How can we overcome political and environmental barriers for change?

 

The Centre for Alternative Technology hosted it’s first environmental question time earlier this month. The subject for discussion was politics. A whole host of questions were put forward by CAT’s postgraduate students and also by the general public online via twitter.

The event was part of the politics module for the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course and gave postgraduate students the opportunity to discuss the subjects they have been studying. On the panel were Paul Allen, project co-ordinator for Zero Carbon Britain; Kim Bryan, CAT’s media officer and a freelance writer on environmental issues; and Andrew Cooper who is chair of the association for green councilors and energy spokesperson for the green party in England and Wales.

The debate was chaired by Adrian Ramsay, former Deputy Leader of the Green Party and visiting lecturer for CAT. Here is just a taste of the impassioned debate that ensued:

Adrian Ramsay: The Green Deal is considered underwhelming and unlikely to achieve the required level of carbon reductions. What would the panel recommend as a viable alternative national scheme?

Paul Allen: I’d recommend the Green New Deal. The economic stimulus would be beneficial. Fuel prices are coming, the days of cheap abundant oil are long gone. An economic stimulus could create a huge amount of jobs and get people back to work… help get the economy back on track. So have a look, not at the Green Deal but the Green New Deal.

Kim Bryan: It’s better than nothing. At least we are trying to encourage change and… make houses more energy efficient. It is a step in the right direction.

AC: It’s not a step forward, it’s a step backwards. Now we have a policy which is going to produce less jobs and less work. Ultimately we need a compelling offer. That’s not going to happen with the Green Deal.

AC: I do wonder in reality if these things are the other way round; green politics disappear from the agenda during elections. It seems like the government has a bit of a one trick pony regarding economic stimulus. The Green New Deal is a way to move it on. Passivehaus retro-fit is what is required but there’s not enough of that work going on.

AR (putting forward a question that was asked via twitter): Could renationalising the utilities help decarbonise the energy supply?

KB: I certainly think privatising the energy supply has not done us any favours. But we need to be promoting community energy schemes, people taking more control of their energy and their usage. Behaviour change and education is a huge part of any retrofit that we do because if we don’t do that then it doesn’t lead to carbon emission reduction.

AR (via twitter): Many green topics only enter politics as election issues. How can we get politicians to commit to environment in the long-term?

PA: Well, that’s the million, million dollar question isn’t it? The experience we’ve had with the creation of the Zero Carbon Britain energy scenario… we got to launch it at the all party parliamentary climate change group. But if we want the the minister to act on it there has to be a shift in public attitude.

AC: I think green issues and green politics are mainstream at the moment but it has to got to be framed in economic terms… to be seen as a solution for getting us out of the situation that we are in. The green politics are going to get us out of the problem.

AR: What do you think has been the [green] movement’s main achievement… and where will it be in another forty years?

PA: We’ve created a whole new vocabulary. There was no such thing as renewable energy [forty years ago]. It’s moved into the mainstream.

AC: This is mainstream technology, this is the way people are going to have to live in the future; future technology. This is now technology!

The event was a great success and the hope is that future debates can expand to include other topics for discussion.

The entire debate will soon become available as a podcast on the blog.

 

 

 

AEES student Howard Miller on the recent politics module

Part of the Msc in Architecture, Advanced Environmental and Energy studies at CAT is the politics module. It is a week crammed full of lectures, debates and workshops designed to give a broad perspective of ‘environmentalism’ and enable students to delve a little deeper into the politics. In this blog post Howard Miller, a student who took part in the module reflects on his learning experience.

As a long time subscriber to ‘The Economist’, the module awakened me to my ‘Green Capitalist’ theoretical standpoint. This is the idea that free market capitalism can be tweaked by adding green ‘compensatory’ measures such as carbon trading or offsetting via tree planting.

