Come along to one of our taster open days to find out more about the environmental masters courses on offer at the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Graduate School of the Environment. You must pre-book, but these open days offer a great chance to get a flavour of the practical, innovative courses we offer and find out if one might be right for you.
Upcoming open day dates
Wednesday 11th February
Wednesday 11th March
Wednesday 15th April
Open Day Programme
11:00 – 4:30 (free and includes lunch),
Wednesday taster days take place during the masters in sustainability and adaptation modules each month and give you the chance to come along to CAT meet some existing students, speak to lecturers and decide which environmental masters degree at CAT is most suitable for you.
Have a tour of the Centre, including accommodation and teaching facilities
The open day is free but there is an option to stay overnight until Thursday morning. The overnight stay is offered at the subsidised rate of £25 including accommodation in a shared student room, dinner and breakfast. This is a great chance to have a more relaxed time at the centre and experience a few more lectures or practical sessions, and hear from other students.
To book a place please email Kit Jones email@example.com now, or at least one week before the open day.
Tasha Aitken is studying for a Professional Diploma in Architecture at CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment. Here she reports of a module in which saw students getting knee deep in poo, learning about ecological sanitation (with less involved options for the those of a more delicate disposition!), ecosystem services, Gaia theory and water and waste management. The module was held jointly with students from the masters degree in sustainability and adaptation.
I think many of my fellow students would agree with me that returning to CAT for the November module, our third of 18 for the Professional Diploma course, was like returning home. Everyone dribbled in at various times throughout the evening and each time, everyone gathered round to greet the new arrivals.
I think many of my fellow students would also agree that the pace had really been cranked up as October turned to November. Ready to greet us on Monday and Tuesday mornings respectively were our first assessed presentation and submission deadlines for a 3,000 word essay and 1250 word practical. So, with the brief intermissions to welcome course-mates we hadn’t seen for weeks, most of us were beavering away at the finishing touches to our written work and starting (!) our presentations for the following morning.
The presentation topic was unspecified, but the length was strictly 10 minutes, really getting us to think about content, flow and conciseness of delivery. As a result, the day was a brief snapshot into the other three-quarters of each-others’ lives outside of CAT-week. Topics ranged from building out of found materials in an eco-village and involvement in community projects to the principles of teaching Forest School. Even those, including myself, who presented on an aspect of their Ceinws Sustainable Rural Affordable Housing Project were putting across a chosen interest personal to them. It was a brilliant enlightenment to the expanse of knowledge and experience we have as a collective.
After a day of presentations, Tuesday saw us revert back to a more normal schedule of lectures. This month’s module has been “Ecosystem Services, Land-Use and Water and Waste Management”: a mouthful to say and an even bigger plateful of really practical information taking us back to the basics of resource use. As ProfDips, we didn’t attend the entire lecture series but still managed to cover topics such as: Contaminated Land, Ecological Sanitation, Flooding and Urban Design, Food Security, Ecosystems Services, and Resource Management. To pick out a single issue to tell you about is tricky, but perhaps one most relevant to CAT philosophy is the idea of the Meta-Industrial Era. The Resource Management lecture by Peter Harper talked about the transitions made from Pre-Industrial to Early Industrial and to the Mature Industrial Era, our current position, increasingly abandoning low impact natural materials in favour of high performance, high impact technologies. Discussion related to the modern day relevance of natural pre-industrial materials, where it was suggested that the “Meta-Industrial Age” involves using low energy materials wherever possible, but adding ‘industrial vitamins’, such as internet, electricity and high-quality glazing, allowing expected standards of living to continue.
On Thursday, Brian Moss, the noted ecologist sandwiched dinner with two lectures, and whose stimulating content was centred around, firstly, the idea of natural selection and the debate between co-operative and selfish evolution: pack behaviour versus the protective female instinct. His point was that we are an invasive species and to overcome our selfish nature – self-promotion and self-indulgence – would be to allow the Earth to survive. The second part was really about what the human species’ place in the world is: Is our work to restore the planet unnatural? If we are part of nature, can anything we do be unnatural? And finally, explaining that “the spirit level” may be a Silver Bullet for the Earth. Moss pointed out that the feudal system gave few an enormous sphere of influence with potential to ruin the Earth , whilst the pre-feudal clans and tribes were unable to make such an impact and would take themselves out upon acting unsustainably, therefore removing the problem.
