CAT’s Paul Allen joined the International Network For Sustainable Energy (INFORSE) in Denmark to share the latest Zero Carbon Britain research on a global platform. The 25th anniversary meeting brings together organisations from across the world to explore the transition to sustainable energy, community power and the development of new initiatives and projects.
How three people are shaping a more sustainable world, in their own words…
Imagine a world where we have broken our ties with fossil fuels… Our towns and cities are awash with innovative practical projects that are rebuilding our relationship with food, energy, transport and buildings, openly supported by the wider economic and political systems. Such innovation has unleashed all kinds of co-benefits, from cleaner air to better diets, more jobs and income arising across the local area.
This half term, come and join the fun at CAT
Ride the water powered funicular railway up to the site, before beginning your adventure.
With free children’s activities, you could be learning about sustainable living while the kids build a solar boat, make natural jewellery, or plant their own beanstalks. There are free guided walks every day throughout the half term week, too.
The Visitor Centre is looking great at the moment, with new signage being developed and new displays being worked on. The gardens are a joy to behold, and you’ll get a chance to have a peek at Carwyn Lloyd Jones’ tiny caravan, as featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.
Finally, after all that exploring, visit the CAT restaurant for a filling lunch or a delicious cake. It’s all veggie, with lots of vegan options, and we cater for specialist diets too.
Book here to get 10% off your ticket price.
Looking forward to meeting you!
Holly Owen, environmental artist, came to live at the Centre for Alternative Technology seven months ago as our artist in residence. Holly’s time here has been inspiring, not just for her artistic practise, but for all the staff that have been a part of her continuing journey into low impact art.
“Playing with materials bound to the earth lifts us out of the commonplace and into a world re-imagined. Art has the ability to re-enchant our consciousness with the world when the facts and figures of climate change leave us numb.”
Holly Owen, 2016
Holly’s art and climate change journey started eight years ago, when she began to explore natural, low impact materials and processes in her artistic practice.
Experimenting with golden-yellow Dartmoor beeswax, Holly began to unravel the ecological mysteries surrounding the decline of the honeybee during her residency at Buckfast Abbey. This was the first step in an ongoing journey, exploring local and global environmental issues that affect humanity in both subtle and devastating ways.
“In the first week of my residency at the Centre for Alternative Technology, I realised how surface level my knowledge was about global climate change. This was going to be a sharp learning curve from the ground up.
Thankfully my residency was connected with CAT’s education department, so alongside many groups of school kids I spent my first few months eagerly absorbing the wealth of knowledge that this enthusiastic team have to share,” said Holly.
Holly joined CAT in the summer of 2015, in months before COP21 in Paris. It was then that she realised the significance of the timing of her residency.
“Two years prior to my CAT journey I began working with digital artist Kristina Pulejkova on a multi-media project entitled Switching Heads-sound mapping the Arctic.
The project took us to a community deep within the Arctic Circle where we worked alongside local people to collect the sights, sounds and stories from one of the most endangered environments on earth.
We were invited to take the resulting film to the art and culture festival ArtCOP21 that ran in conjunction with COP21 in Paris.
As our anticipation of this important global event grew, so did the atmosphere at CAT. Embracing the opportunity to delve into the political world that CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain programme resides in, and encouraged by the active work of groups such as Reclaim the Power, Kristina and I hurtled towards COP21 fully fuelled with knowledge and a sense of people power.
I feel proud and humbled to have had the opportunity to play an active role in the events surrounding COP21, made even more poignant by the timing of my connection to CAT.”
Inspired by this life changing foray into international climate talks and activism, Holly’s piece Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate) looks out through the withered leaves of the sparse winter beds of CAT’s central polytunnel. A life-sized head, formed from slither-thin shards of CAT quarry slate, blends organically into its surroundings.
In April, Holly will be making a welcome return to CAT, with fellow artist Kristina to record a second film for their on-going series Switching Heads – sound mapping the […] – exploring climate change through the voices of people who live and work in places of environmental significance.
Their current films – and the adventures they had making them – can be seen here.
