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May 2010

Plotting my carbon usage over a year of transport

I freely admit, the following may be labeled 'geeky'.

I have a Bike statistics Googledoc (feel free to have a look) I've been maintaining since I started my biking back up. I very diligently clock my numbers in. It occurred to me to start embellishing it with a few extras. First I added in for this year, the days when I have to take public transport for whatever reason. Unfortunately that did prove that February is a really horrible month for cycling Not so good on the pocket, mind you. That gives me a calculation of total transport cost on a per journey basis versus the previous purely bike driven one (both are represented in the summary).

After that I added calculation that will show you the % of the Earth's circumference that I've cycled around. Okayyy not exactly the most life-useful stat, but quite sweet.

Now I've added a reference sheet for calculations and used fairly standard per kilometer figures for carbon production of tube, car, train and bus journeys to calculate a per day figure (I used Google maps to get the distances for the bus route, and the tube route), used a generalised figure of 221 for working days per year and found that a complete public transport working year from my house to Paddington would generate 509kg of CO2. that's a great figure as a reference - having so far generated 79kg (christ! 79! Myself, personally! That's dreadful) but very usefully as well, given that the figures don't change ie: they're not a cost in fiscal terms that changes, unlike public transport costs, I can easily apply them to previous years and give myself targets to beat.

Of course, what I really need is the carbon cost printed on any bike gear I buy, because with the best will in the world, the common preconception that biking is a zero carbon option obviously does not taking wear and tear in to account. Or indeed the cost of the bike in the first place. For standard inner tubes etc the carbon cost should be counted in total for one year, but for larger bike parts (wheels, or indeed, Kevlar tires) the carbon usage should be amortised over the expected lifetime of the part.

I'm really, really interested in the long term, almost 'bank account' nature of these kind of calculations. Particularly for the purchase of objects. Everything we do generates global warming emissions but particularly everything we purchase. If we buy seeds that grow, can we offset that carbon given that the seeds absorb carbon from the air in order to become plants? Heh. Yes, but then we eat them, and they generate methane, which is a teensy bit worse. Anyway. What I would *like* to see is this kind of carbon calc'ing becoming way more normalised. Even to the point of rationing. those who use less can sell it off - I've been through this before, but anyway, the point is that second hand goods can be treated as having a zero carbon effect. Although it's all rather bad for our capitalist economies, the focus on "Re-use" to use the old Bob The Builder-esque word ("Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!") to save people money or more to the point, to *make* them money is fab.

Of course, there's the slightly odd question which is: if you save up your carbon allowance and sell it off, what the hell do you do with the money, since you've used up all your carbon allowance. You can't actually buy much! Ah. Well. That obviously needs more thought. Presumably with the added low-carbon variable, the market would be flooded with low to zero carbon products (or you can just buy whatever it is you needed second hand?).

To be truthful, I doubt personal carbon management will happen until it's too late, and then its introduction will be a clonking, lumbering disaster because it'll have been done in a hurry. It would be way too controversial for any politician of any persuasion to attempt to drive through yet. So it's all a bit of idealistic desire. Or - geeky self generated charts, in any case :)

24 degrees tomorrow. In April.

Warning: I'm going to talk about fat loss now

I think if there's a fat loss curve (or something) I think I've reached a point where the loss suddenly becomes more and more visible. What I mean is, the generally speaking steady downward progress made a huge impact in the first instance, then settled down to the point of being almost invisible . I think I've mentioned before that the slow effect of the loss seemed to slow to almost nothing, then suddenly I would realise that my shape had changed significantly in one area or another.

So, the point is, very slowly I reached a point where the quite uncomfortable amount of lard reducing at X ounces per day took my body to a smaller place. Now, all of a sudden, that X ounces per day is incredibly visible. My shape seems to be changing if not by the day, certainly by the end of this week, things will be visibly significantly different to the shape that was there on Monday.

This week's incredibly happy change is that along my rib cage, there seems to be basically *no excess fat*. That is very freaky. I am totally overjoyed that all this body change has happened whilst basically eating whatever I like. If I'd gone on a diet and biked then a) I doubt I would have had the energy to bike anyway and b) I would have been miserable about food - the curse of all diets. I hate diets.They're crazy. Learn to hate the awful food you are forced to eat! Feel bad, guilty and ashamed about desiring food we've been genetically programmed to like!

Or... eat decent food well and *exercise*.

I still have excess fat by the way (as opposed to being 'overweight'*). this is a slow, comfortable reduction. I would not have it any other way. I've got a significant post-pregnancy jelly like abdomen  and frankly, I have a comfortable cushion for sitting down on but here's the thing - I think those two areas are now the only bits left for my excess fat to be burned off from. It's all very interesting. 

And yes. It makes me inordinately happy. My back no longer aches, my knees don't twinge, I can run, lift, walk up hills without feeling exhausted.. fantastic. And I do feel sexier. Yes.

*No, I don't use the term overweight and haven't felt comfortable about it for years. I never weight myself. I have heavy and frankly rather large thigh muscles from biking. If you weigh anyone who exercises regularly, they are not going to be on the 'skinny' weight side. Another reason I hate dieting. Judging what your weight is, and assuming that if that goes down, that must mean you're becoming healthy is *madness*.

If I had advice for anyone wishing they weren't fat it would be: adapt the food you eat such that it becomes a 'healthy diet' as opposed to going on a diet, most important do at least an hour of exercise a day that gets your heart pumping, for 5 days out of 7 and either throw away, or do not buy anything to measure your weight. Yes, buy a nice pair of trousers (wh'ever) that's one size lower, but whatever you do, just ignore anything to do with numbers. Trust your eyes.