Possibly the most exciting part of the week for everyone was Practical Day, and the prospect of getting knee deep in poo during Louise’s sanitation option! However, you will have to ask someone else about that as I chose to walk around Machynlleth and observe existing and potential ecosystem services, in other words, the ways in which nature can provide for us, e.g. trees giving shade or plants as a food source.
And on to the Friday night social, in the absence of Tim, Tom Barker took up the mantle and introduced the theme of Moodle, our online information service that had been causing a few hiccups recently. Poems with as many oodle-rhyming words as possible were read out in Irish accents and with guitar accompaniments and people stamped their user-numbers on their foreheads. Oh, and there was an entirely unrelated acro-yoga session, the pinnacle of which was our human pyramid!
Dates have been announced for short courses on Zero Carbon Britain in 2015. Following a successful course this year with 15 participants from diverse environmental projects and grassroots campaigns, we will be running two courses during 2015.
The first is a weekend course running from Friday 6th to Sunday 8th February
The second course takes two nights during the week: Wednesday 2nd to Friday 4th September.
The courses offer an in-depth introduction to CAT’s latest Zero Carbon Britain research, 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 Zero Carbon Britain can be successfully used as a powerful tool for groups and individuals to inspire positive action, stimulate debate and build consensus in their communities and places of work.
The course is aimed at Local Green Groups, Transition Towns, FOE groups, CAT members, activists and anyone with an interest in positive sustainable futures
Participants will leave with:-
• Overview of the key environmental challenges
• Long term perspective on relationship between human beings and energy
• Detailed introduction to the ZCB scenario and how it meets climate challenges
• Detailed session on energy modelling and land-use/diets
• How ZCB can offer an national perspective to local action
• Suggestions on how ZCB has been used as a tool for local groups
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.”
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.”
The climate talks have opened in Peru, their aim is to lay the foundation for an agreement in Paris and the stakes could not be higher. 195 countries are meeting to lay the groundwork for a new global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The stakes are tropospheric, and far clearer now than when Kyoto was negotiated. High tide floods are becoming common across the coastal U.S. Greenhouse gases are making seas hotter and more acidic. Climate change is clearly amping heat waves, which are fueling wildfires. Global temperatures have risen 1.5°F since the Industrial Revolution, pushing sea levels and storm surges up an average of 8 inches. Greenhouse gas levels are rising now faster than ever.
Whilst everybody agrees that they want a deal, the devil, in this case is very much in the detail. This article explores some of the sticking points around COP20/21
The 196 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have set an outside target of limiting global warming to 2°C over pre-industrial levels. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and other climate-vulnerable countries want a tougher 1.5°C goal.
Should the pact be a “treaty” to be ratified by national parliaments, a slightly less formal “protocol” or some other form of agreement? And to what degree will it be binding under international law? These questions, crucial and explosive, are likely to be decided in the final hours in Paris, say insiders.
The deal is meant, for the first time, to bind all countries to a common climate text, with nations making pledges to curb emissions of Earth-warming greenhouse gases. Developing countries point to the principle of “differentiation” and want rich economies, who have polluted more for longer, to shoulder a bigger burden for addressing the problem. Wealthy countries, in turn, point to the rise of China and India as massive emitters of carbon from fossil fuel driving their growth, and insist on equal treatment for all. Poorer economies fear the talks are too focused on emissions curbs, known in climate jargon as “mitigation”.
They want the agreement to spell out financing for their own mitigation plans, but also help for adaptation, technology transfers, and compensation for climate damage. Not yet settled is the very wording of the pact – should the targets be called “commitments” or “contributions”?
Countries are being asked to submit their emissions pledges (“intended nationally determined contributions” or INDCs) by the first quarter of 2015. In Lima, negotiators will be tasked with agreeing on the type of information the INDCs must contain, and whether they will be housed in an annex or attachment to the main accord or in less formal “national schedules”. Before they become formal, will the pledges be assessed to determine whether they are sufficient, combined, to meet the warming target?
And if they are found lacking, will parties reconsider their commitments voluntarily or would there would be a “top-down” adjustment based on a global carbon budget (the total amount of fossil fuel the world has left to burn without exceeding the warming limit)?
Countries also disagree on whether the pledges should be for five- or 10-year cycles, and how frequently they should be reconsidered, if at all.
Follow up and compliance
Reviewing and disciplining countries that fail to live up to their commitments is another thorny issue. Will there be an international review of countries’ performance, a compliance mechanism or committee, or none?
