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

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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

A WISE use for Local Charities

The Centre for Alternative Technology is offering local charities the opportunity to use meeting rooms at its educational and conference centre, the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE), for free. If you work or volunteer for a charity in the SY20 area and are looking for a special place to hold meetings, then the WISE building could be the place for you. Situated in the stunning Dulas valley in mid-Wales, WISE has impressive facilities that can deliver successful conferences, meetings, training sessions or one-off events.

“ The WISE building is a tremendous resource, with its state of the art  facilities and outstanding sustainability credentials, CAT would like to be able to share that with the many organisations in our local area who are doing important work” Kim Bryan, CAT spokesperson.

The WISE building opened in 2012 and has won several national awards for its ecological credentials. Based at CAT’s site near Machynlleth, the building hosts several meeting rooms, workshop space and a 200 seater lecture theatre. En-suite accommodation and catering can also be arranged for delegates.The offer is open to all charities in the SY20 area, six times per year and is available for meeting rooms only. Please contact Sarah at  venue.hire@cat.org.uk or on 01654 704973 for reservations and more information.

5 tips to find and identify tasty Hedgehog mushrooms

 

Now I am hardly Ray Mears or Bear Grylls. For a start I cannot stand mud in my tent, whereas I am sure neither Bear or Ray lose any sleep over a squelchy ground sheet. But in the interests of sustainable living and maintaining the pretext of an alpha male who is at home in the great outdoors, I’m keen to start foraging more of my food. And with the winter turning out more mild than usual, it’s a great time to harvest one of the most abundant of natural foods: the wild mushroom!

Now – I hear you saying – aren’t mushrooms stupidly dangerous to pick if you’re a novice like me; Let alone a completely deluded city-living softie that can’t even light a fire without matches or petrol. Well, yes they are. Make no mistake about it, if you don’t know your Chanterelles from your Death Caps (the clue is in the title) then foraging for mushrooms can be like playing with fire – once you’ve managed to light it that is. But don’t stop reading quite yet…

Still there? Good. Because Hedgehog mushrooms are a god-send for the novice forager. They are common and very easy to identify. The perfect time of the year to find this yummy mushroom is between September and December. Just make sure you get out to forage before the first heavy frost settles. Because mushrooms don’t like frost and neither do forager’s fingers. Unfortunately, the weather this year seems to have been even worse for the mushrooms than it was for us. Long wet spells followed by equally long dry spells means the quantity has not matched the bountiful harvest of previous years.

But there are still a few healthy patches out there. Here’s my five tips for picking a non-toxic mushroom that will make a tasty treat in any meal:

1. Don’t pick any mushrooms unless you’re completely certain they are safe. The best way to learn (and avoid a toxic dinner) is to go foraging with someone experienced that knows mushrooms really well and I find that if they’re still breathing, they probably know their stuff!

2. Much like the Death Cap, the name of this mushroom is a big clue. Unlike other mushrooms, Hedgehogs have spines underneath their caps rather than gills, pores or ‘spongy stuff’. The spines should be soft to the touch and a pale colour that closely resembles the stalk and cap colour.

3. There’s no point looking for actual Hedgehogs during the day is there? So don’t waste your time in the fields. If you want to find Hedgehog Mushrooms, then head for the trees. Grassy or mossy areas are best. You can find them in deciduous or coniferous woodland. The caps become harder to spot once the leaves have fallen in later months but Hedgehogs are paler than most autumn foliage.

4. The colour is also the final safety precaution. Other ‘tooth fungi’ are less common than the Hedgehog variety and most are still edible (though I am told not as tasty). But only pick pale mushrooms with caps that are white, beige or a caramel leather texture. The stalk should resemble the colour of the irregular shaped cap. If there’s any sign of green or burnt hues, best give the mushroom a miss. Better to be safe than sorry.

5. And last but not least… Definitely do not pick that mushroom unless you are completely certain it’s not toxic.

If you follow all these tips and have the patience to find a good spot then you will soon fill your pockets with this fantastic wild mushroom. Now all that’s left, is to cook your meal. Where’s Ray Mears when you need him…

Where’s the impact of a reusuable bottle?

