Easter Eco Events At the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales

pond dippingCome and join us for an action packed Easter holiday for all the family, events will be running from the 30th of March through till the 10th of April. From daily guided tours to eco activities for children, talks, workshops, music and exhibitions there is something for all ages. There will be a daily guided tour of the CAT visitor centre exploring some of CAT’s history, renewable energies, organic gardening and sustainable architecture. Our straw bale theatre will be open for children’s eco activities from 11-3 pm everyday including Easter treasure hunts, crazy inventors, bug hunting, eco games,  storytelling and our specially designed zero carbon tours.

Specialised tours of CAT’s unique and sustainable gardens and renewable energy systems will take place throughout the week, check the visit CAT website for tour specifics

Our woodlands team will be demonstrating and teaching visitors simple woodland crafts using traditional woodworking tools.  Paul Allen and members of our zero carbon Britain team will be giving talks around current environmental issues and our zero carbon britain project.

For up to date information on our Easter events please check out visit.cat.org.uk

CAT is the UK’s leading eco centre and runs a 7 acre visitor centre, courses, graduate school and information department. We are open throughout the year for day visitors and groups.

How Agroecology can feed Africa

A new report from Global Justice Now,  From the roots up‘ shows how Agroecology can feed Africa, this article is an excerpt from the report. fromtherootsupcover


Small-scale farmers around the world are at the frontline of the impacts of climate change, and also could hold the key to one of the most effective means of addressing greenhouse gases. In the run up to the next round of climate talks in Paris, we need to start thinking of ways in which sustainable models of food production can be put in the centre stage alongside renewable energy production. In a similar way that fossil fuel companies like BP and Shell are becoming stigmatized for their role in preventing meaningful action on green energy, we need to be scaling up popular resistance against Monsanto and other big agribusiness companies who are trying to impose industrial food models on people who have been practicing climate-friendly agriculture for generations.

 Global farming and climate change

The global food system, which includes agricultural production, fertiliser production and food storage, is responsible for around a third of all greenhouse gases emitted globally. Agriculture, and the food sector as a whole, is, therefore, one of the main drivers of climate change.

Production, processing, transporting and consuming food accounts for 30% of global energy consumption and industrial agriculture in particular, is totally dependent on fossil fuels, both as fuel for machinery, transport and fertiliser production, as well as petroleum-based pesticides and herbicides. Africa’s farming systems are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. 98% of sub-Saharan agriculture is rainfed and, therefore, exposed to the impacts of climate variability, droughts and floods.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report states that

agroecological practices, such as agroforestry, organic farming and conservation agriculture, are practices that can “strengthen resilience of the land base to extreme events and broaden sources of livelihoods, both of which have strongly positive implications for climate risk management and adaptation”.

Agroecology can reduce climate change impacts

Agroecology refers to the science of sustainable farming as well as a social and political movement that aims to improve the food system.Agroecological practices can help to reduce the impacts of climate change. Crop rotation, improved grazing, cropland and manure management, maintaining and restoring the fertility of soils, conserving energy and water use and year-round crop cover can all help to sequester carbon dioxide and reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and its impact on the environment.

Organic farming systems can sequester more carbon dioxide than industrial farms, and sustainable farming in general tends to require fewer carbon intensive external inputs (such as chemical fertilisers). It has also been shown that soils managed using organic methods can hold water better and produce more yields than conventional farming systems in conditions of drought or heavy rainfall.

The FAO report on ‘Low Greenhouse Gas Agriculture’ outlines two scenarios based on a certain proportion of conventional farms converting to organic farming. This conversion could potentially mitigate between 40 and 65% of the world’s GHG emissions from agriculture.

Agroforestry has been shown to help reduce farmers’ exposure to climate-related risks. Planting ‘fertiliser trees’ can help the soil retain moisture during droughts, as well as providing additional income through firewood and offering a less risky investment than chemical fertilisers in the event of crop failure. In western Kenya, agroforestry has benefited women in particular who have access to a stable source of cooking fuel and income from firewood which has been shown to help reduce their vulnerability to climate change.

Small-scale farmers and agroecological practices also play a central role in conserving crop diversity, and developing varieties of plants which are adapted to a range of weather conditions including droughts.


In 2010, a drought in Guangxi, in south-west China, destroyed many of the modern crop varieties (hybrids) while the better adapted traditional varieties (improved landraces and open pollen varieties), such as drought and wind resistant maize, were able to survive. Furthermore, villages involved in Participatory Plant Breeding programmes were able to recover better after the drought because they had more of their own seed varieties, whereas other villages, which had in the past grown hybrid seeds, struggled due to a shortage of hybrid seeds on the commercial market. When the 2009 hurricane in West Bengal turned large amounts of farm land into salty ponds, only a handful of farmers were still preserving salt-tolerant varieties of rice on their farms. Even the most high-yielding modern varieties of rice were useless on salty soil; it was the traditional rice varieties that were needed.

