Monday, May 7, 2012

#CTWW Challenge - 2nd May 2012 - Barbecues

It's the Bank Holiday weekend, temperatures are back to single digits (celsius) and there is a cold drizzle. Ideal conditions to think about this weeks Change the World Wednesday challenge:

This week, consider Eco-friendly Grilling/BBQing. Please share all your ideas for cooking outside. Here's a hint ... Charcoal Briquettes
are not necessarily Eco-friendly. Need another hint to get going? Check out this POST.

We don't tend to use the barbecue often: our weather is too unpredictable to plan ahead for them so they are rare spur of the moment occasions. On one memorable occasion when we did plan a bbq, our guests took shelter indoors while I cooked under an umbrella. 

As they don't feature large in our lives, I hadn't given much thought to the environmental impact of bbqs. I figured that, since charcoal is made from wood that it is probably carbon neutral if it comes from sustainable sources, although probably not very efficient. I had also read that the ashes could be added to the compost heap.  However these assumptions were proven wrong when I read up for this challenge.

I came across an article in Science Daily (link here) which looks at climate related emissions from propane gas compared with charcoal and it also highlights that most charcoal used in the UK is imported from areas in Africa where the first cover had been depleted.

Charcoal briquettes also have added ingredients which make them unsuitable for use in the compost heap put garden. These additives may include borax or starch to bind the charcoal, nitrates to aid ignition or sometimes anthracite to improve performance of the briquettes.

Traditional lump wood charcoal tends not to have the additives but it is more likely to be made from tropical hardwoods which may not be sustainably harvested.

Is this the end for summer barbecues then? Or should we replace our barbecue with a gas one?

As we use the bbq so infrequently, it will take a considerable time to repay the embodied energy of a new gas bbq with savings from each use. And a gas bbq does not satisfy that primal urge to create fire! It looks like the answer for us, if we get a summer, lies in sustainably sourced lump wood charcoal. Or cooking indoors a normal but eating outside.

We can't be good all of the time.

Finally, if you haven't tried barbecued pineapple, give it a go: take a whole pineapple, cut in to quarters lengthwise then grill. Delicious.

Related post:

Elsevier (2009, May 12). Grilling With Charcoal Less Climate-friendly Than Grilling With Propane, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 7, 2012, from

The Big Energy Switch Swindle?

You may be aware of The Big Switch, a reverse auction being organised by campaign groups 38 Degrees and Which. you can sign up here to participate in the event which allows you to switch to the winning deal if it suits you.  You are not committed to switching but if you don't preregister you can not participate.

I have a few issues with this approach:

To register you need to provide your personal details, some of which will be passed to the energy companies participating in the auction. The example of such information is your meter numbers.  The energy companies will be able to use this information to assess how many new customers they may gain if they win the auction or how many existing customers they may lose (and how profitable or otherwise those customers are and hence decide how keen they are to win. From the energy companies perspective, this is little more than a marketing exercise.

A closer look at the terms and conditions of the offer show that there are no guarantees, prices may fluctuate at  any time after switching and the savings illustration that you will be given is meaningless.  In effect you are taking a gamble just the same as switching at any other time and the energy companies can give low prices which are, in effect introductory discounts which can be recouped at a later time through tie ins and higher future unit rates.

If my perspective in the previous paragraph is incorrect, how will the energy companies maintain their healthy profit levels? By charging more to other customers who have not participated in The Big Switch.  The latest figures on the website show that 286,000 people have registered to participate which sounds a lot but is around 1% of the customers of the big six energy companies. Those most in need of reduced energy costs, including the elderly and other vulnerable people, do not necessarily have access to this type of online deal and those with prepayment meters are normally excluded from the best deals. In fact the Terms and Conditions state the personal information may be used by the energy companies to determine whether the energy companies will allow individuals to participate in the scheme.

It is not clear what benchmark will be used to determine the winner so it may be that, of the 286,000 participants, some would save and others wouldn't depending on their consumption levels and mix of gas and electricity used and the supply terms and conditions.

A better arrangement could have been one where Which/38 Degrees set the conditions for the energy companies to bid such as that the deals are open for all, regardless of payment mechanism, that there are no lock-ins and that there are restrictions on how much and when prices can vary.  The energy companies would then price for supplying energy under standard terms rather than using small print and future price rises to pay for loss-leaders.  This would also put more of the risk  back on to the energy company that make the big decisions such as future energy contracts and mix of generation types. Currently customers pay the price of these decisions whether good or bad.

The fact that the big energy companies are participating is a sure sign that they do not expect to lose much revenue over it, in fact I'm sure they see it as a positive Public Relations exercise.  Meanwhile those in most desperate fuel poverty will see no benefit.

Are you taking part in The Big Switch? Will it save you money? Will it change the domestic energy market?

Or is it just another chance for the Big Six to pull the wool over our eyes and get some good press coverage?

Related Links:
The Big Switch
The Big Switch Ts & Cs

Related Posts:
Energy Market Reform

And for the follow up: The Big Energy Switch Swindle - Part 2

Effective Campaign or More Waste?

Another version of the ad with rider commentary. (via Jessica)

Via @JeffJeffrey This is a real @wmata ad at #MetroCenter, which essentially says, "Hey, our trains suck.Why not gamble on our buses?"

From Jessisca:
Love this. Above a Metro ad for Metro Alerts at Gallery Place that says "Honey, I pushed our reservation back," and someone wrote "How about reliable service?" Perhaps instead of spending money on PR, which essentially concedes "Yes, our service sucks," they should spend that money and time just fixing the problems. The ad campaign is an admission of terrible service.
Speaking of PR. Remember Metro's other big PR blitz, Metroforward? It launched with great fanfare not even a year ago. At the time, Dan Stessel told the Washington Post Metro had spent $204,000 on the "intial work," adding:
“This is a low-cost, high-impact project,” Stessel said, noting that the way Metro figures it — its 1.2 million riders paid about 17 cents each for the work.
Who knows how much more of your money they've spent since then.

A huge part of Metroforward was to be a social media campaign, that led to the hiring of even more PR people to be "social media trailblazers."

The Metroforward blog hasn't been updated since March 14, and the last tweet from Metroforward was March 21. The Metroforward Facebook is slightly more active, but it's not the interactive destination many expect from Facebook, and many riders report having been blocked from commenting.

Other items:

6/22 Metro crash victims one step closer to memorial (Examiner)
Metro monitors key communications equipment that failed 24/7 (Examiner)
Moscow metro fires escalator chief (Moscow Times)
Another Post column on the Silver Line
Is the Silver Line being held hostage? (WaPo)