ZCBlog: Artist in residence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Podcast: how to talk about the environment so that people will listen

How can we talk about the environment so that people will listen? George Marshall from the Climate Outreach Information Network discusses how we can improve the way we talk about climate change and environmental issues at the 2012 CAT Conference.

You can stream the lecture here, or

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Previous podcasts

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Podcast: creating a sustainable economy

How can we develop a sustainable economy? In a lecture to students on CAT’s Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies masters programme, Blake Alcott outlines the ideas of Ecological Economics, and explains how many of our ideas for making society more sustainable – from increasing efficiency to reducing population – are misguided.

Part one:

Part two:

You can stream the lecture here, or download the mp3 files for

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and

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Further reading: Alcott makes reference to Kenneth Boulding’s 1966 classic essay, The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth as well as an animation (There’s No Tomorrow) by the Post Carbon Institute.

Previous podcasts

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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.