Carbon Credits in the Garbage

Rescued from the landfill

Rescued from the landfillWhen I think about offsetting the carbon footprint for flying from the UK back to Costa Rica, the image of footprints all the way across 8000 km of Atlantic Ocean comes to mind. That’s a lot of footprints. I’m glad I’m not walking.

According to an online calculator, I am going to produce 1470 kg of CO2 which is nearly 15% of my total annual carbon footprint – if I was an average UK citizen. That’s a whole load of hot air, to be honest, just for 14 hours of travel – probably a Tican family of six would burn that much in a year of sitting in the traffic around San Jose; further north in Nicaragua, my single long haul flight is the equivalent to an average family’s entire annual carbon footprint. In the UK, meanwhile,  it’s the equivalent of how much an average citizen generates in a year just for feeding themselves. And get this: it’s more or less identical to how much an average UK citizen releases on heating in a year. See the connection? Instead of fighting the British weather all year – get a flight to the tropics! It’s the same!

Anyway, that online calculator invited me to offset my flight by paying $18. Apparently some of that money will get to projects around the world such as reforesting or getting people to use more efficient pots. Projects in places like Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I presume, thinking ahead to next week when we finally arrive back to our mobile home hidden away in the jungle. I was just coming up out of the tube station, the wind howling down the High Road and cold, dark slush underfoot. The brightest thing around was the supermarket, offering respite in so many ways – through its glass walls I could see the place was full of customers, their pit stop on the commute home. Hungry myself, I nipped round the back to the bins (where there are less queues) and pulled out my dinner for the night: Two strawberry trifles and a massive angus beef and red wine pie.

And then I had my epiphany. Why not have more of these carbon footprint offsetting projects in the places where they are producing all the stuff in the first place? Wouldn’t that make more sense? Wouldn’t it even be better to have a project which reduces the CO2 being produced in the first place rather than planting trees for the future? You can think of it this way: If all the collective UK carbon footprint was offset, how’d that work with these projects they’re offering? You can imagine the whole of Costa Rica being densely reforested – even the wonderful runway at their International Airport by the time they’d finished. Or maybe the Nicaraguan houseperson crying, “No más!” as the guys from the Climate Care nonprofit NGO org corp turn up with another few pots to add to the collection piled up in the kitchen. It just couldn’t happen of course – this carbon offsetting thing might encourage worthwhile projects and real changes in behavior but, as a collective illusion, it has no future as it stands now.

I had, in my hand, 1 kg of food that I had rescued from the supermarket’s garbage. According to the biogas people 1 kg of  ‘municipal solid waste’ will produce 100 g of methane when 50% of that waste is made up of food. So my dinner represents 200 g of methane that would have been produced if the supermarket had had its way and sent that beef pie and trifle to the landfill. Methane is over 20 times more of a problem, more of a greenhouse gas, than CO2 – this is the thing: Eating the pie and trifle produces CO2. Letting it rot in landfill produces methane. So, now, that 200 g of methane is worth 4 kg of CO2… You can imagine, then, the mess being made with all this food getting dumped – especially the thousands of tonnes that get thrown out the back of those behemoths of consumerism while the consumers inside stand frozen into non-action under the bright lights.

So with that one act of casual dumpster diving I generated minus 4 kg of CO2 which I’ll put towards the flight next week. That can count for one or two footprints from the watery trail to Costa Rica. Of course, this transaction is a completely imaginary one in my head – because there’s no system out there for me to actually trade in my self-made carbon credit. This is the epiphany. This is the problem. There should be a system of carbon credit trading for individuals and their individual actions. That, surely, is only fair – it’s like saying you can’t use money unless you become a company and register with the financial authorities. I think it’ll come, for sure, if this global warming thing really gets out of hand. Everyone will be making money by recycling, reusing and adopting low-carbon behavior. Not only will you save $5 by cycling to work, you’ll make an extra $1 to offset your weekend trip out of town. People living communally will have a distinct advantage of course. Oh shit, they banned squatting.

Well, let me take the photos of me eating the Angus Beef Pie with Trifle (on the dangerous side of the sell-by date) to the offices of one of those trading company wotsits downtown in the big, shiny buildings. Better still, I’ll take the packaging and plonk it on the counter: I wanna trade in the 200 g of methane I saved from the landfill.

