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!

Christmas presents that make a difference

 

If you like me have not even started Christmas shopping yet, you could either put your head in your hands and despair about our consumerist society or do what I did last year and give someone a present that can really make their year. Just before last Christmas, my Dad came up to CAT and was amazed by the wooden pole lathes and shave horses he saw as we walked around CAT. I suggested he might like to do a course; “that would be brilliant!” he said. A few months later he came to visit again armed with his notebook, pencil and a lot of enthusiasm to take part in the Greenwood Crafts course. He had an amazing time,  learnt loads and now has his very own shave horse in the garden shed.  My only problem is this year all my family want a course at CAT for Christmas.

Which is why it’s great that CAT is offering a 10% discount up until 31st December. So if you or a loved one have ever wanted to learn how to build a coracle, make forged tools, or construct gates and fences, give horse logging a go for a day, or spend an intensive week learning the art of sustainable woodland management from experienced woodspeople, now is your chance! I myself have enrolled on the Blacksmithing course and can’t wait, here’s hoping it’s the start of a brand new career.

CAT’s short courses are a great gift idea for anyone interested in learning skills in sustainable living; this festive season, why not give someone you love the opportunity to delve further into an interest, or to take a week out from the hectic pace of life in the tranquility of mid Wales?

Participants on CAT’s short courses enjoy delicious vegetarian meals and accommodation nestled in the foothills of Snowdonia, as well as expert tuition from well-renowned tutors and CAT staff.

Below are some of the fantastic courses on offer in 2013. Book before the 31st and make the most of the 10% discount now available!

Develop your skills in woodland management and crafts

Gates, Fences and Hedges: learn how to create gates, fences and hedges. Ideal for smallholders.
Horse logging: experience a low impact method for logging woodland
Sustainable woodland management: a fantastic introduction to all aspects of managing a small wood. Learn how to add social, economic and ecological value to woodland.
Greenwood crafts: discover the basic principles of transforming greenwood into products.

Reclaim traditional skills

Coracle building: build a traditional vessel used since the Bronze Age in a weekend
Hedgerow herbalism: discover how to produce an incredible range of cosmetic and medicinal products from foraged materials
Willow basket making: spend a hands-on day learning how to weave with willow
Blacksmithing: learn how to use a low-tech, low-fuel charcoal forge and leave with the items you’ve made

Learn sustainable building skills

Strawbale building: learn this sustainable, simple and accessible building method
Make an earth oven: gain the skills to build an earth oven yourself, and secure a future supply of delicious pizza, breads and stews!

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!

Listen to birds while munching chocolates: green Christmas gifts from CAT this winter

 

This week on our Christmas gift list, we hear from our Gardener, Roger Mclennan, about the top three gifts he’d get others from our CAT Winter Catalogue this Christmas.

Gravely pondering our shop’s collection of wintry gifts, Roger is first struck by the Common Garden Bird Calls guide. “I’d definitely want that for myself,” he explains, “because I’m really interested in bird songs – almost obsessed, really, I absolutely love bird singing. I’m far from an expert, but I do try to identify birds by their songs. It’s not easy, and you need good hearing which I don’t think I have these days.”

His second choice is more philanthropic: “I’d probably get the Trees for Life Calendar for someone else, because that would do some good for Scottish forests, which is really important.” The Trees for Life charity works to restore the Caledonian Forest, and the pictures look beautiful too!

Turning from environmental awareness to tasty treats, Roger concludes that the Monty Bojangles Truffles are always a safe bet. “They are very good – very more-ish, and quite sweet for truffles – they really are good,” he repeats. He’s bought them from the shop before, he explains, and would definitely get them again.

With this range of gifts from feel-good to taste-good, why not check out our online shop, or pop round to CAT for a visit and tour the site in company with our friend robins? While you’re here, you could also find out more about learning useful sustainability skills through our short courses – this year CAT is offering a 10% discount on short courses, which also make great presents for family and friends.

Fabulous and functional green Christmas gifts from CAT

 

If you got to choose your three favourite Christmas gifts from the CAT shop, what would they be? Staff members at CAT like Rosie have been pondering this question – this week, we hear from Adam Tyler, one of our Engineers…

Flipping through CAT’s Winter Catalogue, Adam points to the Powerbuzz Magnets as an easy first choice – he got a chance to play with them in the shop, he says, and they make a cool noise when you toss them in the air. A great stocking filler.

