Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Heather stunned me yesterday with an audacious birthday present:

Guessed yet?

That's a 'Heavenly Flame' solar cooker, which she started hand-making when I was camping a month ago. Apparently half the neighbourhood lent her a hand with this material or that, or even taking her to the doctor, so thanks to any of you reading this.

Heather had been testing the oven all week: getting it out, setting it up, and hiding it behind the sofa every day. Despite all the exhausting effort, she didn't know if her initial daring would prove a success. Her agitation was visible even to my unsuspecting self. Until she had actually cooked in it, Heather didn't quite believe it would work. Come the big day, however, the sun was out and she baked a tasty pavlova.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Food Footprint - Almost Sustainable!

Heather finished our food footprint calculations last week, and only our fish use is unsustainable. We are very excited by this result, as we consider our diet to be ample, interesting, varied, and low-maintenance -- that is, something other kiwis could take up relatively easily. (The big sticking point is always the low meat consumption, but there seems to be a steady social change there.)

I hypothesise that our food footprint is more sustainable than our emissions footprint because property rights have centred around land since time immemorial but clean air is still anybody's to pollute. A limited and less tangible property system applies to fishing, and we are correspondingly less sustainable there. I wouldn't know how to substantiate these thoughts with solid data, sadly.

Feel free to click through for details, however the underlying calculations are still being reformatted for publication.

  1. Heather eats a lot of fish as a simple source of protein in her highly calorie-constrained diet, and this raises us to 140% of the estimated sustainable average wild fish catch. That average is itself about 40% of the current global take, so we're between the two numbers at present. As noted above, you simply can't plant 250% of suitable land surface. (Although we might be harvesting non-sustainably due to cheap oil or short-term practises. Even hundreds of years is short term for land, after all.)
  2. The land percentages are based on current farmed land area. This represents roughly 1/3 of land area, another 1/3 being forest and the remaining 1/3 put to other uses.
  3. Most of our land-sourced protein is plant based. We love beans, although haven't yet fitted them into my favoured Thai cuisine. A pressure cooker is your friend if you eat lots of beans and your cook isn't home most of the day - even if somebody is home, you'll save on energy.
  4. What meat we do eat has been entered as the sum of the the area on which the animals graze and the area required to grow supplemental feed. We have assumed free range animals (increasing the numbers), although we've only just switched for chicken pieces. (We haven't found a nearby source of free range pork, so have recently restricted ourselves to pork tongues.) Sheep and cattle are traditionally grass fed in NZ, but with the recent intensification of dairying the use of supplemental feed is rising.
  5. Goats have been entered as zero footprint, as (in NZ) they are used as scrub control and their meat is a side benefit. We decided against entering a negative value. Goat has not been a typical meat in NZ, but is favoured by various immigrant groups and we live near the only supermarket I know which sells it. The goat also happens to be cheaper than beef, and halal (useful for certain guests).
  6. Honey has also been entered as a zero footprint product, as pollination of commercial agriculture requires so many bees.
  7. The 'Flavourings' category includes cream and fish sauce as well as herbs and spices. Either Heather couldn't find a number for how much fish is in fish sauce, or (more likely) it was very small as no value has been entered for flavourings in the sea 'footprint' column.
In other news, Google Spreadsheets are not quite ready for prime time. I just couldn't figure out how to do a % pie chart with an empty wedge, for example. I couldn't even graph data and labels in non-adjacent columns!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Asleep at the wheel

I almost won a door prize on the way to work yesterday, but got just enough warning and was able to shimmy about six inches to the right. My rear wheel slid in towards the car as I shimmied - a downside of the long wheelbase of the SUB, I assume - then straightened as I eased off the brake. The driver had been talking on his cell phone, sitting in his parked car, and I hadn't been looking in the back windows like I usually try to do. I feel a bit silly to have been so close to the parked cars since there wasn't any other traffic on the road.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sunny long weekend

Queen's Birthday weekend was supposed to be rainy, but we have probably had a majority of sunny weather. I took Heather out in her wheelchair this afternoon, out the road and around the end of the cul-de-sac. She had hoped to take out the wheelchair bike, but I wasn't up to the initial granny-gear grind out of the gully between us and the main road.

On Friday, headed home from Pak'n'Save with a banana box full of groceries, my panniers were empty and I was able to pick up a little basket of flowers for Heather. Carrying flowers has always been hard on bikes.
Yesterday I took a chilli plant around to a colleague who has just moved into the neighbourhood. Earlier in the day, finding myself awake in time to visit the Ethiopian Orthodox who meet at 6:30 in our church building, I was pleased to find that the large frame of the Yuba Mundo kept my long overcoat out of the rear wheel. (It didn't seem to right to turn up in bizarre cycling gear to strangers whose entire culture is unfamiliar to me.) You might have picked up that I'm enjoying this bike.

Does ´Food Security´ mean Isolationism?

The Green Party, who I have been known to give my party vote to, seem to be pushing ´Food Security´ just as their conference comes up. Perhaps it will form a key part of their policy platform? As stated -- still somewhat vague -- the idea seems to be very anti-trade. Could this be an issue which divides me from them in this election, as the GE Free campaign did eight years ago?

After several days of mulling, I have posted a fairly lengthy comment on frogblog based on two points:
  1. Trade exposes us to the madness of the world, and
  2. We must reshape the system, not exercise our privilege by leaving it.
A central feature of the madness I refer to is the obscene paucity of opportunity and reward available to most of the world´s population. Trade is essential to levelling up the nations of the world. Frankly, I am convinced that we should invite as many foreigners as we can sustain to help us forge a prosperous future which their home communities can share in via remittances. Free Labour, not just Capital.

As for taking part in the system so that it reflects ´us´ not only ´them´, perhaps I need to take my own advice and get round to joining the Greens?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Our Carbon Emissions

Update - Jan 2010. The spreadsheet is finally available.

Heather has just worked out our carbon footprint for the last tax year, and found that we generate 3 times the sustainable global average. She has put a heap of effort in, based around 3 months of measuring and tabulating our household inputs and outputs. She has separated the routine elements from the irregular, and filled in for the rest of the year. We are both glad that we have completed our baseline measurements, and can take the compost out in peace.

The only changes we've made so far based on this info are switching from butter to margarine and putting up a 'No Advertising Please' sign on our letterbox. Recycling 3kg of junk mail a week generated about 6.5kg CO2 equivalent for each of us every week!

Here's the breakdown. Click through for the details - still working out how best to share this type of data. Eventually we plan to publish the detailed calculation spreadsheet in case anybody else would like to check their household out -- first I have to automate it further and port it all across to Google Docs.