Drain bird

A bird we helped out of our drain today
A bird we helped out of our drain today, a photo by viralbus on Flickr.
A couple of days ago I was standing outside the kitchen door when I suddenly heard some weird noises from the drain, like something was moving down there, but whether it was a rat, a snake or an eel was impossible to work out.

I got hold of Phyllis and some of the kids, and we all tried to figure out what it was, but it was impossible to see anything apart from some obscure movements.

Finally, however, the creature made a very bird-like squeak, and we decided to help it out. I managed to put a stick down the hole, and soon after a very dirty and wet blackbird emerged from the drain.

It looked utterly miserable (see the photo!), but after a few minutes in the sun, it started looking for worms and began to look much more normal, and after another half hour it disappeared.

It might have got eaten by a cat, but I do tend to think that would be preferable to starving to death in the sewers.

Fossil fuels

C02 emissions since 1850 (red); exponential growth (blue); cuts to hit climate target (dashed). Source: The Guardian
C02 emissions since 1850 (red); exponential growth (blue); cuts to hit climate target (dashed). Source: The Guardian
There was a really interesting article about fossil fuel in The Guardian recently.

The author points out that in spite of everything we’re doing (renewable energy, emissions trading, etc.), CO? emissions are still rising at the same rate as before — have a look at the graph on the right. As it says in the article: “For whatever reason, cutting carbon has so far been like squeezing a balloon: gains made in one place have been cancelled out by increases elsewhere.” The dotted line shows what the world needs to be doing to limit temperature rises to 2°C — there’s just no way the red line (the actual emissions) are going to fall like this over the next couple of decades.

The article doesn’t offer many concrete solutions, but I think it’s very important to realise that we aren’t currently actually doing anything to limit the rise in CO? emissions.

Putting your kids inside the cage

Stumbling upon a python
Stumbling upon a python, a photo by viralbus on Flickr.
During my recent trip to Denmark with Léon, Anna and Amaia, my mum and I took Léon and Anna to Randers Regnskov (while my dad looked after Amaia, who had got a chest infection).

As always, it was a great experience, so much better than Eden.

If you don’t know the place, the idea is to take a zoo and a greenhouse, and then take the animals out of the zoo and put them and the visitors into the greenhouse together. This means that monkeys, parrots, leaf-cutter ants, pythons and bats might suddenly be sitting on your shoulder (the really dangerous animals, such as rattle snakes and Komodo dragons, are still locked up).

Furthermore, you can help feed the animals at specific times, and Léon loved feeding the bats just as much as Anna enjoyed feeding the manatees.

Apart from the winter months, you can fly directly from Edinburgh to Billund (home to Legoland and the Lion Park), which is about 80 miles south-west of Randers, so it’s really quite easy to get to.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the photo — it really is a live python next to Léon!

Eat insects to save the planet

Fried Locust, Bangkok
Originally uploaded by cchen

EUobserver has published an essential article today about the necessity of eating insects to save the planet.

It quotes a Dutch academic who believes that ‘insects are the sustainable, healthy and environment friendly foods of the future. “There are so many benefits to the eating of insects compared to conventional livestock, and, nutritionally, insects are exactly the same as conventional meat.”’

It appears that there are now several insect farmers in the Netherlands, concentrating on three species: ‘There are about 1,800 edible insects in the world. But for “scaling up” it has to be possible to raise the insects easily, which leaves mealworms – the larvae of darkling beetles – crickets and locusts.’

Insect products might soon be coming to a supermarket near you, given that there is a ‘team of four PhD students with €1 million for research focussed on extracting protein from insects. This is something of a holy grail […] as it would give all of the goodness of insect protein without the off-putting exoskeleton visuals.’

In case you’re getting hungry from reading this, the article even provides a recipe: ‘the novice insect-eater should start off with insects in a wok with rice and soya sauce, with garlic, pepper and salt: “This is really good.”’

Bon appétit!

It’s all the UK’s fault

The Salt is Coming
Originally uploaded by elgringospain

Danish media are reporting that stocks of road salt are running low:

“Britain is the big culprit. They use too much [salt]”, says Per Nygaard.

He justifies this with the country’s road network, where A roads are narrow and bad. This means that in his view, all it takes is just a little bit of snow on the roadside before they begin to use road salt.

“They pour salt on by the bucketload. Their demand is enormously high,” explains the manager of Brøste [a salt distributor].

How do you fit in six bins?

six types of recycling
Originally uploaded by absentmindedprof

East Renfrewshire have now decided that we need to put food waste into a separate bin.

This means that we need to fit six bins into our kitchen:

  1. Compostable waste (fruit, veg and egg shells)
  2. Other food waste
  3. Metal and glass
  4. Paper and cardboard
  5. Hard plastic
  6. Everything else

(I’m excluding from this list batteries, medicines, electrical equipment and other items that shouldn’t be thrown into the normal bins at all, but which still need to be collected somewhere in the house until we find the time to go to Ikea or the recycling centre.)

However, it’s starting to be a problem to find enough space for all the bins, even though we have a relatively big kitchen.

Of course we could pop outside whenever we’ve eaten an orange or finished a pint of milk, but that’s not very practical in the long run.

How do other people fit in their bins?

Dead Eden

A rainforest robin
Originally uploaded by viralbus

During our stay in Devon, we went on a daytrip to the Eden Project near St. Austell in Cornwall.

It’s supposed to be one of the UK’s main tourist attractions, and most visitors did look very happy.

I thought it was an eery place, however.

Basically, it’s supposed to be “a living theatre of plants”, and its “mission is to tell the world the story of plants that changed history”.

I guess it does that very well (although there seems to be an emphasis on plants used in herbal medicine), but it also achieves it literally: There are no animals!

Compare it to the delightful Randers Regnskov in Denmark, and the difference couldn’t be greater.

Randers Regnskov is teeming with life, but Eden’s huge greenhouses are strangely quiet – no insects, no birds, nothing.

To me, it breaks the illusion completely: No matter how well they reconstruct a Mediterranean landscape, an indivisible part of that consists of the background noices made by the animals. How can you believe even for a second that you’re in a rainforest if nothing’s moving and the fruit is rotting away uneaten on the branches of the trees?

To be fair, the place is not completely dead. There are plenty of Cornish ants, and I also spotted a robin next to their banana plantation, but that just made the absence of tropical fauna even more painful.

I wonder how they keep the place so barren. Not only are there no animals, but I didn’t see many weeds, either, and in a tropical climate you’d expect every square millimetre to be overgrown within a fortnight.

I think I hated the place so much because it was so stunning. The greenhouses (or biomes, as they call them) are enormous and full of the most amazing plants.

If they handed over the site to the people behind Randers Regnskov, it could become a true Eden.