Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered

A new book, Playing for Time edited by Lucy Neal and with contributions from over 60 experienced artists and activists included CAT’s Paul Allen will be launched this Thursday in London.  A groundbreaking handbook for  artists, community activists and anyone wishing to reach beyond the facts and figures of science and technology to harness their creativity to make change in the world. This timely book explores the pivotal role artists play in re-thinking the future; re-inventing and re-imagining our world at a time of systemic change and uncertainty. Playing for Time identifies collaborative arts practices emerging in response to planetary challenges, reclaiming a traditional role for artists in the community as truth-tellers and agents of change.

 Don’t let anyone tell you that art can’t change the world because it can and it always has. Artist activist, John9781783191864_1 Jordan

Sixty experienced artists and activists give voice to a new narrative – shifting society’s rules and values away from consumerism and commodity towards community and collaboration with imagination, humour, ingenuity, empathy and skill. Inspired by the grass-roots Transition movement, modelling change in communities worldwide, Playing for Time joins the dots between key drivers of change – in energy, finance, climate change, food and community resilience – and ‘recipes for action’ for readers to take and try.

Paul Allen, CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project coordinator presents the story of human beings and energy for this week’s launch, at Free Word Centre, of Lucy Neal’s new book, Playing for Time.

March 26th sees the launch of Playing for Time – Making Art As If The World Mattered, a book I’ve very much enjoyed contributing to. As part of launch event I offer my “Extraordinary Story of Humans and Energy” narrative, developed to set the scene for why we have to re-think the future.

Playing for Time joins the dots between the large ‘macro’ stories of climate change, energy depletion and economic collapse and the individual stories of artists and community activists reclaiming ways of living creatively within the limits of a finite planet. In a practical handbook with recipes for action to take up and try, 60 storytellers, activists, makers, craftivists, land journeyers and writers, rethink the future to create a new story to live by.”

Creative practice has shown how we can break through prejudice, apathy, economic pressures and blind spots to catalyse a transformation of culture, attitudes and behaviours. Over just a few decades, creativity has radically transformed entrenched attitudes to gender, race, religion, class, health and safety, exploitation and equity. Once a cultural shift is catalysed, legal, political and administrative frameworks follow suit. We must do this next for attitudes to climate solutions. Integrating our arts and sciences can offer a mirror to help us reflect on that 1950s fossil-fuelled dream, which still seeps out into the global subconscious, and to create new spaces, both real and virtual, where inspiration, optimism and the possibility of positive change can be nurtured and explored.

Such a rapid transition will be the biggest undertaking we have made in generations, and will require a great many to commit to the challenge, but in doing so we can turn our anguish into empowerment and discover the sense of collective purpose and adventure that we have been craving for a very long time.

When the facts and figures of climate change cannot catalyse the shifts needed in our world, the arts can open us to different ways of seeing and feeling, creating emergent space to re-think the future and change the world – collectively. With poetry and metaphor they can explore the language of the heart, the pain of what we’re losing and the deep yearning in us for the restoration and celebration of life.

Easter Eco Events At the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales

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

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

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

For up to date information on our Easter events please check out

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

Receive + Return in Gwyl Gerdd Bangor, Bangor Music Festival

Receive + Return in Gwyl Gerdd Bangor, Bangor Music Festival

IMG_4048Receive + Return, an art work created by CAT artists in residence Christine Mills and Carlos Pinatti, was shown for two days in the Deilniol Shopping Centre in Bangor as part of the programme for the Bangor Music Festival, Gwyl Gerdd Bangor, running over four days in early March.

An empty shop was transformed into a temporary art gallery. Through the large glass windows a 1970s television unit showed a film of an hourglass keeping time passing, around and around again, suggesting the question, is there an end of time? Or to put it another way is time a renewable resource?

A ping-pong table occupied most of the room, inviting shoppers and passers-by into a game. There is certainly always an end to the game. The question is do you play to win or to keep the game going? A soundscape of dissonant rhythmic balls ping-ponging frames the four corners of the table, overlaying present and past, keeping the clock ticking. Have we ever been here before?