However, the book ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ by Tim Jackson was compelling. This challenges that GDP growth has ceased to be relevant to society in developed countries as once a certain level of wealth is achieved, it delivers diminishing returns of wellbeing. In fact, the continued fixation on growth (such as attempts to restore the status quo that existed before the 2008 financial crash) are counter-productive in that they fail to address problems we face such as caring for a large elderly population, providing affordable housing, or dealing with climate change. In pursuit of GDP, payment for care-homes, cleaning up pollution and rising house prices are positive as they add to the balance sheet, while caring for a relative in your own home or avoiding car use are negative.

In contrast, focusing on wellbeing as a policy aim would address these problems. For example financial support for carers looking after relatives could allow under-used housing to be made available while simultaneously reducing isolation amongst the elderly and sharing of the cost of heating.

‘Common Cause’ presented research during the module into how ‘Values’ motivate us to act in certain ways. They aimed to interrogate how marketing by environmental groups could be made more effective. For example, promoting insulation improvements by appealing to one’s values of ‘Wealth’, (e.g. by highlighting financial benefits) raises the stock of associated values such as achievement and authority at the expense of values more normally associated with environmental causes, such as benevolence and equality. The implication being that the short-term gain of campaigns could be at the expense of the wider cause.

To shift focus from valuing GDP to valuing wellbeing, a move away from values that promote self-enhancement towards values that surround societal benefit such as community, inclusivity, and responsibility are needed.

This realisation confronted how I thought about my work as an Architect. Looking through this lense, everything, especially buildings, could be considered an ‘advert’, asserting their values on society.

So-called ‘Green Architecture’ generally falls into one of two stylistic camps; ‘Hi-Tech’, which focuses on technology to reduce the environmental impact of a building, and ‘Hobbit-house’, which attempts to be low impact by embracing creativity and individualism. Neither of these styles reinforces values that underpin environmentalism. Hi-Tech is more closely associated with intelligence and power, while the hobbit-house look is associated with self-direction.

I left the module resolving to re-align my architectural design work to promote universal values such as broadmindedness, harmony with the natural environment, beauty, equality and social justice. Lets see what happens.

 

Podcast: where is society going?

In this talk to students on our MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course, External Relations Officer and Zero Carbon Britain 2030 Director Paul Allen puts our current environmental challenges into an historical context. Paul tells the story of human beings and energy – beginning with the sun, and tracing our industrial history through the discovery of coal, to our learned dependence on oil, and ultimately, to where we are today.

You can stream the podcast here, or

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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Previous podcasts

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Join us online tonight for our first ‘tweeted’ Environmental Question Time

Join the debtate on twitter #enviroquestiontime
It is the politics module of our Msc in Advanced Architecture and Environmental Studies. Always interesting, often
controversial and most definitely thought provoking the module brings together some of the leading thinkers in their field for a week of rousing debates, lectures and workshops. We will be featuring more about the module in the coming week, with blogs, podcasts, videos and interviews with some of the lecturers.As part of the module CAT will be running it’s first ever ‘tweeted’ environmental question time. Featuring Paul Allen, CAT external relations director, Andrew Cooper, Green councillor and Kim Bryan, Media officer at CAT. Throughout the question time that will take place on Thursday 17th of January at 7pm we will be tweeting from the auditorium.From the international politics of climate change, behaviour change, green economies and environmental histories we would like to hear what you have to say. Follow the debate on twitter, #enviroquestiontime  its not to early to start sending questions in and get the debate going.

Moderating

Adrian Ramsay is a lecturer in Environment, Politics and Economics at CAT?s Graduate School of the Environment . Adrian also has substantial experience of campaigning for sustainability through the political system and working with communities to achieve change at a local level. He was a Green Party Councillor in Norwich for eight years and from 2008 to 2012 was Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.

Panel

Paul Allen joined CAT in 1988 and responsible for design, development of a renewable energy systems. In 1995 Paul took up the newly created position as CAT?s Media and Communications Officer. Paul is currently CAT’s External Relations Officer, since 2006 he has led the ground-breaking Zero Carbon Britain research programme.

