The bee battle is far from over

5 Mar

In a move that has infuriated campaigners and bee-lovers far and wide, agrochemical giant Syngenta and chemicals group Bayer are suing the EU for enacting a ban against neonicotinoid pesticides, a move taken to protect honey-bee the bees!

The two companies argue that the ban was passed without adequate proof, alluding to several studies that conclude there is only a weak link between neonicotinoid use and bee decline. While there is some disagreement in the field, the onus of science backs the fact that they are just not that good. End of story. Or so it should be. Continue reading

EU bans bee killer

29 Apr

We are seldom fond of our insect companions, very rarely appreciating the many services they endow upon us. They do not fit well into our nicely formulated urban lives, in our struggle to shake off irregularities and unwanted disturbance. No, creepy crawlies, buzzing bees and fat mosquitos flying lazily between victims and bashing into windows, are certainly not valued as essential. And yet should pollinators disappear, global food production could grind to a halt surpisingly fast, with dire consequences.

Bee Happy

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Consumption in the city

15 Apr


Our culture is in the grips of an obsession to consume as we like, when we like with no limits nor guilt. To have and consume is a divine right in western culture. Unable to conceptualise of a reality that does not include packaged meals, limitless energy and outsourced labour, we are more or less content in the surreality of the urban landscape. And a comfortable existence it is. Yet it is this very comfort and detachment that allows us to turn our back on all manner of supply chain behaviour that we may otherwise not condone.

Apples (Granny Smith variety pictured) are amo...

Apples are among the most wasted foods in the UK – 190,000 tonnes per year are thrown out every year. 

Such is the case with urban food waste. Considering the immensity of this problem, it is a wonder we manage to retain such a sense of blissful ignorance and denial. Restaurants are culprits, as are supermarkets and production companies. And of course, consumers are just as complicit with their lack of outrage and unquenchable thirst to consume. Continue reading

More crazy weather, are we still surprised?

30 Mar

What once was green is only brown or mud-flecked snowy white. Trees are not so, but simply barren limbs stretching into the grey above and periodically holding in their arms the snowy deposits from above. If specks of purple life should appear in flower form, the snow only falls harder to beat them down below the earth.


city snowThis is, the winter of constant snow. Where we are taunted by the promise of spring only to have our hopes dashed time and time again. Where flakes drifting from the sky no longer stop us in our tracks with the awe they deserve, but are rather cussed at and cursed upon. Where the snow enters ours boots and our homes and our dreams fill with the thought of escape to sunny shores.

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Guerilla Gardening – transforming the urban landscape

14 Mar

Gardening, a tranquil activity, becomes decidedly less so when coupled with ‘guerilla’. No doubt there are countless interpretations of this term, that is in fact a more or less harmless activity. Guerilla gardening can be loosely defined as “the illicit cultivation of someone else’s land”; if the practice is legal, it isn’t guerilla. The broad aim of this practice is to take back forgotten areas, regardless of who owns them, and ensure they are used to their full potential.

Guerilla garden

Who are guerilla gardeners?
The reasons for becoming a guerilla gardener are many; for some it is a subversive hobby while for others it is a means of survival. Some urbanites are possessed by the need to grow something, and lacking their own land, utilise neglected spots of earth. Some want to beautify their neighbourhood by tackling the plethora of barren areas.

For many in the developing world it is simply a survival strategy of growing food anywhere possible. In rapidly expanding cities, many highways are lined with crops as the growing population of urban poor struggle to adapt their once rural livelihoods to the city. In Honduras, peasants are reclaiming land expropriated by the transnational company Chiquita by subversively replanting their own crops.

‘Guerilla gardening’ as a term was most likely coined in reference to the subversive movement in Western cities that sparks intrigue and illicits tactful back-turning from the authorities. These guerilla gardeners are making a peaceful yet forceful political point about urbanisation and land distributions inequalities.

Are gardeners now vandalists?
Despite its classification as a form of ‘criminal damage’, guerilla gardening seldom harms anyone so it meets little resistence from the authorities. Use of privately owned land only becomes an issue if the gardeners begin to make a profit, or if the owner has plans to develop the site. This is more of an issue in developing countries where crops are often grown for profit.

The law relating to public spaces is murky and open to interpretation. As gardeners are generally saving authorities time and money by tending to public spaces, they are often left to their own devices. However, guerilla gardeners tend to operate at night or early morning to avoid unpleasant questioning. Much to the dismay of gardeners, there has been the odd occasion where immaculate gardens have been destroyed by the authorities.

