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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life

‘Eco project’

Armenian genocide centenary: a personal reason for remembrance

Today marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide. It ceased to be a remote historical event for me the day I discovered, in the National Archives, that my father’s job at the end of the First World War was feeding survivors.

I was looking for evidence of his part in the rapid advance from Gaza to Aleppo in the last weeks of the war. The war diary of his unit, a horse train supporting the cavalry, is fairly colourless but after the capture of Aleppo it records day-after-day “feeding refugees”. It was chilling to realise what this meant.

Refugees in Aleppo

Refugees in Aleppo 1919. Source: Armenian Genocide Museum

Although the fall of Aleppo was described as a British victory there were few British soldiers there: mostly Arab and Indian units with a few Australians. Pierre Grant-Adamson, my father, who had gone to South Africa in the Boer War, was given a commission by the army there in 1917 to facilitate his return to the UK. He was quickly commissioned in the British forces and sent to Egypt.

I recall him expressing hatred of the Turks and the atrocities they committed but no reference to the Armenian massacres. I was a child and too young to ask the questions I now wish I had. I assumed they were atrocities of war.

Now, I wonder if it was his experiences in Aleppo that led him help and support Jewish refugees in the late 1930s.

It must have been traumatic to be brought face to face with the suffering of the tens of thousands of Armenians in Aleppo. After the initial killings in 1915 and 16 women, children and surviving men were drive out of their homes into the desert. The Syrian city and the camps beyond it were the place where many arrived.

This extract is from a speech Randell Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1919:

All the young men… had in every single case been taken away, and the old men, the women, and the children were the people who survived to be the victims of the deportation— From the village of E 212 individuals set out, of whom 128 (60 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive; 56 men and 11 women were killed on the road, 3 girls and 9 boys were sold or kidnapped, and 5 people were missing. From the same place another party of 696 people were deported; 321 (46 per cent.) reached Aleppo: 206 men and 57 women were killed en route; 70 girls and young women and 19 boys were sold; 23 were missing. From the village of D a party of 128 were deported, of whom 32 (25 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive: 24 men and 12 women were killed en route; 29 girls and young women and 13 boys were sold; and 18 were missing. I have purposely taken not one of the many accounts which give the facts in their detail, but a summary of that which the observer found to be the outcome. If we remember the phrase that “seventy girls and young women, and nineteen boys were sold,” and we look over the page to see what that means we find how, as they passed each town, the girls or young women were in most cases paraded in front of the house of any Turkish buyer who chose to come and take them for purposes described in detail, so unutterably horrible—girls being constantly done to death by those who took them in this way—as make the records appalling to read.

The quoted material in his speech was from a report prepared for the UK parliament.

The terror for the Armenians did not end with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. In 1922 the British consul in Aleppo wrote to London about an area close to the Syrian border:

… on November 8 the Turks gave notice to the Armenians of Aintab & Marash and of the district, stretching Eastward to Birejik, that they must all leave the country in a month. This is done in pursuance of the policy that no Christians are to be allowed to stay in Turkey.

Aintab which formerly held 40000 Armenians now contains only 3000.

That the UK continues to appease the Turkish government by refusing to describe the massacres as genocide is a shame on our country. Others have classified the events as genocide and the Pope recently followed his predecessor in using the term.



Reviving Wordblog

New Life was intended to be about renovating a 1960s bungalow as an eco house and living in it. It has not worked for a variety of reasons. There were too many things to do, too many people I did not wish to offend. In short, I was too close to everything to write as a journalist. And that is the only way I am able to write.

After three months living in Ridgeway, I can say it is a bright, comfortable and warm house. I feel ready to resume blogging.

Wordblog, my original blog about media is being revived but it will have a wider range and incorporate New Life. I will write about whatever I feel like writing about. After several years of retirement I take more of a consumer view but I still feel passionate about journalism so that will feature.

On a lot more topics I have strong views and will say what I think. In my own mind I will be using the experience of living for a bit over 70 years to inform my views; if that makes me sound like a grumpy old man, so be it.


In recent weeks I have had time to stand and watch birds in the garden. Gold finches scavenging for food, a green woodpecker extracting worms from the ground, long tailed tits around the bird feeder. I will write about them too. Encouraging wild life is one of my excuses for keeping the garden rather unkempt.


Vote to end beer ‘tie’ may help give villages a more sustainable future

Could yesterday’s defeat of the Government in the Commons be a straw in the wind, hinting that MPs are starting to listen to their constituents? Certainly it was a blow for the big business pubcos who have done so much damaged to rural communities. The value of their shares dropped today.

