cheap energy minds

I’m sitting in the kitchen and can feel the early morning November chill around the bottom of my legs and feet. It’s cold in here.
It might be a good idea to put on the heating on but I’m reluctant as something in my head reminds me about climate change and the need to cut carbon emissions. I’ve been feeling guilty about putting the heating on too much as the heat just disappears through the windows. Some goes to warm me, the vast majority is wasted.
So I’ll look for a nice pair of warm socks, stick on a jumper, head out to the library instead etc.

Climate change is a funny one. People seem reluctant to do anything much about it despite the vast number of scientists who study it saying that something drastic needs to be done about it.

In part I think it’s because we all know that we have to burn carbon to stay alive. You need to eat or heat the house. You need to visit sick relatives or drive to work.

To cut a long story short it reminds me that we live by the death and sacrifice of other things, which is true also of food.

‘Eating is the daily reminder of creaturely mortality. We eat to live, knowing that without food we will starve and die. But to eat we must also kill, realizing that without the deaths of others – microbes, insects, plants, animals – we can have no food.’
Norman Wirzba

On the other hand I think that we ‘kill’ much too easily. As Wendell Berry writes:-

‘Nearly all of us have what I can only call cheap-energy minds; we continue to assume, or to act as if we assume, that it does not matter how much energy we use. I do not mean to imply that I know how to solve the problems of the automobile or of the wasteful modern household. Those problems are enormously difficult, and their difficulty suggests their extreme urgency and importance. But I am fairly certain that they won’t be solved simply by public protests. The roots of the problems are private or personal, and the roots of the solutions will be private and personal too.’

When I was growing up in Tyrone one of the illustrations that I heard in Christian talks was something about sitting beside God and him showing you a video of your life. Would you feel shame about this incident that nobody else saw? Why did you do this in secret? Why did you treat that homeless person like that? (Incidentally I wonder if that illustration has moved on a bit in the past 20yrs and do they say something like ‘How will feel when you stand in front of God in his judgement seat and he brings up your internet search history?Or would it be now digitally projected onto a screen with a Powerpoint presentation of your sins?Maybe there would be a Gary Neville type magic pen to circle things and point out what you should have done)

I’m not a fan of those types of illustrations (like the old ‘Sinner, if you left here tonight and where hit by a bus where would you be??)but maybe if there was a video tape presentation would things like our decision to waste food, oil, clothes appear? Would the way we supported our nation in times of war? Would the way we slagged of other churches?

Sometimes you’ll hear people going on about the 1%, the super wealthy who own a huge percentage of the wealth of the monetary wealth. The thing is that if you took the entire population of planet earth how would you or I stand on that scale? Would I be in the top 1% of humans who have ever lived? Maybe less? Will I have to answer for that? I guess putting on the heating or lighting a fire is a reminder to be grateful for good gifts and to be careful not to waste them.

toilet talk

night soil

Another opportunity for reflecting on waste and compost presented itself in the form of an unexpected blocked downstairs toilet.
After initial hopeful prods involving a hacked bucket handle I realised that this was going to be an outside job. So without going into too much gory detail it was time to get involved with that part of the home that is out of sight, out of mind – the outdoor pipes.
A bit of digging, toilet flushing and the problem has been rectified.
Funnily enough I had been reading about this sort of thing the other day in the The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency’ by John Seymour.

‘This fear of basic functions seems to be part of the modern human condition, which finds the idea of dealing with waste and death extremely challenging…The flush toilet is a remarkably expensive way to pollute fresh drinking water, while at the same time wasting the very nutrients that are essential to maintain fertility in the soil. One pull of the lever and the waste becomes somebody else’s problem. We just pay our taxes and allow our children to pick up the real inheritance of all this pollution’

The fear of basic functions does seem to be a part of the modern human condition, yet it is part of who we are. So in one way although I can think of lots of better ways to start a Thursday morning it is useful to see the hidden pipes of our house and be reminded of what is going on.
I imagine them joining into one big pipe joined to  pipes in the houses in Knockncarra and that pipe maybe going down to the water treatment plant at Mutton Island . The way the waste from our homes is dealt with effects the water quality in Galway Bay. Deal with it responsibly and the will be a Blue Flag for the beaches at Salthill or Silver Strand, deal with it irresponsibly and the Blue Flag will be taken away.


ImageWe’ve just received a letter from Galway City Council saying that they are discontinuing their bin collection service. Our bins will shortly be collected  by a private company instead. This has made me unhappy.

When we first moved to Galway  I knew that a number of different private bin companies in the area collected rubbish and these bin services may well be slightly cheaper  and come more frequently  etc. However I still preferred the idea of the council doing  it as it seemed to me to be more of a community effort. In my eyes a private bin company would exist mainly for profit and making money (while providing an essential service)

I was thinking about this yesterday at my compost bin.
By composting my vegetable waste and reducing the weight of my brown bin over the year it means that I will be charged less by the bin company as the bin will have to be collected less often.
If everyone in the area started doing this and the number of brown bins being collected reduced it would be bad for a business that makes profit by collecting your rubbish.
I don’t think that a private bin company has any reason to encourage people to stop putting waste and rubbish out. In fact, it is better for business if people put out more rubbish. More rubbish bins means more money for the company.

