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.

Cities, Snow and Celebration: The first Professional Diploma in Architecture module of 2015

Paolo Santos is a student on the Professional Diploma in Architecture course at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). Here he blogs on the first module of 2015, giving a flavour of what it is like to be a student on one of the postgraduate programmes at CAT.

Due to family commitments and last minute essay writing I couldn’t make it to CAT for the usual Sunday evening cwtch (Welsh for hugs) sessions, although thought it a nice surprise for fellow Professional Diploma in Architecture (ProfDips) if I turned up for breakfast instead.

January is going to be a challenge. The weather is now wintery and it was snowing over the Aberhosan pass from Llanidloes; a treacherous route through the winter months. Nevertheless, I make it to CAT in good time not to miss breakfast. The North drive has turned into a river. Note to self, ‘always wear they right gear’. The weather is always unpredictable in the Welsh Mountains. I got my feet wet walking up to the WISE building but received a warm welcome with lots of cwtches, which makes all the difference.

sustainable architecture
WISE student building in the snow

Sundays and Monday are always the day for us fourth year students. Hardly anyone from the other courses are around till Tuesday, which means more time for us all to get reacquainted and catch up. Monday we were introduced to a marathon seminar on Design Methodology by David Lea and Patrick Hannay, which delves into the process driven rational. We begin discussing architecture, I’m almost in heaven. The evening ends with the film ‘The Fountainhead’ 1949, based on the novel by Ayn Rand, about a young architect who chooses to struggle through individualism rather than compromise his vision of architecture and give in to the collectivists.

Tuesday brought snow, we start by handing in our essays and practical written pieces. For the first session of the day we join a MSc Lecture on Transformation by Elizabeth Shove. After coffee we hear from Peter Harper, one of the early pioneers of CAT, who coined term ‘alternative technology’. This guy is good! In this video he gives a great explanation of how it got set up. Lunch is my favourite, the Michael ‘burger’.

In the afternoon we have another Design Methodology sessions. This time we discuss the process of the Jewish Museum extension in Berlin by Daniel Libeskind at length. I suggest further reading of Between the Lines in Architecture in Transition, published by Prestel. Patrick Hannay ends the day with an architectural lecture delivered to all at CAT.

Wednesday, felt as if all was back to a normal schedule of shared lectures with the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course. This month the module is all about cities and communities. The first lecture was from Mike Reardon, a guest lecturer who talked about Barriers to Change; Karen Potter, another guest lecturer, then followed with a lecture on local authority planning, talking about what needs to change and how. After lunch, Jane Fisher, who is a resident lecturer at CAT, ran sessions on open spaces in the city, green infrastructure & the Urban Heat Island. The day is topped by 2 lectures by Peter Harper. The first is on Decarbonisation: household to community. After tea Peter introduces us to an amusing informal talk on his gardening techniques.

In the meantime in the background, the 5th year architecture students have been pinning up their final year projects to be assessed by the external examiner today. Gulp! One year to go! Hope all goes well for them, sure it will, nice bunch.

Seminar style

On Thursday, we are joined by Dr Ian Taylor a guest lecturer at CAT and director of Transport for Quality of Life. He gives an interesting talk on Sustainable Transport. The second session is on Post Carbon Cities, with David Rudlin of Urbed. After lunch both Ian and David lead the practical on ‘Designing an integrated urban environment’. Models like Vauban in Freiburg in Germany are mention throughout the course of the module. Using the knowledge we learned earlier in the day, we split into groups to design a sustainable housing and transport infrastructure for Peterborough’s, I’m loving this week.

burns night


Friday, is another site visit for our next project in Wolverhampton. This is very much a real project, with real constraints and a real client whom essentially needs ideas in which to develop an existing organisation/building/site. Our client faces a common nationwide situation, in which the Local Authority has reduced its previous support and funding. So we need to put everything we have learned at CAT so far into this scheme. Today is also exhibition day for the 5th years, open to all. We arrive back at base in time for a special tea, as its January we are celebrating Burns Night early, light entertainment is provided by several of the students, with song and dance by John, Helen and Tasha followed by a recital of a Burns poem in German by Cornelia. This is sadly last supper at CAT for the 5th years, and the world is their oyster. Friday night social begins with the bar open and Pat Borer (co-architect of the WISE building) in The Street Band, who play the night away as we wave goodbye to the 5th years.

