Book Review- Concrete Garden Projects

4th November 2011 by

Timber Press got in touch and asked if they could send over some books for us to review. Timber Press is an international publisher of books about gardening, ornamental and edible plants, garden design, sustainability, and natural history- all good things. So this is hopefully the first of a series of book reviews by Otesha.

I received ‘Concrete Garden Projects: easy & inexpensive containers, furniture, water features and more‘ by Malin Nilsson and Camilla Arvidsson. I must firstly confess that I have not read the book in full, but it is mainly a picture book, and I have looked at most of the pictures. The photography is beautiful. This book is half garden and well decorated lifestyle, half DIY crafts. In theory that’s just great, except it’s about making garden stuff out of concrete. I’m not interested in learning how to make things out of concrete, and it’s not a skill I want to promote to anyone else either. The very last thing I want to do is fill my roof garden or anyone else’s garden with bits of concrete.

The first thing that put me off reading it is the inside cover page photo of a concrete noughts and crosses board and pieces. The second thing that put me off reading it is the first chapter entitled ‘Hooray for Concrete!’. Cement is responsible for 5% of global carbon emissions. The third reason is the authors advocate the use of peat, which is really, really not an appropriate garden product.

A quick browse of Timber Press’ website turns up loads of books I’d love to read on rooftops gardens, bugs and low impact gardening. If this book had been about reclaimed timber (or hempcrete) garden projects instead, I would’ve loved it.

Instead, this is a book about garden tat. If you like tat you’ll probably like this book. I hate tat. If you like tat, get in touch- I have a book here you might like and am up for a swap.

Saving energy at school

12th September 2011 by

Dami, a young person who has worked with Otesha to save energy at her school for the last 2 years, gives her insight into the project.

My perspective … THE REAL PERSPECTIVE!

Now for the real, the unbiased, ‘the not-influenced-by-Otesha-powers’ perspective on the ‘all too cool for school’ 10:10 campaign with Bishop Challoner School of Tower Hamlets.

As the leaving blue birds (Yr 11s) of Bishop Challoner, we decided to take on our last attempt at saving the world with the Eco Committee. We took on a challenge too hard for batman’s wings and wolverine’s claws: the 10:10 campaign. During our death-defying task, we battled with hundreds of hazardous toasters locked away in teacher staff rooms, allied with a group of young purple protégées (Yr 7s) with similar interests and created a pretty pink miniature billboard on the second floor of our building.

This page on the Otesha website tells you all the things we did, one of which was the energy audit. As if we didn’t already know a certain department (who shall remain nameless) had no interest in preserving their planet, we decided to check up on them anyway, and might I say the results were alarming … not surprising, but alarming. THREE KETTLES … NOT ONE, THREE. I mean everyone has to know that any appliance that has to heat water, uses the most energy.

Something had to be done. We needed to raise awareness and quickly. Might not spread as fast as a witch on her broom of destruction, but small movements have the greatest impact.

On to the first order of service, people research. I am sure you can sense the enthusiasm in my voice, through my writing … not the most exciting part, but necessary in order to educate everyone on things they were not educated on.  No-one had ever heard of the 10:10 campaign … shocker, but by the end of our campaign, every single purple in Yr 7 would know and get involved with raising awareness on the 10:10 campaign.

So, we set off raising awareness. We created a display board to go up in the school. Grand and beautiful in its appearance, the greatest in the entire mini community patch called Bishop Challoner, in the most modest of ways of course.

Below, is a picture of my … our display board.

We split up and got involved, speaking in front of multitudes in the form of the all-famous, school assembly. Had a badge competition and even got published in a widely known newspaper. The international newspaper, called the village voice, it is delivered to all regions of Bishop Challoner.

We had a cool time 10:10-ing, definitely was cool to start raising awareness. By the end of the campaign, every single Yr 7 student knew what the 10:10 campaign was and even got involved in making badges, a great achievement.

Not to mention, we got a professional energy audit. Findings were surprising with a whapping potential saving of us to £37 000 every year (and result in a 16% reduction in carbon emissions). Enough to re-do half of the school!

As for whether that Department got rid of any of their excess kettles, I am sad to report a big fat F, in that division.

The Green Teacher Network

8th July 2011 by

Environmentalism is often thought of as a middle class hobby, a domain only for those who have the time and the resources to consider organic food, hybrid cars and other trappings of the eco-consumer lifestyle. Although climate change affects the poorest in the world the most, the same poorest that have always suffering environmental injustice the most.

