Adventures in Ethical Consumerism

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Take the power back!

Germany looks poised to become the first industrialised country in the world to move to 100% renewable energy. has the details:

"Can renewable energy development keep pace with rising global energy demand? As world governments struggle with this question, Germany is advancing with resolve in a transition to 100% renewable energy. The German government accepts the goal is technically and economically feasible, and has adopted a long-term national policy for the transition. After years of reliance on nuclear energy - which supplies 30% of the nation's electricity - Germany has concluded that nuclear is a dead-end and has established long term plans to phase it out."

I've heard many a criticism of the German Green Party's coalition with the Social Democrats. Many people seem to feel the Greens in Germany have had to make too many compromises in order to share power. This story can be taken as an indication that things are really moving in that part of the world.

Not only is Germany going all green for energy, they also seem to be getting things right in terms of ownership:

"Involved citizens who, mostly working through cooperatives, own 90% of the wind turbines, as well as most PV systems."

Take the power back!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Darwin's Nightmare

Darwin’s Nightmare is another excellent film from the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival On Tour.

This is a trip to Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the source of the River Nile. In the 1960s, a type of fish called the Nile perch was introduced into the lake. Since then, the fishing industry has grown and grown. Jumbo jets arrive daily to whisk the fish away to Europe for consumption. The bosses of the fish processing companies describe how the area is booming, with employment and trade bringing prosperity to the people.

The makers of Darwin’s Nightmare are not shy. They bravely ask three very important questions: Why are there Africans starving in the immediate vicinity of Lake Victoria? What is happening to the lake’s ecosystem now that the Nile perch has come to dominate? And what cargo is being unloaded from the supposedly empty planes when they arrive?

Now you can actually see the faces of some of the people who are delivering weapons into Africa. Now you can hear what those people have to say.

This is one powerful film. It goes straight to the heart of what is happening in Africa today.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Bye bye, Blogger

Adventures in Ethical Consumerism is undergoing transformation. I'm moving to a new address on the web, thanks to the kind donation of web space from Firefly International. That means I'll be leaving Blogger, my gracious host for the past few months.

I found Blogger to be an excellent tool for getting started and I would recommend it to anyone who's ever been tempted to blog. Blogger can get you started publishing online within a couple of minutes. It's easy to use and the help files are very good when you want to learn more. And their email support is great; I'll miss that.

I'm going open-source. I've acquired some open-source blogging software called Wordpress, which is free to non-profits such as this.It looks like a fine example of how good open-source programming can be. With Wordpress, Adventures in Ethical Consumerism is going to look cooler and also be easier to use.

The new site under development is at:

I'd really appreciate any feedback or help you may be able to offer. I've managed to get the header looking good on the Safari and Mozilla browsers (on Mac, at least), but when I looked on a Windows PC using Internet Explorer, I was disappointed: things were in the wrong place. I didn't know what to do.

Wordpress is probably never going to be as simple as Blogger. I'm managing to figure out a certain amount, but the help files are less idiot-proofed, as is the whole thing generally. It seems playtime is over.

If you're a Wordpress expert and you're willing to lend a hand, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bitter Greens Journal

Bitter Greens Journal describes itself as "a running critique of industrial agriculture, a clearinghouse for info on sustainable farming, and a working manifesto for a liberation politics based on food."

It is certainly a very good blog.

Reading Bitter Greens Journal reminds me of exactly what's great about blogging: here is someone who is farming in America and also a professional journalist who previously worked as a financial reporter. This is highly relevant (ie 'grassroots' level) news from somebody who is actually living what he is writing about, as well as having an excellent background for understanding what supply and demand is all about. And he can write!

Some very good news

Very good news stories from the US Organic Consumers Association, as usual:

Under the New World Order of the World Trade Organization (WTO), corporations now have the right to "discover" seeds and genetic materials used by indigenous peoples for centuries, and patent these materials, thereby obtaining monopoly rights to its products and profits. One such example is that of India's Neem Tree, traditionally considered a sacred tree, whose seeds have a fungicidal quality that has been common knowledge to the indigenous people of India for centuries. Despite this widespread traditional use, an American company, Thermo Trilogy, was able to obtain a patent on that process. In other words, using Neem Tree seeds as a fungicide suddenly became illegal, unless you paid Thermo Trilogy its royalties first. But last week, for the first time in history, a patent has been revoked as a matter of protecting traditional knowledge and practices. This landmark decision, made by the European Patent Office, is being celebrated in India and will likely inspire the reassessment of dozens of other similar patents.

Press release

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding the advertising practices of Splenda. The artificial sweetener carries the slogan "Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar," and as a result, nearly half of all consumers believe Splenda is natural, according to a survey done by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In actuality, Splenda is made through a complex chemical process using chlorination and phosgene gas.

Letter from OCA to FTC regarding Spenda

This week, a committee of 35 scientists from 13 countries, organized by the World Health Organization, announced major concerns with increasing levels of acrylamides in food. Acrylamides are carcinogens that are now known to be created when carbohydrates are cooked at extremely high temperatures, like french fries and potato chips.


The American Medical Association has published the results of three new studies, further underlining the fact that plant based diets reduce cancer risks. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables offers nutrient combinations that are consistently being shown to lower risks of prostate, breast and colon cancers.


Sustainable water

An interesting article from Corporate Watch taking a brief look at the water industry, including the revelation that Nestle, Coca-cola and PepsiCo are among the major players in the world of bottled water.

