Monday, 27 August 2012

Water, water everywhere – but not enough!

This week is World Water week (August 26-31 in Stockholm). The organisers Stockholm International Water Institute have issued a report, ‘Feeding a thirsty world: Challenges and Opportunities for a
Water and Food Secure Future’. The report points out that we do not have sufficient water to produce the food needed to feed the estimated 9 billion global population by 2050 if current trends towards a western style diet high in animal protein continue. However, our water resources would be just sufficient to feed that population if animal protein was limited to 5% of our diet worldwide. In other words, the whole population changed to a mainly vegetarian diet.  For details of the report see:

 Water for growing food will increasingly compete with water for other needs. One industry with excessive water need is the nuclear power industry. A report for the Australian Parliament ascertained that nuclear power is the most water hungry form of power generation. Depending on whether the nuclear power plant uses ‘once through’ or ‘closed systems’ to cool their reactors, they consume between 33 – 50% more water than fossil fuel power plants. Despite having 23% of the world’s uranium deposits, Australia still has no nuclear power industry. For more detail see:
In a world of increasing water scarcity we can hardly afford to build power plants which are going to consume a scarce resource which is needed for the basic task of feeding the world. Why go nuclear when you can have renewable energy?

Friday, 17 August 2012

Train departure boards and the English language

Operators of train departure boards have redefined the English language.
Experience as a commuter has shown me that, at least in South Eastern region, strange usage of the English language has become the norm on train departure boards. According to the platform indicators trains have ‘arrived’ when the reach a point outside the station about half a minute before anyone on the platform can see them.

The indicators still show trains as ‘On time’ if they ‘arrive’ at the station up to 3 minutes after their scheduled departure time.

So a train has ‘arrived’ when  it is half a minute outside the station. Add another three minutes leeway when it is still considered ‘On time’. Now the ‘On time’ train is at the platform but it takes about two minutes for all the passengers to disembark from and get on the train.
Finally the train can leave the station half a minute ply three minutes plus two minutes after it should have left the station. Officially it is still ‘on time’, in reality the train is now five and a half minutes late. A redefinition of the words ‘on time’

On one particular occasion this abuse of the English language almost caused me to board the wrong train at London Bridge. I ran across the foot bridge at London Bridge to try and catch my train which was ‘on time’. The train which was standing at the platform as I rushed down the stairs closed its doors just before I could board it. The train at the platform was, in fact the train before mine and would have taken me in completely the wrong direction. 

Clear communication would be a wonderful thing.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Cycling helmets – should we wear them or not?

The death of a cyclist in London has reignited the debate about wearing helmets. There are arguments on both sides. I know of someone who spent six months in a coma after being flung across the bonnet of a car. Had she been wearing a helmet she would probably have walked away from the accident. 

However experience elsewhere demonstrates that there are down sides. After Australia introduced compulsory helmet use for cyclist, the number of people cycling went down by 40% amongst adults and 60% amongst children

The Australian Transport Safety  Bureau concludes that helmets do prevent and ameliorate injury. See:

However, the libertarian Institute of Public Affairs claims that ‘Even after 20 years and plenty of research, there is still no compelling evidence that Australia's compulsory helmet laws have reduced injury rates on a population-wide basis.’
This is a contentious issue and both sides feel very strongly. Look forward to an animated public debate.

Of course, there are alternatives: proper cycle routes, dangerous junctions made safer for cyclists, particularly in big cities with heavy traffic, and proper training – and testing – for drivers on how to behave around cyclists.

Air pollution – to plant or not to plant

Despite many reports and much talk, Kent’s Air Quality does not seem to be improving. Medway has merged what was previously six Air Quality Management Areas into three – one very large and two smaller. Tonbridge and Malling Council recently rejected traffic calming measures for Tonbridge Lower High Street which has been an AQMA since June 2005. They also refuse to consider pedestrianisation of the High Street proposed by  local campaigning group PATHS (Pedestrianise Action Tonbridge High Street). Sign their on line petition at:
The religion of the car is well and thriving in Kent, in particular West Kent, much to the detriment of human health and wellbeing.

So, if our Councils won’t consider the obvious solutions to poor air quality, pedestrianisation and traffic calming, what remains? The University of Oxford conducted a three year study into ‘Ivy on walls’ for English Heritage on a variety of sites around the country and came up with some surprising results. In areas of heavy traffic, ivy reduced particulates , which are the main cause of respiratory problems, by 60 – 85 %. Ivy was particularly effective at reducing the smallest particles. See
As regards the concerns voiced that ivy can damage walls, the study found that ivy would root in existing defects, but caused no damage to walls which were already damaged. In fact, ivy covering on walls reduced damage by fluctuating temperatures and freezing.

More recently Transport for London has established its second green wall at a pollution hot spot in London. A study by Imperial College of the first London green wall on the Marylebone Road has shown that, green walls planted strategically can reduce air pollution by 30%, much greater than the 5% achieved by conventional street planting.

So what are we waiting for? Why is Kent still in the dark ages as regards combating air pollution. Get planting at your pollution hot spots – and then pedestrianise!