IMG_4580The opening event on a Friday lunchtime included musical performances by primary school age children, interpreting the story of endangered animals, and Bangor University students of Composition, who had been invited to respond to the piece and its themes of ecology, sustainability and giving something back. The inspired compositions ranged from traditional classical quartet arrangements to a call-response improvisation between oboe and singing bowl, to a full ensemble, including ping pong table gamers being conducted by the composer whose piece unravelled in tandem with the progress of the game, responding to the tone and tactic of the gamers.

This is how an installation work becomes a social sculpture, the three dimensions of objects in space expanded by the dimensions of IMG_4527imagination, memory and association. This was also how the work started, one year ago in the WISE building at CAT, asking CAT students and staff to represent the world through their values, their vision of the global dynamics of relationships and resources. The resulting digital global imagery became the subtlety of the table, the meaning making marks split in half by the net into northern and southern hemispheres. Suddenly patterns of historical colonial relationships of trade, religion, resources, power and privilege emerge, and watching a game being played on top becomes simultaneously pathetic and disturbing. 

It’s the layers of complexity unfolding in the personal experience and the collective understanding that give the piece gravitas, and to experience it in such a popular localised context was moving indeed. As we watched and listened we began to get a sense of what the pathos of artworks emerging from CAT might be, and how re-contextualising them in other settings is affirming.



Holistic Health at CAT

From the8th -10th of May 2015, Mark Lange will be running a course on the Bowen Technique. A remedial, hands-on therapy that is applied using very gentle pressure. The practitioner uses thumbs and fingers on precise points of the body to perform Bowen’s unique sets of rolling-type moves which stimulate the muscles and soft tissue of the body. There is no manipulation or adjustment of hard tissue and no force is used. The experience of a treatment is gentle, subtle and relaxing. It is believed that the Bowen Technique prompts the body to reset, repair and balance itself and clients report the experience of pain relief, improvement of function and recovery of energy

What responds well to the Bowen Technique? what-bowen-helps

The Bowen Technique is a non-intrusive complementary hands-on therapy. The technique is based on the theory that gentle moves over precise points of the body can prompt the body’s innate ability to relieve pain, restriction and imbalance without the need for deep, manipulative or forceful treatment. Bowen practitioners work holistically with their clients and expect to work alongside allopathic health professionals to support optimum health for their clients.For example, one of the most common complaints for which people seek Bowen treatment is back pain.

The average number of treatments people have is three to four. There are always exceptions to any rule, and some people will need further or even on-going treatment.

Painful and restricted shoulders are also a particular favourite as are neck pain, respiratory conditions and headache patterns. Bowen is being widely used for sports injuries as well, with rugby clubs and premiership football clubs showing interest. Not only do sportsmen report fewer injuries when treated regularly but they also notice enhanced performance.

The Bowen Technique was developed in the 1950s by Australian Tom Bowen. Training courses in Mr Bowen’s technique were first offered in the late 1980s in Australia and came to the UK in 1993.

About the training

Course Outline

The E.C.B.S. training course format provides students with in-depth tuition, hands-on supervision and ample time and opportunity for detailed study of the Bowen Technique. Our courses are all highly practical and very ‘hands-on’.  Class sizes are deliberately kept small to ensure you receive a high level of teacher supervision whilst you practise the moves with your fellow students. Our policy is to support you at all times. Between courses, teachers and office staff are available for help and advice. The course is spread over a minimum period of nine months, although you can take longer if you wish. There are five modules, all of which must be completed. We encourage you to complete the course at a pace that suits you to ensure you gain maximum skills and confidence. Each module can be taken with any teacher in any venue that suits you. While the entire course of study could be completed in a MINIMUM of nine months, this is dependent upon availability of dates and venues.

About Mark Lange

Mark’s interest in the complementary health field began in the early 90s and in 1999 he learnt Bowen, a step which radically altered his career path from motor mechanic to full time Bowen practitioner.  Since 2003, he has built and run a very successful Bowen and holistic health practice in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

Acclaimed for his teaching abilities and for his keen interest in and intuitive and holistic approach to health, he has always felt drawn to helping others – both clients and other therapists.  It gives Mark great pleasure to mentor trainee and novice practitioners in a bid to help them avoid some of the pitfalls he encountered as well as to develop their skills.  He is a tireless promoter of complementary health and brings a practical energy to his chosen fields (which include, as well as Bowen: dowsing, massage and allergy testing).