But here in the UK with our well stocked supermarkets, multiple transport systems and energy on demand, it’s hard to make it all seem real. At Otesha we promote lifestyle change through small personal actions, and could definitely be accused of the occasional bout of eco-consumerism, which doesn’t always seem like much compared to drought, floods, famine and severe seasonal changes. But, as the new proverb goes, ‘look after the parts of carbon and the parts per million of CO2 (and CO2e, that’s carbon equivalents, other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere will look after themselves.

Environmental education (we don’t usually call ourselves that, but we do fit the bill) takes on other forms in countries that closer to the climate change frontline. The Green Teacher Network in Indonesia is working with teachers like Ekowanto (who uses just one name, a high school teacher) “to integrate environmental issues, particularly mangroves, into school subjects to make our students aware of the importance of mangrove reserves in dealing with abrasion and rising sea level.”

Indonesia is home to one-third of the wold’s mangrove forests, which mitigate the effects of climate change by acting as a carbon sink, but deforestation is happening fast. Mangroves are destroyed by seawater contamination and industrial waste, and many mangrove forests have been converted into residential and fishpond areas.

The Green Teacher Network are educating other teachers, advocating for mangroves to be integrated into the curriculum and taking students to visit mangrove forests. Many Indonesian schools are located near mangroves.

Ekowanto vowed to teach some 1,200 students in his school how to grow mangroves. “I have collected mangrove seeds and this coming academic year, my colleagues and I will teach our students to germinate the seeds in the school compound and plant them later in destroyed mangrove sites in Labuan district, Pandeglang regency.”

This is exciting and much more tangible stuff than the carbon counting we sometimes get bogged down in in the UK, and it probably has a much greater impact on reducing carbon too. Besides which, having just looked on google images, mangrove forests are completely beautiful, what more reason do you need to take school groups to visit them and protect them?

Coal Cares and Oil is oh-so sustainable

20th May 2011 by

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t for a minute think this was real.

This month a coalition of America’s coal companies launched ‘Coal Cares’, a brand-new campaign to combat the stigma of asthma faced by children living in the shadow of coal power stations.

“Why Free Inhalers? Because COAL CARES.

Coal Cares™ is a brand-new initiative from BHP Billiton, one of America’s proud family of coal companies, to reach out to American youngsters with asthma and to help them keep their heads high in the face of those who would treat them with less than full dignity. For kids who have no choice but to use an inhaler, Coal Cares™ lets them inhale with pride.

Puff-Puff™ inhalers are available free to any family living within 200 miles of a coal plant, and each inhaler comes with a $10 coupon towards the cost of the asthma medication itself.”

The website  features such textual joys as “Coal: it’s the safest energy there is”; a Kidz Koal Korner full of fun coal based activities and some incredible energy ‘facts’.


Coal power is solar power
That’s because millions of years ago, before coal began to form from decaying organic matter, the sun provided the energy that organic matter required to grow and die.

Wind Kills
Wind turbines can kill up to 70,000 birds per year, or 4.27 birds per turbine per year. Coal particulate pollution, on the other hand, kills fewer than 13,000 people per year.”

Of course the website and offer of free asthma inhalers does not come from a coalition of coal companies. The true authors are the Yes Men and a small environmental and public health group called Coal is Killing Kids (CKK). This is their response to the coal industries expensive lobbying against the Clean Air Act. “We don’t have their millions, but we do have a knack for incredibly tasteless jokes,” said Veronica Tomlinson of CKK.

I doubt I was the only person momentarily fooled. After all was this website that much more ludicrous than some of the greenwash pedaled by coal, oil and gas companies? In 2007 Shell got into trouble with the Advertising Standards Agency for it’s flower-power adverts, picturing flowers billowing from power plant chimneys. “We use our waste CO2 to grow flowers, and our waste sulphur to make super-strong concrete. Real energy solutions for the real world” proclaimed Shell, ‘liars and false environmental claims’ cried out environmental groups and the ASA.

BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ ad campaign included a poster declaring “if all UK motorists switched to BP Ultimate the reduction in harmful emissions would be the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road”. All well and good, but largely irrelevant unless BP scales down, rather than up, it’s drilling plans.

In the run up to their AGM, BP marked the anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with full page colour advert in all the national papers. “One year later. Our commitment continues” they declared over a picture of clear blue seas dotted with oil rigs. Not so, claimed the delegation of Louisiana fishermen who were refused entry to BP’s AGM.

The moral of the story? If you can’t beat ‘em do as Coal is Killing Kids did and join ‘em.

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