"Coca-Cola has publicly declared that bottled water will be its biggest selling product in a few years."

The article points out that bottled water isn't necessarily a bad thing as it offers consumer-driven safety levels (as opposed to tap water, which could never offer any guarantees), and may even be helping to tackle obesity. It's true that I only started to drink reasonable amounts of water once the bottled stuff came on the market and sat alongside all the fizzy drinks. Even though I rarely buy a bottle these days, having them available on the shelves was essential in changing the habit.

The article also mentions the problem of waste, with growing amounts of empty bottles piling up everywhere, yet no mention of sustainable packaging. Maybe because it hasn't shown any signs of being adopted by the big players yet.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Organic news

A couple of interesting stories from

This one is almost comical. It describes how the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld two complaints against the Soil Association, Britain's most vocal advocate of organic farming:

[T]he ASA upheld complaints on two claims in a leaflet made by the Soil Association last year: that "organic farming produces healthy food" and that it is "more humane to animals".

ASA said the claims could not be substantiated scientifically.

Incredible! This reminds me of the time I heard Alex Ferguson, MSP (Con), stand up in the Scottish Parliament and state that he would not be supporting a bill in favour of more rural abbatoirs because, though he agreed with everything else in the bill, he could not bring himself to accept the notion that transporting animals across the country on the backs of lorries was stressful to them.

There can be no doubt about what is stressful to animals. It can easily be measured by scientists and frequently is. It is different for people to say they simply don't care. That is something you rarely hear. Such people usually try to hide behind claims that things to do with animal welfare are 'not scientifically proven'. The Soil Association knows this. From the BBC:

The Soil Association told the BBC it still thinks organic food is healthier.

It says it has recently submitted new evidence to the ASA which means it can now legitimately state that no other food has higher amounts of beneficial minerals and vitamins.

And it argues no other system of farming has higher levels of animal welfare standards.

What else are they supposed to do? Throw a party for the cows and have them photographed by the press with party hats on their heads? Take the ASA down to the local industialised farm and give them a guided tour?

The other story from is this one, about the impending growth of organic farming in Eastern Europe. I suppose we can expect increased availability of organic food to cause a corresponding drop in prices, which would be heartily welcomed.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that the best kind of food - for people, animals and the Earth - is both organic and locally-produced. I'd rather see Eastern Europe's growth in organic farming reflected in an increasing appetite for it among local people than see it driven west in diesel-burning haulage trucks.

News feast

I've just started using Google News as my homepage: the first page I see when I go on the internet.

I've not had my own customized homepage for a while now. I grew tired of My Yahoo ages ago, though they have made some improvements recently, including the ability to recieve RSS feeds which makes it easier to stay up to date with your favourite blogs.

Google News works for me just now, though. You can customise it to show news according to your chosen keywords. So, along with my health, science and business news sections, I also have a supply of stories relating to consumerism. I don't have to seek the stories out myself, Google finds them and adds them to my news page automatically. This is a good example of how the web is helping to revolutionise the way we access information.

The first story to appear in my customised consumerism news section was this story from Corporate Watch. It's a brief account of how ethical consumerism is continuing to grow, as is support for the fabulous Fairtrade movement.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Paying for the right to pollute everyone's air

From the Green Consumer Guide:

"Environment and transport campaigners have called on Transport for London to raise the city’s congestion charge to £20 for 4x4s and other high-emission vehicles..."

Full story.

UK's new vehicle emission ratings has the lowdown on the UK's new rating system for vehicle emissions.

This should help concerned consumers to make an informed decision when buying a new car, it should raise awareness among those who might not normally consider such things, and hopefully stimulate competition among manufacturers to produce more eco-friendly vehicles.

Towards zero waste

I'm pleased with the way my waste processing efforts are going. I throw out very little in the way of rubbish these days.

I am composting my organic waste in my communal back garden (which nobody except me seems to use). That includes raw fruit & veg offcuts/skins, tea bags, tea leaves, dead leaves from house plants and odd bits of paper & cardboard.

I take my waste paper, food cans and glass bottles & jars to the recycling point at my local supermarket, around five minutes walk away. This only has to be done occasionally as I don't seem to produce much of this kind of waste. Plastic bottles - which I hardly ever have - can be taken to a recycling point, though I have to go further to reach a facility for that. My cardboard goes to LEEP (Lothian and Edinburgh Environmental Partnership), the local charity for recycling, as there are no recycling points for this in Edinburgh. (There are no doorstep collections of any kind in my area).

Plastic bags can be taken to Tesco for recycling. I rarely need to to do this as I reuse them or I use my own bag to carry things home in.

What is left is less than one carrier bag per week of other stuff that cannot be reused or recycled. This is almost entirely plastic packaging from food (and tea), and tissues I have blown my nose on (it is winter).

Even this small amount of waste could be reduced. I try to avoid food that is excessively packaged and could probably do better at it, though it seems there is always some plastic to be torn off of something or other. As for tissues, I could probably be composting those, though someone once suggested to me that it is not healthy to blow your nose and then add it to your compost. I'm not sure. Can anyone enlighten me?

I know that recycling is not always eco-friendly, and that the process itself can produce a lot of carbon emissions and other waste. However, I feel it is important for me to try to avoid contributing to the problem of landfill. Organic waste is particularly damaging when it goes to landfill. Though it bio-degrades naturally, it cannot compost properly in a landfill site and ends up producing methane gas, a major contributor to global warming.