25 years in the motor trade have left him with a simple but profound message for us all: prevention is better than cure – regular maintenance is key.

For more information contact

Palletecture: From packing cases to lamella structures

Starting from experimental making with a limited range of materials, students learn to make building elements which fit loosely together to form buildings which sit appropriately within the slowly changing physical and institutional topography of the city.

Since 1985, over 100 week long courses have been run at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) by Professor Maurice Mitchell and colleagues from the Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University. The A Way of Building short course aims to provide participants with the opportunity to design and make buildings using materials found on site or available locally. Skills are site based, focusing on those of mason (wet trades) and carpenter (dry trades). Building structures from locally sourced materials is the ultimate way to ensure that a structure is low impact and ecologically sound. This course explores ways to use earth, green timber, straw and stone amongst others to build beautiful, functional structures.

Students erecting a pallet roof
Making Laboratory, A Way of Building course at CAT (Image credit: Emma Curtin)

The site and course at CAT is our ongoing Making Laboratory. A hands-on construction project runs throughout the 5-day course. This involves all participants in a cyclic process of experimentation and focused group criticism followed by modifications to the original proposal. As the course progresses and the skills, ambitions and interactions of the participants become clear, a built form evolves which is quite unique. The final product, which is left standing as participants leave, is more a large-scale model than a finished building. Its form, never predictable at the start of the process is a way of learning about the process by which technology and human agency are transformed into a culture of making with a civic and ethical content.

The seeming triviality of the objects being made is banished within the group as the work proceeds by constant self-conscious communication and iterative endeavour. Meaning is attached to the building elements being made by clearly identifying prototypes and other precedents. This consolidates the learning process. The end of the course is marked with a review conducted by the participants in which lessons learned are made explicit.

The Architecture of Rapid Change and Scarce Resources (ARCSR) at the Cass is an emergent research area within the teaching and practice of architecture, led by Professor Mitchell and Dr. Bo Tang. It examines and extends knowledge of the physical and cultural influences on the process of transforming the built environment. It focuses on situations where resources are scarce and where both culture and technology are in a state of rapid change, and explores the culture of making and the contribution this makes to effective change for transitional communities, particularly in informal urban settlements where new identities are forged in the process of remaking. Many of the research led live projects in the ARCSR area have extrapolated building elements and research methods which have emerged from this course.

One of these building elements is the barrel vaulted lamella structure made from reused wooden pallets, with the additional challenge of using no metal fixings. Students and participants have been experimenting on the annual week long course with pallet timber to make roof structures, flooring, panelling and staircases and ladders. ARCSR architecture studios undertake an annual field trip in which students engage proactively with a rapidly changing under resourced local situation devising imaginative responses to specific cultural and technical issues. In recent years, students have developed and refined the pallet lamella structure prototype, adapting it to varying contexts, including the Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus, a housing estate in East London and an informal squatter settlement in India.

latice structure
Lamella structure at Jagdamba Camp, New Delhi, India
(Image credit: Angela Hopcraft)

Extending the experiment his year, students constructed three different lamella structures in the city of London: on a rooftop, churchyard and Sunday marketplace, engaging local residents and communities in dialogue about proposed masterplans, Crossrail and urban change in the area. Made from found timber pallets and borrowing ideas articulated by Joi Ito (Head of MIT Media Lab) in his recent TED talk: Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist”, students addressed the contingencies of city complexity and shortage of time, working by a process of resistance and accommodation to the contingencies of situation. This embraces the super present now-ism of new no cost permissionless intervention where innovation is pushed out to the edges: where the power of pull is greater than the burden of push.

structure at the Isle of dogs
Lamella roof structure and pallet stepladder, Isle of Dogs, London
(Image credit: Maurice Mitchell)

“The design and prefabricated construction of the lamella structures was conducted at the [Cass] workshops at Central House and Commercial Road, culminating in a kit of parts that was subsequently dismantled and packaged for transportation to site. The three structures were then erected over a matter of hours, being assembled as loose fit structures so that both the critical path of assembly and the contingencies of fit were reduced as much as possible. The lamellas were used as a point of interaction between students and the public, whilst also facilitating the capturing of ‘key-hole views’ from both inside and outside the structures. Each view captures a snapshot of a serendipitous moment framed by an opening, a door, window, crack or keyhole. The City’s Progress March slowed down for a while and dystopia became utopia for a fleeting moment: a moment to reflect and recalibrate.”