The MPs voted to end the stiff rules that force tenants of pubs owned by the pubcos — getting on for half of Britain’s pubs — to pay much more for their beer than free houses. The BBC report has a table of prices paid by landlords who are “tied” (forced to buy beer from their the pubco rather than on the open market). The worst example is a keg of Fosters which wholesales for £81.49 but is sold by pubcos to their tenants for £150.22.

This is one of the reasons why so many people who hopefully start their own business running a pub end up getting out of the trade. For villages the pub is particularly important. It is not simply a social meeting place but it is often the only restaurant.

Having a pub that serves food is for me a mark of a village which has a sustainable future. We all need a local restaurant for celebrations and when we simply don’t want to cook at home.

Losing the vote on an amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill seems to have come as a surprise to the coalition leaders. Forty one Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs ignored the whip and went into the lobby  with Labour MPs. It was the first defeat in a whipped vote in this parliament.

Maybe MPs are starting to take more notice of what they hear in their constituencies and less of their leaders as the prospect of next general election draws closer. There are probably few MPs, other than those who are retiring, who are not worried about their prospects of re-election: these are strange and turbulent times in politics.

The change in the way pubs are run will not be immediate, even assuming the Government does not try to reverse the decision. A five-year transition is proposed.


New insecticide threat to bees

One of the joys of Ridgeway has been the immediate success of the small wild flower meadow we sowed in the front garden. The land had been churned up by a trench to put the electricity supply underground, the removal of an apple tree killed by honey fungus and heavy trucks. Dealing with this gave us the opportunity to sow a wild flower mix from Walnes, the seed merchants in the next village, Earl Soham.

They told us we should get some flowers this year but were not prepared for the blaze of colour of corn cockle, cornflower, corn marigold, vetch, mallow, knapweed, ox-eye daisies and more. There were some we did not want including thistles.

Cornflowers were among the first to establish themselves in our small meadow. People have been stopping us in the street to say how much they loved the wild flowers.

Cornflowers were among the first to establish themselves in our small meadow. People have been stopping us in the street to say how much they loved the wild flowers.

The flowers immediately attracted bees, butterflies and other insects. There were quite a lot of bees but fewer honey bees than we had hoped for. The idea of another insecticide to threaten bees fills us with horror.

But this week I have learned that the Canadian authorities are likely to approve a systemic insecticide called flupyradifurone. A blog post by David Suzuki who runs an environmental foundation in Canada alerted me to the threat. He explains the situation well:

Flupyradifurone is an insect-killing systemic pesticide similar to the controversial neonicotinoid, or neonic, family of bee-killing chemicals. When applied to seeds or soil, it’s absorbed by plant roots and travels to leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar, making the plant potentially toxic to insects.

This past summer, the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides analyzed 800 scientific studies and concluded that systemic pesticides like neonics are harming bees, butterflies, birds and worms and should be phased out globally. The European Union banned three neonics for “crops attractive to bees”, but the European Environment Agency says that’s just a starting point, and recommends regulators look at similar pesticides and take into account potential harmful effects on aquatic invertebrates, birds and other insects. The EEA also found “mounting scientific evidence has been systematically suppressed for many years and early warnings were ignored.”

Bayer Crop Science who want to sell this chemical around the world under the name Sivanto has applied to the EU for approval and want to get it by the end of next year.

The company has a web site devoted to promoting Sivanto which includes this:

Can SIVANTO® prime be applied during bloom and bee flight on crops attractive to bees?

All the results of extensive lab and field testing under worst-case exposure scenarios indicate that SIVANTO® prime has a low intrinsic toxicity to adult and immature stages of honey bees. Studies indicate that SIVANTO® prime has no adverse effects on foraging honey bees, their foraging activity, brood and colony development, hive vitality and honey bee health or on over-wintering colonies when used according to label instructions.

Note the “used according to label instructions” and contrast it with this from Health Canada, the regulatory body there:

Flupyradifurone may pose a risk to bees, non-target beneficial arthropods, and freshwater and saltwater invertebrates when used for foliar application. Flupyradifurone may pose a risk to birds and small wild mammals when used for soybean seed treatment.

Flupyradifurone can enter the environment when it is used as an insecticide for control of a large number of pests in a variety of crops. It can be applied as a foliar spray, as a soil drench and as a seed treatment. Flupyradifurone is systemic and, therefore, can reach pollen and nectar through its movement inside the plant.

However, in a later section, the Health Canada report says:

To mitigate the potential effects of flupyradifurone to bees, foliar applications are to be made in the early morning or evening when bees are not actively foraging, and measures to reduce drift are to be followed, as specified on the label of Sivanto 200 SL.

So its OK then because every potential user will follow the instructions on the label exactly. And if they do they are  only “mitigating” (make less severe, serious, or painful) not eliminating the danger. The case against flupyradifurone being approved for use anywhere seem to me to be clear. I am not a scientists but you don’t need to be a scientist to understand that last sentence quoted from the regulatory body which is apparently set to give its approval.


