Recommended Weekend Viewing

The web is choc-a-bloc with videos vying for your attention on a cold evening indoors.  There are some great nuggets of green information and environmental news online.

Here’s a selection of CAT’s top videos and our favourites from the rest.

ZCB’s artist in residence, Joanna Wright, shared this inspiring video on zerocarbonarchive. The film by Lucas Oleniuk and Randy Risling documents a windmill builder in Africa:

 

Germany is leading the way with renewable energy and the Energiewende. This great little video from The Heinrich Böll Foundation explains what’s going on over there:

 

This video created by Lightgeist Media and the London College of Communication highlights the positive message of CAT:

 

Bob Shaw teaches on our woodland and greenwood crafts short courses. Here he demonstrates how best to fell a tree sustainably:

 

CAT has some fantastic organic gardens at the visitor centre. Our experienced gardener, Roger, talks briefly about his techniques:

 

Community energy schemes are a great way to cut costs and emissions! This short film by Cornelia Reetz shows how the Scottish town of Fintry is using renewable energy to benefit the community:

 

This short film from Josh Fox, Oscar-nominated director of GASLAND, looks at the techniques used in fracking for shale gas. (Warning: this contains strong language)

 

You can find all our videos on CAT’s youtube channel.

And let’s not forget why being sustainable is so important in the first place. Last year, Sir David Attenborough spoke to the Guardian about climate change from his perspective. Watch it here.

ZCBlog: the Energiewende

As we write up the research for our third ZCB report on how Britain can decarbonise, it’s interesting to look around at what’s being suggested in other decarbonisation strategies. Germany, for instance, stands out for its ambitious Energiewende (‘energy transition’) that combines a phasing out of nuclear and coal power with a huge increase in renewables to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. (If you get CAT’s Clean Slate, you’ll have seen the article on Energiewende in our Spring 2013 edition.)

So far this plan has had dramatic results. For instance, in ten years Germany’s renewable electricity jumped from 6% to 25% of its total share, and about 50% of capacity is community owned.

So what lessons does this offer for the UK? Two weeks ago PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, held a seminar to discuss just that.

“This is the most amazing, in both senses of the word, challenge that they’re engaged in,” said the seminar’s Chair, Tom Heap, a main presenter on Radio 4’s environmental documentary series Costing the Earth. “Whether you think it’s fantastic or somewhat flawed, it’s of great benefit for us in the UK because it’s like a live, pilot experiment. We can see how they’re getting on, and hopefully learn from the strengths and weaknesses of what they’re doing.”

ZCB’s Energy Modeller Tobi Kellner agrees: “The issues brought up in this debate are absolutely spot-on, and very similar to many of the debates we have in the ZCB energy research team. Germany is currently a few years ahead of the UK on the trajectory towards a future powered by 100% renewable energy, and in many ways their Energiewende is similar to the kind of political push that we’d like to see in this country.

From a socio-political perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect the speakers touch on is how it happened that in Germany support for this transition spans right across the political spectrum, including German industry and conservative parties. From a technical perspective, it’s great that the speakers don’t leave out the significant challenges involved with a transition from fossil fuels to renewables. This includes the question of how variability can be balanced, and on the changing role of coal, gas and nuclear power stations in the energy system.”

PRASEG has shared recordings of this seminar on their website, and we’ve embedded them below for ease of access. Enjoy!

  • An introduction by Tom Heap (3min)

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  • Rainer Baake, Germany’s State Secretary at the Federal Environment Ministry from 1998 to 2005 and current Director of the think tank Agora Energiewende (20min)

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  • R Andreas Kraemer, Director and CEO of Ecologic Institute in Berlin, Spokesperson of Germany’s ecological research network Ecornet and Coordinator of the British-German Environment Forum (16min)

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  • Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Labour MP for Southampton Test, member of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and PRASEG Chair (17min)

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  • A Q&A session (1hr)

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A week at Ecobuild shows a strong CAT community

In the face of huge numbers of exhibitors and talks competing for attention at this year’s Ecobuild, the event was a welcome reminder that CAT still offers something unique in the world of sustainable design.

Ecobuild 2013 was a massive event. With over 1,500 exhibitors, nearly 60,000 attendees, and dozens of conferences and seminars, it’s fantastic that so many visitors managed to find their way to the CAT stall. The Internet has been alive with comments about the Ecobuild experience, tweeting about everything from the need for more power sockets to a call for more humanitarian and student organisations.

This latter concern made the Centre for Alternative Technology stand out in a sea of product-oriented, for-profit stalls. Our GSE banners caught many people’s eye, and with building schematics thin on the ground elsewhere quite a few architects stopped to peruse the students’ sketches on the walls.The models were also popular, especially the bird hide!

