Straw bale is a low impact, low carbon building material making strides towards mainstream acceptance. So is it about time we took notice? Mark Briggs reports
As designers and homeowners look for imaginative ways to help reduce their carbon footprint in the campaign against climate change, straw bale could become a new tool in the building industry’s armoury. Straw, a natural by-product of farming, is collected and baled, tightly compacted, and fitted into a frame before being rendered with earthen or lime stucco. The practice was prevalent during the 1800s throughout the American prairie states but fell out of favour with people turning to bricks and mortar. Unlike hay, straw contains no nutritional value for livestock and is often sold as bedding for farm animals – or burnt. Unlike other recycled materials currently used in the building industry, such as car tyres or recycled plastics, straw bale can be used in its raw state requiring no further processing.
Tranasaph: Peak Oil in a nutshell
The North Seas dwindling oil and gas reserves are pushing companies to tap unstable reservoirs at high pressure and extreme heat, while safety checks and maintenance are behind schedule, a North Sea rig auditor who works for the industry told Reuters.
The news that nuclear giants RWE and E.ON are dropping plans to build any new UK reactors has sent a toxic cloud not only over Wales, but over the nuclear industry itself.
Of course, everyone knows nowadays, post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima, that nuclear power plants are not really safe. Even if there are a few noisy die-hards, arguing that the resulting radiation is harmless, and that “hardly anyone” dies as a direct consequence of atomic meltdown, that old canard just won’t wash any more.
Other nuclear myths, though, have lingered on. Atomic energy, unveiled by Her Majesty with grand aplomb at Calder Hall half a century ago, still has a hi-tech glamour, an aura of somehow being “the future”. The reality that atomic plants are basically steam engines staffed by thousands of casual workers who would otherwise be picking strawberries or digging up roads somehow never impinges. Perhaps one of the most shocking images post-Fukushima, was of unskilled workers hosing sea water on to the smouldering wreckage. Not here the calm, fatherly figures in their white lab-coats in front of consoles worthy of the Starship Enterprise.
continue reading at Nuclear industry dreams dashed by current economic reality | Business | The Guardian.
Some of the world’s most commonly used pesticides are killing bees by damaging their ability to navigate and reducing numbers of queens, research suggests.
Scientific groups in the UK and France studied the effects of neonicotinoids, which are used in more than 100 nations on farm crops and in gardens.
The UK team found the pesticides caused an 85% drop in queen production.
Writing in the journal Science, the groups note that bee declines in many countries are reducing crop yields.
Army drivers are being trained to deliver fuel to petrol stations around the country in anticipation of a possible strike by tanker drivers.
The Unite union is balloting on industrial action and the government is drawing up contingency plans to avoid major disruption to fuel supplies.
Unite has been balloting more than 2,000 of its members who work for seven major fuel distribution companies.
The vote closes on Monday and any agreed strike could be held next month.
Officials at the Bank of England say that rising oil prices present “clear risk” to the economy.In minutes from the Monetary Policy Committee MPC meeting earlier this month, officials said that high oil prices could slow the global and UK recovery and drive up inflation.
Oil spikes usually metastasise once energy costs reach 9 per cent of global GDP. The longer they stay there, the greater the damage.That proved to be the pain barrier in the 1970s and again in 2008, and we are just shy of that level right now.”Oil is already capturing a higher level of European GDP than in 2008,” said Francisco Blanch from Bank of America.
The rule of thumb is that a 10 per cent rise in crude cuts United States growth by 0.2 per cent four quarters later, but the science is flabbily soft and nobody knows where the inflexion point lies.The effect is famously “non-linear”. Nothing much seems to happen until confidence suddenly snaps.What is deeply troubling is that Brent crude should have reached fresh records in sterling, £79 S$157, and euros, €94 S$155, with a knock-on effect on US petrol prices, mostly tracking Brent – even though the International Monetary Fund has sharply downgraded its world growth forecast to 3.25 per cent this year from 4 per cent in September, and even though the International Energy Agency IEA has cut its oil use forecast for this year by 750,000 barrels per day bpd.
Oil is not supposed to ratchet defiantly upwards in a downturn, which is what we have with the euro zone facing a year of contraction in 2012, and much of the Latin bloc sliding into full depression. Japans economy shrank in the fourth quarter.
It’s Not a Fairytale: Seattle to Build Nation’s First Food Forest | TakePart – News, Culture, Videos and Photos That Make the World Better
Seattle’s vision of an urban food oasis is going forward. A seven-acre plot of land in the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood will be planted with hundreds of different kinds of edibles: walnut and chestnut trees; blueberry and raspberry bushes; fruit trees, including apples and pears; exotics like pineapple, yuzu citrus, guava, persimmons, honeyberries, and lingonberries; herbs; and more.All will be available for public plucking to anyone who wanders into the city’s first food forest.“This is totally innovative, and has never been done before in a public park,” Margarett Harrison, lead landscape architect for the Beacon Food Forest project, tells TakePart. Harrison is working on construction and permit drawings now and expects to break ground this summer.
The concept of a food forest certainly pushes the envelope on urban agriculture and is grounded in the concept of permaculture, which means it will be perennial and self-sustaining, like a forest is in the wild. Not only is this forest Seattle’s first large-scale permaculture project, but it’s also believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.“The concept means we consider the soils, companion plants, insects, bugs—everything will be mutually beneficial to each other,” says Harrison.
The price of diesel has hit a new high, at 143.05 pence a litre, figures have suggested.The Retail Motor Industry RMI says the figures, from the analysts Experian Catalist, are a “disaster for motorists”.RMI Petrol Chairman Brian Madderson said it put the livelihoods of hundreds of fuel retailers at risk.The previous high was 143.04p, in May 2011, at the height of the “Arab spring”.
Motoring organisation the AA said the cost of filling up the tank of a commercial van with an 80-litre fuel tank had risen from £90 in February 2010 to £114.Food price riseIt is thought the rise will have a knock-on effect on food prices.On Thursday, Defra issued an update of its
Food Statistics Pocketbook, which showed prices had risen by 25% since the start of the financial crisis in 2008.Defra said on Friday the increase in real terms was actually 12%.AA president Edmund King said of the diesel price hike: “The impact of record diesel prices will be felt by everyone as higher transport costs are passed on to business and consumers.”With some delivery and haulage firms adding a diesel surcharge to invoices, costs will rise faster than most people expect and stoke inflation again.”
continue reading BBC News – Price of diesel hits new record high.
Concerns about the climate have not inspired a lot of action lately on global energy policy. Now two professors are arguing that supply concerns and rising oil prices ought to be enough to get governments moving, even if the climate does not.In an opinion piece released on Wednesday by the journal Nature, James Murray of the University of Washington and David King of the University of Oxford point out that global oil production appeared to hit a cap of about 75 million barrels a day in 2005. Since then, they note, small supply bumps have caused big price gyrations, yet even when prices spike above $100 a barrel, supply appears incapable of rising to meet the demand.
continue reading Oil Supply as a Strategic Risk – NYTimes.com.