Andrew Cooper is a Green Party Councillor and has been and has worked in the housing and energy sector since 1993 when he became Kirklees Council?s first Energy Efficiency Co-ordinator. He introduced the UK?s first universally free insulation for pensioners, worked on Regional Energy Policy and much more. In 2009 he was recognised in the Independent on Sunday list of 100 environmentalists ( number 59) and was the only councillor in the list.

Kim Bryan is an environmental and social change activist with a focus on areas of communication and education. She is currently working as CAT’s  Media and communcations officer and as a freelance writer on environmental and social justice issues. She also works with the TRAPESE popular education collective who deliver workshops and trainings to other adult educators on a range of issues. She also runs facilitation and consensus training for groups and organisations.

Congratulations to Britain’s leading women in sustainable architecture

Trish Andrews HRH Prince Charles to some of CAT's student modern architecture

We are delighted to see that Blanche Cameron from RESET development and  former tutor at CAT, Trish Andrews tutor on the professional diploma course, Fran Bradshaw a visiting tutor, Anna Surgenor graduate of CAT’s Msc Advanced Environmental and Energy studies , Sue Roaf and Sarah Wigglesworth, course participant in straw bale building have been listed in the Architects  Journal, Women in Sustainable Architecture article.

The list recognises some of the UK’s leading women architects who are working to make sustainability an integral part of building design.  Fran Bradshaw, said: ‘We like people – that’s why and how we design. Together we can make buildings which are both a pleasure and practical to live in, and which use the earth’s resources carefully and imaginatively.’

With many of these women also teaching at universities and influencing our future architects, we could see a lot more good work to come.

Trish Andrews HRH Prince Charles to some of CAT's student modern architecture

ZCBlog: Artist in residence

Hello! My name is Joanna Wright and I’m the artist in residence with Zero Carbon Britain for the next year.

I’ve been inspired by CAT since my first visit, over 10 years ago, and I’d firstly like to say thanks to CAT and the ZCB team for having me, to the Arts Council of Wales, who have made this residency possible and to Oriel Davies in Newtown, for their support.

We accept the way we live today as normal, but how did we get here, and where are we going?

The team at ZCB are an amazing and dedicated group. They are in the process of building a picture of what a future Britain can look like. How we’ll live, where our power will come from, what we’ll eat, how we’ll travel, and what we can do as society to affect positive change.

Research coordinator Alice has drawn it out in this diagram, it looks easy doesn’t it?

I hope that, in a small way, the work I do during the residency can make the work of the Zero Carbon Britain team more visible to a wider audience.

As an artist and documentary filmmaker much of my recent work uses existing archive material and oral history recordings. For part of my research for this residency I have started to look at how people in the past imagined the future

Through archive we have an opportunity to gain insight and reflection into where we stand in relation to the time that the original material was produced, and perhaps, where we might go from here.

You can see some postcards by artists from 19th century France imagining what the year 2000 would look like here. There’s an early forerunner of Skype in one of the pictures.

And there’s a link here to a film clip about petroleum products from the 1950’s here. (Warning, contains slight nudity!)

If you are coming to CAT then please feel free to come and visit me, I’d love to talk to you. Work in progress and research during the residency will be updated online at the Zero Carbon Archive.

You can contact me via email at joanna.wright@cat.org.uk , or follow on twitter @joanna_martine

Student blogger Lewin on wind power and winter

 

Bitter winter temperatures really put CAT’s well-insulated buildings to the test this week, a situation which wasn’t helped by me losing my hat, gloves and scarf on the train from Bristol! Fortunately I survived the week with all my extremities intact and un-frostbitten, and as a bonus the landscape around CAT is absolutely stunning in winter. It’s certainly a far cry from any other university I’ve seen!

ZCBlog: Zero Carbon Britain 2013

 

2013 is here! Paul Allen takes a moment to assess what lies ahead and his hopes for the new year…

I have recently received an analysis from a group of my colleagues working for the International Network for Sustainable Energy who presented at the COP18 Climate summit in Doha, Qatar. The outcomes do seem to open new doors for climate action, but it is not the breakthrough that we need to keep global warming to sustainable levels (i.e. global warming not above 1.5 – 2 degrees C).