Students, lecturers and staff generously gave their time to stand at the stall and field all sorts of questions, from the basic – “What is CAT, anyway?” – to the complex – how to become totally self-sufficient in energy, for instance, or how to find out the ratio of materials in WISE’s rammed earth walls.

“I had an interesting conversation with a woman who was really disillusioned with the trendy state of architecture education in general,” recalls Jake, a current Professional Diploma student who worked at CAT’s Ecobuild stall, “most people at other schools won’t approach anything to do with science and maths. Here at CAT you can really talk about physics in a way you can’t at other places.”

Many visitors expressed interest in coming to CAT to study – and Student Support Officer Will, who worked at Ecobuild all three days, talked to a student who just graduated from CAT’s Professional Diploma course this January, and who had actually first heard of our programme at Ecobuild.

Students from all our graduate courses – REBE, Prof Dip, AEES and AEES Distant Learning – volunteered and came to say hello, and enjoyed getting the chance to meet and talk to students on other CAT courses. Those who came to explore Ecobuild tried to attend as many seminars as they could, with generally positive responses. Even the staff got to check out some events – like the final conference on art – and displays – see the photo at the bottom!

Friends of CAT also stopped by to ask about how things have changed at the Centre since their last visit, and to tell their stories of their experience here. With Ecobuild’s focus firmly on the physical – and in some cases, the concrete – the general appreciation of CAT’s message shows its continued ability to inform, enable and inspire.

 

London can feel worlds away from Machynlleth (driving the Ecobuild van there and back was proof of that!) and it’s not always easy to visit. Luckily CAT is sometimes able to come to you. If you’re in the Birmingham area, why not check out our stall at the National Homebuilding and Renovating Show? Tobi Kellner, renewable energy expert, will be speaking every day of the show at 12.15 on wood as an energy source.

 

This display of wool insulation caught many people's eye, and CAT students and staff show their appreciation!

 

 

ZCBlog: reflections on an Ecobuild seminar

If you attended Ecobuild last week (CAT’s review to follow), you know there were almost too many intriguing conferences and seminars to choose from. We didn’t manage to make it to ‘Is this the end of the road for zero carbon?’ but if anyone else did we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. (Our answer is a definite “Not if we can help it!”)

We did manage to get to the final conference of Ecobuild, though, and it was well worth the wait. In ‘Encouraging sustainability through art,’ psychologist Oliver James, The Idler founder Tom Hodgkinson, and artists Sophie Molins and Clare Patey discussed how art can help us overcome our addition to consumerism and work for a healthier planet. Of course, this fits right in with ZCB’s artist in residence project. In this week’s ZCBlog, we’ll talk about some of their arguments and projects we found most exciting.

Coming to terms with climate change

Host Oliver James got things off to a provocative start by calling Britain a society of “credit-fuelled consumer junkies,” but went on to describe how today’s climate challenge is for all of us to accept the facts, and then to tolerate the distress these facts cause us. He then outlined three psychological coping mechanisms, the first of which is denial: climate change isn’t happening, or if it is humans aren’t causing it. The second is maladaptive response, a category most of us fall into: to accept climate change but blunt the feelings of fear, grief, anger, panic and so on with a range of arguments. These include:

  • We’ll fix it through technology, like geoengineering
  • Live in the present, and ignore the scary future
  • Diversionary tactics, i.e. small behavioural changes (“if I recycle then I’m doing my bit”)
  • Blame shifting (“the US and China are the real culprits”)
  • Indifference
  • Unrealistic optimism

The third response, and the only one that leads to effective action, is adaptive coping: to accept climate change, go through the process of mourning, and transition to practical problem solving. The best way to encourage others to cope adaptively, James concludes, is to walk them through their fears gently, and ease them into considering new values.

Stop climate change by doing nothing

One of these new values might be idleness. Tom Hodgkinson spoke about how doing nothing – and thus travelling less, buying less, using less technology, etc. – can mean fewer carbon emissions. At the same time, he argued, we get our good ideas and do our creative thinking when we are at rest.  Setting aside time for this could be crucial to planning for sustainability.

He also offered the idea of permaculture as a model of the ideal lifestyle. Permaculture is an intelligent system that requires less input from the humans running it: minimum effort for maximum output. As we try to reduce energy use, we might turn to ecological solutions like permaculture to guide our thinking.

Is art the answer?

As we craft solutions to carbon emission reduction, should we turn to art to convert people to a particular way ofthinking? Sophie Molins is Art Co-ordinator at Artists Project Earth (APE), a non-profit that uses popular music to raise funds for climate change and social justice causes. Musicians in other countries make remixes of popular songs by artists as diverse as Eminem and Mumford & Sons, and profits from these tracks have funded over 330 projects to date.