Moving on from the quirky to the eminently practical, Adam’s second choice is the snazzy Frontier Camping Stove. “Well my job involves burning stuff, anyway, so I guess I’m a bit of a pyromaniac,” he says with a grin, “plus I’ve got a van so I could keep the stove in there just as well for when I go camping”.

As his third gift Adam contemplates the Makedo Find and Make Elephant Kit, but eventually settles on the Thunderbird Fuel Cell Kit. “As it says in the catalogue, it’s ingeniously designed for children, and I’m obviously a big child at heart – plus it’s got cool colours”. More seriously speaking, the fact that the fuel cell is powered by salt water is an engaging way to showcase alternative energy.

 

For presents useful and entertaining for young and old, CAT’s online and onsite shop is clearly a good first port of call in the build up to Christmas.

10% discount on CAT’s inspiring short courses now available

 

Have you ever wanted to learn how to build a coracle, make forged tools, or construct gates and fences? Or would you like to give horse logging a go for a day, or spend an intensive week learning the art of sustainable woodland management from experienced woodspeople?

From now until the 31st of December, CAT is offering a 10% discount on some of the exciting short courses due to run next year. CAT’s short courses are a great gift idea for anyone interested in learning skills in sustainable living; this festive season, why not give someone you love the opportunity to delve further into an interest, or to take a week out from the hectic pace of life in the tranquility of mid Wales?

Participants on CAT’s short courses enjoy delicious vegetarian meals and accommodation nestled in the foothills of Snowdonia, as well as expert tuition from well-renowned tutors and CAT staff.

Below are some of the fantastic courses on offer in 2013. Book before the 31st and make the most of the 10% discount now available!

Develop your skills in woodland management and crafts

Gates, Fences and Hedges: learn how to create gates, fences and hedges. Ideal for smallholders.
Horse logging: experience a low impact method for logging woodland
Sustainable woodland management: a fantastic introduction to all aspects of managing a small wood. Learn how to add social, economic and ecological value to woodland.
Greenwood crafts: discover the basic principles of transforming greenwood into products.

Reclaim traditional skills

Coracle building: build a traditional vessel used since the Bronze Age in a weekend
Hedgerow herbalism: discover how to produce an incredible range of cosmetic and medicinal products from foraged materials
Willow basket making: spend a hands-on day learning how to weave with willow
Blacksmithing: learn how to use a low-tech, low-fuel charcoal forge and leave with the items you’ve made

Learn sustainable building skills

Strawbale building: learn this sustainable, simple and accessible building method
Make an earth oven: gain the skills to build an earth oven yourself, and secure a future supply of delicious pizza, breads and stews!

All I want for Christmas

 

Presents from CAT at Christmas make a perfect gift for friends and family. From our range of incredible and inspiring courses to quirky gadgets and solar powered robots there really is something for everyone. In the weeks building up to Christmas, staff members members choose their top 3 Christmas gifts available from CAT, this week Rosie Strickland, Marketing and Events Officer…

Continue reading “All I want for Christmas”

Bike blog: make it fit

Hello and welcome back to another bike blog!

Given that throughout my cycling life I’ve relied on sets of wheels I either got for free or a fairly negligible sum of money, the question of how well the bike actually fits me – or even whether it’s the right size – has never really arisen. Having a bike which fits has seemed to me like an untenable luxury, the exclusive reserve of people who buy bikes new, or compete, or at least certainly incompatible with my style of cost-cutting cycling.

However, one beautiful vintage racing bike later – one with a frame a little too high for my little legs – and I’m more alive to the need to make sure the bike fits. Dismounting was difficult, and occasionally injurious, but despite that, I commuted with it for a year – even taking it on a summer jaunt to France. Eventually, I realised that it just wasn’t safe, and needlessly difficult. While it pains me greatly to have to move on, it’ll be best for both of us. And when I find a proper replacement, I’ll make sure it’s the right size.

So far, I’ve been conflating size with fit. Those in the know about these kinds of things will be aware that the size of the bike refers to the frame, and how it is ‘out of the box’, whereas the fit encompasses everything you can adjust (from the seat post height to the angling of the handlebars) to make the bike optimally fit your body and cycling needs.

 

Some ideas for choosing the right size

  • the size of frame you’re after will depend on what type of frame you’re looking for – road bike, mountain bike, touring bike, comfort bike…? Different frame styles support different types of riding, so will fit very differently.
  • once you’ve ascertained what kind of frame you’re looking for, have a look at a frame size calculator or a frame size chart.
  • bike manufacturers will often provide resources to help you pick the right size.
  • there’s no substitute for giving it a go, however – while a bike might seem the right size on ‘paper’ various factors, from the size of the wheels to the peculiarities of different manufacturers, might make it uncomfortable to ride.

