Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Lake Tahoe Tsunami Potential

Interesting video here on Lake Tahoe. Apparently, every few thousand years the base of the lake, one of the deepest in the world, drops 4 metres in the snap of your fingers and creates a tsunami wave. Wow!

More here... http://www.apple.com/science/#scripps (video inset to the right)

Local Wild Food and Foraging Courses

We met a lot of interesting people at the Cambridge Transition Towns Open Meeting today. In true Cambridge style I bumped into someone I'd met a few years before at a Spanish class. Nowadays, Jacky runs Wild Food and Foraging Courses in and around Cambridge - her website is www.wildfoodie.com. We'll be signing up for one of her course so watch this space to find out how we get on.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thousands of Secret Prisoners held - by whom do you think?

Guess which country is holding thousands of people in secret detention? Who would use secret prisons in Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Macedonia, Kosovo, Libya and a host of other countries? Who would hold prisoners in secret prison ships?

What kind of country would hold people without charge or even acknowledgement that they are being held at all? Not even the Red Cross can reach them.

What kind of country routinely tortures prisoners so held? Who would keep prisoners in a cell the size of a transit van with lights and white noise permanently for 19 months?

What sort of a country would detain and interrogate children as young as seven?

These sound like the actions of some monstrous dictatorship flouting the Geneva Convention and international pressure.

How can this be happening? Why don't we do something about it?

WHO is responsible?
- North Korea? no
- China? no
- Zimbarbwe? no
- Russia? no

Would you believe, America?

Monbiot explains, with references.

I think we, and the Americans in particular, are in urgent need of an Obama presidency. I wonder how he will ever begin to repair the foreign policy he will inherit.

The Co-op - a nice organisation to belong to - just paid me £180!

There are a whole lot of good reasons to belong to the co-op:
- ethical banking and award winning customer service for an internet bank (Smile)
- flexible mortgages
- co-op shops specialise in fairtrade produce
- the co-op is owned by its members, which means you get a share of the dividends (I just got £183 for 6 months of last year)

Burn your Tesco clubcard and get ethical!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Participating in the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) in London

We arrived a bit late for the WNBR ride. As we neared the Statue of Achillies in Hyde Park we could see the procession had already begun. The multitudes of naked cyclists we were hoping to join were surrounded by a wall of clothed spectators. Arriving late, we had to get ourselves unclothed and through the clothed crowd to join the procession. That wasn't the start I had hoped for. Oh well, I stripped off down to just my cycle shorts and we pushed through the crowd. Not everyone in the procession was totally naked so this was a reasonable compromise.

(more pictures available from http://www.nurburgring.org.uk/benlovejoy/temp/lnbr/ )

We cycled on for about half a mile to get the measure of the event. It seemed pretty well supported with many naked people pedalling along. I pulled over to the middle of the road and quickly pulled off my cycling shorts and stashed them in my pannier. I didn't think too much about the fact that I was standing stark naked in the middle of London on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I quickly got on my bike and joined the others. I have never been naked in public before and was not too surprised to realise it was not a big deal.

The protest, as most will know, is loosely described as a protest against indecent exposure to CO2 but it was a protest against car culture in general and a celebration of cycling.

I had been concerned that the whole thing would be very exhibitionist and quite crude and was surprised to realise it wasn't like that at all. A couple of folks were a little exhibitionist but really not in an unpleasant way.

We went by the Houses of Parliment, Big Ben, past open top London buses full of some perplexed but happy tourists, past the London Eye where we stopped for photos and right along Oxford Street from where the shoppers had left the shops to line the route at least 3 people deep along the length of the road.

I think I expected riding naked to be sort of liberating but I didn't come away feeling like that. I guess my biggest realisation from the afternoon was that cycling naked is a pretty good way to protest. I didn't see any hint of violence. The crowd was amazingly supportive and entertained by the whole event. I didn't see anyone annoyed by the fact that we had held up the traffic in central London for over an hour. I heard one young man on his mobile phone talking to his mate, I heard him say, "...nah, you don't understand there are THOUSANDS of NAKED PEOPLE...". It's quite nice to do a small thing that shocks that generation, who often seem otherwise unshockable.

The Police too were excellent. They took to their bikes and rode along with us, all of them very good natured and sporting and perhaps even enjoying themselves.

We ended out trip back at Marble Arch near Hyde Park. It had been a bit chilly over the last stretch of the route and I'd had enough of being naked in public for one day so I was happy to get my shirt on, and, of course my cycling shorts!

As a way to protest, showing up and taking in the sites of London naked is not a bad way to go. I'm not sure the event got the media coverage it could have done, which is a shame, though I am quite glad not to have been on the telly this time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How much oil do we have left?

