Blog of the week: this week we’ve been reading (and talking about) climateethics.org

by Alex Randall

Climate Ethics takes a rather different slant to the numerous other climate change and environment blogs.

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News and commentary on the latestest climate change events is relativly easy to find in the climate blogoshphere. Climate Ethics has a different aproach. Rather than looking and analysing the science or policy behind the headlines they take a look at the ethics. While other blogs and news outlets might use a science, policy or a particular political outlook to examine climate change, climateethics.org keeps it’s commentary firmly grounded in ethics. We can’t promise you that you’ll agree with everything they write. The nature of ethics is that its open to question and debate. But if you’re looking for a new slant then we highly recommend reading it for a couple of weeks and seeing how you get along.

If you’d like to suggest something for next weeks blog of the week, post a comment.

CAT in the news: who’s talking about us this week and what they’re saying

Learning exercise: Welsh universities have a wealth of natural resources on tap for adventurous students

For schools, colleges and universities in Wales, the centre at Machynlleth in Powys, half an hour’s drive from Aberystwyth, is a resource that runs a free information service, visits for schools and residential courses.

The centre has teamed up with the University of East London which validates specialist diplomas and Masters degrees delivered by academic staff at the centre. It offers an architecture MSc and a Masters in renewable energy and the built environment. Student Owen Morgan, 26, says enrolling on the MSc course helped him land a job with Bright Light Solar, a mid-Wales renewable energy company which provides solar powered vaccine fridges, water pumps and heating systems to rural areas worldwide.

“Everyone is there because they are passionate about sustainability. We inspire each other to push the frontiers of what can be achieved,”

Q&A: Renewable energy: The UK aims to produce 15% of its energy from renewables by 2020. Alok Jha explains the technology behind the target

By 2007, there were 2GW of turbines installed. The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) says 9GW of offshore wind will be in place by 2015, overtaking installed nuclear power. This month, Centrica and RWE npower came close to approving two offshore wind farms costing an estimated £3bn.

According to the Centre for Alternative Technology, wave power could supply 10% of the UK’s energy needs but this technology is at a much earlier stage. Although there are scores of British designs for wave energy converters, none are anywhere near commercial scale.

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Eco homes: how to slash your fuel bills. Funding is available for those wanting to go green.

The Centre for Alternative Technology, a think-tank for energy-saving devices for more than 35 years, says the credit crunch has led to a surge in interest in eco-measures.

“People are beginning to think about investing their money in something that will provide them with affordable, reliable energy, whatever the economic climate,” says spokesman David Hood.

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Video Round up: the videos that have got us talking this week

by Alex Randall

Three short films have done the rounds and got us talking in the staff room this week. All three have also generated a fair amount of chatter on the Facebook page.

The first two films are very different but powerful demonstrations of the effect climate change will have on less developed countries. The third film is a lecturer by American academic Jared Diamond in which he outlines why some of the greatest societies in human history have collapsed and explores whether we are headed in the same direction.

The videos are embedded below. If you’d like to suggest something for the next video round up please post a comment.

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VIDEO: Is biochar the answer?

by Lewis Winks Biology Department

The charcoal industry has had an interesting history, once being the staple commerce of woodlands in the British Isles, it provided work for many and was a quintessential part of our landscape. Soon after the discovery of coal as a fuel source in the early 1700s charcoal became an unprofitable venture, and the woodsmen who made it became a part of history, lost to the beginnings of the industrial revolution.

So who would have thought, that 250 years after the first use of fossil fuels we would be turning back to charcoal as a means of undoing the damage of those emissions. Poetic it may seem, but to those who are studying the capacity for Biochar to sequester Co2 from the atmosphere, this is an all too real opportunity. And it doesnt stop at mopping up emissions; Biochar has the potential to improve degraded agricultural land and reduce fertiliser dependency while creating rural jobs, providing a use for organic waste and becoming an integrated part of our biomass energy systems. Continue reading “VIDEO: Is biochar the answer?”

Why green manure is important and how to use it in your garden

by Katie Croft Gardens Department

As the sun’s finally shining and our seedlings are ready for planting out, now’s the time for turning in the green manures on site. In these pictures you can see me turning in the field beans in our green manure display, where we demonstrate a few different kinds and what they’re used for.

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Green manures are a key part of organic gardening, and they serve a number of different purposes. They improve soil structure, prevent soil erosion, can inhibit weed growth and most importantly, increase the soil’s fertility. The main idea is that you grow a certain green manure crop on your land, and when it’s still young (about 6 weeks is perfect), you ‘turn’ it in, or dig it in. The plant then slowly releases its nutrients as it decays and increases the amount of organic matter in the soil. Green manure crops are hardy and can be grown over winter and spring, so you don’t need to leave the ground bare.

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Field beans, like all of the bean family, is a nitrogen-fixing plant. It has little nodules on its roots where nitrogen-fixing bacteria live in a fascinating mutual relationship- the bacteria transform nutrients from the air into a form usable for the plant, and the plant feeds the bacteria with sugars from its roots.

There loads of great green manure crops that can be grown at different times of year and well in different climates, or even as a ground cover underneath other crops to increase fertility year round so do a bit of research and plan some into your sowing calendar

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You might be interested in our organic gardening courses, our free information and books on garening or visiting the gardens here at CAT. You might also want to download a detailed guide to using green manures produced by Garden Organic or have a look at the BBC’s guide to green manures.