Holly’s piece Allotment uses the Fibonacci sequence to showcase seeds collected from CAT head gardener Roger McLennan’s historic seed bank. Using a pattern that appears regularly in natural forms – think sunflower seed heads, trees branches, an artichoke flower, an unfurling fern – this piece shows the seeds oscillating out from the center of a disc painted in Llwyngwern slate pigment.
Allotment spans a UK food-growing year challenging food production, food miles and waste and encouraging locally grown, organic, seasonal produce that can give extra enjoyment to the food we eat and share.
explores CAT through the infinite colours, tones and textures under our feet. Thirty two different postcard sized swatches were painted with mud pigments map the site, each accompanied by an individual story of discovery. It is a snapshot of Holly’s seven months at CAT, her journey and the re-enchantment of finding beauty in the mundane and overlooked.
Accompanying this work, stories from CAT’s passionate, skilled and creative community are shared, demonstrating why CAT is so important to them. These stories create a colourful, unique and positive patchwork of individual journeys that collectively form a community like no other.
As this phase of Holly’s work comes to a close, and she is set to embark on another adventure curating art for a festival in the Severn valley, Holly reflects.
“The months that I have spent living and working in this reclaimed Welsh slate quarry amongst the ancient history, the realised dreams and the shared futures has focused my creativity in ways unimagined. As my art and climate change journey continues, it has been enriched with a deeper focus for an alternative way of life, imagined through the arts and made possible by all of us.”
Thank you for helping us here at CAT appreciate what we have under our feet, Holly. We are looking forward to sharing a Welsh Spring with you when you return.
Graduates from the Centre for Alternative Technology celebrate their academic successes at ceremony.
Over 40 students from the Graduate School of the Environment at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth celebrated the successful completion of their studies with an award ceremony on Saturday 14th November.
The evening also included a buffet dinner, a welcome from CAT’s chief executive Adrian Ramsay and a keynote speech by Professor Herbert Girardet, leading environmental commentator and author of several books including the seminal “Blueprint for a Green Planet” (1987) and “Creating Regenerative Cities” (2014).
The event saw students graduate from all of CAT’s postgraduate programmes: MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment, Professional Diploma in Architecture, MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies and MSc Sustainability and Adaptation.
Adrian Ramsay, CEO of CAT, said they were the people who would be ‘making it happen’ in the transition to a zero carbon future:
“The world faces many challenges in the transition to a zero carbon future. The knowledge and skills that our graduates learn by studying at the Graduate School for the Environment equip them well to be the people making it happen. We are very proud of this year’s CAT graduates and look forward to hearing about their successes as they take the knowledge gained from their time at CAT into their careers, communities and home lives.”
Five students received particular awards for excellence in their dissertations. Helen Nicholls received an award for her dissertation comparing the impact of different waste water treatment systems on climate change. Lee Eyre received an award for his research into the role of metaphor in the world views of environmentalists. Elgan Roberts’ award-winning study looked at the greenhouse gas emissions from small scale hydroelectric schemes in Wales. Anne-Clare Landolt received an award for her dissertation on storing heat to improve greenhouse growing conditions. Lucy Jones also received an award for her technical report on a more sustainable alternative to supermarkets.
This year’s graduates join over one thousand people who have graduated from CAT’s postgraduate courses and are working for sustainability in their work and communities across the UK and around the world. CAT graduates have taken their skills to many professions which need expertise in sustainability and many companies have been set up by CAT graduates, bringing innovative solutions to environmental problems.
Photographs by Eveleigh Photography
The August bank Holiday weekend saw CAT’s annual Eco Refurbishment course, covering all the theory and practicalities of how to get your house towards performing better than many new- build properties. The course consists of classroom theory sessions and hands-on practicals, as well as tours of CAT’s own drainage, sewerage and water-conservation installations and its renewable energy set-ups.
Tutor Nick Parsons said: “The practicals are an essential part of the course, giving students a chance to apply the knowledge they have gained in the classroom sessions to practical situations. These sessions would not be possible without the support of the companies which provide materials and reference material free of charge
A group of eager DIY-ers have been busy learning about eco-refurbishment at CAT. Over the past few days they’ve learned about ecological improvements you can make to existing buildings through practical exercises and specialised guided tours of CAT.