I was most relieved to hear of commitment to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, from 2013 to 2020, and although there are clear loopholes that allow carry over of unused emissions credits from the first period, there will also strict limits to their use. There was also a call for Kyoto Protocol countries to review their emissions reduction targets by 2014 at the latest. While there are no guarantees, this decision gives a moral obligation for these countries to increase their emission reduction targets before 2020 and provides opportunities for them to do so in the climate negotiations.

A second phase of the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to cover the period 2013-2020 with reduction targets for European countries and Australia. Unfortunately the reduction targets are not ambitious, e.g. EU only committed to reduce 20% from 1990 by 2020, a target the countries almost have reached today. Another problem is that the countries with reduction targets only emit 1/7 of the global man-made greenhouse gases (if Russia joins it will be more, but still only a small part of global emissions will be included).

So as we say goodbye to 2012, we know the limited reductions committed at Doha will not lead to the reductions required for the rate of decarbonisation demanded by the science. It is therefore vital we rest and get ready to take up the cause afresh in the New Year. There is still hope for improvement as the Doha talks agreed a review of commitments by Kyoto Protocol countries, where they will propose new, hopefully more ambitious emission targets in 2014. The new targets should include much more rapid decarbonisation targets from the long industrialised countries to keep global warming below 2 degrees C.

Much more action is needed, from the countries in the Kyoto protocol, but also from major emitters outside the Kyoto Protocol, including USA, Canada, and China. We hope that during 2013, as we draw together the most recent work from a range of academics, universities, think tanks, NGOs and business and industry into the new report and launch a round of communications we hope the ZCB project will help catalyse a change in how the we think about rapid de-carbonisation, bust myths, highlight hidden benefits, break through misunderstanding, and stimulate urgently-needed economic and political debate around how we think about the future. Leaving it to the ‘powers that be’ is clearly not going to be enough!

Paul Allen

Project Co-ordinator

ZCBlog: Zero Carbon Britain 2012

As Christmas fast approaches, Paul Allen looks at the past, present and future of Zero Carbon Britain…

This time last year we were all still reeling from the paradox of the UN climate conference in Durban. After the disaster of Copenhagen, and little better in Cancun, expectation on any form of deal, and the future of the entire UN process, was not high. While governments avoided disaster in Durban, they by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change. The decisions adopted fall well short of what is needed.

This time last year a key major stumbling block was delays in agreement over the extension of the Kyoto Protocol post 2012. The final compromise allowed countries to hold their positions by agreeing to further negotiations at the next exciting instalment in Doha, Qatar. This slow progress highlights the difficulties with international climate negotiations, made very apparent from the Copenhagen conference onwards. Delegates (and even presidents) with the best intentions can only act in accordance with how people think about rapid de-carbonisation (at least in democratic states), otherwise any bold promises made at the UN negotiations won’t make it through domestic political systems.

This time last year we knew it was important to build on the previous Zero Carbon Britain reports. We wanted to develop a much more detailed positive vision to get people excited about what it could actually be like if the negotiators did what they were actually meant to do – developing a signed an agreement capable of keeping us below 2 degrees. But back in December 2011 the new research was all just a vision, we know that so much had happened in the three years since the research closed on the last edition of the ZCB2030 report that a lot needed updating, detail needed delving into, areas needed correcting and the energy model required development.

So a member’s appeal begun for a new report and we waited for your support to arrive…

The final response was amazing and very moving personally for me. So many people had valued the impact of the last report that they were committing to help us do it again. Not only individuals – trusts, universities and other charities were coming on board and offering support.

By the end of March we know we had enough to press on so the new ‘Research Co-ordinator’ position was drafted and advertised. Excitedly we short listed five likely candidates and after a gruelling couple of days, and despite some very strong candidates, we were all unanimous on selecting Alice Hooker-Stroud, for here academic rigour, co-ordination skills and meticulous attention to detail. Within a week Alice was helping us interview the rest of the team in time for research to begin in July.