Chloe Anderson, student

Structure at aldgate
Lamella structure at St. Boltoph Without Aldgate Church, London (Image credit: Sogand Babol)

The A Way of Building course takes place at CAT from 6th-10th July 2015, and is aimed at anyone with an interest in sustainable building. It is particularly suited to architects and self-builders as it offers a hands-on experience of tools and materials. Participants will learn skills necessary in constructing structures out of a wide variety of materials. They will also learn how to apply this knowledge in a range of scenarios and for their own projects.

About the Author

Dr. Bo Tang teaches on the “A Way of Building” course at CAT and is a Lecturer at the Cass School of Architecture, London Metropolitan University, and Research Coordinator and Fellow for the Architecture of Rapid Change and Scarce Resources.

Interested in Sustainable Architecture?

Study on CAT’s Professional Diploma in Architecture Part II course, or join our MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment.

Digging beneath the surface of buildings energy assessment

Toby Whiting is a student on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT. He is studying the course alongside working as a buildings energy consultant. Here he reports on the module from October, which focuses on energy use in buildings. 

Another great week at CAT has flown by. As a domestic SAP and Code for Sustainable Homes assessor, this week has covered a lot of the areas that I’m familiar with. So was it a waste of time? No certainly not! Believe it or not, as a SAP assessor, I have never taken the calculation apart and played with it in a spreadsheet – it was always one of the things that I wanted to try but never made the time for. I’m pleased to say that this course has ‘ticked’ another box and allowed me to look at where the ‘numbers’ are drawn from and made me look at the SAP process from a new perspective.

High and low points of the week: Delivering my powerpoint in a session where students give presentations based on their essay topic; and the trip to an office designed to Passivhaus standard -I’ll let you guess which was the ‘high’ and which was the ‘low’ for me (but it wasn’t the one where I had to stand up and talk).

People can confuse and transpose terms like ‘Passivhaus’ and ‘Zero Carbon’ so it really has been good to get out and visit a building designed to consume less energy, rather than offset the carbon produced. For me nothing beats the experience of walking around a building like this.

Canolfan Hyddgen: an office designed to Passivhaus energy standards

Working as a consultant can be difficult because I spend a lot of time researching and advising others on the most efficient or cost effective solution and the flow of information is often one way. This course reinvigorates me and allows me to mix with like-minded individuals (both students and lecturers) and exchange ideas.

I have been able to challenge my opinions over a wide range of building performance related areas and learned some fascinating things from other student presentations. I’m a part-time student and won’t be back now until January – and I’m pleased to say I’m looking forward to it!

thermal image
Using a thermal imaging camera on the module


How Agroecology can feed Africa

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


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

 Global farming and climate change

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

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

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

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

Agroecology can reduce climate change impacts

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Agroecology in action

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

Ian Fitzpatrick is a researcher with Global Justice Now.

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


Weddings that don’t cost the earth

Plan a wedding that’s fun, affordable . . . and low-impact

For more information contact 01654 704 973

 In the UK, where the average wedding generates around 14.5 tonnes of carbon emissions and between 250-450 kilos of rubbish, the white wedding is increasingly giving way to the green wedding as couples try to minimise their impact.