In Kenya, the Mijikenda people adopted many improved crop varieties during the Green Revolution while continuing to plant traditional variants of important crops like maize, millet and cassava. Due to the impact of climate change, many farmers have returned to their traditional varieties and are planting different varieties together to reduce the risk of crop failure. Instead of planting a modern hybrid variety, they now mix maize varieties like mingawa (which matures with extended rainfall), mzihana (matures with medium rains) and kastoo (more drought-resistant). By doing this farmers have made themselves more resilient to the impact of climate change, more independent of commercial seed breeders, and can avoid using expensive chemical inputs which are required with modern hybrid seeds.

In South Africa, research has shown that farmers have already started noticing seasonal temperature changes, which predict drought, and begun adapting pre-emptively by planting short-season and faster growing crops, as well as planting more drought-resistant crop varieties, increasing irrigation and planting trees to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Locally developed varieties of rice in West Africa, in countries such as Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Togo, have been shown to be extremely adaptable and ‘robust’ because they have been bred over generations specifically to cope with difficult ecological and social conditions. These ‘farmer rice varieties’ are often more productive than imported varieties of rice, can grow with less inputs than modern varieties and require less maintenance.

Further afield, researchers have shown how farms based on agroecological principles can be more resilient to the impacts of natural disasters like hurricanes. A survey carried out in 360 communities across Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, showed that farms that had used sustainable agriculture methods had suffered considerably less damage than conventional farms.

Sustainable farms had up to 40% more topsoil and had suffered less economic loss than neighbouring conventional farms. In Chiapas, Mexico, coffee-based farms which had more plant diversity had also suffered less damage from Hurricane Stan in 2005 than more conventional plantations. In Cuba in 2008, monoculture farms suffered greater losses (95%) from the impact of Hurricane Ike than highly diverse agroecologically managed farms (50% losses). Agroecological farms were also able to recover faster after the hurricane.

Agroecology in action

These examples show that agroecology is not a marginal practice carried out by a handful of farmers. It is already widely practised by farmers across the world and helps to feed millions of people. In many cases the techniques are inexpensive, simple and effective, which means there has been little commercial interest in researching, developing and distributing them. But the evidence is unequivocal. Agroecology can increase food yields, income, employment, agricultural biodiversity, and health and nutrition, and help to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Ian Fitzpatrick is a researcher with Global Justice Now.

This article
is an excerpt of ‘From the roots up‘, a report about how agroecology can feed Africa.


This Changes Everything: a chat with Naomi Klein

Storming past the publishers who said climate change wouldn’t sell, Naomi Klein’s new book is breaking barriers on both sides of the Atlantic. Kim Bryan, media officer at CAT  had a conversation with the author about publishing, powering-down and what’s next for the climate movement.

Naomi KleinIt is rare for a book about climate change to find itself on TheNew York Times best sellers list but Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, released in November 2014, has done just that. In her most provocative book yet the author of the global bestsellers The Shock Doctrine andNo Logo tackles the most profound threat humanity has ever faced: the war our economic model is waging against life on earth. Extremely well researched and written the book exposes the myths clouding the climate debate, arguing that it is not just about carbon but about capitalism.

The convenient truth is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed economic system and build something radically better.”

1. In an interview with the Guardian when This Changes Everything first came out you said, “We tried it your way and we don’t have another decade to waste.” How do you see the climate movement developing quickly enough – how can we make this movement bigger and better?

I think that the truth is we needed this movement yesterday; what we are hearing from climate scientists is that we need to be cutting our emissions dramatically. The climate scientists that I relied on for the book – Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin from the Tyndall Centre – talk about cuts between 8-10% per year, and they have being saying this for a couple of years. The urgency is huge.

But the idea that the environmental movement alone could become powerful enough to turn this tanker around is a fantasy. My approach is based on the premise that this kind of movement building can only happen through a convergence of existing movements as opposed to building up one movement. My hope, and this is based on seeing this start to happen, is that particularly because the next round of climate negotiations is happening in Paris at the end of the year is that we are going to see a convergence of movements. For example in the UK at the moment the Green Party are growing rapidly yet at the same time Labour abstained from the fracking moratorium vote. This is the tremendous cost of movements being overtly siloed, a really tragic example of the cost of divisions between the labour movement and the environmental movement.

9781846145063Currently the huge anti-austerity movements in Europe have tremendous momentum: Syrzia have won their first election victory in Greece and there is similar momentum behind Podemos in Spain. The Paris climate negotiations could be a moment where there is a convergence between the climate justice, anti-austerity and labour movements. And – unless we see that coming together of movements and that convergence – we don’t stand a chance

2. The book is a call for an economic transformation away from the capitalist system, yet it is on The New York Times best sellers list. What’s your formula for being able to take radical material, chuck it into the mainstream and people being able to hear it?

