Carbon lock-in – 10 ways to break the cycle

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.

Continue reading “Carbon lock-in – 10 ways to break the cycle”

Half Term Fun at CAT

This half term, come and join the fun at CAT

Ride the water powered funicular railway up to the site, before beginning your adventure.

Half Term Whitsun 2016

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!

 

 

Student open space day tackles barriers to Zero Carbon Britain

Students from the Centre for Alternative Technology’s (CAT’s) Graduate School of the Environment held an interactive Open Space day to discuss barriers to bringing about a rapid transition to a low carbon economy. The outcomes of the day are being fed into the Zero Carbon Britain – Making it Happen research currently being undertaken by CAT.

ZCBstillextraction

The open space style of the event meant the day started with 40 people but no agenda. The participants came up with and held 16 smaller group discussions on a diverse range of topics during the day. This 2-minute film gives a flavour of the day.

The 16 discussions covered a broad range of topics, but the structure of the day allowed each session to be focused, and useful for developing the research. Topics covered included:

  • Reaching a wider audience, including reaching out within workplaces
  • Using the resources of new build property developers and retrofitting existing buildings
  • Community energy, and how you create strong community groups
  • Political action, both local and wider
  • Creating an inclusive movement, that is founded on equality and diversity
  • Looking at a more individual level, at setting personal goals, behaviour change, valuing resources and handling both ‘eco-guilt’ and bad news on climate change
  • Values and learning from nature
  • Having a hopeful vision that inspires us

If you are interested about finding out more about CAT’s next research project, you can read about Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen initial findings online, or come along to our short course on the 28-29th April, which is just before the Machynlleth Comedy Festival, meaning you can combine the two for a stimulating long weekend in Machynlleth.

Holly Owen – artist in residence

Artists close up-1

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

Bees

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.”

Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)
Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)

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.

Allotment, by Holly Owen, 2015

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.

My Earth, 2015

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.

Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015
Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015

Imagining a climate resilient community

Anna Cooke-Yarborough reports on the latest part of the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course, which included sessions on permaculture with Chris Dixon and Ruth Stevenson, Values with Elena Blackmore (Common Cause) and Sustainable Architecture Practice with Sunand Prasad (ex president of RIBA).

The second part of the first module was ‘Context and Planning’ and our task for the week was to envisage a climate resilient community on the land around Castell y Bere. This is a castle initially constructed in the 12th century and now lies ruined, situated on a hill near Llanfihangel-y-pennant in Gwynedd, Wales.

Planning a climate resilient community
Planning a climate resilient community

We were divided into two groups and headed off to explore the location using Castell y Bere as a viewpoint. All the land we could see from the castle site was available to work with. The use of the natural drainage divide, marked by the peaks of the hills around, felt very appropriate as one of our aspirations was to make the area ecosystem enhancing. Understanding the precipitation and drainage of the land were key to improving the environment for all the organisms dwelling there. To give time to develop an individual view we approached in silence and came together once everyone had had enough time to consider the space alone. As a collective project this quiet time proved important, the group work that followed was full of highs and lows, concentrated, a little frayed, but most of all a great learning experience.

student exerise
Personal reflection was the starting point for the exercise

We were expected to provide for a population of 500, be fossil free within 10 years, increase resilience, be waste free, carbon sequestering and ecosystem enhancing, and to promote non-growth trading. With so much to research in a short time-scale both groups divided into sub-groups to explore the important areas of this imaginary community in more detail. These were decided as water and food, shelter and energy, health and wellbeing along with governance, transport and communication. The interdependence of all these aspects was clear from the start and so frequent sharing of discoveries and ideas was key. The realisation of the extent of flooding experienced in the area was an important turning point in much of our thinking, and this had to be considered alongside the likelihood of longer dry spells as well.

Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding
Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding

Spider diagrams, timelines, playdough figures, poems, acting, long discussions, longer debates and many maps all ensued. One thing was clear from the start – this was going to be a challenging week.

The Architecture Practice Lecture given by Sunand Prasad was full of ideas we could take forward and use in our community design. He made mention of ending reliance on fossil fuels, the importance of flexibility and symbiosis along with the idea of leaving no trace. Something I found particularly useful was the notion that buildings cannot be finished, that they need to be constantly tuned.

One of the key things we were able to look into throughout the week was Permaculture design, with lectures from Ruth Stevenson and Chris Dixon. The importance of cycles, appropriate zoning and working with natural systems in Permaculture design became clear, along with the versatility of the ideas involved, which can be attributed to all aspects of life. The emphasis on rediscovery and understanding traditional systems were particularly interesting. There is so often an emphasis on the development of new ideas, when many important possibilities are either hidden or forgotten.