Saturday, is a sobering ninth and final lecture of the week with Jane Fisher on Urban Ecology. We have a final meet with Duncan, the course leader, on setting up a brief for the Wolverhampton project and then it is all over. A quick lunch and off we set across the white landscape home.

If there is a song that could describe how I felt at CAT this January week it will be Sia’s Elastic heart.

Pat Borer
The Street Band: Evening Entertainment

Zero Carbon Britain and OpenEnergyMonitor collaborate on open source energy model

Zero Carbon Britain and OpenEnergyMonitor are collaborating on a new open source energy model http://zerocarbonbritain.org/energy_model/ aimed at helping users explore and visualise how a zero carbon energy system could work. The model shows hour-by-hour how energy supply and energy demand match up, the back-up power required, and how energy storage can help to balance supply and demand. The model also allows users to explore how much biomass is required for back-up power and other fuels and to see if their choices add up to a zero carbon energy system.

energy model 1

Philip James of the Zero Carbon Britain team is collaborating on the model with Trystan Lea of OpenEnergyMonitor. The model fits in with OpenEnergyMonitor’s work developing open source tools that allow users to monitor, evaluate and understand their own energy use. Their intention is to try and relate in house monitoring of electricity consumption, such as heatpump performance and electric car charging, with information about renewable supply both onsite and from the grid. This could help answer questions such as: how much of my heatpump’s electricity is likely to be coming from wind farms in the UK? How much would be coming from wind farms in the future? And if there was significant storage on the grid when would that electricity be coming directly and when would it be coming via a store. OpenEnergyMonitor are also exploring the potential for automatic control of these larger energy uses depending on renewable supply availability.

One study they have undertaken already explores and visualises the changes needed to get around 20 actual households in North Wales from their current energy use and carbon emissions to zero carbon http://egni.ecobro.org/data . With an hourly zero carbon energy system model, this kind of community energy planning exercise can take into account the variability of renewable energy supply and energy storage considerations in addition to the ‘power down’ demand side solutions.

These tools aim to help make it easier to join the dots between individual action and understand what’s needed at the community, regional and country-wide scale to get to zero carbon.

As with ZCB and OpenEnergyMonitor‘s other work, the tool is freely available and open source. We’d really like those who are interested to get involved, either by giving feedback and suggestions for the tool’s development or for other work in this area. Those who are really keen can download the computer code and contributing to the development directly https://github.com/philJam/energymodel .






A new Centre for Alternative Technology is set up in North Carolina

A Hop across the Pond….

Meet the Americans who are setting up at CAT in the US.

Looking good in the Sunshine...
Looking good in the Sunshine…

Christopher Carter and Deborah Amoral are two intrepid American environmentalists who travelled over 4000 miles, in the middle of winter, to learn how the Centre for Alternative Technology runs, and has been running for the last 40 years.


Inspired by an afternoon in the visitor center last year, which left them in a “full, awe, inspiration state” they left muttering, “We have to do this, we have to go home and do this”.  It was decided; they would set up an equivalent center near their hometown of Saxapahaw in North Carolina.  Despite their passion and vast knowledge of all things sustainable, they realized they had no idea about how to run such an organization, and so returned to for a month to gain insight and inspiration.


Saxapahaw is a recently renovated ex-industrial village that sits along the banks of the river Haw, a defining natural feature of North Carolina. The settlement was originally founded as one of many riverside developments that once flourished  along with the areas famous plaid textile industry. An industry that had defined life in the area until in 1994, when a tornado struck, taking the small town out of action. Until recently the place had been left to disintegrate, the mills to crumble and the past forgotten about. That is until the architect grandson of the mills owner, decided to renovate, repair and redesign the small town, creating the necessary infrastructure, such as shops and a petrol station, to support a new community.


Saxapahaw now has a huge music venue, to which people flock from the nearest big towns of Greensboro and Raleigh, a delicious local produce café and store, places to stay and things to do. It is in fact becoming a cultural hot spot, with a rapidly growing population, (planners apparently predict a region-wide increase of 50% between 2010-2030).  All these factors mean that Saxapahaw now has the infrastructure and people to support an alternative environmental education centre, and Chris and Deborah are going to make it happen.