The developments in environmentally conscious building are coming along in leaps and bounds, but as it currently stands few people in the UK will have the opportunity to construct their own new eco-home. Refurbishing existing housing stock can make a massive contribution towards reducing our carbon footprint and lowering our wider environmental impact.
As the week draws to a close we would like to say a big thank-you to Recovery Insulation, Natural Building Technologies, and Clan Insulation who provided materials free of charge for the practical sessions on the Eco Refurbishment course. Thanks also to Sally and Keith Hall at Green Building Press who donated copies of the Green Building Bible for the students. Nick Parsons, the course tutor, said: “it’s great to have samples of a wide range of materials – particularly insulation materials – and to be able to work with them. Students have found this particularly valuable, and we really appreciate the generosity of the suppliers”.
You can find out more about our autumn short courses on our website.
MEET the new REBE’s ! (Renewable Energy in the Built Environment) Students…
Dashing between lectures, I managed to catch a quick word with some of the people studying on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment masters at CAT. Who are they, why did they come and what do they want?
Charming and professional it seemed like they were in thinking mode and it was only by the skin on my teeth that I (a media and marketing volunteer) managed to meet these lovely people on a mission. Lets hear what they had to say…
Name: CHARLOTTE NORTON.
What motivated you to do this MSc?
“I wanted to learn more about different renewable energy technologies, and so this seemed the right course for me. A colleague of mine did the course a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I came up to look around a couple of times and was really impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment from staff”
What were you doing before you came?
“Well I did and still do work full time for a medium sized wind turbine consultancy in Swansea, called Seren Energy”.
What do you feel you are getting from the course?
“I am getting hands on practical skills and knowledge from people who work in the industry”.
What has the most interesting thing that you’ve learnt about since doing the course?
“Everything, All of it! Its too hard to choose as everything has been very relevant and interesting”.
How do you find the course structure/ teaching?
“Brilliant! But intense… Its a lot of work since I am working full time”.
Name: NICK STOLFA.
Occupation: REBE MSc student and Electrical Design Consultant for Atkins.
What motivated you to come on the course?
“I wanted to continue progressing in this field, following completion of an undergraduate degree in renewable energy. More specifically, I felt the practical aspects of the REBE course would help to solidify my academic knowledge”.
What do you feel you are getting from the course?
“Practical experience combined with new academic knowledge; it’s really interesting learning from people who not only teach, but also work within the renewable energy industry. They know their stuff!”
What is the most interesting thing you have learnt about so far?
“Learning about Passivhaus was especially interesting, with the practical we did in the self-build really bringing the concepts to life”.
What do you hope to do with your MSc after the course?
“I intend to apply for profession registration with the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET). Following this I would ideally like to complete a doctorate, hopefully based on the dissertation I do as part this MSc”.
How do you find the course structure/ teaching?
“The first week was a bit of a shock, as its quite an intensive schedule, but I have got used to it now. The teaching is of a high standard and I certainly feel I’m getting my moneys worth!”
Would you’d change anything?
“I wouldn’t mind a bit more time to recap on lecture notes, as there really is a lot to take in. So maybe an additional free period would be helpful”.
By Helen Kennedy, who just got back from CAT’s postgraduate open weekend where she came to find out about our new MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course.
Having 22 years’ teaching experience, and not liking the way things have been going for some years, I decided to try somehow to make a difference both to my life and possibly the lives of many others by taking more practical skills and thinking back into the classroom. But how to do it? Budgets are tight and present government educational climate wrong to try to do it from the inside, so, having long been interested in the world of renewable energy, sustainable building methods and permaculture design, I have decided to get trained up and qualified, and try to deliver what I feel is crucial stuff back into the world of primary and secondary education from the outside.
And so I began to look into the possibilities. It didn’t take long to realize that the courses available at CAT offer something you cannot get anywhere else, in terms of the wealth of knowledge concentrated there, the immersive environment, the “what you see around you everywhere reflects what you learn” whole ethos of the site itself, the great reputation of CAT and its long-standing history. I visited CAT as an enthusiastic 7 year old, and remember the revolutionary half-flushing toilets and hand-made wind turbine. From tiny acorns, as the saying goes.