The Centre for Alternative Technology prides itself on offering unique and affordable low-impact weddings. Since CAT became licensed for weddings, numerous couples have made use of our bright, warm facilities and 7 acres of gardens overlooking the stunning Dyfi valley. Sarah, events planner, explains that many couples choose CAT as a wedding venue because they want somewhere that represents their values:A wedding is about two people joining together for the rest of their lives. It makes sense that people want the celebration to be one that is sustainable and takes into account the planet’s future as well.”There are loads of things people can do to plan a greener wedding; below are some green ideas to get you started. weddingsFrom the very beginning to the end, paper is part of the wedding planning cycle – from the save-the-dates, invitations and RSVP cards to the menu cards, seating cards, thank you cards, and more. Paper making is an energy-intensive process that creates a large amount of waste and uses harsh chemicals such as bleach. The greenest option is to go paperless and use emails and boards to communicate. But there are other eco options, such as using tree-free, recycled or handmade paper, printing with vegetable- or soy-based inks and looking for opportunities to reduce paper use, such as by sending a postcard or setting up a wedding blog. Choosing a unique location that can deliver the type of wedding that you would like and that shares your values is vital. Many people choose to get married at CAT for exactly that reason. Electricity at the Centre for Alternative Technology is either generated by our on-site renewables or via Ecotricity, an energy provider which uses renewable energy such as wind to provide electricity.

Other ways of reducing the carbon footprint of a wedding are to hold the ceremony and reception in the same place or to provide eco-friendly transport between them. For those who live really far away consider organising a video conferencing call to share a glass of bubbly, so that they can wish you well and attend the wedding virtually.Unfortunately many of the precious stones on the jewellery market come from conflict areas, with mining companies accused of horrific human rights abuses. Ensuring that rings are ethically sourced is essential for any green couple. There are a number of companies that are certified as conflict-free; see Amnesty International’s guide for details. Other options include using family heirlooms, vintage rings or bespoke wooden bands – one couple, both former CAT employees, made their own rings from wood salvaged from the barn they were converting.Avoid flying off to a boozy weekend in Europe for your stag and hen do – if you must go, travel by train (and start the party early in the bar car!). If you are reading this, you are likely to enjoy doing something low-impact and outdoors, and there are so many things to do in Mid-Wales (climbing, kayaking, white water rafting, camping, walking, surfing, sailing….)

IMG_4459Everyone wants to look their best on their wedding day but the practice of only wearing a dress once is definitely not green. Buying a used wedding dress, vintage clothing or something you will wear again are good ways of reducing environmental impact.You don’t need to spend a fortune to bring beauty and style to your wedding; use branches, dried grasses, berries, ivy and climbing plants to decorate. Look for florists who use locally grown flowers and, if decorating with candles, use beeswax or soy-based products. Leaves, slate and wood make excellent and unique place names.At CAT we often invite local artists to use the weddings as an opportunity to display their work, providing a platform for them to exhibit but also bringing a unique touch to the wedding.

Food and drink is an area where what you consume makes a big difference. A very good start is to design a menu that is in season, locally sourced and organic where possible. Vegetarian/ vegan foods generally have lower levels of carbon emissions – if you are providing meat make sure it is free range and cruelty free. Using non-disposable plates, glasses and cutlery can feel like more work but it adds a touch of class to the wedding; if you have to use disposable products ensure they are biodegradable. If there is food left over, consider donating it to a local organisation such as a food bank or homeless shelter. Ensure that waste can be composted.

Whether you prefer film or digital photographs, look for a photographer who will do digital proofs to save paper and chemicals. Set up an account on flickr or other such photo sharing website so that friends can share photos of the happy occasion online.Wedding presents is another area where you can have an impact. The main goal is to make sure you get stuff that you actually need rather than stuff that you will be chugging down to the nearest charity shop in a few weeks. Create a wish list of eco-friendly items to distribute to wedding guests. Other options include asking for subscriptions to green publications or charities and asking wedding guests to donate money to a charity of your choice.There are tonnes of things you can do for wedding favours that your guests can use and enjoy, from organic chocolates to attractive bags of herbs, plants, handmade soaps etc – the possibilities are endless. The CAT shop and online Eco-Store also have some great products that work well as wedding favours.

From beginning to end there are ways of ensuring that a wedding does not cost the earth. Honeymoons can be just as wonderful taken locally or travelling by train – one of the most romantic ways to see Europe. There are also lots of green holiday options available, from engaging with eco-tourism to staying with a green accommodation provider.AT CAT we are used to doing things a bit differently, and our staff are on hand to help couples plan and enjoy the wedding they really want. There is a database of local businesses that can provide everything from photography and music to a bicycle-powered sound system or horse and cart! Weddings don’t have to cost the earth and, indeed, green weddings can actually be cheaper than conventional weddings. A green wedding is the ultimate statement to each other that protecting the environment is one of your priorities, demonstrating your intention to share an eco-friendly life together, and perhaps even inspiring your family and friends to do something similar.   

