainly have a part to play in the future and in some instances today, but we need to make sure the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of such materials is more beneficial than oil based plastics. Oil is not going away anytime soon, and while we are still refining huge quantities for fuel, should we not make use of the plastic that can be produced from its by-products?

As for biodegradable packaging, this is a minefield of confusing messages and lack of transparency. Packaging that will readily degrade in a home composting system, or in the ocean, is great in theory, but ensuring it can do that and deliver product protection is not easy. Many food products need protection from oxygen and moisture, and material that easily breaks down cannot always achieve this. There is a balance to be found to produce polymers that will maintain integrity during product lifetime (which many include many months in warehouses or on shelves) but will readily degrade once the packaging is no longer needed.

Then you come to packaging that is compostable, but only in an industrial composting facility. This then brings same challenges as any other material that is collected for recycling, if not more, because the consumer now must understand a whole new category of packaging which needs its own special disposal route. For example, imagine the confusion if some drinks bottles needed to go in the regular plastic recycling bin while others went in the composting collection. In some closed, controlled systems this may work, but we must be mindful of how material is handled at end of life.

So in some instances a biopolymer or biodegradable pack may have a more positive environmental impact, but very careful consideration is needed before using these materials. It should not be assumed that just because “bio” is in the name, it is better for the planet.

Plastics are wonderful materials, which when used correctly can have massive positive impacts on our lives. There is no better time than now to think hard about the various options, whether that be designing for end of life, improving recycling infrastructure, or replacing current materials with biodegradable or compostable ones. The answer is not always straightforward.

The problem is that many so-called “bioplastics” are not as readily biodegradable and especially not compostable as they are claimed to be. In a marine environment they will not degrade and compost but simply break down, just as “ordinary” plastic packaging material, into microplastic particles which end up in marine life and the food chain.

As said above plastic can be very useful indeed and there is, if I may put it like that, good and bad plastic. There the the (good) products that we can use for many, many decades and which are made of a single kind of plastic that can, at the end of the product's life, be recycled – in theory at least, whether it happens is another story – and then there are the bad plastic products, which include many of the packaging materials that are either non-recyclable or very hard to recycle because, often, they are made of more than one plastic and often, in the case of foils, several different plastics laminated together.

The Tupperware box, the reusable plastic water bottle, such as De Dopper, and the reusable plastic coffee cup, such as KeepCup, are actually your friend, and the Planet's friend, and not the enemy, as are many other kinds of plastics. Not all plastic is bad. It all depends on the type and the use. The current hype about plastic being bad is totally out of context. The problem is what we do with the plastic and the real culprit is us and the single-use plastic products.

It would be better if we would, to some extent, go back to (more) natural materials but for many applications there simply is not another option.

© 2018

Uses for plastic containers

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

New uses for plastic containersPlastic packaging and plastic containers are everywhere, they are ubiquitous, and most end up in the landfill for recycling does not always happen in the way that we are being told. In fact, quite often it does not happen. Now that China has closed its doors to plastic (and other) recyclables from the Europe and America the problem is going to get bigger still.

We can also not expect that the uses of plastics, for packaging especially, is going to go away soon and even so-called bio-plastics, biodegradable and even – supposedly – compostable plastics are still plastics and most will only compost, when it comes to the latter, in commercial hot composting facilities and not in Nature per se, and not even on your domestic compost heap or in a composter in your garden.

So, what do we do? Aside from reducing where we can we must look at reusing and upcycling wherever possible. As far as plastic containers are concerned they come in many shapes and sizes and thus to many reuse and upcycling possibilities.

There are the humble milk jugs in a variety of sizes. In the UK they are pint, two pint, four pint and six pint sizes while in the US they happen do be different and also come in gallon size. They all, as far as I am concerned, have reuse potential and I have made a variety of things from them, including a belt-wearable berry picking/dead heading container for gardening (see photo).

Milk jugs, of all sizes, can also be used as planters, for seed starting as well as for growing plants. Larger plastic jugs, like those used in commercial catering and also for other purposes, often small to large jerrycan size and style, can be reused, repurposed and upcycled also into planters.

