Reflections on the ZCB Launch

It was a very hot Tuesday – temperatures were soaring across London. The Jubilee room of the House of Commons, Westminster was packed to capacity with an expectant crowd. Following a press launch in the morning, the formal parliamentary launch of Zero Carbon Britain – Rethinking the Future took place at the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group.

Opening presentations set the scene; the first from Sir John Houghton the former co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clearly outlined the consensus of scientific concern around climate. Then Joan Walley MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group offered perspectives on the need for urgent action. Paul, Alice and Tobi then presented the main findings of the report.

A packed room in Parliament

By the end of all the questions and networking, it became clear that there was an overwhelming amount of support for a zero carbon Britain.

Post-launch reporting stated that the scenario suggests “a promising future for the UK”, and Green Party Cabinet Councillor Gus Hoyt said that the report was a valuable contribution to a sustainable future: “It fills me with hope […] I look forward to using this report to inform future development of Bristol’s climate change and energy strategies.” You can read more about Bristol’s response to the report here.

By helping people picture what needs to happen, we hope to trigger positive thinking and action towards a better future. More on this to come but don’t forget, if you’re interested in getting involved, or joining forces then get in touch.

The ZCB team in Parliament



The new report, Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future is available to read online, download or buy from our website.

Photos of the launch day can been viewed on Flickr.


The launch of the third Zero Carbon Britain report – told through updates on the day

Throughout the launch day yesterday the ZCB team were busy tweeting and updating to Facebook. In case you missed it, we made a Storify of the events.

The Zero Carbon Britain team would like to say a big thank you to all the supporters and contributors who made this report happen. The work continues (some might say it is only just beginning!) as we enter into the communications phase of the project.

The ZCB team outside of Parliament


Bridging the Gap Between Today and the Zero Carbon Britain of the Future

Next week, on the 16th July, the Centre for Alternative Technology will be launching its third Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) report. Since the last ZCB report was published in 2010, the economic situation has worsened, international negotiations on climate change have stalled, and yet the evidence from the climate science is more pressing than ever.

The new report – Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future, gives us the detailed research needed to fully answer some of the key questions that arose in response to the previous 2010 report. What ZCB proposes is a major transformation of the UK’s energy and land systems; after a year’s dedicated research it has been shown that by integrating a smart approach to food production, diet, buildings, transport, energy and land-use, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced to net zero; using only currently available technology and without significant impacts on quality of life.

One of the issues ZCB addresses is the ‘physics-politics gap’. The report notes that “physical problems have physical solutions […] However, if we analyse these physical requirements and work out a physically credible plan based on our scientific knowledge of the situation, we find it does not fit comfortably into the frame of normal politics and economics. On the other hand, if we work out a plan that does fit the politics, we find it does not meet the physical requirements. In fact, a huge gulf between what is physically demanded by science and what is seen as politically possible is revealed.

Zero Carbon Britain […] sets out a physically realistic scenario – laying foundations on the ‘right’ side of the physics-politics gap.”

The Physics-Politics Gap

The report will be launched on the 16th July. It will be available to buy through the CAT shop and it will also be free to download from the ZCB site. For more updates follow us on Twitter or find us on Facebook.

What really happened on Any Questions held at ‘eco loon central’ on Friday Night?

Following ‘the rowdiest’ Any Questions in programme history held at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth – complete with anti badger culling and anti wind turbine protests – James Delingpole wrote a blog, published in the online Daily Telegraph, attempting to clarify his side of the story.

As someone who works at CAT, my take on the evening was unsurprisingly a little different: the real shock of the programme was not the anti wind farm cheering or right wing loon James Delingpole! It was something a whole lot more sinister. Secretary of State for the Environment Owen Paterson was asked if he agreed with James Delingpole’s opinion that climate change was anti-scientific, ideological nonsense. His response might come as something of a surprise given this man’s role in the UK government. Apparently the climate and temperature have not changed in the last 17 years. Jaws dropped in disbelief, and Peter Hain managed to splutter a reply: “and this i s the minister for the environment.”

It was always going to be a lively programme: from the moment word got out that Any Questions was happening in Machynlleth both pro wind farm and anti wind farm groups started ringing up for tickets. The news that Owen Paterson was going to be on the panel excited everyone, and when James Delingpole was announced it seemed like a BBC set up. Bring two wind turbine hating public figures to Europe’s leading eco centre, pitch them against socialist, republican, Welsh nationalist Leanne Wood, and well, let’s see what happens.

Earlier on in the afternoon a small but vocal group of people dressed as badgers had started a demonstration in the car park. A brief blockade of ‘badger killing’ Owen Paterson’s car followed, but all in all it was a good-natured affair. Those ‘desperately earnest and well meaning’ volunteers, so well described by James Delingpole in his blog, did their jobs of showing people to their seats and generally being welcoming and polite.