The Iron Man

James' reading hazily comes more in to focus by the day. If he tries hard he can read whole sentences from his Kipper & Floppy books. More often though he'll flop back and whine that he wants to be read to - as long as I talk him through letter sounds and we construct one or two words per session, I'm not too stressed. He does everything in his own time.

The books he enjoys being read to him are becoming far more complex however. He's starting to really enjoy Pooh stories - much more so than Nora. He's been sitting happily through the Horrid Henry stories since Christmas. Nora was complaining that she'd read all her books and they're all boring, so I picked out The Iron Man from their shelves (repackaged as "The Iron Giant" which is an annoyingly more memorable title), knowing she'sd never looked at it.

As I held the beautiful second hand paperback in my hand, with the name of that wonderful writer on the front, looking at the kids sitting on the bed waiting to read something and looking sceptical, I felt a teary choke in my voice. This was the first time in their lives they were going to hear the story.


And here's the thing. I realised I could barely remember it. The dragon section had totally obliterated itself from my brain and I'd been infected by the delightful, but almost entirely unrelated film, called of course, "The Iron Giant". And another thing, reading Ted Hughes' beautiful words (you have to read it out loud, it's like a feast for your aural senses), I was struck again by something I'm slowly learning as I go along - how different it is being a boy. To a four year old James, this was a wonderful story. A massive, elemental metal man, eating old cars and tractors, schlunching across fields and muddy farms, chewing barbed wire with glowing blue / red / green eyes like massive lamps. And the story of a brave boy, but a brave boy with compassion, who senses and feels that something is wrong.  Then the whole thing turns in to a huge, enormous, stupendous, crazy story about a giant dragon the size of a planet! How much more BOY could you get! 

He loved it. Nora loved it. It's completely bloody fantastic, and I would strongly recommend you buying it immediately to read aloud to your kids.

The "Plumpy Nut" moral conundrum

"Plumpy nut" is a bit of a wonder invention. It's a stew of ground up peanut glop, shed loads more fat, more fat on top of that, plus a huge dose of sugar and essential vitamins. It comes in sterile pouches that last for *two years*, it can be warmed up and Plumpy Porridge created, or, what is easiest and safest, it can be sucked straight from the pouch. It contains in a single pouch half the nutrition needed for a small child per day. it is, basically, amazing, life saving stuff.

The company that makes it  advertises local opportunities to create factories in developing world economies to create plumpy nut. According to Wikipedia, the idea then is to use locally grown peanuts and milk powder, but purchase the vitamin / nutrient slop from Nutriset, the company that makes it. So each factory is basically a franchise. Nutriset keep a careful rein over their invention.

When I first heard of Plumpy Nut, and I can remember how long ago this was - around 1998, my conspiracy nose sniffed. Why was this only using peanuts, when there is well documented evidence of life threatening allergic reaction to peanuts? Why not use other nuts such as hazelnuts or cashews? Was this an American company, palming off the surplus peanuts from the US, where sales might proportionally be going down, due to fear of allergies? I must be told! I mailed them with questions... they never replied.

Now, it transpires that almost the polar opposite is true. A BBC article about Plumpy Nut extolling its virtues also points out that an American firm is screaming blue murder given that Nutriset, a french company, have a strong-arm tendency to send cease and desist letters to anyone who tries to make a similar product to the aforementioned lifesaver. Various aid agencies have complained about this publicly. Mike Mellace from the US based "Mama Cares Foundation", a not-for-profit wants the patent on Plumpy Nut to be opened up so anyone can make it, and therefore presumably drive the price right down.  Remi Vallet from Nutriset argues strongly that their aim is to promote industry and local farming in third world countries - to support locally grown solutions and to feed in to these local economies. Opening up the patent would destroy these fledgling economies, the market would be dominated by cheaper, mass produced American peanuts and therefore by US companies. In short, prolonging the need to aid, where one of Nutriset's goals is "nutritional autonomy".

One doesn't have to have a degree in economics to understand that small farms producing a smaller amount of peanuts in a fledgling business will by necessity produce peanuts and milk at a higher cost than those employing mass farming techniques in the US. Nutriset shrugs and says hey, we've got spare capacity, we can make as much as is needed. UNICEF and others must be thinking well that's fine but it eats up our entire budget. We *need* to buy this stuff, it's a proven lifesaver and it's amazing, but we also need to buy it cheaper, so we can buy more. Can the normal rules of economics apply when people are starving, or there are major earthquakes destroying the entirety of local infrastructure such as in (already poverty stricken) Haiti?

It's not an easy moral question. The argument suggesting that the US would dominate the market is entirely valid. Holding large scale aid agencies to ransom by having a fixed price and entirely controlling the product via franchises is not. Nutriset seems to be a 'for-profit' company. I think Nutriset's argument would be more compelling if they were to spin off Plumpy Nut under a not-for-profit scheme, and plow all excess revenues in to improving / enlarging farms / the supply chain, holding such franchises in a trust, as opposed to owning them. Perhaps even making the Plumpy Nut operation some kind of 'Partnership' including all local supplier franchisees on an equal footing.

Put bluntly, to hold the price artificially high by limiting access to the product is unacceptable. without some price reduction and increase in investment in efficiency  etc, Nutriset's moral argument begins to waste away. the thought of the market being dominated by peanuts from the US market, destroying this nascent local farming enterprise is repellent, but is it more repellent than a quantifiable number of people not receiving safe nutritional aid when the budgets run dry through cost?