Despite the failures of the carbon market to date ( it has not reduced emissions or prevented environmental degradation) some countries seem determined to keep trying. A new carbon market that will spur emerging nations to cut emissions is the key element of next year’s planned global climate accord. Amber Rudd U.K. official said, “winning United Nations support for a market that would give credits for emission reductions would be the most important part of any international agreement,”
But as Oscar Reyes puts it in his briefing for Carbon trade watch– “Try again, fail again, fail better.”
There is significant opposition to schemes such carbon trading at REDD+ from a wide range of campaign groups as well as Latin American countries such as, Bolivia Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua that have a record of rejecting market-based approaches to cutting emissions. Evo Morales blames capitalism squarely for climate change: “The real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to save the earth then we must end that economic model. Capitalism wants to address climate change with carbon markets. We denounce those markets and the countries which [promote them]. It’s time to stop making money from the disgrace that they have perpetrated.”
The people’s summit being is being held in Lima at the same time and is calling for an ambitious, fair, equitable, and binding climate agreement. That is able, in record time, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by no less than 50% based on the principles of equity and common and includes climate justice for the most vulnerable. If no such agreement is reached, the life of future generations is at risk. At the summit issues such as Payment for eco system services, Green capitalism ,REDD+ will be debated and alternatives proposed that are not based in perpetuating neo liberal market economies.
———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-A breakthrough in Lima is vital if we to get see a global agreement in 2015, the agreement of China and the US to reduce emissions has been seen as a major boost for the climate talks. In order to reduce emissions to net zero by 2070 and earlier in developed countries there is no time to waste. Government processes are needed to create change but equally importantly is a global, popular, mass movement for climate change that builds and demonstrates the world we want to see. From the massive protests world wide in September 2014 to the mobilisations already going on ahead of Paris 2015 we can only achieve this enormous task by working together with a renewed focus and unified voice- presenting a powerful force for change.
Yesterday the REBE (Renewable Energy and the Built Environment) students were taken to visit Mynydd Gorddu Wind Farm located near Tal-y-bont, Ceredigion, West Wales and given a tour by the site manager. As a media volunteer I get to document all the interesting excursions students make, and so I thanked the weather gods for a sunny day, pulled on my long johns and packed my camera. After bumpy ride down narrow roads on the local coach, we arrived and were greeted by the sites operational manager, a sharp man in his forties. With the sun on our backs, we huddled round like penguins as he explain how this wind farm, which has been successfully running for nearly 20 years was started.
Developed initially by Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig in 1997 – a company owned by a local family, Dr Dafydd Huws and Mrs Rhian Huws, npower renewables was involved in the early stages but in 1993 ceased to be involved with the project. Beaufort wind Limited are listed as the owner now, RWE Innogy as the operator. Dr Dafydd Huws had been inspired by the turbines at CAT and later through visits to Denmark where the technology has been developed further. In 1997 however, npower renewables agreed to assume responsibility for the financing and construction of the wind farm. Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig became a co-operative venture between npower renewables, now called RWE Innogy and the Huws family company, Amgen, the welsh for “positive change”. Dr Huws and his company Amgen continue to have, a leading role in the development of the wind farm and its operation.
By all accounts this wind farm was remarkably successful, with a good track record of fulfilling its potential, but like all machines they do need maintenance.It was interesting to hear direct from the horses mouth what its like to manage a site such as this, what kind of decisions you have to make when lightening strikes and melts the conductors. Calling crane companies and having to pay them double so they can come lift off the hub and propellers the next day, and get the turbine back in action as quick as possible. These kind of quick financial calculations, mixed in with practical monitoring and maintenance are all part of a days work for a wind farm operational site manager.
The site was awarded European grant of £1.3m to trial four different types of turbine but today there stands 19 turbines, with two different diameters, as the planning authorities weren’t so happy with the idea of too many different machines scattered across the hills. The planners also ensured that the sub-station, where the electricity is sent into the grid and where the turbines are monitored (with P.C’s STILL running from 1995, a little fact to amaze the techo- heads) is built in a true vernacular style, with stone walls, wooden doors and iron detailing.