As the evening began, the atmosphere was electric. Encouragement from BBC warm up man Peter Griffiths and then Jonathan Dimbleby for audience participation was perhaps not necessary, given how the evening unfolded. The audience were opinionated, lively and more than willing to respond to answers from Leanne Wood, Peter Hain, Owen Paterson and James Delingpole.

There were a lot of interesting moments, much cheering, some booing. It was a pleasure to host the event at the Centre for Alternative Technology, not that we imagine that BBC Any Questions will be coming back in the next 40 years!

But those few words, buried amongst the cheering, booing and angry badger man’s outburst, stand out in my mind as the most disturbing revelation by BBC Any Questions on Friday night. Cabinet Minister for the Environment – not Welfare, Education or Defence – clearly stated “The real question is: is climate change influenced by man made climate change? The climate, the temperature has not changed in the last 17 years.”

Unbelievably, the UK has a Secretary of State for the Environment who believes that climate change is not happening; you couldn’t make this stuff up. It‘s absurd that as the level of carbon emissions in the atmosphere reaches 400ppm, as people around the world struggle in the face of adverse climatic conditions, as India bakes and Central Europe floods, as think tanks and NGOs advise that climate change will cause food shortages, political instability and rising sea levels, the Secretary of State for the Environment for the UK can sit glibly in front of an audience, on national radio, and say that climate change is not happening.

What’s more, when asked if local protests against wind farms should be able to stop developments from going ahead, he responded with a clear message that from now on landscape, topography and heritage should take precedent over national energy targets. Leanne Wood’s valuable point that this should be rolled out to include all energy generation stations was a little lost on him. For him it’s the wind turbines that are the problem.

It was shocking what happened on Friday night at BBC Any Questions. Any illusions of “greenest-ever” governments or intentions to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions in the UK were shattered into pieces.

I thought that James Delingpole was going to be the right wing loon on the Any Questions programme on Friday night, but I was mistaken: it was Owen Paterson. The problem is that his ramblings are not confined to the back pages of the Daily Telegraph – he is a cabinet minister and he is responsible for the environment.


Compost Toilets: a Grand Design or a Space of Waste?

Last week CAT headed to London for Grand Designs Live. We had been asked to provide live demonstrations as part of the ‘Natural Building Methods’ section – an area CAT has some experience in! After much discussion, we decided on glue laminating demonstrations for making arches for a Timber Arc construction. The Timber Arc is a beautiful example of timber frame building, using local and low-carbon materials. It’s also a dual-chamber compost toilet.

CAT's stand at Grand Designs Live

Our goal at Grand Designs Live was twofold: provide the public with an interesting demonstration of glue laminating, whilst also raising awareness of different methods of dealing with human waste. Compost toilets are not for everybody, if you are connected to a local sewage system then chances are you will not need to deal with your own waste. However, some off-grid locations mean that people have to be a little more creative in the sewage solutions.

Glue laminating at Grand Designs Live

During our time at Grand Designs Live, one thing that kept cropping up again and again was bafflement. People often asked us why we were making a compost toilet, especially one so beautiful. Well, compost toilets can be efficient and practical, resulting in nutrient-rich soil to be used in the garden. They don’t use any water or chemicals, although most types of toilet need a fair bit of room to allow composting to occur at a steady pace. We have several composting toilets up at CAT, working alongside our reedbed sewage system and providing us with fertiliser for our gardens. Furthermore, why not make a beautiful building to house your compost toilet? It’s a place you visit each day after all! We also liked how the idea of it fitted in with the ‘grand design’ aspect of Grand Designs Live.

Work on the arches for the compost toilet

People certainly seemed to agree with us, judging by the level of interest we received each day. Engaging with people on environmental issues whilst also showing how we go about dealing with these problems was wonderful. Moving people’s thoughts away from bafflement and towards more environmental ways of thinking is key. Hopefully in the future CAT will be able to visit even more shows to keep spreading the word.

For more information on alternative sewage systems check out CAT’s information page on the subject. We also run short courses on sewage and waste water management. Further info here.

To see more of the Timber Arc, head to Jules’ website.

Glue Laminating at Grand Designs Live

This year CAT has been on bit of a promotional tour – travelling to London, Birmingham and London again to attend exhibitions, study fairs and conferences. Each event gave us the opportunity to talk to people about CAT’s work in the field of sustainability. From this coming Saturday however, CAT will be doing more than just talking.

