Friday, 18 September 2009

A crap way to protest

'Environmental campaigners' dumping manure on Jeremy Clarkson's lawn is an immature and pointless act of vandalism that neutralises the point they are trying to make. Yes, the world is getting gradually warmer and yes, it's entirely feasible that human activity is adding (or perhaps causing) the problem by our casual attitude to the build-up of CO2 but childish stunts like this add nothing to the debate and merely entrench the 'Daily Mail' image of hippy green protesters. Personally, I thought the '4x4 to the North Pole' episode was fantastic, ground-breaking television and a unique adventure which I'd have given my right arm to take part in. It's all part of the joy of being ALIVE! However, we have to be aware of the impact of our actions and take reasonable steps to minimise it. Global warming and cooling has, of course, occurred many, many times during the earth's history. Nevertheless we are, uniquely, the first creatures able to measure it, anticipate it and perhaps affect it positively or negatively.

There's nothing hypocritical about enjoying driving and flying and yet still want to find solutions to the problems caused by warming, whether it's man-made or not. We don't have to be extremist tree-hugging, manure chuckers to be aware of what's happening. We just have to see things for what they are and take responsibility for our actions. We don't have to ban cars, ban aeroplanes, ban wood fires, ban having any fun at all. But if we want to enjoy Jeremy Clarkson's tribe ploughing a furrow to the North Pole we also have to maturely and reasonably contribute to a debate about whether the North Pole ice cap will still be there in 25 years. Simple awareness of the possible problems and their cause and effect is required.

That's a start, and it doesn't take any great change in lifestyle.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Sinar Mas

Watched a programme on the palm oil industry last night. Can't really believe how short-sighted some corporations are. A smiling executive from Sinar Mas calmly explained how the rainforests in Indonesia are 'unproductive' and they were cleverly and systematically cultivating them with palm oil plantations instead. It wasn't the job of Sinar Mas, he stated, to worry about CO2 emissions causing global warming, they were providing a valuable resource for the people of Indonesia. Millions of hectares of prime rainforest are being slashed and burnt every year.

Cut to the indigenous people in these areas who are now forced to trek miles to beg permission from nearby farmers to dig for roots. These same local people are supposed to own the forests, but are powerless to stop the loggers coming in and raping their land. Unsurprisingly the police are paid better by Sinar Mas than they are by the state and little serious action is taken to protect their rights. Apparently all Sinar Mas have to do to receive permission for new plantations is prove that an area of rainforest is not productive (which in this case means not cultivated). The production of oxygen, fixing of CO2, provision of natural habitats for wildlife and protection of biodiversity are seemingly not covered under this description.

And palm oil? Alarmingly common in many of the products we put in our shopping baskets every week, it's often listed as vegetable oil. It's cheap and versatile and yet costs the earth!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Flipping fun in Farne

There was an episode once of Vicar of Dibley where Dawn French tried to perform a ballet routine with Darcy Bussell only to realise how hopeless her best efforts were. It comes to mind whilst reflecting on a great weekend of diving in the Farne Islands brought to us again by London School of Diving in Chiswick. Diving with the Grey Seals of Farne brought home to me my aquatic limitations whilst being captivated by the poise, elegance and power of these majestic mammals who are engagingly interactive underwater.

Trying to swim with them or copy their effortless style just invites derision and leads to dizzying exhaustion. Instead, a better method is to simply sit yourself down on a comfy rock at about 10-15 metres and wave your fins about a little. In quick time you'll immediately become a play-thing for the amusement of these curious locals who'll dart back and forth like excited puppies, sniffing, nibbling and generally checking you out. Eventually, some of the more confident individuals may permit you to show them your best moves . . . the sound you'll hear is of seals laughing.

The Farne Islands are on the Northumberland coast, just south of the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne. Up here these silky little divers are the star attraction (unless you're into Puffins!). Four thousand of them populate this rugged cluster of 15 islands (28 at low tide) and large numbers can be found sunning themselves on the rocks whilst awaiting the next delivery of nutty neoprene playmates.

We stayed at the spacious Bamburgh Castle Inn which takes pride of place in the little port of Seahouses, a town and harbour built for the sole purpose of capturing thousands of tonnes of Herring in a once bountiful era, but now re-purposed to successfully cater for the divers and tourists looking to explore the wildlife of the sea-swept rocky pinnacles just offshore. The nature of these rocks, tides and currents have accounted for hundreds of wrecks over the years.

For the diver these craggy isles offer stunning sheer cliff-faces descending vertically below the waterline for 20 or 30 metres to the boulder beds. Bright white and yellow corals, mostly Dead Man's Fingers, are flourishing here and illuminate the ravines and mazes. Lobster, octopus and crab take cover in the high kelp jungles, although sadly the kelps appear to be suffering from a surprisingly numerous sea urchin population. We managed four dives over the weekend and our furry companions accompanied us on each one. The visibility was superb throughout.

The most striking feature of the Grey Seal has to be their mesmerizing deep black eyes which give them a slightly sad looking demeanor and constant look of nervous curiosity. Finning around the boulders we'd often happen upon a less playful seal having a quiet ten minutes in a makeshift nest of beaten down kelp fronds. An almost imperceptible shimmy and flick of the tail would see it speed away into the distance, leaving us eating plankton.

Between dives we ate fish & chips, monopolized the penny push machines at the amusement arcades, played on the kiddie rides and finished off with ice cream and candy floss. Sadly, no deck chairs to complete the picture but the magnificent beaches in this part of the world match anything you'd see on the French riviera. Golden smooth sands in sheltered bays from where we launched and landed our screamingly fast RIB, the Farne Discovery skippered by Capt. Paul and his able first-mate Ben. The short trip out to the islands each day was an enjoyably white-knuckle, windswept, roller-coaster ride which quickly taught us the value of full encapsulation in dry suit and mask before leaving the beach.

Flippin' great weekend.