If you are interested in the performance of these medium sized wind turbines then you may be interested in the following; 7 of the turbines are each rated at 600 kilo Watts with a hub height of 34 metres and a rotor diameter of 43m. The other 12 are rated at 500kW each with a hub height of 35m and rotor diameter of 41m. The rotors on both turbine sizes turn at an approximate speed of 30 revolutions per minute (rpm), driving a gearbox within the nacelle which is in turn connected to a generator. The turbines start to generate electricity automatically when the wind speed reaches around 11 miles per hour (mph), and achieve maximum output at around 33 mph. They shut down when the wind speed exceeds 56 mph, which is rare. The farm has a combined maximum output of 10.2 megawatts.
I have no pretentions of being an engineer, and so many of these technical details the REBE students were avidly scribbling down passed me by and I tuned into the gentle sound of the blades swooshing above me in the cold winter wind and their majestic white silhouettes cutting into the crisp blue sky, a symbol to me of beauty and hope. I was also noticing the red kites sailing high in the sky, the fresh strong blast of cold wind whipping around my ears and noticed a suprising birds nest above one of the windmills doors at the base.
I am interested in the politics and people behind these endeavours and was intrigued to hear how carefully Dr Dafydd Huws tried to maximize the returns to the community by ensuring the windfarm infrastructure spread across more than one owners land. There is a fund, “Cronfa Eleri” that’s administered by Amgen, who have set up the Cronfra Eleri Advisory Committee, ensuring that people who understand the needs of the community decide how the money is spent to provide the widest community benefit. The fund yields about £10,00 a year and in 2011 the fund helped buy a new heating system for a community centre in Ysgoldy Bethlehem, Llandre, a new shed for the local Talybont nursery, the re-wiring and renovation of the local church in Bontgoch, and towards a new tennis court in conjunction with the Playingfield Society Rhydypennau.
As we wandered back to the coach, we waved good-bye to the beautiful bullocks, (the wind farm was fully integrated with the traditional farming practices of the area, with sheep and cows grazing beneath the turbines) and all looked forward to a delicious lunch awaiting us at CAT. The electricity from the farm traced our steps, passing along a cables supported by wooden poles from Bow street to Machynlleth, carrying clean electricity to the local electricity grid network for use in local homes, schools and businesses. All in all it had been a very successful trip, but lets see what Alexandra King, a REBE student who came too had to say;
Who are you and what do you do when your not studying at CAT?
“I’m Alexandra King. I live and work in Bath. My husband is a consulting engineer, I work with him, mainly as a support at the moment, but hope that after finishing this course, I will be more involved in the engineering design.”
Why did you decide to study at CAT?
“CAT is the obvious choice – to my knowledge it is the best place in the country to study renewables. Why? For a long time now I was a mecologist by choice. I believe in sustainable lifestyle. We’ve installed PVs on our roof as soon as we had a chance. Renewable energy is clean and available everywhere, even in the most remote locations. It will not run out anytime soon, unlike fossil fuels. And if we start making changes now, by the time we do run out of coal and gas, we should have good enough infrastructure to keep us going. I don’t know if we could slow down the climate change, but there is always hope.”
What did you learn from the trip to the windfarm?
“I’ve always liked wind turbines, and this visit just reinforced this affection. They are so elegant and not at all noisy. The footprint of a turbine is very small. I love the possibility of the double use of land (cattle or crops), turbines scale easily, the construction time is relatively short, unfortunately so is the lifespan of a wind farm. But I am sure we can overcome this in the future.
One more thing, I’ve visited several wind farms and yet to see a single dead bird, yet, driving home a few days ago, saw 8 corpses on the motorway… one of them was a badger, I think, but still.”
How do you find the teaching on the course, and is there anything you would change about your student experience with CAT?
“I love CAT, wouldn’t change a thing. Except I wish I’d started earlier, like several years ago, but never mind now. I think this course is well balanced; it will give me a broad understanding of principles and technologies that will be very useful in my future work.”
“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in the message”- “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”
UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, attending what he described as an “historic” report launch earlier this month.
This week the United Nations has released the most important assessment of global warming yet and warns carbon emissions must be cut sharply and quickly. The report also makes it clear that rather than falling, carbon emissions, mainly from burning coal, oil and gas, are currently rising to new record levels. It is the first IPCC report since 2007 to bring together all aspects of tackling climate change and for the first time states: that carbon emissions will ultimately have to fall to net-zero – a theme which CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research has been exploring since 2007.
As the 2015 UN climate negotiations in Paris draw closer it is vital we have access to models for how each country can reach net zero emissions. Although the time allowed to reach net zero will vary between countries depending on their historic contribution to global emissions, the IPCC report makes it clear that getting to zero is a task facing us all.
