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Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –
Ah yes, it’s time for the greatest awards ceremony that the world has never seen, I speak of course of our very own Adolf Awards, presented annually since time immemorial for Conspicuous Disservice to Peace, Human Rights and the Environment. Thank you to all those who sent in nominations, we hope you are not disappointed. In the case of the Adolf Awards, the carpet is certainly red but it is real blood red, and there is not so much a fanfare to greet people and the results as wounded and harrowing cries from battered and bloody survivors, and cries of anguish from a violated earth itself.
So without more ado, we present the -
Not seeing the wood for the trees award – To the Coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour for messing around with Coillte. No, not a complete sell off but putting profits from forestry into private hands and failing to ensure the maximisation of the potential of Ireland’s woodlands in a country which has historically been the most denuded of trees in Europe seems a complete waste of space.
Violation of the earth award – To fracking (hydraulic fracturing) companies, North and South (well, west of the North and north-west of the South) in their endeavours to exploit shale gas and destroy the earth’s substructure with high pressure injection of chemicals, and possible major repercussions for underground watercourses and the environment in general. Also to the governments in Northern Ireland and the Republic who seem not up to the game in protecting people and their livelihoods, as well as the earth, from this major potential threat. They shale not proceed!
Killing your own citizens Adolf perpetual award – There are a number of potential recipients, including the possibility of a posthumous award to the dead dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi. However President ‘Bashar’ al-Assad of Syria wins this by a clear behead. Evidently he believes in tanking his people profusely and that this is the way to conduct dialogue with citizens who do not agree with him or who happen to be in the wrong place. Oh, and the interests of Russia and China have been to support Assad, and western powers to oppose him; how many have actually thought about the future in relation to repercussions, human rights and peace is debateable.
Nuclear weapons award – The nuclear weapons club has one member whose possession of them has a seriously destabilising effect on the Middle East – Israel, and prime minister Netanyahu, whose policies on Palestine in general are part of the same militaristic and unimaginative policy. How can you honestly expect to curtail any ambitions Iran has in this area while Israel – and various other powers – hold onto them tightly? Now what was it President Obama was going to do? Oh, right, so he aims to tackle nuclear weapons by attacking Iran? Clearly deserving another Nobel Peace Prize.....
Spy system of the year – Forget the ‘stans’, forget Libya, forget Russia, for sheer audacity in spying on generally non-violent political activists, it has to be the undercover officers in Britain who developed sexual relationships in their undercover guises and in a couple of instances even had children with their partners while ‘undercover’.
Emulation of Northern Ireland Troubles Award – This award also goes to Britain, for its summer 2011 riots. While the British government sought to blame consumer-mad criminals – and those found guilty had far harsher sentencing than normal – it was clear from research with those involved that the phenomenon had a strong if unfocused political slant. And if the poor and marginalised continue to be squeezed in the UK, there may be more where that came from.
Closing the stable door Award – To the USA for trying to throw every book they can at Bradley Manning, whistleblower supreme, when it is clear from their own point of view and military people that he should not have been deployed to Iraq in the first place. Another own goal from the people who do it best.
Human Rights De-fender of the Year – Enda Kenny. What Taoiseach Enda Kenny says: (1) Ireland is at the fore of promoting peace, justice, security and development. (2) "... the Irish people have demonstrated an instinctive respect for peace, justice and human rights. It is absolutely right that these values are transmitted to the next generation." What Taoiseach Enda Kenny does: (1) Allows an Irish airport to be used by armed occupation forces on their way to Afghanistan, where they contribute to ongoing suffering, injustice and insecurity. (2) Refuses to investigate clear evidence that US torture aircraft and crews have used Shannon Airport, and allows US forces linked to war crimes to continue to use the airport. [Thanks to Shannonwatch]
Turncoat of the Year Award – Eamon Gilmore and his approach to peace and human rights regarding Shannon Airport and its role in the US war and torture machine [see news item this issue].
