Blog of the week: this week we’ve been reading (and talking about)

by Alex Randall

Climate Ethics takes a rather different slant to the numerous other climate change and environment blogs.


News and commentary on the latestest climate change events is relativly easy to find in the climate blogoshphere. Climate Ethics has a different aproach. Rather than looking and analysing the science or policy behind the headlines they take a look at the ethics. While other blogs and news outlets might use a science, policy or a particular political outlook to examine climate change, keeps it’s commentary firmly grounded in ethics. We can’t promise you that you’ll agree with everything they write. The nature of ethics is that its open to question and debate. But if you’re looking for a new slant then we highly recommend reading it for a couple of weeks and seeing how you get along.

If you’d like to suggest something for next weeks blog of the week, post a comment.

CAT in the news: who’s talking about us this week and what they’re saying

Learning exercise: Welsh universities have a wealth of natural resources on tap for adventurous students

For schools, colleges and universities in Wales, the centre at Machynlleth in Powys, half an hour’s drive from Aberystwyth, is a resource that runs a free information service, visits for schools and residential courses.

The centre has teamed up with the University of East London which validates specialist diplomas and Masters degrees delivered by academic staff at the centre. It offers an architecture MSc and a Masters in renewable energy and the built environment. Student Owen Morgan, 26, says enrolling on the MSc course helped him land a job with Bright Light Solar, a mid-Wales renewable energy company which provides solar powered vaccine fridges, water pumps and heating systems to rural areas worldwide.

“Everyone is there because they are passionate about sustainability. We inspire each other to push the frontiers of what can be achieved,”

Q&A: Renewable energy: The UK aims to produce 15% of its energy from renewables by 2020. Alok Jha explains the technology behind the target

By 2007, there were 2GW of turbines installed. The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) says 9GW of offshore wind will be in place by 2015, overtaking installed nuclear power. This month, Centrica and RWE npower came close to approving two offshore wind farms costing an estimated £3bn.

According to the Centre for Alternative Technology, wave power could supply 10% of the UK’s energy needs but this technology is at a much earlier stage. Although there are scores of British designs for wave energy converters, none are anywhere near commercial scale.


Eco homes: how to slash your fuel bills. Funding is available for those wanting to go green.

The Centre for Alternative Technology, a think-tank for energy-saving devices for more than 35 years, says the credit crunch has led to a surge in interest in eco-measures.

“People are beginning to think about investing their money in something that will provide them with affordable, reliable energy, whatever the economic climate,” says spokesman David Hood.

Continue reading “CAT in the news: who’s talking about us this week and what they’re saying”

Video Round up: the videos that have got us talking this week

by Alex Randall

Three short films have done the rounds and got us talking in the staff room this week. All three have also generated a fair amount of chatter on the Facebook page.

The first two films are very different but powerful demonstrations of the effect climate change will have on less developed countries. The third film is a lecturer by American academic Jared Diamond in which he outlines why some of the greatest societies in human history have collapsed and explores whether we are headed in the same direction.

The videos are embedded below. If you’d like to suggest something for the next video round up please post a comment.

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VIDEO: Is biochar the answer?

by Lewis Winks Biology Department

The charcoal industry has had an interesting history, once being the staple commerce of woodlands in the British Isles, it provided work for many and was a quintessential part of our landscape. Soon after the discovery of coal as a fuel source in the early 1700s charcoal became an unprofitable venture, and the woodsmen who made it became a part of history, lost to the beginnings of the industrial revolution.

So who would have thought, that 250 years after the first use of fossil fuels we would be turning back to charcoal as a means of undoing the damage of those emissions. Poetic it may seem, but to those who are studying the capacity for Biochar to sequester Co2 from the atmosphere, this is an all too real opportunity. And it doesnt stop at mopping up emissions; Biochar has the potential to improve degraded agricultural land and reduce fertiliser dependency while creating rural jobs, providing a use for organic waste and becoming an integrated part of our biomass energy systems. Continue reading “VIDEO: Is biochar the answer?”

News roundup. The news stories we’ve been talking about in the staff room: green jobs and climate change refugees

Two stories that have caught our attention this week. First news of a new study that claims that the green economy in the US is creating new jobs twice as fast as traditional industries and on a less positive note a study into forced migration caused by climate change.


Refugees in Darfur. Creative Commons. UNHCR

The news that climate change could cause millions of people to leave their homes and look for somewhere else to live comes as no surprise. But this study really caught out attention because it gives some idea of the numbers of people who might be forced to migrate. It’s not surprising that this caused a fair amount of staff room discussion. We talk about climate change migration in several of our resources and it’s used as a discussion topic with visiting school groups. The slightly vague assertion that climate change will cause mass migration now has some solid numbers to go with it  which is enormously useful for us.

The report calls immediate plans to be made to deal with mass climate migration and funding to help people move out of flooded or drought ridden areas.  The report states that certain levels of migration are now inevitable and regardless of our effort to halt climate change we must start planning now to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people:  “In coming decades, climate change will motivate or force millions of people to leave their homes in search of viable livelihoods and safety.” This aspect of the report raised the issue of whether our resources should be focused on mittigating climate change by reducing our green house gas emissions or putting our resources into adpating to climate change. However focused we might be on preventing climate change it is difficult to argue that we should not expend resources helping people who are already being effected. You can read the origional research here.