I arrived on Saturday morning feeling excited but rather apprehensive about the weekend, and as the funicular carriage heaved me up the steep slope, it was difficult not to feel seven again, with my weekend’s belongings stuffed in a bag and a thousand questions stuffed in my head.
The gathering of people in front of the WISE building reflected the sheer diversity of those interested and driven to make whatever differences they can to tackle the environmental changes happening to the world, and to learn more about it, or to pass on their expertise, and I was immediately made to feel welcome, and taken on an impromptu tour of some of the work undertaken by students during a week of trying out different wall building and rendering techniques, including home-made lime putty, pizza ovens and a potential sauna. CAT students obviously know how to have fun 😉
The weekend formally began with an introduction to CAT from Tim Coleridge, followed by a lecture about climate change and adaptation delivered at lightning speed by Ranyl Rhydwen, who could get his message across to a sack of spuds, so lively is his style and passionate is his conviction. Catching our breath (!) we were whisked off on tours of some of the AEES [course to be replaced by Sustainability and Adaptation in September] students’ projects, and very industrious stuff it is too. From investigations into the properties of different mixes of hemp shives and lime, to exterior render experiments, some even including flour in the mix, and various different building projects underway, it was all very interesting. Brain overload was avoided by discussing also the social side of things; the starlit sauna up the steep slope behind the WISE building, or a, dare I say it, drinking den down the Magical Mole Hole!
Following a well-earned break, an exemplification of course modules and a Q&A session we went off to find our rooms. The first thing to hit me was the aroma of wood oil, and then the sliding door onto the decking area with daisies and a PV array, courtesy of this year’s REBE students. I could have stayed in there for the rest of the evening, except for the promise of pizza baked in a clay oven, a cool cider, some great company and an unexpected stomp up the slope to see the site from the wind turbines and to get eaten alive by midges as the sun sank behind some lenticular clouds.
A peaceful sleep, a renewable shower and a vegetarian CAT-special breakfast later, we were all gathered to listen to Tobi Kellner’s Zero Carbon Britain lecture. This was possibly one of the most powerful 40 minutes I have ever experienced, and one with a hugely positive message. I have since returning home, downloaded the pdf file of this lecture with its brilliantly clear and user-friendly info-graphics.
I had to leave early, to see if my wild-camping partner and dog had made it to Aberdovey in the heat of the weekend (which they had), but my head was left buzzing with all the activities and messages I had seen and heard, and the fabulous folk I met, and hope to meet again, as a student. Fingers crossed.
So, we already know why we don’t need fracking, but there are very good reasons for saying we quite simply can’t have it.
“Shale gas is categorically not compatible with the UK’s obligation to make its fair contribution to avoiding the 2°C characterisation of dangerous climate change – the maths on this are clear and unambiguous.”
– We really can’t sum it up any better than this comment from Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester and ex-director of the Tyndall Centre, the UK’s leading academic climate change research organisation.
But others have said it too:
“The world should not be searching for new sources of fossil fuel. We can’t even burn all of what we already have. We need to keep the coal, oil and the gas in the ground” says Simon Bullock (of Friends of the Earth) on releasing a report on ‘unburnable carbon’ last year.
The Carbon Tracker initiative, looking at fossil fuel reserves already listed by the top 200 coal, oil and gas companies on the stock exchange, state that “just the listed proportion of reserves in the next 40 years is enough to take us beyond 2°C of global warming.” And that these are just 27% of known conventional fossil fuel reserves, not including those from most unconventional sources like fracking.
Economist Dieter Helm sums up the issue: “The problem is that we have too much fossil-fuel resource, not too little – enough to fry the planet several times over.”
Budgeting our carbon
Kevin Anderson explains what the problem is, when commenting on the shale gas report released recently by the House of Lords: “Climate change is a cumulative issue – it is about the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The 2°C threshold between dangerous and acceptable climate change comes with a carbon budget; i.e. how much CO2 we can emit into the atmosphere.”
The global carbon budget is pretty well defined (here, in the most recent IPCC report see details on ‘cumulative carbon emissions’ (see page 27), and a useful explanation here). We can say what chance we have of avoiding that 2°C threshold given the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere in total – cumulatively. The less carbon we release, the higher our chances of avoiding ‘dangerous’ climate change.