One party capitalist state of the year – China. Whether the Chinese economic boom will continue or not at the same level, vice-president Xi Jinping, soon likely to be leader of the Capitalist, oops, sorry, Communist Party, visited Ireland in February. We imagine the subject of art, and Ai Weiwei, or human rights in general, was strenuously avoided.
Blame the protesters award – Don’t blame the source of the injustice, blame those resisting and trying to struggle for an alternative. This award has to go to Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, for his remarks about protesters concerning Corrib Gas. Responding to a question in the Dáil where he said the Garda presence at the Shell refinery project at Bellanaboy in Co Mayo has cost just over €14.5m in extra Garda resources over the last six years, he went on to say it was "scandalous" that some protesters behaved in a "self-indulgent way" at a time when many people in the country were under severe financial pressure, and that many of them were engaged in “protest tourism”. Of course the state arrogantly backing multinational companies against its citizens, and not engaging in a proper process with them to ensure their safety, has had nothing to do with it, or the resultant cost?
Media Award for the Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back – To Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct “News of the World”, part of his News International/News Corporation empire, for hacking missing (and murdered) schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone in 2002.
Golf Curse of the Year – The course just approved by the Minister for Golf Courses in Northern Ireland, right beside the Giant’s’ Causeway. How many World Heritage Sites are there in Ireland? There is one in Northern Ireland. How many golf courses are there in Ireland? Hundreds. Why should a major new one plus hotel and apartments be holed up slap bang beside the Giant’s Causeway? Will it really create loadsa jobs or just redistribute a few? Definitely a below par performance by the Norn Iron Minister for the Environment, in this case a bogey man.
Nuclear Power is Safe as Houses Award – Tragically, so tragically, this is awarded to Fukushima, Japan.
That completes the votes of the Billy King Jury. Time to sound the Last Post and chorus, and see if there are any flowers left in the forest.
The bicycle is one of the great inventions of our civilisation. Enabling you to go at a rather speedier pace than walking – typically you can travel at the same speed as a suburban bus in most town or city conditions – it is clean, green and much more social. See a friend or neighbour? Stop and have a chat if they are travelling a different direction, get off and walk with them if you’re headed the same way. Want to stop in a crowded area? Not much problem.
The development of adequate cycle paths is key to getting a higher proportion of people on bicycles. However as fuel costs continue to rise the bike will increasingly be seen to represent excellent value. It also provides a means of exercise which is second to none insofar as it can be continued into late middle age and beyond, and one which can be done at your own pace. Want to hare down the road as fast as you can? Way you go. Want to take it leisurely, slow and steady? Tortoise your way as you please.
But there is another aspect to the bicycle – its green credentials. Between 1990 and 2007, greenhouse gas emissions from EU transport increased by 36%. Europe could cut its total greenhouse gas emissions by 5 - 11% per cent if every population cycled as much as the Danes already did in 2000, and perhaps all of the targeted reduction for transport by 2020, reducing oil imports by 9%. This is according to information from the European Cyclists’ Federation in December www.ecf.com/ or go direct to www.ecf.com/wp-content/uploads/ECF_BROCHURE_EN_planche.pdf - it is a bit technical but worth studying. But that does mean increasing the European average of nearly 200 km per person per year to the Danish 1,000 km. While it might sound a lot, it’s not; 365 days into that means only a few kilometres a day, or say you cycle on work days 2 km there and 2 back on 300 days – that is already 2 x 2 x 300 = 1,200 km a year! Add cycling to your routine for most shopping trips and you’re knocking back way over the Danish average. So it’s not that much really. The question is – can we afford not to pursue this?
The study, “Cycle more often 2 cool down the planet! Quantifying CO2 savings of cycling”, is a thorough study. Unlike some studies which think of cycling as carbon free it takes into account both production costs and fuel (= food) costs for a bike. Including everything it concludes that bicycles release about 21 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre. It concludes that, for trips that compete with the bicycle, a passenger car emits 271g of CO2 per passenger kilometre – around thirteen times as much. And remember that this is only the advantage on CO2 and doesn’t include the social, physical and other advantages of cycling such as lack of pollution and less danger on the roads. Interestingly, the study found pedalecs (electrically assisted bikes which only work while the cyclist pedals) to have the same efficiency as plain push bikes.