There are many books that are well written and researched that do not end up on the best sellers lists; a lot of it is about luck. I got lucky with my first book, No Logo [a look at branding, advertising, marketing and market dominance], and that created a situation where I could get good book advances to spend on research, set up a mini think tank and spend 5 years writing and researching; it is an amazing privilege. It’s also about hitting the moment and not believing the nay-sayers who tell you that this will never sell…The feedback from a lot of publishers was that no one wants to hear about climate change, that climate books never sell…I guess the publishers took a risk with me because of my previous books. I discovered quite early on that publishers know what they are talking about. With No Logo I could not find a US publisher for a very long time; I have a stack of rejection letters telling me, “I really like this book, but Americans just want to read memoirs of eating disorders.” There is just this ongoing pattern of cultural gate keepers who decide what books to sell, buy and invest in and give the kind of advances that allow people to hire research teams. These people are in the business of deciding what the public wants, which is why every explosion of social movements comes as a surprise to our media outlets: they perennially convince themselves that the public is apathetic, and then something like Occupy happens.

3. What are some of the main critiques that you have heard about the book that you take seriously?

This Changes Everything is about making connections and movements, and my genuine, deepest hope for the book is that people will pick up the thesis and improve it and add to it. We launched a blog to go alongside the book, which is wide open to people to add to the thesis. That includes pointing out things that I should have done much more. I knew when I was writing the book that there should have been a whole chapter about the intersection between feminism, women’s rights and climate change. I know there could have been, should have been, a whole chapter on militarisation and war.

Some of it is the limits of time and space but I also see this is an ongoing project. The idea behind creating these spaces and tools is so the topic can be debated. I take those critiques to heart but I try not to beat myself up about it as I know the limits of what one book can do. I find it a little depressing if the spirit of the critiques is about berating me. I feel like: yes, do it, add to it, be part of it. That said, I think there have been really smart critiques about the ideological inconsistencies within the book. Part of the book is more transformational in terms of talking about needing a post-capitalist system and there are other parts talking about changes which are feasible within a mixed economy, which are about building up the public sphere and the commons within a system broadly resembling our own – changing it dramatically but not overturning it. I think those critiques are smart, I find them interesting but I think some of them come from a more academic place from the one that I write in. I am not looking for the purity of my politics and I do take an attitude of ‘whatever works’ and that we should spell out these ideas. The critiques are interesting but they don’t make me want to have written a different book. I think the truth is that radical and reformist ideas can co-exist and create space for one another.

4. One of the main projects at CAT is Zero Carbon Britain, where we show how we can power down through energy efficiency measures and meet that reduced energy demand with 100% renewables. We have listened to what the science is saying, proving that the technology says we can – as have many other groups and organisations. What are the main reasons you attribute towards the reluctance of politicians and industry to make the transition to a zero carbon future?

Firstly, it is really important to continue to make that case; the truth is that message still has not got out there. There has been so much misinformation about renewable energy, and all of these talking points about how unreliable it is and about how it’s not ready. Yet in the last year there has been a huge shift, a massive leap forward: for example, some of the changes that Germany has been making over the past decade are finally piercing the public consciousness. That is not a paper that is being produced; it is something that is happening in a large economy which those in the north can relate to. Just because CAT have been saying it for a long time, it is not a moment to be discouraged; it is a moment to do everything you can to popularise this research.

The other part of the answer I explore in the book is this hugely unfortunate case of bad timing for the climate crisis. It is possible for us to change the fundamentals of how our society functions, but when we talk about moving away from fossil fuels we are talking about the underpinnings of our economy – our societies are built on fossil fuels – so these are not small shifts. The fact that we are talking about making them within the context of a triumph of neo-liberal ideology has been absolutely debilitating; this is what the book brings to the debate that has been missing. It is something we can only see in retrospect, the extent to which neo-liberalism has undermined what governments thought of their very role. So yes, you can do it, but you have to roll up your sleeves and plan the kind of society and economy you want to have. That very idea became heretical in the period when it most needed to happen. We don’t have politicians that think that way, we have politicians that see their role as getting out of the way of business so they can maximise their profit. Then the politicians can brag about GDP growth as the measure of progress. That’s what they do, they don’t think about what sort of societies we should have and set out to deliberately plan them in ways that would require a huge amount of intervention. That’s why at the centre of this book is an argument that we will not win this battle unless we are willing to have a full-throated battle of ideas about the role of government in society, the role of collective action, the role of planning – because that’s underneath this failure of action on climate change. Put in another way, yes it’s possible but it will never be as profitable; it’s not that money can’t be made in a post-carbon economy but you are never going to have the kind of super-profits that have been the prize of the neo-liberal era. The core point is that it requires a radically different view of the role of government than the one we have.Climate March in New York

5. CAT aims to inform, inspire and enable practical solutions for sustainable living. As part of the release of your book you have created a website called Beautiful Solutions; what are some of the projects there that stand out to you?