Seed bomb brigade
A much extremer form of this practice, actively imitating guerilla methods, is the deployment of seed bombs. Seed bombs, crafted from clay, compost and seeds, are launched into areas otherwise inaccessable to the green fingers of guerilla gardeners. A seed bomb landing in a disused, barren urban eyesore will over time transform the space into a wilderness of foliage and flowers.

Technically, guerilla gardening is easy to define. However, with many different faces, causes and affects, it is not a cohesive concept. In constant flux, its’ nature morphs from generation to generation with every participant conceptualising it differently. To the Latin American peasant it means something else entirely to the chic urbanites of London. As a movement that blurs the lines between urban and rural, and in fact attempts to remove such a boundary, it is worthy of our attention.

What is an ecocity?

20 Feb

Ecocity is another one of those terms we tend to throw about at parties as intellectual fodder. As with the infamously indefinable ‘sustainability’, few are sure what actually constitutes an ecocity.

Very simply, an ecocity is an ecologically healthy city. According to Richard Register, one of the pioneers of the movement, an ecocity should imitate a living organism. As ecosystem design demonstrates, all vital functions of an organism should be close to one another.

Why ecocities? Why now?
Register, who has been campaigning this movement for over 35 years, argues that as the age of cheap energy wanes it is more important than ever to invest in ecocities. Ecocity design will allow society to continue without a massive fallout from the loss of cheap energy. It is important we use the remaining oil and gas to invest in long-term, sustainable city planning.

Richard Register's vision of an ecocity

Imagining the ecocity…
Think car-free streets, side-walks lined with fruit trees, waterways restored to their uncovered state and a distinct lack of sprawling suburbia. Replacing the sprawl are high density urban centres with all important ammenities in walking distance. Buildings are redesigned to live in symbiosis with natural vegetation. Surrounding urban centres are corridors of natural habitat for recreation and conservation. Where possible, all food and goods are sourced from within the city boundaries. Public transport between city centres is frequent with car-share schemes in place for emergency only. Industry is focussed on the concepts of reuse and recycle. The economy maintains healthy employment levels and cuts energy use by being labour intensive.

The principles of an ecocity
There are five broad principles that sum-up the characteristics of an ecocity:
– using local materials and making the most of natural environmental advantages
– incorporating natural vegetation into the urban space
– using vegetation to stabilise temperature and humidity
– prioritising community spaces to encourage greater social cohesion
– focussing industry on creativity and innovation

Are ecocities a reality yet?
There is no city today that fits the bill exactly. However there are some that fit certain characteristics, for instance Portland in Oregan. Newly evolving cities have more opportunity to develop along ecocity guidelines. And yet some old European city centres are not far off the ecocity ideal. Venice is already car-free, arguably the hardest transition to make. Interest in ecocities is certainly growing, but in some cases it is nothing more than a ‘green screen’. The coincidence of ‘green’ buildings in cities does not mean they are ecocities. If we are still driving to these sites, the purpose is somewhat defeated. A city can never by truely ‘eco’ if it supports a car driving mentality.

Advocating ecocities means going up against a society addicted to cheap fuel. Only when we say goodbye to cars does an ecocity future become plausible, desirable and logical. We must begin to prepare for a future where cheap energy may not be as accessible as it has been for many years. Yet todays leaders are intent on extracting the last iotas of gas and oil before investing in a green future. This has been made clear by recent movements of several governments to invest in oil shale and fracking technology at the expense of renewable infrastructure.

Register has been fighting hard for many years to gain traction for this movement. It is a far from easy battle to take on. Ecocities may seem a hopelessly utopian concept, but it becomes increasingly realistic when we consider the energy constraints we face.

Why water matters more in 2013

12 Feb

Water (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

“If you had a glass of water today you are better off than a huge number of people around the world”. These words are hard to comprehend from the comfort of our homes. Coming from Ross Bailey, a campaigner at WaterAid, they are based on true experience. WaterAid is one of many charities working to secure water supplies for the developing world.

Water issues are taking the stage this year as the UN has declared 2013 the ‘International Year for Water Cooperation’. The over-arching aim is to raise awareness on the potential for further cooperation between countries and organisations. It also hopes to identify the challenges that increasing demand is is having on allocation and water derived services.

The UN hopes that the intiative will encourage businesses and individuals alike to take stock of their water footprint and ultimately to reduce it. There is a strong focus on education, with many different stakeholders organising events to foster action. Continue reading


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