A new arrival: the final piece of our renewable heating puzzle

by Dave Hood Engineering Department

With a mix of excitement and trepidation, I watched the 3½ tonne hot water storage tank get craned into place next to our new woodchip power station. Its job is to act as the thermal store – a big hot water storage tank – for the whole of our district heating scheme. This was the final piece of the puzzle the CAT engineering team had been waiting for.

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Its importance is that we can now begin the final stage of connecting the new Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system up to the site district heating network and the new WISE building, and get all of the testing done in time for the winter heating season. This will draw to a close the design and installation stages of a project I have been working on for almost 3 years.

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However, it does not stop there, as the installation is only one part of our site energy strategy. In September, I will start my doctorate research into biomass CHP, and its potential for community scale systems in the UK. Hopefully this will give others the opportunity to learn from the results of our experiments in this fledgling field of energy generation.

I tried to remember the importance of this, as the tank was lowered into place and set into its permanent home, ready for its connection, but a wry smile crept across my face every time I saw the big yellow crane and I remembered that engineers never really grow up!

You can watch a slide show the entire delivary of the new hot water storage tank by clicking the button below.

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For help with flickr slideshows click here.

Measuring the footprint of the Dyfi Valley

by: Julie Bromilow Education Department

“I would thoroughly endorse the value of the learning experiences these pupils benefited from” said Jan Bond, External Subject Expert for Geography at the Welsh Assembly Government after visiting Machynlleth primary school to interview children about the Dyfi Footprint project they had just completed.

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The Dyfi Footprint is a joint venture between CAT who work with schools, and Ecodyfi, who work within the local community. An Eco Footprint measures the amount of land that we use to produce the resources that we need, to deal with our waste and sequester our carbon, and tells us that if everyone in the world lived the same lifestyle we do in Wales then we’d need nearly three planets to support us. My work in the school was set to investigate the notion that the wider community can be reached through schools. The project mainly focused on an eight week programme with an enthusiastic year six class, but also included workshops for the school governors, all the teaching staff, the PTA, and members of the Eco Committee and School Council. The Year 6 work began with a planning session with Mr Jones the class teacher – I told him what I wanted to do, and he told me what targets needed to be met in all the core subjects. Incorporating these curriculum needs into the project made sure that it was never an ‘add-on’ – instead it was integrated into the teaching.

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Feeling sheepish at the Plaid Cymru sustainability conference

by: Peter Harper

In April I spoke at the Plaid Cyrmu Conference on Sustainability. I was keen to raise a few issues that I knew would be controversial. Although Plaid now share power in the Welsh Assembly Government their members appear to have retained the ability to speak their minds and engage in intelligent debate.

On these occasions, given any sort of platform, I always raise the question of livestock because otherwise it’s ignored. Sheep and cows are net greenhouse-gas emitters and could not survive a systematic decarbonisation programme in anything like their present numbers. Reduced to say 10-20%, the huge areas of land they presently occupy would become available for other purposes in the new carbon-economy. I never have time to present the caveats and nuances, and it tends to come over a bit simplistic. Perhaps you need that in a public debate, but naturally this kind of sentiment does not go down well with stock farmers, well represented in a Plaid Cymru whose voter base is largely rural Wales (nor with Patrick Holden of the Soil Association, who was sat next to me on the panel!).  But I was not lynched; on the contrary the discourse was polite and reflective. The most telling point made against me was that if we restricted meat production in Britain, in a market system it would simply be bought from abroad. Quite true, unless the ‘drivers’ for decarbonisation are internationally agreed and enforced, as they would have to be. It reminded me that we are still a long way from a proper global decarbonisation plan, and it’s very difficult for small countries to go it alone.

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Values for money: rethinking the food system. Interview with Professor Tim Lang

By Peter Harper

Few people know more about food than Professor Tim Lang. I put some questions to him for Clean Slate magazine

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PH: One of your most influential books has been Food Wars. Why ‘Food Wars’?
TL: You have to go back to the period just after the Second World War when memories of food shortages and supply disruptions caused acute anxiety. There was wide agreement worldwide that we just had to have much more, and much cheaper, food. It was accepted that the state should take the lead and promote investments in agricultural technology. In the book we called this approach ‘productionism’ to emphasise how, across the food supply chain, there was unity about the need to increase production and remove blockages everywhere. In its own terms, productionism worked. More food was produced; shelves groaned with choice; prices dropped. UK households now spend less than 10% of their income on food, compared with 25% in 1950. A hiccup occurred in the early 1970s with an oil crisis (sound familiar?) but then productionism was saved by the Green Revolution, a combination of agrichemicals and new plant breeding which boosted output. This turned food-poor countries like India into net exporters. So faith in productionism was and is all very understandable, given how the problem was couched: a lack of food. But even as productionism appeared to be succeeding, its downsides gradually started to dawn on us all: the accumulating environmental damage; the health effects of over- and mal- consumption; the almost total dependence on oil; and the unbalanced diets and warping of food culture.

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The Education Department

by Jo Gwillim Education Department

I’m Jo – part of education team at CAT. There’s 7 of us in all looking after different aspects, running the residential eco cabins, organising schools that visit for the day, running activities for pupils, students, and teachers. Where? Mostly here but more and more we spread the “Education for Sustainable Development” message by going out to people as well as waiting for them to come to us.

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