We don't yet know when we will reach Peak Oil, that is, the world peak in the rate of the production of oil. It could have already happened or it could be in the next 5 years. This does not mean oil is going to immediately run out, just that we will have to, forever more, manage with less of it than we 'need'. This will make it quite expensive, as we are seeing now.

One thing that concerns me is that the estimates of oil still in the ground have been grossly inflated from the time in the 1980s when OPEC changed the rules and allowed countries to produce a rate of oil based partly on their reserves. Overnight the estimates of reserves doubled or trebled. There is an excellent table showing declared oil reserves from 1980-2007 on wikipedia. When I say excellent, I should really say worrying, these bogus figures for reserves could mean that oil runs out much faster than we expect.

When talking about oil running out we always seem to believe that we will find ways to extract the previously uneconomic oil from difficult to reach places and thereby continue our production rate. Here is a graph of US peak oil...

You will see that peak production was reached in 1972 and after that there has been a steady decline in production. Now, when it comes to squeezing more oil out of unproductive oil fields, where do you think the most money is spent on technology to do that? Texas. Do you see any levelling off of the graph to show the impact of these new technologies on the oil production rate of the US from 1972 to today? Not so much. If they have pumped millions of dollars into doing this in the US and have failed why do we think we can do this on a world scale? I put it to you that the Peak Production graph for planet earth is going to look pretty similar to this one, though, with over inflated estimations of oil reserves it will probably drop somewhat more steeply.

My advice - buy a bike.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

What is a Global Warming Feedback Effect?

I mentioned Global Warming feedback effects recently on my blog. There are several kinds of feedback effect. One of the most serious, and easy to understand, concerns permafrost.

Across Siberia, peat bogs have for thousands of years been encased in permafrost. This ice, which never melts, has captured methane from the peat, effectively removing it from the system preventing it from contributing to the greenhouse effect and global warming.

The trouble is, because the Earth is now warming the permafrost has started to melt. As it melts it is venting Methane, a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2.

Here's a video highlighting this feedback effect which is worrying scientists.

If we fail to dramatically cut the greenhouse gases which are under our control, like CO2, feedback effects which are not under our control will worsen. This is why scientists reckon that we have 20 years to cut CO2 by 90% or it will be too late to do anything about it. These feedback effects will be too strong to rein in and the Earth's temperature will become too great to sustain human life.

Talking of Protesting - WNBR Anyone? - June 14th in Central London

Sometimes you need to be stand up and be counted, even if it means cycling naked around central london for the afternoon.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Direct Action - Monbiot's attempted citizens arrest of John Bolton for war crimes

I was impressed to read that George Monbiot took a bit of direct action recently when he tried to arrest the former under secretary of state at the US State Department for War Crimes.

Not enough people these days, stand up to be counted. I was disappointed at the recent Heathrow 'No' protest to be among only 3,000 people and further saddened to discover that some of the more photogenic members of the protest were paid to be there. The stilt walkers may support the cause but most of them, if not all of them, were hired to join the march. We were left with a march of locals whose village is to be destroyed and a few environmentalists. I guess most people were just annoyed at another disruption around Heathrow and don't engage with the scientific fact that if we don't cut our CO2 emissons by 90% in just 20 years, the environmental feedback effects will kick in and we will be unable to do anything about global warming - it will spell the end of humanity. We'll we've had a good run and made some fun toys along the way so perhaps that's fine.

For now though, I'm with Monbiot, let's make a bit of a noise about injustice and try to bring some attention to the problem we all face. When I say, 'face' I think for many people 'arse' would be a better way to describe their confrontation of the issue, given that their heads are buried firmly in the sand.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Strida love

After the previous comment on my blog I thought it was time for some Strida love. I couldn't find a very good video but this will give you the idea of what the Strida is like and what some of the competition is like.

Strida (7 second fold?, fairly compact when folded, easy to wheel around when folded, only one gear, quite light)

Sinclair A Bike (reasonably quick to fold, very compact when folded, only one gear?, skateboard wheels don't look good for longer distances and stability, looks light)

Bike Friday tikit (5 seconds to fold, fairly compact when folded, easy to wheel around when folded, 8 gears and rides like a normal bike, long distances are a breeze, not especially lightweight)

Brompton (reasonably fast to fold, fairly compact when folded, stands up well when folded, not so easy to wheel around when folded, not light, rides like a normal bike)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bike Friday Tikit and me at the Heathrow Protest 'No' to Third Runway - (look Mum I'm on the telly)

We have just 20 years to do something about climate change before it gets so far out of control there is nothing we can do about it. We have to reduce our CO2 emissions by at least 90% [1]. A couple of friends tell me to not worry so much about all this, the Earth will survive it's just that humanity will not. Perhaps they are right to worry less, we are just one of the thousands of other species on the planet heading for extinction, though there are perhaps not so many that did it to themselves.