Chris was a pioneer of renewable energy systems in the area, and was the first certified Solar photovoltaic installer in in North Carolina. Fuelled by anger at power companies who wouldn’t stop dismissing renewables as inappropriate and too expensive, he felt it was his personal mission to prove them wrong by demonstrating just how appropriate, and affordable they could be. His hard work installing as many small-scale renewable systems as possible became  led them to become known for their resilience and power. Hurricanes hit, ice storms rained down and time and time again, Chris would get calls saying “Geeesh – Thank you so much- we are the only ones in the neighborhood with our lights on”.


This positive feedback only fueled his passion and before he knew it he was on the local radio developing “The Home Power Hour” a radio station talk show that spreads his knowledge of renewable systems and makes the most of his wicked sense of humor and acting skills. Chris is not just an engineer but also an artist and actor, and plays a vital role mechanizing the local (environmentally-themed) puppetry troupe, and drama group. This compliment of arts and science, has helped champion his environmental ideals helping broaden the appeal of serious and scientific issues. His sense of fun and creativity comes through in his radio show, a take off of an American favorite talk show, “Car Talk”, where two grumpy old men take calls about car mechanics. The Home Power Hour, assumes everybody already has a renewable solar or wind system attached to their house, and that they need regular tips and advise about how to maintain it.  “Solar Jim” Chris’s radio personality and “Sustainable Jack” his lecturer side-kick, blend good old fashioned silliness with forward thinking advise about renewable energy and sustainability. Packed with spontaneous interviews with cyclists, growers, and engineers, the show is a weekly celebration of sustainable living.


If you are interested in listening then please just type “ The Home Power Hour WCOM” into your web browser and you should discover podcasts and listings for the next show. Apparently the shows were such as success that they have been appropriated for T.V and the local channel refuses to stop showing them!



The reason why these two have decided to set up a sustainability center is because they see a demand. Nobody else nearby is offering any sort of alternative to the “business as usual” ideology of climate change denial and people are asking them if they can run courses. The are picking up on a younger generations enthusiasm to learn the crafts their grandparents failed to teach them; simple home economics; how to preserve food, tan hides, build using natural materials, woodland management, and ecology amongst others.

Tanning skins.


They have detected a hunger from people who want to learn skills that will equip them to live more sustainably and independently.  Having already given a few individuals short courses offering their skills and expertize in renewables and “home economics” people are asking them to run more. If the planners are right about the dramatic increase in population, they hope to guide new homeowners to build sensitively to the landscape, building their lives in a manner that benefits and enhances the natural landscape, with the formation of an advisory service called “The Homesteaders Association”.


So not only do they have the wisdom and skills, but an amazing place to deliver them from.  On their own land they have a 45 ft round wooden yurt inspired structure spaces for offices and toilets, which they hope to develop into a hub of sustainable education. The local community college does teach evening courses in trades, such as welding and mechanics, but there is nowhere, local, you can discuss and experience an alternative ecological lifestyle. With a residential approach to learning they hope to create a space that immerses you in a positive alternative reality, with discussions and campfires to ignite the seeds of change.

a new environmental centre in North Carolina.

Chris and Deborah are deeply concerned, shocked at the lack of governmental awareness to the ecological crisis we are all facing and it is the transformation of this despair into positive, affirmative action that marks these two out from the rest. They are sowing the seeds of hope in dark times in a State, where it is now illegal to consider climate change or sea level rise in any governmental decision making, where low profit social enterprise corporations have been outlawed, and where fracking and oil exploration are officially celebrated.


CAT has been running for the last 40 years to a similar tune, and through its evolution has many lessons in organizational structures, decision making processes and financial accountability that can help Chris and Deborah on their way. Using their imagination they can run ideas forward and backwards in their mind in the hope of avoiding the pioneer hiccups that CAT as an experimental and daring organization has had.

If you are interested in following the progress of these pioneering and inspiring individuals on their mission to help the US get back on track then, feel free to email them on Info@hvisax.com or find them at HandyVillageInstitute.org or on Facebook at “Handy Village Institute, Inc “.