There are so many. When we were doing research about gold mines in northern Greece (which was one of the responses to the economic crisis in Greece: the government started auctioning off its public assets, as so often happens, including its water systems in many large cities). In Thessaloniki, as a response to this, rather than simply defending a public state institution model for controlling the water, they came forward with a different ownership model based on the water as commons.

There are also recuperated work places, which was a subject of a documentary film that we made during the financial crash in Argentina… Instead of accepting unemployment due to workplace closure, workers form horizontal assemblies and ‘recuperate’ (take back) their workplace, resist eviction, and begin producing again. Many recuperated workplaces organise horizontally and with equal remuneration. This phenomenon has been spreading, from the South to the North, with recent recuperation in Greece, Italy and France. These are really good examples of an organic solution that, in the context of the right kind of planning and coalition-building, is also a climate solution. A lot of these factories are being re-imagined as not just workers’ co-ops but also as green workers’ co-ops.

We don’t see our role as laying out a ten-point political plan but I do think that is a role that social movements need to do democratically together in this political moment. It is not enough to point to a beautiful solution pocket here and there; we need more ambition in this political moment. We need to remember we are not starting from scratch. We are starting from a great position of being able to point to solutions that work. Some are even working on a large scale like the German energy transition, but it’s about being able to bring everything together. In Germany it’s working on the transition side but it is not working on the emissions side. The support for renewables is not being coupled with a strong ‘leave it the ground’ legislative response to coal. The oppositional work that is being done, fighting the pipe lines and the extractive industries, is the flip side of this inspiring alternative work. There are those that say we can just drop the resistance and work on our beautiful transition, but we don’t have that luxury; we have to work on both at the same time.

6. When was the last time you felt overwhelmed and like there is no way we can do it? What do you do to get over it?

I feel most overwhelmed when I take on too much myself, and I feel it least when I am reminded of how many of us are doing this work. It was wonderful that the book launch coincided with the week of the huge climate convergence in NYC, with 400,000 people marching in the streets. I have been able to carry that with me through the bleaker moments. One of the things that happens when you go out and talk about this stuff is that you are confronted with people’s despair. It happens many times at Q&A sessions where people stand up and vent their heartbreak and their hopelessness. Particularly in the US, where people are up against a political system that is bought and paid for, there are a lot of progressive people that have given up. Particularly of an older generation; younger people have tremendous hope and optimism and they can’t afford to give up, but someone standing up in a room saying, “I use to believe I could change it but I don’t any more” – that is contagious. I understand why people feel this way but it kills me that people don’t understand how dangerous it is to publicly give up in front of another generation that has not given up. So, for me, I have found it critical to not try to do this in any way alone. The best events I have had are when I have shared the stage with local activists who are doing the work. I am doing an event in Berlin, and speaking alongside me will be someone to talk about the plans to turn Berlin’s energy grid into co-op and someone fighting coal extraction in Cologne. The feeling in the room will be totally different if they hear from people doing the work rather than just talking about it… The combination of theory and practice is what people are hungry for, and that helps me.

We need to be articulating a very clear vision for the next economy, [with] a justice-based transition away from fossil fuels

7. 2015 is a big year for the climate, with the talks in Paris, yet it is quite hard to remain hopeful as so many climate talks have failed in the past. What would be a good outcome?

It is important not to set up a similar dynamic to Copenhagen, where unreasonable levels of hope were projected onto a single meeting. It was almost a supplicant relationship to political leaders – appealing to their consciences and responsibility to future generations. My hope is that what happens at the Paris climate talks is much less to do with what happens inside and much more about what can happen outside in terms of building the convergences between the climate justice and anti-austerity coalitions. We need to be articulating a very clear vision for the next economy, [with] a justice-based transition away from fossil fuels. If the movement can articulate that during the Paris climate talks then we can get a lot done in the years after. It’s less about hoping that our leaders are going to have an about-face and it’s about what we do in the lead up and outside and afterwards.

“There is a lot of excitement about new political configurations in Europe and Paris is an opportunity; is a time to bring together that convergence. The responsibility is with us and not with the leaders to build that counter power – and eventually we will take power.”

8. I agree that it’s a very exciting time… Thank you very much for speaking with us today, Naomi.

Thanks so much for all your work; I think CAT is amazing.

About the author:

Kim Bryan is a media officer at the Centre for Alternative Technology; she also writes freelance articles on energy, environmental and social justice issues.