Community energy in Wales: overcoming the challenges

The benefits of community energy projects cannot be overstated, so why do so many fail to get off the ground? Paul Burrell from Machynlleth based Anemos Renewables shows how some Welsh communities are tackling – and overcoming – the obstacles. This article orginally appears in the CAT membership magazine Clean Slate

If we are to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, we need a rapid transition to a clean, efficient, renewables-based energy system. Community energy projects have a huge role to play in delivering an equitable and fair energy system. In Denmark, for example, over 100 wind turbine co-operatives have a combined ownership of three quarters of the country’s turbines. The price per kWh for electricity from the community-owned wind parks is competitive with conventional power production.


Community energy is the natural tonic to commercial renewable energy developments, which are largely owned and operated by corporations. Utility companies and large development companies are often based financially outside of the UK. Current planning guidance only requires commercial projects to give a small percentage of this revenue to the local community, whilst the lion’s share is funnelled out to commercial shareholders.

In contrast, a community-scale energy project places ownership of the power generator, either wholly or in part, within the local community, and the net revenue accumulated during the lifespan of the project is distributed to local people and projects. These projects ensure that members of the local community retain some control over their power generation options, which then reduces reliance on imported power and, in the longer term, reduces carbon emissions.

Community energy development within Wales, particularly in the case of wind energy schemes, are supported by national planning policy that recommends planning departments support projects owned and operated by local communities. Furthermore, there are grant funds available for community energy development (Ynni’r fro is one example). A well-sited renewable energy scheme is a valuable long-term asset, particularly with rising power costs and strong UK incentives for generation. Wales also has an extensive network of established communities which, until fairly recently, still operated a large number of hydroelectric projects and are therefore used to being in control of their power generation.

A well-sited renewable energy scheme is a valuable long-term asset.

This all sounds good so far, especially when you factor in the excellent wind and water resources that Wales possesses in abundance across a large percentage of the country. Yet despite the factors in their favour, community energy schemes across Wales are being held up by lengthy planning processes and local opposition.

In the South Wales Valleys economic cuts are biting, and opportunities for communities to generate extra revenue are limited. To combat these negative factors a local arts-based organisation decided that a windblown hilltop in Ferndale village would be the perfect place for a community-owned wind energy scheme of significant scale. The group approached the local landowner and quickly developed an idea to deliver a cluster of commercial-scale turbines that would then generate revenue for the community, to be used in improving access to art facilities for all. The site itself was commercially viable and able to technically accommodate the wind energy scheme, and so the planning application was prepared, submitted and, after some time, approved by the local planning authority. By then, however, delays during the planning process meant that the legal agreement between the landowner and the group had expired. Meanwhile a commercial developer had approached the landowner and placed a better offer on the table than that from the community group. The landowner signed with the commercial developer, who subsequently developed the wind energy scheme, retaining all ongoing profits. The local group now have the pleasure of watching the turbines spin whilst receiving almost none of the revenue produced. The group are still working on developing another community renewable energy scheme.


Further north, in the Black Mountains, another community group has set up a community development trust with the aim of improving opportunities within the locale. Awel AmanTawe (AAT) had approached a local landowner (as in Ferndale) and agreed a deal to deliver a small cluster of commercial-scale turbines across the site area. The majority of the revenue from the scheme was to be routed back into the community, with many expected benefits to the economic situation. That was over ten years ago. Since then, despite the site finally gaining planning consent after an extended and expensive battle with the planning authority, the turbines are yet to be installed. The reason for the delay is a combination of local opposition to the scheme and the council planning department obstructing the commission and construction of the site. Visit the proposed site today and you are unlikely to find a more suitable wind site in Wales. It is, in fact, only the ongoing commitment of AAT that has kept the scheme and local hopes alive, and the group is now working towards an installation date of 2016. Having spent 10 years developing the project with nothing yet on the ground, the organisation has discovered just how costly and time-sapping this process can be.

Over in Pembrokeshire two other community schemes have been threatened by council policies. Both schemes are for medium-scale turbines and located in areas where planning consent should be achievable. The projects were undertaken using EU grant money, with volunteers and employed consultants working on development.