The ‘comfort take’ and other benefits of better insulated homes

Calculating energy savings from insulating a home looks simple — making a house twice as efficient will cut fuel bills by half. But it is not that easy and a new report for the Energy Bill Revolution organisation has introduced me to the concept of the “comfort take”.

This reflects the fact many people, especially those who have been turning thermostats down to save money will heat their homes to a warmer temperature.

So Cambridge Econometrics who have produced the report, Building the Future: The economic and fiscal impacts of making homes energy efficient (pdf) use the “comfort take” to calculate savings. When looking at the energy bill savings from investment in insulating the average low income home they see a saving of £408. But after accounting for the “comfort take” the figure comes down to £245.

In a footnote they explain:

Homes with fuel poor residents often tend to be under-heated due to the high costs associated with heating. This means that modelling of energy demand and energy savings can be over-estimates, as they do not account for the behaviour and energy use patterns of the residents. It can be that, after energy efficiency measures have been installed, the residents increase the warmth of their homes (due to the reduced costs of achieving the warmer temperature), rather than achieving the predicted energy bill savings associated with energy efficiency. This is known as ‘comfort take’ – and assumed to account for a 40% reduction in the predicted energy bill savings for the purpose of this research.

The warmer home may result in further savings. The report estimates that for every £1 spent on reducing fuel poverty, a return of 42 pence is expected in National Health Service (NHS) savings (there is a footnote to explain this figure).

Overall the report concludes:

  • A far more ambitious home energy efficiency investment programme would increase UK GDP by£13.9 billion a year by 2030 
  • Radical programme would create up to 108,000 new UK jobs  
  • It would deliver £4.95 billion in financial savings per year for UK households by 2030
  • Gas imports would be cut by 25%, boosting energy security
  • £1.27 in tax revenue would be returned for every £1 invested by Government

Energy Bill Revolution is supported by a wide range of charities, industry and local authorities.

Flytipping rises after seven years of decline

“Councils point finger at householders for 20% rise in illegal dumping of rubbish” runs a headline in the Guardian today.

The rise in flytipping does not surprise me but to blame householders borders on the disingenuous. Look at this screen grab from a Google search for “recycling centre closures” I made this morning:

Screen grab from Google search for "Recycling centre closures".

Screen grab from Google search for “Recycling centre closures”.

All around the country local dumps have been closed by councils trying to cut costs. They must have known this could result in an increase in flytipping. It is one of the consequences of which they have been regularly warned by communities campaigning against such cuts. The surprise is that it has not come earlier.

In truth the situation is not nearly as bad as that 20% figure suggests. It might just be a blip in a downward trend which has seen fly tipping incidents in England fall from 2,500,000 in 2005-06 to 700,000 in 2012-13.

In the past year they rose to 85,000 incidents, an increase of 15,000. Eight years ago a 20% increase would have been 500,000 incidents. Seeing a percentage figure always prompts the question: “Per cent of what?”

Poor pay 11% of income on fuel: the average is 4%

More evidence of the increasing divide between the rich and poor in the United Kingdom came yesterday figures released yesterday by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The average household spending on domestic energy has dropped from around 5% in the early 1980s to a little under 4% in 2012.

But the poorest 20% of homes have not shared in the benefit: they are now spending 11% of disposable income on energy. That is nearly three times the average.

These startling figures come from the The Carbon Brief blog whites mined the data from DECC to produce Seven unexpected graphs about the UK’s energy sector. The cost of electricity, gas and other fuels has been rising since it bottomed-out in 2004. Between 2002 and 2012 energy bills increased by 55 per cent, after accounting for inflation.

It seems the lower average spend is, in part, a result of gas prices. UK consumers pay the second lowest prices in Europe, with only people in Luxembourg charged less. But because we use more gas than most countries we are seventh from the bottom in the table of expenditure on gas.

Another factor in energy spending as a proportion of household budgets  over the 30 year period appears to have been improved insulation of houses, more efficient boilers and increased wealth.

It would be interesting to see more figures on oil and electricity prices. In rural areas like the one where I live there is no gas and that deprives people of those relatively lower prices for gas. A high proportion houses are also hard to insulate.

Two maps of Suffolk at Rural Fuel Poverty go a long way to explaining why we face so many problems. One shows homes connected to gas and the other the proportion of solid walled (hard to insulate) houses. In many parts of the county three-quarters of homes are solid walled and only small areas (albeit the more densely populated ones) have gas.


This is the house that generates enough surplus energy to run the car

A new house in Norway goes beyond the dreams running a house without importing energy — the ZEB (Zero Emission Buildings) pilot house in Larvik meets all its energy needs and produces a surplus, enough to run an electric car all year round.