While APE tries to raise awareness of our moral and spiritual obligations to stop climate change, Clare Patey’s site-specific work emphasises social engagement and bringing people together – and she is adamant that art should not be didactic. She helped design the Carbon Ration Book,

and organises Feast on the Bridge in London every year to get people involved in the process of food production, consumption and disposal. Another piece she created laid out all the food an average British person would eat in their lifetime, from the thousands of milk bottles drunk to the sheep eaten. Rather than presenting a finish product for people to view, Patey shows the huge transformative power of including people in the creative process.

Overall this conference touched on a whole host of issues about how we limit our emissions and respond to a changing climate. Should we create art, or seek therapy – or just sit at home and play cards? Perhaps we can do all three. Above all, this last conference at Ecobuild was an inspiring glimpse into the way creativity can turn even the of biggest challenges into an opportunity.

 

For your Zero Carbon news, check out the Spring 2013 ZCB Newsletter!

Podcast: social perceptions of wind power

On this week’s podcast we learn about the social side of wind power, and particularly the strength of local opposition and NIMBYism (‘not in my backyard’), from a graduate of CAT’s MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course. Ruth Chapman now works in wind power development for renewable energy company Dulas, but for her MSc thesis she investigated social responses in Wales to wind turbines based on attachment to place, a sense of fairness, and other values. She also uses excerpts from interviews to illustrate how her research reveals the complex challenges and tensions that will determine whether we meet governmental renewable energy targets, and whether we go on to achieve a zero carbon future.

 

Previous podcasts

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Podcast: what policies do we need to encourage eco-renovation?

Energy use has been in the news recently, from Ofgem’s warning that Britain will come “dangerously” close to power shortages within two years, to the public outrage in response to Centrica reported that British Gas profits increased 11% after a hike in prices a few months ago.

Following on from our most recent sustainable architecture post, this week’s podcast describes current refurbishment policies in the UK, in particular the Green Deal. Tina Fawcett, Senior Researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, explains why we need policy if we’re going to refurbish Britain’s buildings – and what new policies might be effective and feasible.

 

Previous podcasts

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Podcast: climate change migration myths

Should the world brace itself for waves of “climate change refugees,” and what does that have to do with islands, cities or natural disasters? This week’s talk to students on our MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course is from Alex Randall, past CAT employee, current communications activist at COIN, and co-creator of the carbon-trading spoof CheatNeutral. Says Alex,

“If anything, climate change is not going to result in huge numbers of people moving to new locations, it’s going to result in the amplification of existing migratory corridors. And… it’s not likely to be across borders.”

 

 

Previous podcasts

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ZCBlog: Can climate change be funny?

At Zero Carbon Britain the researchers are wrapping up their research, crunching all their data to see how the ZCB scenario will change, and gearing up to write it all down (to seriously mix our metaphors). Which brings us to a big question: how do we talk about climate change? It’s a hugely complicated problem that can be hard to understand – and if you do understand it, it can be even scarier than it is complex. From the right angle, of course, this scariness can be funny.

Some people are really knowledgeable about climate change and work really hard to stop it or reduce their daily carbon footprint. Others ignore it, don’t believe in it, or wish they could do something about it – if only they had the time, or it wasn’t so difficult. And there are those who have become disillusioned because not enough is being done by government, or other people. How can one person’s actions make a difference when the problem is planet-sized? As Comedian Sean Lock said of climate change and recycling, “I feel like I’ve turned up at an earthquake with a dustpan and brush!”

So how do we convince people to take climate change seriously, and to think creatively about solutions, without being completely depressing?

This advert from the Norwegian organisation Miljøagentene, helping kids become ‘Eco Agents’ to strive for a positive future, shows one way to find the humorous side to having a sense of responsibility.

In contrast, this video, the five scariest things about climate change, shows that you can talk about these enormous problems in an upbeat way – and perhaps learn something new into the bargain!

Have you come across any funny or inspiring videos or pictures about climate change? Share them with us here!

ZCBlog: Volunteering for a sustainable future!

Volunteers are extremely important to the Zero Carbon Britain project. As the research nears completion the long-term volunteers are beginning to look at how best to communicate ZCB to the people that will have to embrace a sustainable future: the public.

Two new long-term volunteers, Sarah and Megan, are working hard to support CAT and the ZCB team in both research and communications.

Sarah Everitt has been working with the ZCB team for a few weeks now. She is enthusiastic about making an important contribution to a project that has the potential to vastly benefit not only the UK environment, but the global climate too.

At the moment, now that the research is coming to a close, she is working to improve the report’s structure. Sarah is putting together a template that can improve accessibility of the new report to a wider audience. This is not such an easy task, with a scenario covering a variety of topics and  complex research data, but key to communicating ZCB to the general public.