I realize that councils are far from perfect either but I think that there is more chance of householders/businesses in Galway being encouraged to reduce the amount of waste they put out for collection if the council is having to deal with it.  There is a section on their website for example that tells us

‘Waste prevention should always be the first step in waste management. Rather than thinking ‘what bin should I put this item in?’, think ‘did I really need this item in the first place?’.

By not generating waste, we can eliminate the need to handle, transport, treat and dispose of waste. We can also avoid having to pay for these services. So next time you shop, think about the waste that you are not only paying for once, but twice as you pay for its disposal later.’

If you are a private bin company then ‘eliminating the need to handle, transport, treat and dispose of waste‘ is the last thing you’d want to do!

such a waster

We don’t get much junk mail, I try my best to not waste food yet still there seems to be constant trips to the bins,  the study is a full of paper ready to be thrown away,  black leads  leading to trips and stumbles  and then perhaps  an occasional trip into a USB port, half used pencils, unread books.
That is not even to consider things like the amount of energy I waste on the computer or heating the house.

I read a book a few weeks ago called ‘The Waste Makers‘ by Vance Packard. Having been written in the 1960 you might have thought it would be dated now that we know so much, but no. It still seems relevant and wise.

He claims that to make the economy grow we need to consume and then outlines  nine ways in which we are encouraged to consume and keep things growing.

1 Have more than you Really Need
Why do I have to many pencils when I rarely use pencils?
Why do we have 3 containers of concentrated lemon in the fridge?

2 Have a throw away spirit
Why am I constantly throwing away paper?
Why am I so wasteful with food?

3 Planned obsolescence (Things breaking)

4 Planned obsolescence of desire

5 Things that can’t be easily repaired or mended
Car electronics that can only be ordered from the manufacturers, funny screw heads etc. The repairman is helpless.
6 Sell things with lots of ‘spin’
Look at this! It’s the greatest thing ever! Your life will be much easier if you get this! Stephen Fry uses it!

7 Sell things using credit

8 Encourage Hedonism
Unlimited broadband! Excellent, I’ll be able to do more now.

9 More People Means More Markets

(no picture for that. But selling for/to children and teenagers? Markets like China and India?)

biscuit tin thing

I’ve become a man obsessed with trying to make a stringed instrument out of some old can/biscuit tins so the house is now a tip and my hands have been shredded by the edges of biscuit tins. I wish I had a shed or a garage as well so that everything I need is there and a work bench, but would it be as much fun?

(The answer to that is yes, of course it would be more fun because H___ wouldn’t kill me for messing the house up. Again!)
So here is today’s model. I’ve learned a lot about what not to do and need a tuning peg system that works, not just some nuts and bolts drilled in the wrong place.

redeeming the by-products

This is a sight familiar to us all, the daily bag of rubbish to be sorted and recycled.

During 2011 I walked back and forth between our green bin exactly 29,432 times which would have taken me 3/4’s of the way to the moon if I had walked in a straight line.

There is something deeply troubling about trying to live less greedily because basically it seems like there is no escape from waste.

There is no escape from the bain of my life, the 2L milk carton and 400ml tins of plum tomatoes. There is no escape from the paper that clogs up the bins.

John Seymour, author of ‘The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency’ (a magic book) said

‘The dustman need never visit the smallholder’

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams went even further with his statement that

‘God doesn’t do waste’

and William Morris penned these words.

‘I tell you that the very essence of competitive commerce is waste’

So perhaps waste is a sign of our sinfulness or the way that THE SYSTEM has got us trapped and bound up, that we’re slaves to THE WORLD.

Perhaps a trip to the bin might require us to be humble because it

a) reminds us that we’re not God and we’re trapped in an oppressive system that we can never hope to escape unless by some miracle
b) that we’re living on a planet of limited resources that is dying no matter what we try or how wisely we try to live.

But at the same time  (and in my determination not to the let the darkness eat me up) there is redemption of all things and ‘God doesn’t do waste.’

There is the possibility of redemption and recreation even in what we might throw in the dustbin or discard as waste.

G.K Chesterton writes something in ‘What’s Wrong With the World’ that I could read all day, something that makes me want to go out and redeem the rubbish

“The most prosaic thing about the house is the dustbin…..If a man could undertake to make use of all things in his dustbin he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare. When science began to use by-products; when science found that colors could be made out of coaltar, she made her greatest and perhaps her only claim on the real respect of the human soul.
Now the aim of the good woman is to use the by-products, or, in other words, to rummage in the dustbin.”

Redeeming the by-products, rummage in the bin. Make rocket stoves out of tin cans, plant herbs in milk cartons, make compost.