Food waste versus group size

[P.S. You just used released a tenth of a gram by reading this page]


New Gadget, Old Friend

New gadget takes old picture
Tubeway Army

Just a couple of images taken with a new gadget – a smartphone running the Snapseed App. Nothing amazing here, I know – except for photos transformed in seconds and uploaded to a wordpress blog, while I was sitting on the N29 bus.

Much of our few weeks in London has been spent updating our gadgets – the novelty and gimmick of social media phone camera shots may have worn off with you lot. At our think tank, however, we’re playing catch-up.




Old friend from Greece
Old Friend from Greece

The Only Way to Make Apple Crumble

Apple Crumble cooked the correct way

Apple Crumble cooked the correct wayIt has always been a belief of mine that there is never a single, correct way to cook anything, even apple crumble. There is always some small village somewhere that has been brewing up its own version of Bolognaise sauce or goulash for centuries. And if you cooked a lasagna with a banana in it, I guarantee there’s a sleepy harbor on a tropical island somewhere that has been doing the exact same thing since a bunch of Venetians got shipwrecked there in the 1700’s. And even if you cooked a banana-lasagna and used rice flour instead of wheat, probably you’d find a few of the families in that seaside village do it that way as well. Try telling them that a lasagna shouldn’t have rice and banana in it; they’d laugh at you.

So  I ain’t gonna put here a recipe of apple crumble because I think it’s the best in the world. More, I dunno, like I just feel I should get this out there because time and time again I meet people trying to make one like they would an apple pie – you know, made up all raw and then stuck in the oven. This pretty much always results in failure. And even on the old www, nine out of ten recipes will tell you to do it this way. It’s the wrong way – my recipe is the correct way and, indeed, for the first and probably only time ever, I don’t care which village you’re from.

Apple Crumble (serves from 1 to, ooh, 1000 depending on how small the portions are)


  • Apples. You can also chuck in any old fruit you might have around, maybe except for citrus fruits. As long as you have mostly apples this is a good moment to get rid of that half-eaten, tasteless melon or uber-ripe peaches.
  • Cinnamon.
  • Flour, margarine  and sugar for the crumble. The flour is best white because that’ll cook quicker. Using margarine instead of butter means your apple crumble remains suitable for vegans. And it also just works better with margarine. You use, like, just a few teaspoons of sugar compared to a handful of the margarine and several handfuls of flower. The sugar is there, sure, to make it sweet – more importantly the crumble gets a bit of crunch. You could miss out the sugar even – the fruit should be sweet enough by the time you’ve finished with it.


  • Cut the fruit into big chunks and put in a pot with half an inch of water and the cinnamon. It’s important to have big chunks –  large apple should only be quartered, say. You can also leave the core in – only the pips, stalks and stones need be removed.
  • Boil it up then simmer for at least 20 minutes.
  • Mix up the flour, margarine and sugar in a bowl. With your hands, rub everything together, until you get a coarse but even crumble mixture.
  • Heat the oven up, if you’re going to use an oven.
  • Pour out the stewed fruit into a baking dish and spread out a top layer of the crumble.
  • Put it in the oven until the crumble is starting to brown.


  • The proportion of fruit to crumble can vary, of course.
  • The oven cooking stage will vary quite a bit. The ideal would be to put the dish under a grill in an enclosed oven. The crumble needs to cook from the top because the fruit layer has already been cooked and is actively steaming the bottom of the crumble layer as soon as you’ve added them together. If the source of heat is below the dish then put the dish as high as possible in the oven.
  • You can even cook the crumble separately in a pan if you don’t have an oven. For best results put a very thin layer of raw crumble on top of the steaming stewed fruit so that you end up with a variation in the crumble texture – from soft to crunchy.
  • If you haven’t used enough sugar in the crumble or the fruit was not sweet enough then the traditional sweetening method would be to use custard or cream. A quick vegan alternative is to blend tofu and water with sugar, lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt.

Basically, you’ll never find a recipe that tells you to stew the fruit rather than baking it. But stewing with a little cinnamon does incredible things to the flavor of apple especially. With water in there the resultant juices help steam the crumble to perfection whatever type of oven you’re using.

Ultimately then this recipe is also much better value for you, the people who eat it and the environment that has produced it. For a start it’s vegan and you can use a wide variety of fruit and even some vegetables without bringing chaos to the flavor. And because oven time is at a minimum you save on energy. And because you save money you can make a bigger crumble and feed more people…