Machynlleth: Sustainable Capital of the UK

CAT is based in the buzzing Dyfi Valley awash with active environmental and sustainability  projects- according to a Guardian article:  “if any place in Britain could be called its sustainable capital, it’s Mach.” We have counted up the projects and gathered them here under relevant subheadings below – although many themes are interlinked.  We don’t have everything so if you think you should be on the list, write to us and tell us 



Ecodyfi is a regeneration organisation that supports local projects including; Mentro Allan (Venture Out); Dyfi Footprint Project; Dyfi Biosphere; Communities First and Lifelong learning amongst others about Sustainability; Transport; Tourism; Energy; Waste and Fair Trade:

The Dyfi Footprint Project aims to estimate, monitor and reduce the carbon impact of the Dyfi Valley.

Communities First (Welsh Assembly Government programme) provides local people with opportunities to play an active role in their community.

Community Action Machynlleth and District Local Volunteer Bureau, (CAMAD) is a scheme to connect people wanting to volunteer with sustainable organisations in the Dyfi Valley.


Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Rail Passengers Association (SARPA) is a local rail users group campaigning for enhanced and improved rail services in Mid Wales.

Sustrans, is a sustainable transport charity developing the National Cycle Network, Safe Routes to Schools and other projects to encourage walking and cycling in the UK. It also includes trails in the local area.


Swap Shop, Machynlleth is an online community that enables you to swap unwanted items for items that you need for free.

CRAFT (Ceredigion Recycling And Furniture Team) collects and accepts donations of unwanted goods and furniture to sell or recycle in Aberystwyth.


Dyfi Vally Seed Savers is a not-for-profit organisation based in Machynlleth that promotes saving and swapping seeds with the aim of preserving old or unusual vegetables; nurturing local knowledge and plant heritage; and promoting sustainable gardening. Current Seed Saver Projects Include; The Welsh vegetable Project; The Powys Orchard project; and The Apple Mach Register.

The Mid Wales Food & Land Trust
has recently launched an associated website for all local food and drink producers, retailers and restaurateurs in providing online promotion and exposure, whilst also acting as a comprehensive business database available to the public and the media.

Cwm Harry Land Trust are a social enterprise picking up food waste around Newtown, Llani and now Welshpool, and processing it into compost. They also work with socially disadvantaged and children’s groups on their allotment, and are working with local small-scale growers with a veggie bag scheme.

This is Rubbish is a food waste campaign that set up in Machynlleth to raise awareness and tackle concerns about food waste within the UK supply chain.

The Dyfi Valley was also awarded with Fair Trade Valley status in 2004 by achieving over one thousand signatures during the Fair Trade Fortnight that year.

Dyfi Land Share is working to match up people who want to grow food with available land in the Dyfi Valley, they work to promote local food production and better enable people to grow food in the Dyfi Valley.

Woodlands and Biodiversity:

Dyfi Biosphere is a global network where knowledge and experience of local heritage, culture and economy can co-exist in the natural environment.

Aberystwyth Forest Education Initiative
educate School groups in Mid Wales about woodlands and woodland crafts.

Coed Lleol provides information and contacts in Wales whether a woodland manager, forest school tutors or individual nature enthusiast.

Coed Cymru, based in Newtown, is an all Wales initiative to promote the management of broadleaf woodlands and the use of locally grown hardwood timber.

Wales Wild Land Foundation (WWLF) is a group that has just set up to create an area of native woodland near Machynlleth. As part of the same group: The Cambrian Wild Woods Project, are planning for a beaver enclosure near the Artists Valley.


Bro Dyfi Community Renewables is a community energy co-operative for community-owned renewable energy projects including two community wind turbines near Machynlleth.

Mid Wales Car Share  is an online networking site and has a function to allow you to search by specific journeys in Mid Wales.

Anemos Renewables a Machynellth based wind energy company offering consultancy, design and installation services for small to medium sized wind energy schemes.

Dulas Engineering are a renewable energy company based in Machynlleth that provide expertise and consultancy in biomass, wind, solar, and hydro power.

clock tower

John Cantor Heat Pumps is a website of useful basic information about heating-only applications with heat pumps. It covers environmental issues, and supports the appropriate use of this technology in high-efficiency eco-friendly applications.