Roses tin Rocket Stove No.1

And so it came to pass that I got the notion of making a rocket stove into my head. I thought it would be nice to have the ability to have a cup of tea if the electricity goes out and to make soup and stuff like that.

The rocket stove is said to be easily constructed, hyper efficient and simple.
Needless to say I found it to anything but easily constructed especially when you can’t find one of those big catering cans and have to try and be creative with  left over sweet tins (don’t tell the church catering ladies what has happened their traybake tins)

Then there is the trying to cut holes accurately so that the tins fit together tightly(while not lacerating you hands on the jagged edges and not skewing the tins out of shape) and finding cat litter or the like to insulate the stove.

Stories about how 8yr old Boy Scouts once made 4 in an hour made me feel ashamed at my lack of rocket stove skill and so I persevered until something very roughly approxiamating to a rocket stove took shape

I fired the kettle on and it took 20mins to boil 800ml of water using a bit of wood about 1.5in x 0.5in x 12in.
It was obviously very inefficient due to the amount of smoke coming out the chimney (that was the plume of smoke over Lisburn at noon today) but I’m going to see how quickly I can boil 800ml of water on an improved one using less wood and with hopelly less smoke.

opening a can of worms (literally)…

I’ve been thinking about worm composting for a while now and today decided to launch my first experimental worm bin. As always there are different schools of thoughts of what and what not to do but at the end you have to just take the plunge.

There are a number of reasons why worms are attractive. They compost quickly (apparently!)and it seems like a cleaner option for our particular house. If it was ours I’d happily put a compost bin or two out the back but with renting you’re not quite sure.

After purchasing the (expensive) worms in Dunmurry I carried them home in a little polystyrene coffee cup, shredded my paper and added some compost to the bin. I couldn’t find the lid of the Poundland boxes so placed an old back door mat over the plastic boxes and let the paper soak.

At 11pm I became concerned that the worms would run out of food or air overnight in their little plastic coffee cup so went out to check. Bending down to check something worm shaped made a move at the side of my head and checking by lamp light I saw my first ever climbing worm. The feisty expensive coffee cup worms had launched a worm bin prison break of sorts. There was one up the wall, another running towards the door, I found several hiding under pots and a few on the ground.

This made me realise that I had started a worm composter, I had brought my first ever pets – I’m not sure how we’re going to get on with this. Will my independent nature and desire to be free from shackles survive a demanding worm colony?

Checking with H_____, purchaser of the Poundland plastic box I located the lids, bulked up the compost levels and threw in a token banana skin and lettuce leaf. I reckon that if you’re capable of climbing up the pebble dash wall you don’t need to be mollycoddled.
Tough love worms, tough love.


Everytime I take stuff out to the bins I am horrified by the amount of waste we go through, even as a couple who are trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
There is so much waste in our lives from packaging, so much that seems beyond our control. We need to eat and with lack of quality and variety in our local foods we need to buy whatever the shops supply, in whatever way the shops and suppliers package it.

There is another thing that worries me. What are we going to do when we’ve exhausted all our oil, or whenever oil becomes much scarcer especially when our homes are mostly heated by oil? We could us wood burning stoves except we live on island with no trees. Does nobody else worry about our lack of trees here in Ireland?

What are we going to use to keep old people warm when the oil is all gone?

At this time of the year charities who are doing good work to make the world a better place send out letters asking for money, with the paper piling up on the hall floor.

This morning we had a church breakfast this morning and our cereal was all packed in individual little cereal boxes and wrapped in individual plastic wrapping with the minimum amount of highly processed cereal possible inside each of those cardboard boxes and plastic bags
It’s a sin. But who do we blame for life getting this way?

Or is it OK?

Maybe even good?

There was an interesting and disturbing programme on BBC2 a week or so ago about the bottled water industry,an industry that has made it perfectly normal for water to be bottled in France and exported round the world, say to a store in Nashville, then kept cool in a fridge for  few weeks until some customer comes in to quench his thirst,
to say nothing of the plastic bottles that the water is kept in that is made from oil to say nothing of the fact that most of us have water piped directly into our homes and workplaces.

I’ve never been to Africa but in my minds eye I see a lady with a large water jar on her head trudging for miles to get a source of clean water every single day to water crops or to cook with or to drink.

Is that right?

Then we have large multi-national companies like Nestle and Danone, Coca Cola and Pepsi fighting wars over branding and sales, selling  a basic human right for profit, buts thats OK because the customer is king and wants it.

Last year we had a chance to holiday in Switzerland and one day we walked along Lake Geneva, past the Nestle Headquarters. I think it was a national holiday, which may have explained why it was so quiet for the headquarters of such a major multi-national company. It was weird. I had all this anger towards the company then walked past the building and just felt empty, that we are all locked in a runaway train that nobody seems to be in control of.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the world is incredibly complex in its problems and I don’t know what to focus on sometimes. ‘

And its doing my nut in a bit.