However the IPCC report also makes it crystal clear that the solutions are both available and affordable and that quick, decisive action would build a better and sustainable future, while inaction would be more costly. “We have the means to limit climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.”
Finding this ‘will to change’ has been another core aspect of CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research project. Air flights, cars, high meat diets, conspicuous consumption shifting fashion and ‘constantly wanting the newest’ are powerful addictive social norms. Underpinned by abundant cheap fossil fuels they have taken a firm, yet sub-conscious hold on contemporary society, making it hard to question all that underpins them. But this is not a matter of moralising or inflicting guilt. We all awake to find ourselves having been deliberately, unwillingly led to place a burden on the earth, those in other places and those in future times.
We do know we must change, we just can’t admit that we know. Even when presented with overwhelming scientific evidence by the UN’s IPCC, we still find that we can deliberately ignore it – even while being entirely aware that we are doing it. To make such a rapid emissions descent more ‘thinkable’ for those of us who have grown up in the industrialised west, it is necessary to help society see that the way we live our lives today is not “normal” but rather an energy extreme lifestyle. Such lifestyles have been deliberately designed for us, not only in terms of re-shaping the external physical landscape of transport systems and buildings but also in terms of the internal landscape of conspicuous consumption based social norms. Once this is revealed people can make their own leap and moving from today’s lifestyle is no longer seen as ‘a strange eco-challenge’ but a perfectly logical move to a more rational way of doing things.
But the vital thing to remember is that once we are equipped with the right tools, the way ahead can be a wonderful and exciting journey. From my perspective, renouncing consumerism gives me more time to do the things I love; spending much more time with community and spending quality time in nature – all directly replacing time, money and energy spent on conspicuous consumerism. Creative practice has shown how we can break through our prejudice, apathy and blind spots to catalyse a transformation of culture, attitudes and behaviours. Over just a few decades, our creativity has improved the lives of millions. It has helped to radically transform entrenched attitudes to gender, race, religion, class, employment law, exploitation and equity. Once a cultural shift is catalysed, legal & political frameworks quickly follow suit. To help society explore this leap I have been part of a group researching these ideas and we launched the report of our findings in Cardiff last week.
Developing a path to net-zero as quickly as possible for Britain is necessary to show we can bring the impacts of our western excesses back down to our fair share – so we can look our brothers and sisters from across the globe in the eye and negotiate an equitable agreement at the next major UN climate summit in Paris in 2015. The UN calling for zero emissions is a hugely significant moment. At the moment, Zero Carbon Britain remains the only net zero emissions scenario for the UK. I hope, and expect, that won’t be the case for much longer
Looking back on the introductory half of the first module there has been a lot to take in! Meeting lecturers and other students on the course was re-assuring and surprising; the lecturers all have good levels of knowledge and practical experience (I have paid for some courses in the past where the trainers taught from a book and didn’t know the subject), whilst the students have come from a broad range of occupations and disciplines such as finance, engineering and teaching.
So far the course has laid the ground work with lectures explaining the current energy and policy status of the UK and covered global environmental issues and equipped us with the tools to learn; access to on-line research resources and essay writing lectures to name but a few (this is essential for me as I left college 25 years ago). A lot is packed into a day, with teaching finishing at around 8pm, then time flies as we sit in the evenings and discuss the thought inspiring lectures (often intermingled with anecdotes and drinks from the bar). I’ve been impressed with the lecturer/student ratio, there is always someone to ask if I missed something in a practical session. Saturday night sees an earlier finish at 6pm (this time following a seminar with our tutor which helps to demonstrate the type of work that is expected from us) after which some of us ventured into Machynlleth to find that the pubs are good and the locals are friendly. Sunday is a short day with two lectures and a packed lunch to see us on our way. I depart for a 6 hour train journey back to Southampton and feel pleased that my fears were unfounded; I have made the right choice, now I just need to write that essay and prepare my presentation for the second part of the module… That attendance covers the physics of energy use in buildings (closely related to my work), energy efficiency and an introduction to heat pumps.
Toby works as a consultant on domestic new-build housing, carrying out SAP (CO2) and Code for Sustainable Homes assessments along the South coast. He came to CAT because he wanted to challenge the answers that assessment tools give and he feels that a ‘hands on’ approach to investigating current technologies would be more useful.