The same goes for plastic buckets in which many products come when purchased in bulk, or for commercial catering, for instance, such as mayonnaise, oil, etc. Those buckets, often gallon and greater in size, make great planters in the garden. Drill holes into the bottoms, and, maybe the sides, of the emptied and cleaned containers, and then use them for growing vegetables or invasive plants, such as mint. You can also use the plastic buckets to organize and haul garden materials and compost, sort laundry, or store household items.

But they can also be made into other useful items, such as storage drawers, and smaller ones can be used for dividers in desk drawers and such. The only limitation, probably, is set by your imagination or lack thereof.

From plastic lotion containers (bottles) holsters and pocket protectors can easily be made for safely carrying tools, such as, say secateurs. They can either be fitted with “straps” so they can be worn on the belt, or shoulder straps, or they can just simply be put into the pocket. The tool is safely encased in the holster and thus will not damage the clothes or the wearer.

Other bottles from strong plastic, such as those from cleaning fluids, for instance, can become holsters for scythe sharpening stones, the name for which I rather not mention here as nowadays it is considered a cuss word, as it has four letters, begins with a “c” and ends in a “t”. But, honestly, that is the real word for such a holster.

Many other items of plastic packaging also, no doubt, have reuse, repurposing and upcyling potential and I am sure we can all create a whole list of ideas in this department. Often all that is required is the correct mindset, imagination and inspiration.

I strongly believe that there is even potential, as far as plastic containers (and such) are concerned, for upcyling business ventures if people can be brought to understand to buy into the concept – literally as well.

© 2018

Zip ties and their many uses

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Zip ties and their many uses on the farm, homestead, the garden and elsewherezip-tiesZip ties, or as they are called in England, cable ties, are, even though they are plastic and some people do have a problem with plastic, are often a godsend when it comes to temporarily or even, more or less, permanently fixing something, be this in the home, on the farm, the homestead, the garden or elsewhere. The uses literally are legion.

While, as said, those little (and not so little) ties are plastic and thus (probably) not all that green but they are so very useful for so many things, be it for temporary or even permanent fixing of things.

These simple strips, typically made of plastic, come in many lengths and feature a special ratcheting design, some even can be reused in that they have a “reversible” catch. When you insert the pointed end into a slot at the opposite end, it latches firmly in place and creates a loop that can be tightened (but not loosened – unless the special kind) to whatever size you need. You can combine multiple zip ties to create much longer zip ties.

The potential uses for zip ties are almost limitless and all I can give you here are a few example of their uses around the farm, the garden, the homestead and the home. As far as I am concerned zip ties are so useful that I even pick up any unused ones that people, who have been using them somewhere, have dropped. Weird, I know, but then that's what I am like; waste not want not.

The uses for those – predominately – plastic strips, those cable- or zip ties are legion and, more or less, I should guess, endless, on the farm, in the garden, in the home, and elsewhere.

Installing wire mesh fencing: When installing mesh wire fencing, it doesn't get much easier than securing the wire in place with large zip ties. The evenly spaced gaps in the mesh wire ensures that you can slide the ties through wherever necessary, securing them around metal stakes to hold the wire upright. They work equally well for installing deer netting.

Guiding grape vines and other climbers: Simply attach the vines to the trellis of wires or fence on which you want them to grow up on with zip ties. It could not be easier. Eventually, the vines will curl their tendrils around the wires and be able to support themselves, but in the meantime, the ties effectively hold the vines in place.

The same applies to all kinds of vines, not just grape vines, and delicate plants that need support can also be helped with zip ties.

Repairing fruit tree branches: Unfortunately, it's fairly common for fruit trees to overestimate how much fruit their branches can support and branches can crack under the weight of a heavy crop. However, as long as the branch is not fully broken, it is possible to support it with a stake and allow the tree to heal the crack. Zip ties are an important part of the process, perfect for holding everything in position. This may even work, though I have not tried it, with tree saplings that have been accidentally broken though not completely off.

Securing tarps: Need to tie down a tarp to keep something dry? Loop some zip ties through the grommets on the tarp and secure it in place. It does not get easier than that now, does it.

Pole bean teepee (pole beans = runner beans in Britain): When installing bean poles and turning them into the teepee shape there is no easier way than using some cable ties and, voila, ready is the thing. While it is possible to do it with string, or wire, doing it on one's own with the latter two can be a little bit of a problem, time-consuming and fiddly. Not so with cable ties.