The planning applications clearly illustrated that revenue from the installed wind turbines would be retained by local groups and that any visual impact of the turbines would be offset by the positive effects of local ownership. However, Pembrokeshire Council ruled that both schemes were in conflict with landscape protection policies, and both schemes were refused at planning committee level. At this stage, resource-limited community groups face two options: to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, which incurs further costs and volunteer time, or to hold back on the project. In this particular case both groups appealed, one of them successfully. The Planning Inspectorate acknowledged the community benefit package as offering mitigation to the potential landscape impact from the installed turbine, whilst in the other case they did not. The refused project continues to forge ahead with a redesigned scheme and hopes to resubmit planning in the near future, while the consented project is aiming for installation in the near future.

It is vital we enable communities to reap the benefits of decarbonisation.

The last example of a community energy project in Wales that is struggling to get off the ground is in Ceredigion, an area with some of the best wind resources in Wales. An enthusiastic community group wanted to install a single medium-sized wind turbine that could power up to 300 homes. A deal was made with a local farmer and planning work was commissioned. The local golf club argued that the wind turbine would cause the golf club to lose money, potentially causing a flickering shadow on the golf course. The objection was upheld and the landowner stepped quietly away from the project. Ceredigion Fair Wind has now found other wind energy sites and is working towards a further planning submission – speaking volumes about their indomitable spirit, something which is proving critical in delivering these kinds of projects.

The future – energy democracy

Climate change is not going away; power demand is rising and our reliance on imported fuel is growing. Meanwhile millions are struggling to pay the extortionate fuel bills from the Big Six energy companies, with over 2.28 million people in the UK living in ‘fuel poverty’.

Small energy co-ops show how we can build a sustainable and affordable energy future and offer hope to communities that are desperately trying to source extra income to keep public services and opportunities open to all. There are a great many positive examples of community energy schemes in action, but many of them have only come about through hard- fought battles with outdated council planning rules as well as prejudice against renewable energy.CSI-Energy-Democracy

2014 closed with a stark warning from UN climate scientists that we must take action now to quickly and rapidly reduce carbon emissions. It is vital that in doing so we empower and enable communities to reap the benefits of that decarbonisation. The Welsh Government continues to support such schemes via the excellent Ynni’r fro and by improving policy to help planners give favourable weight to community energy applications. Financial incentives continue to support renewable energy schemes, and the wind and rain continue to batter Wales, providing an excellent sustainable resource to be exploited. In many areas there is local ambition and, despite the challenges that community groups face, it is apparent that victories are starting to emerge. As such projects become widespread and the benefits become clear there is substantial reason to believe that Wales can vastly improve its network of community energy projects – providing hope and inspiration to future generations facing the ever-increasing challenges of climate change.

About the author

Paul Burrrell lives and works in Machynlleth, Powys, having completed an MSc in Advanced Architecture and Environmental Studies at the Centre for Alternative Technology in 2008. He currently works for the Severn Wye Energy Agency alongside Ecodyfi on the Ynni’r Fro Scheme, which supports communities who wish to install their own large-scale renewable energy systems. Paul works in both Ceredigion and Gwynedd as the Ynni’r Fro technical development officer, assisting groups from the initial contact and site assessment (feasibility) stages, then providing on-going technical support throughout the development phases of the wind, hydro or anaerobic digestion projects. He coordinates funding applications that are required at each key stage from the funding body, and can assist groups to legally constitute (if required) and to facilitate community liaison events.

Making the most of the skills he gained studying at CAT, Paul is now co-director of Anemos Renewables (set up in 2011), an independent company that works with local farmers and landowners to develop small to medium scale wind energy schemes. The company’s MCS-accredited installers offer services including a full ‘Turnkey’ service for the installation of MCS-certified Evance 5kW R9000, Aircon 10S, Winspot 5kW and Tozzi Nord TM535 wind turbines. They also offer consultancy services for the development of small and medium (<500kW) wind turbine projects, including feasibility studies, preparation of planning applications, system design, grid connection and project management of the installation. For further information see or contact Paul Burrell at




This Changes Everything: a chat with Naomi Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author:

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