 

In this series, we’ve been investigating the environmental and social impacts of various consumer products. Inspired by CAT Education resource Where’s the Impact? we’ve been attempting to unpick the tangled web of relations responsible for what buy.

We’ve so far investigated an Easter egg, a book, a cotton t-shirt and pads and tampons. Last time, we looked at the impact of a home-baked cake, concluding that baking a cake yourself was likely to be more ethical than buying a store bought one, as it’d be possible to avoid un-fairly traded sugar, mono-crop wheat, or products from intensive animal farming.

This week, we’re going to delve into the world of reusable bottles. Most of us are aware of the impact that disposable plastic water bottles have on the environment – and reusing the same bottle, rather than continually buying more bottled water, is a pretty good solution. However, when that bottle’s made from aluminium, with a plastic lid, there are still ethical issues to consider.

As ever, we welcome your comments – help us tell the story by posting below, or make suggestions as to what we could cover in the future.


We looked at aluminium production in an earlier post examining the impact of an Easter egg, highlighting in particular the long distances frequently traveled by the raw material – bauxite ore – before processing. Freighting hefty resources around the world takes a considerable carbon toll, and is symptomatic of the globalised way we’ve become accustomed to producing goods.

In this post, however, I want to focus on a different aspect of aluminium production. As well as being sourced a long way away from the site it’s processed, aluminium affects areas of high biodiversity, as bauxite mines can often be found in these unique habitats.

One such area of high biodiversity is the Amazon rainforest, currently affected by a range of different damaging processes. In the case of aluminium, it’s open cast mining. Open cast mining is not at all euphemistic – it’s an open pit, a giant, gaping, open pit. Kendra Pierre-Louis, in her book Greenwashed, describes the process: “the terrain is artfully moulded, albeit by a deranged landscape architect seeking to evoke a Mad Max-style dystopia.”

Bauxite mines of this persuasion tend to spread indefinitely, until the dirt expelled from the pit becomes problematic. Meanwhile, processing aluminium requires huge amounts of electricity, which Aloca plan to source in Brazil by flooding 150 square miles to create a huge hydroelectric dam, displacing 20,00 people in the process, and shrinking one of the planet’s most precious natural resources.


Even if you’re buying a reusable aluminium bottle to reduce your reliance on disposable plastic bottles, it’s likely you’ll still be buying a bottle with plastic content in the lid. Plastic’s lack of environmental credentials lies partly in its manufacture, which is reliant on various chemicals dangerous to human health, and partly in its longevity.

Strangely for a substance so associated with disposability and impermanence, plastic sticks around for a long, long time. It loiters in landfills, clogs waterways, and once entering the ocean, migrates to join ranks with other bits of plastic in one of five plastic ‘islands’ in the ocean, each the size of Texas. It degrades, and gets eaten, pervading almost every ecosystem on Earth. But it doesn’t break down.

What then, do we do with it? Recycling plastic can be an energy-intense process. Recycling it more imaginatively – I’m thinking knitting bags from plastic bags, bin-liner wearable art – is also an option, though it’s probably possible to reach saturation point with plastic-based recycled art fairly quickly. Sadly, plastic products are emblematic of our disposable consumer culture; it’s a great resource, but perhaps best for where necessity demands it, like medical supplies, rather than the various less-than-vital ends we’ve channeled it into.


Don’t get me wrong: reusable bottles are good. Reusable things in general are good, as are mendable things, fixable things, things built without built-in obsolescence or the capacity to self-destruct. However, there’s an interesting irony in the case of an aluminium reusable water bottle – they’re part of a range of products aimed at making our lives greener, encouraging us to believe that we can shop ourselves out of ecological crisis.