Centre for Alternative Technology launches its new ‘Climate Manifestometer’

2015 is election year and, with so many debates and promises, people need to know which political parties’ candidates will deliver the changes needed for a safe climate. The Centre for Alternative Technology’s manifestometer helps sort the greenwash from policies that would enable a zero carbon future, making a real difference to the climate.

To help voters determine which political party’s climate manifesto is up to the task, CAT has developed a ‘Manifestometer’. Its purpose is to open debate with all political parties and help the electorate decide who is up to the job, by checking if their election pledges are rooted in the scientific evidence.” Adrian Ramsay, CAT CEO




In the build-up to the General Election, each party will release its latest climate policy; CAT will be examining these party manifestos and weighing up what’s on offer against what the science tells us actually needs to happen and what our research has shown is possible. The Climate Manifestometer helps the electorate put the most vital climate questions to MPs and policy makers from each party so we can assess if their climate manifestos are fit for purpose

The window of opportunity is still open: it is time to change, or be changed.” Adrian Ramsay

Manifestometer questions include:

  • Is your party’s climate policy evidence-based? Does it accept the urgency of the evidence? If implemented, what chance will your measures offer of avoiding the crucial 2°C average global temperature rise?
  • Does your party’s policy take any account of the historic legacy of UK carbon emissions?
  • Does your policy recognise that to reach a global agreement, the long-industrialised countries such as the UK must show leadership and sign up to a more rapid decarbonisation?
  • Does your party’s climate policy recognise that there are already more fossil fuels on the books of the big energy companies that we can safely burn?
  • Does your party’s policy rise to the challenge of achieving ‘net-zero’ emissions?
  • Does your climate policy recognise the massive renewable resources available in and around the UK, and the potential for jobs and economic returns in harvesting them?

As the danger of serious climate change grows, it is vital that the elected government is held to high standards in the difficult but important task of cutting CO2 emissions. We hope our Manifestometer will be a useful tool for choosing a government that has the will to do the work.” Adrian Ramsay

To follow the work of CAT in the run-up to the General election see www.cat.org.uk

Notes to Editors

The Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales is an environmental education charity that aims to ‘inform, inspire and enable’ practical solutions for sustainable living. As well as a 7-acre visitor centre demonstrating sustainability it provides educational training across the board from school children to post graduate level.

The UK is at a crucial turning point. Much of the present energy system is coming to the end of its life, and the choices made in the next couple of years will lock the UK into an energy path for decades to come. Even if we achieve our current global emissions reduction pledges, and the Climate Change Act succeeds in holding the UK to 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, it is not enough to offer a good chance of preventing dangerous climate change. The evidence demands that the next UK government immediately set us on the path to a net-zero emissions Britain. This will require a strong policy framework that enables skills development – to take advantage of new job opportunities – and ensures that everyone in the UK is supported in the transition towards net-zero carbon electricity, heating, transport and food systems.

The policies we select are crucial because the UK has put more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere per person than all but one other country in the world – for this reason it is our responsibility to lead on eliminating emissions.

Will Climate Change Lead to More Global Conflict?

Alex Randall, guest lecturer at the Centre for Alternative Technology and researcher at the Climate Change and Migration Coalition, explores some of the issues

Climate change will force to UK to commit its armed forces to new overseas conflicts. This is the belief of Navy Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti. The impacts of climate change, he argues, will destabilise already vulnerable areas. Droughts, heat waves and floods will tip conflict prone areas into full blown war. The UK will have no choice but to respond. Our armed forces will be deployed across the world to protect British interests in the face of an unstable climate.


Climate Change and Security

But is he right? It’s certainly a compelling story.
Morisetti is not alone in his views. In the US the Quardillenail Defense Review recently identified climate change as a new threat to American National Security. The four-yearly assessment by the Department of Defence scans ahead looking for new threats the US. The review identified many of the same issues as Morisetti. Increased frequency of disasters, droughts and displacement would tip the balance in already unstable places. A group of retired US military leaders reached almost the same conclusion.

The Centre for Naval Analyses – a Washington-based military thinktank – asked the retired military figures to asses the risks to US security posed by climate change. Again, the same answer. Disasters, displacement and food shortages would tip the balance. Places already on the edge of armed conflict will be tipped over the edge. The US military will be drawn into the conflicts. Either to protect US interests, or to offer humanitarian assistance. Either way forces will be deployed, lives will be at risk.

With such bold claims you’d expect some very strong evidence to back them up. After all, these military figures and experts are talking about how the armed forces will have to change over the next 50 years. They are trying to shape the kind of armed forces their nations will have. Politicians should rightly ask: what evidence is there to support their claims?

Let’s be clear: this isn’t about contesting the connection between human carbon emissions and the warming planet. This has been established for decades.

