Monday, 30 June 2008

What to call the new book?

Since I'm hoping you might buy the book when it comes out in the autumn (!), I'd value your comments on possible titles (see shortlist below).

Whatever about judging a book by its cover, a good title certainly helps. In the four years or so since I had the idea for a book of tips on sustainable living -- subtitle: '101 ways to save money, time and some of the planet's other scarce resources' -- it's gone through several working titles. The current shortlist includes:

Drive like a woman, shop like a man
Swedish researchers found recently that women travel and drive less than men, and men buy fewer things than women. Currently my personal favourite working title -- but don't let that influence your comment!

Borrow this book
Can't see the publisher and booksellers liking this one!

Live like granny
May be a bit too 'sandals and lentils', and harking back to the bad old days?

Do things by halves

Live life unplugged
But already commonly used e.g. for blogs

Lights on, and nobody home?
Too widely used to mean somebody is not all there?

Still, sparkling . . . or sustainable?
Not sure that a question works in the title

Shop naked
Hmm. What people would find if they Googled for Mary Mulvihill + naked?!

But what do you think -- do any of these catch your book-buying eye? Make you want to read more?? Comments (just click below) welcome.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

What price cheaper food?

What would you do to bring down the cost of food?

Rising food prices are a worry for many, but for impoverished people living close to the edge, more expensive food could mean starvation.

Writing in New Scientist, Deborah MacKenzie argues that one of the main factors driving recent price hikes is the growing demand for meat among increasingly prosperous people in developing countries. (Other factors include demand for biofuels and the fact that food production has not kept pace with population growth.)

The options? New Scientist argues that the answer is government-funded science to increase yields, and infrastructure to get the resulting technologies to farmers, even though that can take 15-20 years to happen.

Now don't get me wrong -- I'm a meat-eating, former agricultural research scientist . . . but surely it would be much quicker, cheaper and simpler if people were encouraged to eat less meat? I, for one, am happy to start today. What about you?

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Misleading energy ratings

Buy A-rated electrical appliances, we are told, because they are more energy-efficient.

Not so, says Brendan Boardman of the UK’s Environmental Change Institute, writing in the latest edition of Chemistry & Industry magazine. It seems that it is easier for larger devices to achieve an A-rating, even though they consume more electricity on average than smaller ones. The problem arises because energy levels are calculated on relative values (kWh/litre).

The net result is that manufacturers make ever bigger appliances, and consumers are encouraged to buy them.

Moral of the story? Remember that every appliance has two price tags: the purchase price, and the price you will pay for all the energy it will consume during its lifetime. And an A-rated appliance is not necessarily the best buy, financially or environmentally. Caveat emptor.

Monday, 23 June 2008

'Smart' solution to Dublin traffic?

Hm. Call me sceptical, but . . . A report by Harry McGee in today's Irish Times, reveals that the Department of Energy is working on a hi-tech 'smart' system to cut commuting times and make journey times more reliable, and to enable more people to work from home, the ultimate aim being to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

All well and good, but the 'workflow' system, unveiled by Minister Eamon Ryan at a meeting in Korea last week, will incorporate broadband, GPS and sensors, and hot links between workstations at home and in the office, among other things.

Can't help thinking this is taking a very heavy technology hammer to crack a small transport nut. If the minister really wants to make commuting more reliable and cut journey times and emissions, then a simpler, cheaper and quicker option is to enforce moderate speed limits.

In a trial on England’s M42 motorway in 2007, journey times improved by over 25% when
the rush hour speed limit was cut to 50 mph and the hard shoulder was opened to traffic. Calmer speeds meant fewer accidents, hold-ups and diversions, shorter more reliable journey times and much lower emissions.

At the very least, it must be worth trialling two proposals already long talked about for Dublin: a 30 kph limit in the Dublin city zone, and opening bus lanes to cars carrying at least two people?

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Electricity use and prices soars

Bad news but also some good news in yesterday's report from Sustainable Energy Ireland on our soaring electricity use, and the ESB's application for a 30% increase in the price of electricity.

First the bad news. There are nearly 1.5 million households in Ireland now (up 43% since 1990); our homes are larger on average than elsewhere in the EU, and thanks to the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, packed with power-hungry appliances such as American fridges and large-screen plasma TVs, and constellations of recessed lights. We are also heating our homes more than before -- a toasty 6° warmer than in 1970, if UK trends also hold here.

The net result is that Irish people are now using 62% more electricity per person than in 1990; which is a staggering 27% more than our British counterparts, and over 30% more than the EU average. We are a small country, but clearly punching way above our weight when it comes to consumption and emissions.

The good news? Well, if British households can survive on significantly less electricity, then there may be hope for us. And while no one likes to see electricity bills rise by 30% -- especially with 10% of households already experiencing 'fuel poverty' -- a price hike might prompt us all to economise. More effective at reducing consumption than the government's promised ban on incandescent lightbulbs. Maybe we could start by turning the thermostat down 6° -- back to 1970?!