Aluminium, unlike plastic, can be recycled with relative ease. Recycling aluminium saves up to 95% of the amount of energy needed to transform bauxite ore into aluminium, and with over 4 million cans produced annually in the UK alone, it’s fair to say that we’ve got enough of the stuff in circulation to fulfill our aluminium needs. However, aluminium bottles are made from virgin aluminium. They’re recyclable, which is better than not being recyclable, but the process of making them is still reliant on open-caste mining, destroying areas of high biodiversity, and robbing indigenous peoples of their land.

If we bought one and thus fulfilled our water-vessel needs, that’d be fine and dandy – but consumer culture doesn’t work that way. Despite reusable bottles being sold to us as eco-options, our consumption of bottled water hasn’t significantly decreased, if at all. And they’re still peddled as part of an acquisitive culture which needs us to buy more, and more (and perhaps more).

Fundamentally, despite claims of ‘greenness’, all products have an impact. The question remains as to which impacts are worth it, and which aren’t.

 

Student Blog: Alex on how we define sustainability

 

I am studying at CAT as a part time student. The rest of my time is taken up working full time as a Fundraiser for the RSPB and building my own social enterprise ‘Growing Awareness’. When I am fundraising, I regularly, hundreds of times a week, ask people a seemingly idiotic question – what do you think about wildlife? I ask this question for various reasons: because it is phrased oddly and makes the person I am speaking with double take and think; because it’s what I really want to know and because it’s really a trick question, aiming at finding out how the person in front of me engages with the world around them, beyond working and consuming. Inevitably, surprisingly and comfortingly, such conversations lead to a question about how we as humans are affecting the planet. My job here is not to labour over lurid descriptions of an albatross being maimed by longline fishing, but to elaborate the positive and proactive action, work and achievements that are happening every day. Not just a world that ‘could be’ but rather ‘is’, all the time. This is really, underneath it all, a way of outlining sustainable interactions with our natural environment, world, or whatever we might call it.

Two lectures inspired me to write about sustainability in my first essay for the Msc. The first was Gary Grant’s session on an ecosystem services approach to master planning. The second was Jason Hawkes’ lecture which asked us to consider; ‘What is sustainability?’. I originally concentrated on researching the various questions I had scribbled down during Gary Grants lecture, I had presumed that I was going to enjoy that lecture and gain a lot from it. I did but that is not the point. As I began using my old academic skills and Blanche’s recommendations for structuring essays and research methods, I found increasingly that rather than concentrate on an ecosystem service approach I was erring towards questioning why we take an ecosystems services approach at all. I realised that the essay question I was circling in on, while discrete, was too large a scope for the short essay format. I was originally thinking of discussing how an ecosystem services approach to planning and building human systems displayed a regenerative rather than sustainable design methodology. To explain why I thought this and to be able to back such an assertion up with source material seemed too huge and fundamental a task to be reduced to a single paragraph.

I am a big believer in stating the obvious. It is tempting in many movements including environmental circles to assume common sense and common knowledge. I see my first essay as the opportunity I needed to lay out some of the background context to the debate about what sustainability is. I learn as I go, I think the only ’stupid’ trait is to not ask questions, but sometimes in the need for brevity, to give space to someone else making a point, or during a lecture where so many questions occur I am sure everyone has at some time nodded passively at some reference, theory or term and filing it under ‘find out later’ missed a fragment of what constitutes a greener more viable world.

Accordingly I decided on a narrow focus in my essay. I wanted to look at the most commonly referenced and therefore influential definition of sustainability, which determined rightly or wrongly as being the ‘The Brundtland Report’. I argued that although the report’s assertions about the state of nature and humankinds’ relationship with it were timely and indicative, the report recognises the potential for the loss of the regenerative capacity of natural systems, however its definition of sustainability still hinged, in my lowly opinion, on that regenerative capacity. The report didn’t include proscriptive measures to address this, nor was that its remit; however I feel the criticism still stands that sustainable development as defined by the Brundtland report falls short of explicitly highlighting the necessity for regenerative development. I argued that the earth’s natural systems were in many places so denuded and in parts almost abiotic that they were unable to support normative sustainable development. This, I determined, would render any definition of sustainability, that didn’t explicitly denote the vital importance of regenerativity, as meaningless and inapplicable.