Further, we do not need to contest the connection between a hotter planet and various kinds of disasters. The connection between rising global temperatures and heat waves, flooding and increased storms is well established. It isn’t about questioning the link between these events and humanitarian disasters either. The evidence connecting altered rainfall, drought and food shortages is clear. The evidence linking increased rainfall, flooding and displacement is also very well established.

What I do want to question is the link between these humanitarian disasters and an increase in armed conflict.

This is where the academics get involved. As you’d expect, they don’t all agree. Before we delve into why they disagree about the climate – conflict connection its worth looking at how these researchers study it.

This group of academics use two kinds of data. First data about the weather. Changes in rainfall patterns. Data about temperatures and heatwave. Data about the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, typhoons and floods. Most of this comes from the Met Offices and Governments of countries all over the world.

What about data on conflict? Several conflict databases exist. The one most frequently used is compiled by the University of Upsala in Sweden. They gather data from governments, the media and the UN about how many people were killed or injured. They try to establish exactly when and where it happened. And which armed forces, rebel groups or insurgents were involved.

Now our academics try to combined various parts of these data sets and look for correlations. Are there more battled deaths in hotter years? Do more conflicts breakout in years with less rainfall? Do more people die in battle shortly after natural disasters? Using all this data the researchers can begin to answer these questions.

The answers to these questions have huge implications. If the relatively small changes we’ve already seen are leading more violence, then this is very worrying. What will happen as temperatures continue to rise?

The problem is, different academics have reach strikingly different conclusions. Some found powerful connections between altered weather patters and increased levels of conflict. Others found exactly the opposite.

These opposing conclusions lead to a headed academic dispute towards the end of 2014. Researchers Burke and Hsiang set about trying to resolve it once and for all. Rather than going back to the original data on weather and conflict, they tried a different approach. They took much of the existing research and work and asked whether – on balance – it pointed towards climate change increasing or decreasing violence. When all of the previous studies were looked at as a whole, what could they tell us?

Their conclusions were shocking. They found that the combined weight of 50 studies of climate and conflict pointed to a powerful connection. The affects of climate change, they argued, were already leading to an increase in violence. Even though some of the 50 studies pointed to a decrease, when looked at together, there was more evidence pointing towards a powerful increase.

But a group of rival academics were having none of it. Burke and Hsiang had excluded a number of key studies from their analysis. When these studies were put back in the mix, everything changed. The climate – conflict connection was much weaker. Further, Burke and Hsiang had also included some studies that were actually about crime, not warfare. And some studies comparing archaeological evidence about weather and conflict from civilisations hundreds of years a ago. Can these studies really tell us anything useful about organised armed violence in modern societies?

When these studies were removed from the mix the connection was weaker still.

So can we draw anything useful from this? First, none of the evidence – from anyone – says there will be an increase in inter-state warfare. It seems (fortunately) that climate change will not cause countries to fight each other. Further, none of the studies suggest that climate change will lead to fundamentally new kinds of conflict. There is some kind of connection between altered weather patterns and civil wars and inter-group violence (two non-government forces fighting each other).

The two sides of the academic debate disagree about how important climate change is. But they agree that when compared to the other forces that create conflict, it is not that important. Other problems – especially weak government institutions, poverty and vast disparities between rich and poor – are still the primary drivers of conflict. We must not ignore climate change as a force that might lead to conflict in the future. But if our aim is preventing conflict, then our focus should remain on tackling poverty, reducing inequality and helping other countries build strong democratic institutions.

Alex Randall is a guest lecturer on CAT’s postgraduate courses. He also runs the Climate Change and Migration Coalition, a network of refugee and migration NGOs working together on issues around displacement and climate change.


We are Energy!

Guest blog post from  Global Justice Now ( formerly the World Development Movement) who have recently published Rays of Hope, a booklet about energy alternatives. 

“As the UK is edging closer to blackouts and millions are struggling to pay the extortionate fuel bills from the Big Six energy companies, small energy co-ops are showing how we can build a sustainable and affordable energy future. From Scotland to Spain communities are taking back control of their energy to provide renewable energy and create local jobs.”

In Scotland, some communities have benefited from land reform legislation to take control of the land and renewable energy resources in their area. This has particularly been the case on some of the Scottish islands, many of which had single landowners who lived away from their estates, or were under state control.IMG_9818

 Increasingly, these communities have taken back control of the land, and then used their renewable energy resources for the first time to generate an income for the wider community trust which now owns and runs their estate.Community Energy Scotland, an organisation with its roots in one of Scotland’s regional development agencies, has led the community energy movement in Scotland resulting in numerous community-owned wind and hydro schemes across the country.