 

Some ideas for improving the fit

  • you can get this professionally done. Many bike stores will offer a bike fitting service, or you could turn to the expertise of a freelancer; either way, it’s likely to not be terribly cheap. This kind of fine tuning seems to be primarily aimed at “serious” cyclists looking to shave a few seconds of their time trial, but heavy use of a bike – whether to win races or get to work – can result in injury or discomfort if not fitted right. If you do decide to go with a professional bike fitting, make sure you make the most of it by requesting a copy of all the measurements and notes on all the alterations made, and be wary of the opportunity for up sell.
  • however, you can learn to make these changes yourself – and anything you change can get altered back again. Like anything bike-related, there’s dozens of resources available online to help. For starters, check out Peter White’s fairly comprehensive article.
  • the main considerations will probably be the height of the seat, the positioning of the handlebars, and the angling of the seat. You’ll find lots of advice online for figuring out how to adjust each of these.
  • adjusting your bike will involve compromising, so it’s worth having a clear idea of what you want to use your bike for. Do you want to ride super-fast and efficiently, or do you want to enjoy the scenery? Either way, you’ll need to make some trade-offs.
  • if you do get out the tool box for a few tinkers, keep in mind that there’s no one right way of finding the right fit. It’s about how it feels, not about how it adheres to some formula, so keep on testing and trying until you find what works.
  • check out this troubleshooting chart to diagnose problems with your fit.
  • a good fit will never be permanent, as your body and cycling priorities change. Be aware of how your bike feels and be prepared to continue making alterations.
  • finally, if it’s a good fit, you shouldn’t be aware of it. Keep trying until you stop noticing!

 

Climate change: It’s even worse than we thought

On Monday November 26th the international climate talks open in Doha,  an article published in the New Scientist this week carried the startling headline, Climate Change: It’s even worse than we thought. Climate change is happening faster and quicker than expected. Artic sea ice was not expected to melt to the end of the century but current trends indicate it could happen a lot quicker than that, the loss of sea ice means sea level rises. Weather events are more unpredicatable than imagined, with superstorm Sandy topping the bill after a year of heatwaves, droughts, floods and blizzards. The world is heading for an average 3-5 deg C temperature rise this century barring urgent action.

A faster response to climate change is necessary and possible,Doha must make sure the response is accelerated.” UN climate chief Christiana Figueres

Continue reading “Climate change: It’s even worse than we thought”

WISE Weddings that Don’t Cost the Earth

WISE Weddings that Don’t Cost the Earth

The Centre for Alternative Technology is proud to announce that it is now open for civil ceremony and wedding bookings. CAT has always specialised in environmental issues, from teaching school children about the importance of sustainability to training the next generation of engineers and architects who will build our zero carbon future.

Now, thanks to the outstanding facilities offered by the award-winning WISE building it is able to offer ethical, green weddings. The average price of a UK wedding is around £20,000, produces 62 tons of carbon emissions and 400-600 lbs of rubbish. Sarah, conference and events manager at WISE says everyone can make a difference. “There are loads of things you can do to reduce the carbon footprint of your wedding, from the dress and flowers, to the food and drink. AT CAT we make weddings that really don’t cost the earth, possible”

Situated in the stunning Dulas valley in mid-Wales, WISE is a superb wedding venue. Its outstanding 200 seat cylindrical theatre with seven-metre high rammed-earth walls is ideal for ceremonies, described by newly-wed Katy Jones as “the perfect setting for our ceremony and very intimate, the acoustics were like the Albert Hall.”

The outdoor forest garden is an ideal setting for a champagne reception and the restaurant and bar are perfect for the wedding breakfast and dancing the night away.

“We loved every part of our wedding. The food was beautiful, organic and local and all our guests commented on how smoothly the day went, they really enjoyed being in such a bright and natural space.” Katy Jones

Newly- weds Katy and Aled at their reception in the WISE building

As well as the eco-credentials of a WISE wedding and fantastic organic cuisine CAT can also provide a directory of local suppliers who can provide everything from ethically sourced flowers to low-carbon transport including a horse and cart.

Sarah,  says “We are about making that special day really special, whether you prefer an intimate celebration or the party of a lifetime, we can assist you with your plans and have a very flexible approach as everyone has a different idea of what they would like.”

For more information on green weddings at CAT please contact Sarah at venue.hire@cat.org.uk or on 01654 704973