The first golden age of the bicycle came to different parts of the world at different times. In Europe it could be said to extend from its beginnings late in the 19th century, with the invention of the ‘modern’ bicycle, through to the 1950s. Our ancestors thought nothing of cycling 40 or 50 miles to a dance or social occasion – and the same again home afterwards. The second golden age of the bicycle is coming – it doesn’t take a crank to say that the cycle is turning. Our legislators could do a lot more to help it on its way, give it a push off so to speak, by spending a much more realistic proportion of transport budgets on bike lanes (£8,000 budget for bike lanes in Belfast this year – sounds like a few white lines). Cars are going to stay with us – and some people for reasons of physical capacity or illness depend on them which is fair enough – but car usage is going to shrink. Meanwhile bike usage is going to go through the (car) roof.
I’m obviously a keen cyclist even if not a spokeperson or wheeler dealer so I say - Get it out, pump it up, oil it, and away you go. Help build a chain reaction!
Incidentally, European Cyclists’ Federation member in the Republic is the Dublin Cycling Campaign and in the UK it includes the CTC (Cyclists’ Touring Club) and Sustrans.
Yes, it’s that time of year. I am lucky enough to have a plant propagator, given me years ago by a friendly neighbour who wasn’t using it, which applies a gentle heat to seeds and helps them germinate. It’s in full use at this time of year with a succession of seeds sown in my tofu container seed trays (as written about before). But a sunny window sill and a plastic bag (to keep in moisture) can function almost as well. Getting things off to a good and timely start is essential in a climate like Ireland’s where there may be no heat wave whatsoever in a given summer; things grow more slowly than in most other European countries. Old floor boards set across a bay window provide a space which maximises light to the seedlings growing inside until it’s time to put them out. I even start some things – such as leaf beet (spinach type plant) which doesn’t envisage planting indoors – I get them producing much earlier.
Learning what will grow or not grow in your garden, back yard or window sill takes a few years to get it right, or as right as you can. Possibly because of high walls, or that and the qualities or lack of them in the soil, mean I don’t bother with some plants, flowers or vegetables. I tend to grow high value (well, relatively high cost in the shops) produce which grows well in our garden. But I always like to try something new, or retry something that failed before.
Salivating over seed packets is, of course, a bit premature and the results are not always what you might want. I don’t have a greenhouse though I used a plastic ‘wendy house’ greenhouse last year without great results – and high winds at one stage dumped seedlings on the ground through it vibrating in the wind. Basil I always grow indoors as slugs like it as much as humans and that usually provides us with enough for salads and occasional use but not enough to make a load of pesto.
As the concept of ‘foods miles’ will continue to enter consumers’ consciousness, growing and shopping locally will continue to develop. Of course many homes have no ground or suitable space for planting, which is where allotments will continue to come in. However for building food security on a macro scale we need more imaginative government policies – e.g. on planting fruit trees – and concerning suburban development patterns.
Anyway, whether your growing is in window boxes or in wide open spaces, I wish you good luck, good management and some weather to do your crop proud. And if you were wanting to source organic seeds or knowledge we had a news item in the February issue from the Organic Centre in Co Leitrim. May the fork be with you.
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Well, spring is knocking on the door, and has been for a while with relatively mild weather most of the time. Last year the best month’s weather was actually April – our summers tend to be the fulfilment of anticipated anticlimax – though for fine weather we need a ‘blocking high’ anticyclone in the Atlantic to stop the rain fronts pushing off the Atlantic and to allow the balmy continental temperatures of summer waft over us. We should be so lucky, but then maybe we’re lucky most winters to escape the continent’s chilliest moments. So, for the moment, fare well, and may there be spring in your step, Billy.
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).