Megan Jones joined the CAT team last week from the Isle of Anglesey, Wales, where for the last three months she has been a Residential Volunteer for the RSPB at South Stack Cliffs. She came back to Britain last autumn after finishing a BA in English at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, USA.

“Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved exploring woods and mountains (so mid-Wales is pretty perfect for me), and I’m hoping to make a career inspiring others to love nature and protect biodiversity. I’m very much looking forward to being a long-term volunteer at CAT, where I’ll be sharing CAT’s stories through social media, gaining new skills in marketing, and helping bring the new Zero Carbon Britain report to fruition.”

The Centre for Alternative Technology’s achievements over the last 40 years simply wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work, inspiration and dedication of the volunteers. With Nuria leaving at the end of February and a new volunteer starting in the coming month, ZCB’s volunteers have been invaluable to the evolution of the project.

Both Megan and Sarah are helping to co-ordinate a series of discussion papers titled ‘ZCB and…’ These will explore how the Zero Carbon Britain scenario effects wider topics beyond the team’s core research. Read more about the project here.

ZCBlog: An update on ZCB and news of decarbonisation around the globe

The Food and Diets team for ZCB hosted a discussion workshop in London on January 24th. They presented their research and opened the floor to debate, which focused on ‘Minimal-Carbon Food & Diets’.

The event took place at the Open University, Camden, and was hosted by Peter Harper and Laura Blake, both researchers for Zero Carbon Britain. The delegates included a range of respected authorities within the field of land-use and nutrition research. An important topic for discussion was livestock products. Is it possible to simply remove livestock products from the normal UK diet? Meat consumption needs to be reduced if carbon emissions from land-use are to be minimised. However,  a resulting scenario would still need a nutritionally adequate diet and meat substitutes.

Other discussion points included assessing GHG implications of diets, food related behaviors and land-use in Britain. Dietary health is a very important factor in the new ZCB report and the team are committed to presenting a responsible diet in terms of carbon emissions. ZCBlog will report on the outcomes of this fruitful debate in upcoming articles.

  • Below is a round-up of other news covering everything from clean energy to carbon budgets:

Audi hopes to use solar and wind power to make renewable methane. The car manufacturer intends to use the synthetic fuel to power new natural-gas vehicles. MIT Technology Review writes about the process here.

In the new ZCB report we will propose the technology be used to produce methane gas from renewable electricity for storing energy for times when the demand exceeds supply.

The ZCB team have been testing the scenario against a range of weather conditions, including difficult weather years such as 2010 which had cold temperatures and lower than usual wind-speeds. The initial results are from hourly modelling using ten years’ worth of weather data, which is between 2002-2011. This modelling suggests that the scenario is robust but highlights the importance of adequate storage for biogas such that surpluses can be stored over months or even years and used when required.

The work is also raising interesting questions about the extent to which occasional peaks in net demand should be met by additional back-up capacity i.e. extra power stations that are rarely used. A market approach may see such spikes avoided as the price would become too high and demand would be reduced or shifted. However, it would not be desirable for price to exacerbate fuel poverty. ZCB would achieve most off its required demand shifting with automated control of uses such as electric car charging and hot water generation.

David Cameron launched DECC’s new ‘Energy Efficiency Mission’, which is designed to promote the government’s energy efficiency policies. The Prime Minister used his speech to stress that Britain must prioritise green energy; not only to minimise the impact of climate change but to benefit the economy as well. He insisted that:

Together we can make Britain a global showcase for green innovation and energy efficiency.” Read more…

Zero Carbon Britain project agrees with this statement but a clear and politically binding framework is needed if we are to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions to the necessary levels.

Positive news from Spain! Wind farms there have broken energy records, generating more electricity than any other source in January. Read more…

New technology is being tested for British offshore wind. Forewind hopes to use ‘suction bucket’ technology to install 2,000 turbines at Dogger Bank. Watch a video explaining the technology here or read more…

More wind in Japan! Mitsubishi Corporation is taking an interest in offshore wind projects. Read about their development plans here and there’s more info about plans for windfarms at Fukushima here.

There’s more good news from America about US carbon emissions, which according to a new report are at their lowest levels since 1994. You can read the BCSE report here and here is an article summarising the findings.

Could we use geothermal to heat Britain’s homes? GT Energy thinks so because they are looking to build a plant in the northwest. Read more…

A nuclear power company has shelved plans to build new reactors in Britain. Centrica’s exit means no major UK company remains involved in plans for new nuclear reactors in the UK, but Centrica retains its 20% stake in eight existing nuclear power stations. The Guardian writes more here.

Carbon prices in Europe have fallen again. The EU’s emissions trading scheme has seen prices drop to an all time low. The Carbon Brief writes about the policy here…