News that America’s green economy is creating jobs quicker than other industries sparked slightly more positive staff room discussion. You can have a look at the research here. The report was actually conducted before the economic down turn and before the US government’s stimulus package so there was some debate about whether the findings were still valid. On one hand traditional US industries have been badly hit by the down turn – so green industries may well be creating even more jobs in comparison. On the other hand there is evidence that the green economy has been hit badly by the down turn too. The US government’s stimulus package and various bail outs have offered boosts to both traditional industries in the US like car and steel manufacturing  as well as the green sector. The report gives us confidence in the green sector to create jobs – but the ecomoic down turn,  government stimulus packagaes and bailout mean we probably need more research before we can truly estimate the power of green economy.

You might be interested in our education resources that look at various aspects of global equity and how it relates to climate change. In our research project Zero Carbon Britain we will shortly be looking at the economic impacts of decrabonising the UK. You can listen to our podcast about the project or get involved in the research here.

Join the discussion. Post a comment.

Playing for the planet: how we use play to help children understand the environment

by Alex Randall Media Department

During the school holidays we run a programme of children’s activities. These photos are from the ‘slug and bug hunt’ sessions where kids explore the gardens and identify the various animals and plants that live around the centre.


A young girl finds a slow worm during the slug and bug hunt

These activities are designed to help children understand the natural world and the impact that humans can have upon it. The activities go beyond  simply looking at wild life – they help children understand ecosystems and how human activity affects them . Other sessions involve games and activities to help children understand climate change, renewable energy and waste.


A young boy looks for insects in the specially designed insect wall

The staff adapt each days activities to suit the children that are there that day. So sessions could include hands-on workshops, co-operative games, puppet making, painting and story telling.


Looking at the different plants and animals that live in the pond

Find out more about CAT’s education department and what they do. You might also be interested in Julie’s blog posts about teaching climate change and her work with the local school in Machynlleth

PODCAST: Turning the weather into cash

Could the UK provide all it’s energy needs from renewable sources? Can we really create thousonds of green jobs? In this podcast we explore how much energy we could actually make from the wind, sun and rain and whether this could help pull the UK out of a recession. Can we turn the weather into cash?


From the green valleys to the White House

The small nation of Wales will be presenting some huge ideas at this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC, later this month. Experts will discuss the future, including the buildings we could live in, the food we might eat and the way we could use energy in a world without fossil fuels.

The Convergence on Zero event (from 25-26 June) will present leading thinkers from climate science, energy, politics and technology. The event is free, and open to anyone interested in the big questions about the 21st  century – climate change, oil depletion and the economic crisis.


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Is Wales beating the US at the climate change game?

The year started with high hopes for dynamic US action on climate and energy issues, and I have watched tentatively on my side of the Atlantic here in Wales. The US needs hard-hitting climate policy on a domestic scale to make it a leader on the international stage at the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December.

Unfortunately, proposals on the table don’t consider the increasingly stark scientific warnings – that we need to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible. This is why CAT is organising the Convergence on Zero conference in Washington, DC, from 25-26 June 2009. Scientists, energy experts, economists and politicians will debate fresh social and technological ideas on climate and energy beyond fossil fuels.


Wales and America have both recently embarked on historic policy decisions that will legally bind both their administrations to climate change and sustainability policies. After observing the unfolding policy journeys of both countries I believe the Convergence on Zero meeting is a timely one.

The American Clean Energy Security Act 2009, aka the Waxman-Markey Bill, signals a bold commitment to tackle greenhouse gas emissions at home before stepping forward to negotiate an international emissions reduction agreement for the post-Kyoto period. However, it is merely a signal, a smoke signal that melts into air, disappearing through its own loop hole.

Digging beneath the rhetoric, those following closely the evolution of this “historic” Act have exposed some inadequacies that seriously undermine the lofty intentions that President Obama touted on the campaign trail not so long ago. A clean energy infrastructure, energy efficiency on a national scale, green jobs, massive investment in renewables, it all sounded so good. The Act has emerged as a rather anaemic carrier pigeon rather than the soaring eagle it could have been.


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Why green manure is important and how to use it in your garden

by Katie Croft Gardens Department

As the sun’s finally shining and our seedlings are ready for planting out, now’s the time for turning in the green manures on site. In these pictures you can see me turning in the field beans in our green manure display, where we demonstrate a few different kinds and what they’re used for.


Green manures are a key part of organic gardening, and they serve a number of different purposes. They improve soil structure, prevent soil erosion, can inhibit weed growth and most importantly, increase the soil’s fertility. The main idea is that you grow a certain green manure crop on your land, and when it’s still young (about 6 weeks is perfect), you ‘turn’ it in, or dig it in. The plant then slowly releases its nutrients as it decays and increases the amount of organic matter in the soil. Green manure crops are hardy and can be grown over winter and spring, so you don’t need to leave the ground bare.



Field beans, like all of the bean family, is a nitrogen-fixing plant. It has little nodules on its roots where nitrogen-fixing bacteria live in a fascinating mutual relationship- the bacteria transform nutrients from the air into a form usable for the plant, and the plant feeds the bacteria with sugars from its roots.

There loads of great green manure crops that can be grown at different times of year and well in different climates, or even as a ground cover underneath other crops to increase fertility year round so do a bit of research and plan some into your sowing calendar


You might be interested in our organic gardening courses, our free information and books on garening or visiting the gardens here at CAT. You might also want to download a detailed guide to using green manures produced by Garden Organic or have a look at the BBC’s guide to green manures.