The zero emissions house in Larvik, Norway: The roof slope maximises solar generation. Picture: Snøhetta, architects

The zero emissions house in Larvik, Norway: The roof slope maximises solar generation. Picture: Snøhetta, architects

The designers, Snøhetta, say:

To achieve ZEB-OM classification the project is required to document and verify a minimum of 100% CO2 offsetting. Renewable energy production via photovoltaic and solar-thermal panels integrated in the building envelope enables offsetting of carbon emissions generated by the burning of fossil fuels in power stations. By offsetting in this manner we reduce emission of other greenhouse gasses simultaneously. Focus on carbon emissions associated with building materials represents a new direction in the vital drive toward a sustainable construction industry.

The new building is designed as a family house but is a research project to demonstrate and develop technologies for “plus houses” which generate more than they use. See this Wikipedia article on “plus houses”.

Naturally, the Larvik house used a lot of eco technology but also traditional solutions such as utilising thermal mass.


Image: Snøhetta

The house is a collaboration between research bodies and industry. ZEB, the research centre on zero emission building says its vision is to “eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions caused by buildings”.

Government attacked over rejection of wind farm plans

Polly Toynbee, the Guardian columnist and regular attacker of everything Tory, today makes a scathing attack on the government “effectively abolishing” on-shore wind energy.

She writes:

Just as onshore wind becomes the cheapest renewable energy source, the Conservatives have committed to effectively abolishing it: their manifesto will pledge to remove subsidies, jeopardising future investment and rural jobs. Small local nimby groups find Pickles ever-eager to block windfarms in their back yards. That’s despite overwhelming public support, where poll after poll finds two thirds are in favour of onshore windfarms, including in their own districts, surprisingly resistant to the vigorous climate-change denial and anti-windfarm campaign by the Conservatives and their press.

Her ire is directed in particular at the refusal of permission for Ecotricity (I wrote about their involvement in wave energy yesterday) for a small wind farm close to the motorway north of Bridgwater, Somerset.

Cameron was once a supporter of wind energy. Toynbee believes the great game changer has been the arrival of UKIP. I suspect they would have done the same thing all on their own with a little pushing from some “countryside” campaigners.

I think she is right that opposition, even in the countryside, is limited. I have heard little complaint about the four large turbines that have gone up at Eye airfield industrial estate not far from where I live. When I drive north I see them in the same view as the medieval church tower: it remains a lovely view.

Would the people who are now opposing wind farms have objected to corn mills and fenland wind pumps in the past? There is little logic in their thinking. The countryside is and always has been an industrial landscape changing to produce the food that was required by towns, the wood to fuel fires and tallow for candles to light homes.

Wind turbines are simply a new way in which the countryside continues to do its traditional job. And I think they look good too.

Later: Wind farms generated more electricity than nuclear plants yesterday according to a BBC report.



Green energy company announces new approach to harnessing power of sea

Woodbridge tide mill in Suffolk.

Woodbridge tide mill first recorded in 1170.
Wikipedia/public domain

Getting energy from the sea is not new. A tide mill at Woodbridge, Suffolk, was first recorded in 1170 and the current mill on the same site continues to grind wheat flour. But large-scale electricity production has been elusive, although the La Rance Barrage in Brittany has been operating since 1966 and produces 600 GWh a year. The cost per unit is 1.8c per KWh compared with 2.5c for nuclear.

In the UK The huge Severn Barrage scheme has never got underway and promoters of the Wyre Barrage plan in Lancashire have been campaigning since 1991.

The other route is wave energy and again the UK has a lot of potential but the technical problems have proved difficult to overcome. Today the green energy company Ecotricity said a new system it is backing  overcomes two of the biggest hurdles in the deployment of renewable energy on a scale that fulfils Britain’s future electricity needs – cost and variable output.

Their Searaser system from inventor Alvin Smith has successfully undergone tests in Plymouth University’s wave tank. Unlike other techniques it does not attempt to generate electricity at sea but wave operated pistons pump high pressure water to hydro-electric turbines on land. It could also pump water into reservoirs for use when needed.

Pumped storage is well established and the Ffestiniog power station in Wales has been working since 1963.

Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said:

Our vision is for Britain’s electricity needs to be met entirely from our big three renewable energy sources – the Wind, the Sun and the Sea. Out of these three energy sources, generating electricity from the sea is by far the most difficult due to the hostile ocean environment – it’s also the least advanced of the three technologies but it has enormous potential. We believe these Seamills have the potential to produce a significant amount of the electricity that Britain needs, from a clean indigenous source and in a more controllable manner than currently possible.

He plans to have a full scale prototype working with 12 months.

Note: Ecotricity is our supplier at Ridgeway.