 Examples include South Uist (Storas Uibhist) and the Isla of Gigha. Gigha is a small island which had suffered from a succession of remote private landlords.  Many islanders had poor housing and no security of tenure under these landlords. In 2002 the land was bought out by the community, which then repaid in full the loans raised for this purchase. In 2005 they commissioned three small wind turbines which have produced a steady income which has been used to upgrade the housing stock. In 2012 they built a fourth wind turbine. This adds to the green energy that is in islanders’ control and uses a valuable resource to support local businesses.

 An important aspect of the Gigha turbines is the confidence they have added to the community. Because Gigha was the first place to have a community-owned windfarm, the island has benefited greatly from interest from other communities in the scheme. The turbines themselves are also a physical statement that the island is in community control and positive about a sustainable future.One clear sign of this is the fact that the island’s population has now risen from less than 100, ten years ago, to over 150 now. 

 A similar project by Storas Uibhist, the community trust which now runs the island of South Uist has three larger turbines. Elsewhere in Scotland, other community trusts are leasing land from the National Forest estate for hydro schemes where the community is the developer, owner and the full beneficiary of the project.

 Co-operatives can also function on a larger scale. For example, Costa Rica has four large rural energy co-operatives that are run by the communities that they serve and function alongside the state energy company. They have played an important role in increasing energy access using the bills paid by consumers to develop local electricity grids or extensions to connect households onto the national grid. The co-operatives do not have to rely on government subsidies and use some of the funds generated for projects like education programmes. Access to electricity in Costa Rica now stands at 98 per cent nationally.

Community Energy Co-operative in Barcelona

 In total, these four co-operatives account for 15 per cent of the electricity distribution in the country and provide around 40 per cent of service in rural areas. Initially established in the 1960s, since the 1980s they have also been involved in electricity generation, running two small-scale hydro-electric plants. The co-operatives have regular public meetings where decisions are made about pricing and leadership.

 In Spain, Som Energia(‘We are Energy’ in Catalan) co-operative was set up in 2011 in response to the high bills of the large energy companies, the largest two of which account for 80 per cent of the Spanish energy market, and the lack of green energy options. Four years after being established, it has set up eight solar roof installations and a biogas plant, and is in the process of building Spain’s first community wind turbine. It has 16,000 members who purchase electricity from the co-operative.

 In the wake of the Indignados protests against austerity following the financial crisis, many people have joined Som Energia, welcoming an opportunity to invest their savings in a project which create social value, rather than leaving it in the care of corrupt bankers.

 The co-operative is trying to make it as accessible as possible for those on low incomes to join, and its membership fee of €100 is relatively low compared to similar projects. While Som Energia does not receive the state subsidy that the big energy companies do to enable them to offer lower prices to poor consumers, it aims to offer some kind of social tariff financed from its profits. 

It has also pioneered democratic inclusion, offering a high level of transparency through publishing information on its website and having a structure based on local working groups which decide on their own priorities, whether training to members, increasing energy generation or making links with other organisations. Its annual general assembly takes place via the internet with trial runs available beforehand to ensure that those who are less familiar with online technology are able to participate.

As well as producing energy, Som Energia also aims to act as a platform for social and environmental campaigning, supporting existing organisations and providing space for discussion and making the links between the different issues people are facing. It is campaigning hard against reforms by the Spanish government which look set to protect the interests of the big energy companies while making life more difficult for small producers like Som Energia.

This is an excerpt from Rays of Hope, a booklet about energy alternatives. 

Zero Carbon Britain Short Course Scholarship

CAT is offering a funded placement for grass roots campaigners to join us on our next Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) course. Join us at CAT on 6-8th February for an empowering and inspiring weekend looking at this ground-breaking research. ZCB offers a robust, evidence-based scenario that explores ways we can deliver a climate positive future, whilst also maintaining a modern lifestyle. The course also covers how ZCB can be successfully used as a powerful tool to inspire positive action, stimulate debate and build consensus in our communities and places of work. The course is ideal for Change Makers working in Local Green Groups, Transition Towns, FOE groups, CAT members, students and activists etc
To enter please send us no more than 300 words (posted to the CAT Facebook or email courses@cat.org.uk) about why you should get a funded place what you will do with the knowledge you get from the course.

Deadline is 5pm GMT 29th January.
The winner will be judged by a panel of CAT staff and announced on 30th January on our Facebook page.
By entering you accept that CAT will post your name to the CAT Facebook page should you win.
Travel to CAT is not included but vegetarian wholefood full board and onsite accommodation at CAT is included.

Apply today! and please share around your networks- many thanks

We need to fight for energy justice

Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement) have just launched a new report called Rays of Hope – Clean and democratically controlled energy for everyone’. This is an extract from the new report by Christine Haigh, Climate and energy campaigner with Global Justice Now.