Building a 3rd runway at Heathrow to allow for more flights is ludicrous. The government has bravely tackled plastic bags (what a joke). It's time to step up and tackle some of the real issues. Flying is about the most damaging thing we do from a global warming perspective, especially short haul flights which spend a relatively larger proportion of time taxiing and climbing to altitude. The train is much better, more comfortable and often quicker for getting to Europe.

I decided to stand up and be counted so I pulled out my little folding bike (a Bike Friday Tikit), hopped on the train and cycled (using one of the excellent new London cycling maps) to Heathrow to add my vote to the 'No' campaign.

I arrived a bit late and was getting ready to march when I noticed a couple of blokes on a tandem pulling a sound system in a trailer, who, it turned out were from Bicycology. I decided to cycle with them for a bit instead of marching. One of them, Dan, later took up my offer to have a ride on the Tikit and was quite impressed.

I was pleased to see a number of folding bikes during the march. A brand new Strida. I asked the guy how quick it folded at the same time as slamming the Tikit from unfolded to folded. In fairness, the Strida folded pretty fast. However it doesn't have any gears and my Tikit has 8. I also came upon a few Bromptons. I really think folding bikes are part of the answer to reducing our dependence on oil. You can fold a Tikit and stick it on the Tube train, where other bikes are not allowed. You can chuck it on a bus - pretty much anywhere you can put a suitcase.

One guy came up to me and took a very keen interest in the Tikit. He was a true bike enthusiast and owned a Brompton ("heavy") and even an old Bikerton (which he said was awful because it flexed too much - he recovered it from the dump!). He loved his Moulton bikes though. He was very pleased when I offered him a go on the Tikit. I lowered the saddle and he gave me his rucksack and walking stick, hopped on it and was off. He came back with a big smile on his face - he loved it! He could see this is a bike you could do lots of miles on unlike some of the other folders - he said the Strida is really awful to ride and has all the wrong geometry and the Bike Friday is like a normal bike. I was really pleased to let him have a go of it since I took the Tikit to drum up a bit of interest.

We marched and cycled 4 miles around the eastern side of Heathrow to Sipson Village which is scheduled to be leveled to make way for the 3rd runway. The Tikit takes 5 seconds to fold so is good for switching from cycling to marching. I wasn't too sad to see a pilot unable to get to work, especially since it meant switching off his BMW Z4 for a few minutes as he waited to mount his jumbo jet.

The stilt walkers for a made quite a photogenic addition to the march and with the backdrop of massive police presence were quite funny. I can imagine the headline, 'Treebeard and the Ents overrun Heathrow'.

At Sipson, a local head teacher talked to the crowd. She explained what it is like teaching 400 school kids in the flight path of Heathrow. Apparently a plane goes over every minute and for 30 seconds you can't hear in the classroom. It's hard to imagine how tough that must be. At the moment, Heathrow alternates runways to give residents a bit of peace during the day - they are currently planning to get rid of this policy to land more planes. The head teacher is up in arms about it. She explained that the BAA has installed sound proof windows in the classroom and this works well in cold weather but in the summer, when kids have been out running around for an hour and return to a hot classroom they really have to open the windows. The Heathrow expansion plans will make this problem worse for more schools in the vicinity of Heathrow. It is such a densely populated urban environment that an extra runway is a complete nonsense even without the global warming implications.

Heathrow is a strange airport. Few major cities have massive airports right at their heart for many good reasons. Heathrow was built as a small military airfield in the first world war and was expanded as a base for military transport aircraft during the second world war. It was not a site selected as a sensible place for a commercial airport but we now seem obsessed with it, even though it's still an hour on the often overcrowded tube train (metro) to the centre of London. Gatwick and Stanstead are also about an hour from the centre of London but perhaps lack the prestige of LHR.

The local MP did an excellent job of organising the crowd into the 'no' formation and keeping them there for quite some time as various TV crews were elevated on a crane. There were then a few talks and it was no surprise to see George Monbiot on the stage laying out the issues.

The end of the March was at Sipson where we were organised into a big 'No' visible from the air. I noticed a bloke taking a keen interest in my Tikit and recognised him as one of the enthusiastic and very well spoken folks from the Brixton Transitional Towns initiative (Duncan). So, I joined them at the bottom of the 'O' of the 'No' which turns out to be right in front of the TV cameras. I thought a bit of extra publicity for my Tikit wouldn't go a miss so I put that in front of me.

It turns out it worked, I got myself on Sky News with my bike as you can see from the video below. I'm on the far left of the first shot with my rainbow jumper (sweater) and my Tikit. Towards the end of the news article I am 'featured' again but this time with a folded tikit!

[1] David King (2008) The Hot Topic