But how we share the global carbon budget out amongst countries is a little more tricky. One way to do it would be to say each person in the world gets the same share, starting now, which means a country’s allocation would just be based on its population. But this doesn’t take account of the fact that people in the UK have benefited from being a high emitter in the past . Since most emissions remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, a substantial amount of what is now in the atmosphere is ‘ours’. We can choose to divide the global carbon budget into countries’ shares from different dates – the earlier the date we divide it up, the more responsibility we take for emitting more than our fair share historically.
The chart shows some examples of this:
Figure 1: Comparison between UK’s share of the global carbon budget for different chances of avoiding a 2oC global average temperature rise (orange; red) and the emissions associated with burning various known fossil fuel reserves in the UK (grey, blue). Note: These figures are are calculated excluding emissions from international aviation and shipping, and are in gigatonnes carbon-dioxide (GtCO2), to make data comparable to those for fossil fuel reserves. They do not, for example, include methane (CH4) that may be released in extraction or distribution of gas. in Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future, conventionally we use gigatonnes carbon-dioxide-equivalent (GtCO2e) which encompasses all greenhouse gases. For this reason, the budgets used here do not appear the same as those in the latest ZCB report.
The figure above shows exactly what the problem is for the UK – comparing various potential ‘carbon budgets’ to our remaining and potential fossil fuel reserves (both conventional and unconventional). We can see that with a decent (80%) chance of avoiding 2°C, and taking historical responsibility for our emissions back to just 2000 would mean that burning even those conventional fossil fuels projected by UK government would take us way over the 0.4 GtCO2 budget.
If we relax our morals and take almost no historical responsibility, we still can’t burn everything we plan to before blowing our larger budget of 3.4 GtCO2.
In fact, even with a 50/50 chance – which is no better than flipping a coin to see if we will avoid 2°C, and taking almost no responsibility for our actions in the past (bringing our budget to 8.2 GtCO2), we still can’t burn all of the potential conventional fossil fuel reserves in the UK. In fact, Carbon Tracker states in its report “London currently has 105.5 GtCO2 of fossil fuel reserves listed on its exchange”, and that “just one of the largest companies listed in London, such as Shell, BP or Xstrata, has enough reserves to use up the UK’s carbon budget to 2050”
And thats before we even start talking about carbon from unconventional fossil fuels like shale gas from fracking.
Friends of the Earth say “The UK plans on producing far more than a reasonable share of the world’s burnable carbon. Shale gas is just adding to a huge unburnable carbon problem.“
And they’re totally right – no carbon budget for the UK which holds any moral, or ethical sway stretches far enough to be able to start getting at unconventional fossil fuels like those from fracking.
The lesser of two evils?
But isn’t gas better than coal from a carbon perspective? Shouldn’t we be fracking for gas so we can get rid of coal power stations? What about gas as a ‘bridging’, or ‘transition’ fuel to a renewable future?
Professor David MacKay’s report on shale gas for the UK government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), reiterated in evidence he submitted to the Committee preparing the Lords’ report (see pages 353-4), states that “If a country brings any additional fossil fuel reserve into production, then in the absence of strong climate policies, we believe it is likely that this production would increase cumulative emissions in the long run. This increase would work against global efforts on climate change.”
Shale gas, like any other fossil fuel, emits carbon dioxide into the air when burnt to produce energy. As such, Anderson comments, “In that regard it is certainly not a transition fuel and if we are serious about our explicit climate change commitments the only appropriate place for shale gas remains deep underground.“
A better option
It simple: as Bullock states: “The UK should call a halt to new oil, gas and shale gas exploration, and invest in energy efficiency and renewable power instead.” We know this works, and we know we will, regardless of what carbon budget we stick to, have to transition to a zero-carbon and carbon-neutral energy system like that outlined in CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future. We show that we have all the technology we need already, and transforming our society in this way, without fracking for gas, gives us the best chance possible of avoiding that 2oC threshold.
CAT’s course in Renewable Energy and the Built Environment teaches the real solutions for eliminating greenhouse gases from our energy system. Apply now to start in September.