Mid Wales Community Energy Trust links income from renewable energy with rural regeneration through sustainable energy projects in Mid Wales.

Llanidloes Energy Solutions, a voluntary community group based in Llanidloes.

Open Energy Monitor  is a project to develop open-source energy monitoring tools to help us relate to our use of energy, our energy systems and the challenge of sustainable energy.

Clear Solar solar PV and heat pump systems


Dyfi Architecture  is a registered, award winning architectural practice based in the Dyfi Valley, they aim to bring added value to the built environment through designs that can be constructed and operated sustainably and have the potential to be adapted to suit future needs.


Free range designs uses recycled and sustainable sourced wood to create bespoke pieces of outstanding furniture, from story telling chairs to enchanted beds.

Green Holidays

Green Holidays Wales  Comprehensive website with links to green accommodation providers and activities in Mid-Wales


PIRC (Public Interest Research Centre), based in Machynlleth, is an independent charity that integrates technical research on climate change, energy and economics, and translates this into a range of social mediums and materials.

Eco Centre Wales provides sustainable energy education for West Wales run mainly by volunteers.

Cyberium is a design and content company that specialises in working with ethical, socially constructive and environmentally positive clients or projects.


Mach housing co-op

If you are involved in a local project related to Sustainability and the Environment, or know about something we should include here, please send a web link or brief description to the CAT Media department; kim.bryan@cat.org.uk , or include in the blog comments.

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.


Tools for campaigners: Sustainability for the self

Jenny Smith and Jenni Horsfall are teaching the Sustainability and The Inside Out immersive course at CAT at the end of February. Here they talk about the ideas that have influenced the course.

As more and more people working in sustainability, experience burnout or overwhelm, the need for inner sustainability as well as outer is becoming increasingly clear.

In her Work that Reconnects Joanna Macy identifies three areas that together make long term positive change possible. Firstly, holding actions (including front-line activism) that directly challenges the injustices and flawed systems in our world. This includes people working in organisations that serve marginalised people such a homeless charities, mental health organisation and refugee work as well as direct environmental action at fracking and logging sites. This work is relentless in its effort to hold back the tide of atrocity, greed and injustice and is responsible for the highest levels of burnout in sustainability. The second area Joanna introduces refers to the creation of alternative systems and refers to those engineering and clear seeing visionaries among us who are creating new systems in fields such as energy, economics. law and education that will support sustainable futures for all of life. Thirdly, she calls us to shift our perception by drawing on our inner work to challenging our thinking, our belief systems and ultimately the ways in which we view ourselves and our relationship with the wider world. Historically reserved for a privileged few these spiritual teachings drawn from indigenous people help us to bear the unbearable, sustain the unsustainable and continue in the face of the impossible.

This third area of inner work is what sustains our outer action. It enables us to continue to keep our hearts and minds open, rather than being weighed down with cynicism and despair. Stress and burnout are now the biggest reasons for work absence and have been shown to be directly linked to long term depression and anxiety, so the call for self-care and wellbeing practices has never been louder.

Sustainability from the inside out course
The Sanctuary at CAT

Sustainability From the Inside Out draws from various bodies of work including Joanna Macy and Gestalt therapy. It offers those involved at any level of activism or sustainability, the chance to come together for the necessary process of inner re-sourcing. In our two days together we will spend time reflecting and reconnecting to our original call and motivation for our choice of work; identifying the nature and impact of stresses and blocks that we face, and exploring ways to both re-frame and move through these challenges using experiential exercises and group processes. The weekend is designed to re-source participants by strengthening their capacity to respond healthily and skilfully to the ongoing challenges in the outer world.

Set at the beautiful Centre for Alternative Technology this weekend also offers you a chance to relax and breathe in the beauty of the national Snowdonia park, eat nutritious and delicious hand made food and shed. At a time of year when nature is supporting you to make new choices and shed the old, could a weekend investing in your own psychological and spiritual sustainability be just what you need?

The course facilitators Jenny Smith and Jenni Horsfall are both very experienced group leaders, known for their gentle and affective style of group-work. They have both trained with Joanna Macy and are tutors on Shift Bristol – a practical sustainability year long training course.

Sustainability from the inside out. Residential course at CAT 28th Feb – 1st March 2015.

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’