At this point it also became clear that several other organisations recognised what we were trying to do and offered very practical strategic collaborations. Arts Council Wales are thinking ahead of the curve and have offered to support three residencies at CAT, the first of which was to be based in the ZCB team. Our aim was not to do the research, then hand it to an artist to interpret, but rather to embed the artist in the research team to join us in our inquiry into what a truly sustainable future would be like to live in. We were pleased to recruit Joanna Wright to the team in this new and exciting role.

One of my clear highlights of the year was September when CAT hosted an ‘Emergence Summit’ to integrate CAT’s work on Zero Carbon Britain with the arts and creative practices in a crucible of ideas and visions for exploring a sustainable vision of the future. Another exciting collaborator – Swansea’s Volcano Theatre Company, conceived the Emergence concept with the aim of linking the arts with sustainability, not just in terms of reducing the impact of each performance, but also in the concepts into which they engage. We have the technologies we need: the main challenges now are much more cultural! The five day ‘Land journey’ and three day ‘Summit’ formed an inspiring, creative, emergent space to break through the silo’s and bring together key thinkers and change makers from the sustainability and the arts sectors to explore how we can work together to ‘create the future’.

Nick Capaldi Chief Executive of Arts Council Wales summed it up well:

As I, personally, grapple with the difficult issues, I’ll be depending on the arts for those projects and initiatives that will help develop within me the imagination and intuition to begin focussing on dimensions of learning and experience that (for the moment at least) remain beyond my grasp. So I look to the artists amongst us to use their best imagination, their most inquisitive curiosity, their most forensic inquiry, to search more intensely, and to reveal more eloquently the insights that will lead me to a deeper and more rooted understanding. What I understand I can engage with. And what I can engage with I can change.”

As the year draws to a close the first gleanings from the new research clearly indicate that next year is going to be a very exciting and a very busy time both for us here at CAT, and across the wider green movement.

Paul Allen

Project Co-ordinator

 

ZCBlog: Making a meal of your christmas dinner

Christmas is just around the corner and no doubt you have already stocked up on enough food to feed an army over the festive season. Because at this time of year stuffing yourself rotten is just as important as presents and decorations! But do enough of us stop to consider the impacts of food on our environment?

The Christmas dinner is an annual tradition that can bring the whole family together for one day of the year – or in my experience, lead to some of the most memorable arguments of the last twelve months! But I am not here to discuss the pros and cons of eating together. It is the environmental impact of the food that we eat that is concerning.

Diets that are high in meat content have big consequences for your carbon footprint. The UK is made up of about 11.2 million hectares of grassland, which is primarily used for grazing livestock and of which 2.1 million are used for growing livestock feed. Many of the processes that are used to manage this agriculture are carbon intensive. There are other impacts as well. You really don’t want to fathom how much methane all that livestock produces – or how bad it must smell!

A few years back, research by Manchester University found that the carbon equivalent emissions of the UK’s total Christmas dinners was 51,000 tonnes. Much of this can be attributed to the life-cycle of the livestock. However, it would be much higher if the traditional choice of meat was not turkey!

Poultry has a lower climate impact compared to other meat choices. Lamb, farmed salmon and beef are the worst offenders because of the emissions produced from their farming.  This means you can feel less guilty about tucking into your turkey this noel.

It is not only meat that is environmentally un-friendly. Cheese production creates vast amounts of greenhouse gases. Cranberry sauce is another emissions heavy but popular food this time of year. Because much of the cranberries needed for the sauce are grown in North America, the condiment has the highest transport-related emissions of the average x-mas feast.

The great news is that with just a few small changes to the way you eat, there can be a large improvement to your environmental impact and to your health as well. For instance, cut down on the amount of red meat you eat and you will lower your cholesterol. As a rule of thumb, eating less meat and more vegetables will reduce your carbon footprint.

If you want to minimise your climate impact this Christmas, cut out meat completely and go for a vegetarian option. This is how to get a really low carbon Christmas.

Though if you do choose a prime cut of meat make sure it’s a locally farmed product. Locally sourced food will have low transport emissions and benefit your community at the same time. It’s even better if you can grow it yourself!