Bicycles: Here they have their first uses, obviously, to hold cables and such in place, but there are also things on the bike that can be temporarily or permanently tied down with cable ties.

Shower curtains: Want to put up a shower curtain (think tarp but hanging down) onto a pole and there are no hooks or rings. Zip ties through the grommets and over the pole and voila, there it hangs ready for use.

This is but a very small list of the uses for zip ties around farm, homestead, home, etc., and one could, I should guess, fill a small book with them at least and after publication of such book another hundred uses would come up. So, maybe, a book I won't write about it.

© 2018

Sycamore tree and Sycamore wood

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Acer-Pseudoplatanus-2When we are talking here about the Sycamore we are talking about Acer pseudoplantanus, the “European” Sycamore and not the American one, which is Platanus occidentalis.

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplantanus) (in the USA called Sycamore maple) is a very underrated and undervalued tree and wood in Britain where it is continuously referred to as a non-native species and some call for its eradication.

While it is true that in the UK, Sycamore frequently suffers from sooty bark disease (further citation) to all intents and purposes, however, is – fingers tightly crossed it remains that way – otherwise very resilient. Sooty bark is, however, fatal for the tree once it has been affected. Having said that, however, it would appear that Britain has just managed, probably, to import a plant disease, Xylella fastidiosa, from the European Union that, unfortunately, does attack Sycamore, along with Oak and Bird Cherry.

In my opinion Sycamore if one of the best woods for treen, and that not only because of its high antibacterial and antiviral properties, though it may be rather plain and lack interesting grain feature rater, in comparison to other hardwoods.

On the European mainland, especially in Germany, where it is called “Mountain Maple”, Sycamore is regarded as a noble timer tree and highly valued.

With Ash Dieback (ADB) making itself rather felt in woodlands across Britain UK forestry bodies are looking abroad for foreign replacement completely disregarding the Sycamore and, still more often than not, rejecting any suggestion of looking at that tree, which does so well, bar for sooty bark, in the UK where it tends to grow like a weed, with the comment that it is not a native tree. But Southern Beech, and other suggested replacements, also from the USA, obviously are. I rest my case here, as it is getting rather heavy (the case that is).

Personally, but then this is me, and I love Sycamore, I cannot see why the Forestry Commission and the Royal Forestry Society, and others, are looking at American maples, for instance, as a possible replacement for Ash, when we already have a, more or less, perfect specimen of the maple family in our midst that also likes living and multiplying here. Anyone who has seen how that tree multiplies will know what I mean.

German forestry sources refer, as said earlier, to Acer pseudoplantanus as a noble timer tree, or even as Edelholz, meaning precious wood, and there, apparently, it tends to only grow in mountainous regions and not so well in the lower areas. Maybe they need some British Sycamore seed... just jesting. So why the permanent rejection of Sycamore in Britain as a “non-native” tree, especially considering that it once, before the last ice age, apparently, was native here but did not return on its own steam.

© 2018

Recycling helps us avoid tackling Climate Change

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Climate change and environmental destruction are contentious and disputed topics.

Recycling helps us avoid tackling Climate ChangeIn the US, for instance, there is a powerful faction of Republican politicians who flat-out deny that climate change even exists. In Britain, the former Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, under David Cameron, is also a climate change skeptic, oddly enough. The current one, under Theresa May, does not appear to be much better in that department either. And it has become worse in the USA under Donald Trump. That is not to say that it was good under Obama.

These denials go against science: carbon emissions have increased by 35 per cent since 1990, and climate change is responsible for over 300,000 deaths a year, a figure that could rise to half a million people by 2030.Or so, at least, we are being told. It is blindingly obvious that we are heading towards environmental destruction and any failure to admit this is negligent and dangerous.

The climate is changing though – and I am swaying that rather carefully – whether all is down to CO2 emissions is another thing altogether. I would actually say that the entire thing of focusing on “carbon emissions” is also making us fail to look at other culprits, for which we, as humans, are also responsible, such as pollution, exploitations of soil and forests, etc., ad infinitum. Ever since they but the word carbon in front of emissions we have failed to look at the other contributing factors that used to go by the name of pollution, from air pollution, to pollution of soil, water and land. But that kind of pollution cannot be traded in the form of carbon certificates, those modern day indulgences.