Our current energy system is deeply unjust. More than 1.3 billion people living without access electricity – many of them living in countries like Nigeria that exports huge amounts of energy to the global north. Communities across the world are experiencing the disastrous effects of fossil fuel extraction such as land grabbing by coal mines, oil spills and water polluted by fracking.

We urgently need a more just energy system. But what does energy justice look like?

Corporate control of energy has failed to ensure that everyone can access the energy that they need. It is also keeping us locked in destructive ways of producing energy, so it’s clear that fairer, more democratic alternatives are needed. There is no one-size fits all solution to meeting people’s energy needs in a sustainable way and in different places people are using different terms to describe their vision for a more just energy system. But there are a number of common threads.

No one disputes that energy should be provided in a way that gives everyone enough to meet their basic needs. In some parts of the world, this means public investment to provide a physical link for everyone to access electricity grids – something that has been achieved in countries like Costa Rica and Uruguay.

It also means ensuring that everyone can afford the energy that is available. In many places this is done through pricing systems which mean that the poor pay less. For example, in Cuba, the government provides enough energy for people’s basic needs at a very low price, with prices increasing steeply above this level, and the cost of power to run luxuries like air conditioning costing over 50 times that of the basic allocation.

It also requires that the rights of workers in the energy system are respected, and the production process does not cause destruction to other communities. Campaigns by trade unions and climate change campaigners in the UK and elsewhere have highlighted how a million good quality jobs could be created by investment in shifting to a green economy. Globally, the International Trade Union Confederation has estimated that 48 million new green jobs could be created over five years with enough investment.

There is growing consensus that control of energy should lie in the hands of those who produce and use energy, whether this is through public ownership or co-operative structures. In many parts of the world, people are experimenting with different ways of giving people a direct say in the decisions that are made about energy production and use. For example, Spanish energy co-operative Som Energia has pioneered ways of using the internet for decision-making, taking care not to exclude elderly members and those with less experience.

These democratic approaches are also taking care to move towards operating in a way that respects environmental limits: using renewable technologies or planning a phased transition away from destructive fossil fuels.

In Denmark, thanks to government support and tax incentives, wind power provides one-fifth of the country’s energy and three-quarters of the country’s turbines are owned by co-operatives. This model has inspired a similar approach in Germany, where over half of the renewable energy capacity is now owned by individuals or farms, much of it through co-operatives, rather than big energy companies. As a result there is far more support for renewable energy: 90 per cent of Danes support wind power as their favoured source of energy.


Rays of HopI


In Uruguay, the government has adopted an ambitious plan to transition away from fossil fuels and anticipates becoming an exporter of energy to neighbouring Argentina and Brazil.

One advantage of renewable technologies for communities that invest in them is that once the initial costs of buying the solar panels or wind turbine have been covered, the running costs are very low. In many projects, this has enabled the revenues from selling the power produced to be put to other uses. For example, in Zschadrass in Germany, the money generated is used to help cover the costs of running the local kindergarten and pay for free school meals and an annual holiday camp for local children.

The path to renewable, democratically controlled, accessible energy can be long. But if we work together we create an energy system that works for people rather than for profit. At Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement) we work with people across the world to take back control of our energy system. You can read more about the campaign and how you can get involved on our website.

This is an extract from the pamphlet ‘Rays of Hope – Clean and democratically controlled energy for everyone’ 

New Carbon Accounting Tool Released

Aubrey Meyer developer of the framework known as Contraction and Convergence launched a new carbon accounting tool at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

The new educational resource, CBAT (short for the Carbon Budget Accounting Tool) brings to life a process of ‘Contraction and Convergence’ which helps the user explore the potential of global climate deals that are do-able safe and fair, ending up with roughly equal global rights per capita to emit.

The CBAT tool helps  understand this process by inter-actively modelling the rates of change of net greenhouse gas emissions. CBAT is aimed at everybody (experts and students alike ) to help  decide what needs to happen in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Developer Aubrey Meyer says that, “the purpose of CBAT is ‘educational’ with an emphasis on improving the understanding of what is needed for us to really achieve the UN goal of avoiding really dangerous climate change.”

Aubrey Meyer celebrates the launch of his new carbon budget accounting tool with CAT staff, students and trustee’s

CBAT has a broad base of support that includes United Nations secretary Ban Ki Moon, Caroline Lucas, Rowan Williams, Jonathon Porritt, Tony Juniper and many more.

The Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth is the UK’s leading environmental educational charity. Set up in 1975 to inform, inspire and enable practical solutions for sustainable living. CBAT was launched during the Politics and Economy module of CAT’s new masters in Sustainability and Adaptation.

Tom Barker, senior lecturer at CAT said “It is an honour for CAT to have CBAT launched here. It will be a very effective tool in the fight against climate change and a brilliant opportunity for our students to get to grips with a new program to better understand climate accounting.”