We’re spending nine days camped out in the miniature village that is Grand Designs Live at the ExCel in London. Each day CAT will be providing demonstrations of glue laminating (or glulam) used to build the beautiful ‘wigloo’ you can see onsite in Wales. Jules, the carpenter who designed the toilet in association with Crafted Space, will be doing two demonstrations each day. As well as this, we have some examples of sustainable building techniques with us and the opportunity for people to ask CAT experts questions about their building woes.

Timber Arc Compost Toilet
The glue laminated compost toilet up at CAT

So what exactly is glue laminating?

It’s a process where several layers of timber are bonded together using a durable, moisture-resistant adhesive. The resulting structure can be used in both straight and curved configurations. The build that Jules undertaking requires curved lathes so he uses a ‘former’ to help hold the layers in place as the glue dries.


So why glue laminating?

Glue laminating has much lower embodied energy than reinforced concrete and steel, although of course it does entail more embodied energy than solid timber. However, the laminating process allows timber to be used for much longer spans, heavier loads, and complex shapes.

Glulam is two-thirds the weight of steel and one sixth the weight of concrete – the embodied energy to produce it is six times less than the same suitable strength of steel. Wood has a greater tensile strength relative to steel – two times on a strength-to-weight basis – and has a greater compressive resistance strength than concrete. The high strength and stiffness of laminated timbers enable glulam beams and arches to span large distances without intermediate columns, allowing more design flexibility than with traditional timber construction.

Glue Laminating
Jules clamping some glue laminated timber onto the former

We’ll be following the build live each day over on Facebook so have a look and see how it progresses!

If you like the look of the compost toilet, take a look at Jules’ website.

Grand Designs Live is open to the public from Saturday 4th to Sunday 12th May. More information can be found on their website.


Tales from the Stawbale


For three weeks CAT’s Strawbale Theatre was transformed into an inventor’s den when we ran Eco Easter Activities. Kids of all ages got involved in designing and building solar-powered machines, some of them amazingly complex. For the water-bound vehicles a nearby pond became the launching point for great voyages, powered by the sun and the wind. All of the machines were built using recycled materials, and the scope for invention was only limited by the imagination.

A young solar engineer shows off his creation

We have seen boats of all different shapes and sizes set sail – some more successful than others. Milk bottles were always a popular choice, providing a nice solid barge that was less likely to capsize. Alongside innovation was decoration, and boats were soon covered in glitter, feathers and stickers.

An exploration below the water revealed a new world of creatures to investigate. Pond-dipping discoveries included newts, frogspawn, phantom midge larvae, a dragonfly larva, lesser water boatmen and… water fleas.

Play dough, Easter card making and a scavenger hunt were just some of the other activities we enjoyed doing during the Easter holidays. Thanks to some creative craft sessions, the office now hosts Elaine the Owl and a rather fantastical feedback box.

Megan and Freya with Elaine the Owl

Thanks to all who called by over Easter. We will be running more activities for children and adults during the summer, so do come and visit. Updates will be posted on our website nearer the time.

Empowering communities to take action – Renew Wales comes to CAT for training

CAT is excited to be hosting the first training course for coordinators of Renew Wales in the WISE conference centre today and tomorrow.

Renew Wales is a Big Lottery funded project aiming to empower community groups throughout Wales to take action addressing the challenge of climate change. The two-year project is led by the Development Trusts Association, and CAT is a key project partner.

The project activities are targeted at groups like rugby clubs, Women’s Institutes, youth organisations and housing associations, and will include developing community renewable energy resources, starting local food clubs, making sustainable use of land and buildings, establishing community owned enterprises and engaging schools and business in climate change action.

Initiated in June 2012 the project has recently employed a network of coordinators from across Wales. Their role will be to identify and support community groups in their area who are interested in taking action relating to climate change, including those who haven’t taken action before.

The coordinators being trained at CAT today and tomorrow will be involved in linking community groups to ‘peer practitioners’ – people like those in the community group who have learned valuable lessons by going through a similar process – and also with ‘technical mentors’, who can offer more specialised help. They will help communities take action, but just as importantly, help increase each group’s level of knowledge and skill. The success of Renew Wales will lie in creating an ever-expanding pool of people who can support others like them in taking action for a more sustainable future.

Paul Allen, CAT’s External Relations Officer, commented: ‘We are delighted to be part of the Renew Wales project because its whole ethos fits so well with our mission of inspiring, informing and enabling people to make change in their communities. The project has the potential for really significant impact in Wales, and to act as an inspiration further afield.’

Renew Wales’ website – – will be live in the near future. In the meantime, for more information about Renew Wales, please contact Robert Proctor on 02920 190260, or by email at

Professional Diploma end of year show


Students studying for their Professional Diploma at CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment recently had their end of year show for 2011. Students’ work was on display from the first year of the course, which offers a unique blend of design and academic study together with practical experience. To find out more about postgraduate study at CAT, have a look at our website.