The international system has set numerous targets to resolve the crisis, such as the UN Millennium Development Goals on the environment, but they are rarely, if ever, met. The many environment summits which regularly take place also fail to produce tangible results, with the big powers failing to agree on terms. On top of that they emit more pollution than almost anything else as those leaders keep jetting around the globe, together with entourage and journalists in tow. And let's not even talk of all those eco-organizations whose people also do this.

On the micro level, people tend to make quite an effort. We are often told to monitor our carbon footprint and in many countries, recycling has become normalized, a part of people's daily routine. These micro-level changes are theoretically somewhat reducing our environmental crisis. Or so we are led to believe.

A greener approach is encouraged by the governments, for both businesses and ordinary citizens. Despite this, the environment is not really improving. When we take our small green steps, we tend to assume that we are solving the problem, and that we do not have to worry about it anymore. This veneer of “action” misleads us and essentially pulls the wool over our eyes, stopping us from asking deeper questions about the environment and what truly contributes to climate change and wider environmental degradation.

We recycle our waste, but do not link it to the consumer society we live in. The media and advertising industries are constantly telling us to buy things we don't need, yet we rarely, if ever, link this to climate change. Our efforts to recycle nullify us and prevent deeper thought. In addition to that there is “greensumption”, the believe that we make a change when we buy “green” products. Hello!! We are still consuming and in that department often things that are greenwashed rather than anything else.

Debates surrounding the environment seldom link the problem to capitalism, and they are too often seen as separate issues. Capitalism is the elephant in the room.

Our capitalist world encourages and ingrains a consumerist mentality that is driving us to environmental ruin. It has been estimated that if everyone consumed at the same rate as your average American, then the world would only be able to support 1.4 billion people.

Capitalism, however, needs that kind of mentality to exist in order for corporations to thrive, and doing the recycling is not going to change our consumerist habits. Therefore what is really needed is a change of system not a change of habits. That, though, the powers-that-be (but really shouldn't be) are hardly going to tell us now, are they.

It is precisely this ideology that is behind the extraction of resources meant to facilitate our lifestyles. The environmental damage done by extractive industries far outweighs what we can achieve as individuals on a micro-level.

The United Nations Environment Program a while ago released a report highlighting how environmental damage caused by Shell in Ogoniland, Nigeria, could take more than 30 years to be reversed. Still, we don't make the link between what happens in places like Ogoniland and our consumer lifestyles at home. There is a huge disconnect there and environmental NGOs are often closely linked to big business, so they can't act as whistleblowers anymore. In other words, very few can do so, nowadays and it is up to us, the people, to make a noise.

Extractive industries have a huge influence in the policy making sphere, particularly in the US. It has been estimated that 94% of US Chamber of Commerce contributions went to climate denier candidates, with the oil and gas industries' lobby worth almost $1.5 billion per year.

It is, therefore, not difficult to see who is shaping policy and why our environmental crisis has only worsened in recent decades. As long as there are powerful interest groups influencing the EU and the US governments, it is unrealistic to expect international conventions to ever make a difference.

Big business has more say than local groups, such as indigenous people, who often have a powerful environmental message to share, but who are persistently ignored. It is beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones at the forefront of trying to avert it.

There is definitely merit in reducing our individual environmental footprints, but in the grand scheme of things, it is unlikely to make any difference to the Planet's environmental outlook; at least, not as long as capitalism reigns supreme.

Encouraging micro-level changes and giving money to green NGOs merely serves as a smokescreen to prevent real in-depth analysis. It almost facilitates a system whereby corporate-made environmental degradation can continue, while we keep on recycling and forget about the problem.

In order to truly make a change we must begin to ask deeper questions about the society in which we live in and start trying to operate outside of the status quo capitalist framework. Thus we must change the system and no, social democracy will not make one iota of a difference here either the politicians in this often refer to themselves as democratic socialists.

But, as long as we are going to be lulled to sleep by the recycling message, and to believe that we can make a great and significant difference if we but separate our waste properly, etc., we will never get the idea to call for a change of system. Unless, however, the system is changed we – and our children and children's children – are not going to have a Planet on which to live. It is as simple but also as crass as that.

See for this also my article “Fighting climate change and poverty in the Third World at the same time?

© 2018