Elena Blackmore from Common Cause came to give us a lecture and workshop on values. It was interesting to see how many of our values as a group were similar, which was probably related to the decision we took to take the course, whilst even in this niche setting some values were very contrasting in terms of how important we deemed them to be. Often perceived as something abstract it was good to learn more about values, including how they can be changed and how they affect responses to global issues. In terms of planning our communities it was useful to establish as groups the most focal values, using these to help guide some decision-making.

student working
‘Valley Republic’ working group

After a lot of table moving, information sharing and weaving together of ideas it was finally time to clamp down and get a presentation together. Both groups were secretive in their final plans, so the last hours were tense and exciting.

Republic of Naz told the tale of their community in the setting of “Memory Tavern”, making use of drama. It was an extremely funny, clever and playful display of the development of the community, complete with a special effects transport display! The Valley Republic similarly took the view to look back over the growth of their community, this time at a celebratory festival. They put together a presentation with Bardic linking to the different sections, complete with a beating drum. The community were caught out on their desire to be pirates with the inclusion of a large, wooden boat in their master plan.

cycling presentation
The Power of cycling – lively presentation by ‘Naz’ working group

So the group work phase came to an end. All of us had learnt a great deal and it was a little sad leaving behind all our plans. There are whispers in the air though.

It was time to celebrate the end of a long week again and Friday night made way for a Halloween party. There was a lot of face painting, a murder mystery game underway in the straw bale theatre, music and dancing, with thanks to the super organisation by Kirsty Cassels, Josh Shimmin and James Irvine.

Halloween face painting
Face painting for Halloween party

On Saturday we had the opportunity of a lecture and workshop from Anna Beswick, who works for Adaptation Scotland. Having had a week working largely outside of real-world scenarios this was a valuable and positive insight into the difficulties faced along with possibilities and examples of adaptation across the UK, with the importance of dialogue, community involvement and working across regions made clear.

At lunch we headed our separate ways again, our heads full of ideas and thankful to everyone that made it such an enjoyable week. We all went away a great deal more knowledgeable about the challenges and opportunities surrounding community planning.

To find out more about this course and others, come to CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment open day on November 16th

MSc Students visit ancient ruin of Castell y Bere with ideas to build a Utopian Community

Susannah Trevelyan, who is volunteering in CAT’s media and marketing department, joins MSc students on an Adaptation Planning exercise in Castell y Bere.

Adaptation planning

Today I was lucky enough to be allowed a sneak preview into the  MSc Sustainability and Adaptation’s field trip to Castell y Bere, an ancient ruin of a 12th century castle that clings to a rocky out crop in the beautiful hills above Cardigan Bay. We had been split into two groups and given a brief earlier in the morning at the WISE centre; it was our job to design a utopian climate resilient community, that within 10 years would, amongst other things support a community of 500 and be carbon neutral. Given the positions of leaders of this new community it was our job to organise food security, energy security, communication networks, clean water and sanitation, fuel, and a political and trading system. Everything a community needs would have to be worked out and presented in a proposal by the end of the week. This was a chance to share knowledge and to discuss what we would really use to  build the foundations of the future.

Future Leaders? MSc students gather to kickstart their adaptation and sustainability planning project at Castell y Bere.
The MSc students gather as leaders of a new utopian society.
The rain held off for us as we approached the ruins at Castell y Bere.
The MCs students are asked to arrive on site in silence, so as to enable a clarity and personal approach to the sustainability and adaptation exercise.
Sustainability and adaptation planning in action with the sun shining on the MSc fieldtrip at Castell y Bere.
Lecturer Louise Halestrap gives us a few directions in terms of what we need to consider when prioritising our group adaptation and sustainability exercise.

In order to make this practical possible it was important that we make some assumptions about the project and its context, the following of which were given to us…

  • We must support a population of 500 people
  • We can use any land we can see
  •  We must increase the sites resilience against climate change
  •  We must be fossil free within 10 years
  •  We must be waste free
  •  We must be carbon sequestering
  •  We must be ecosystem enhancing
  •  We must develop non-growth trading

We organised ourselves according to areas of expertise and interest, and I ended up in the Health and Wellbeing group. Having worked in the arts, particularly within mental health I was acutely aware of the important role health and wellbeing could play in our utopian society, and was excited to be able to engage with the crossovers it had with other aspects of living. Maybe we could develop a preventative medicinal approach to health, with a nutritious diet and a medicinal garden? Maybe we could develop community through the farming, along with celebrations and festivities in accordance with the seasons…

On top of the world ! MSc students survey the surrounding landscape on their field trip at Castell y Bere.
On top of the world ! MSc students survey the surrounding landscape on their field trip at Castell y Bere.

Under the strict supervision of our kind course leader we arrived on site in silence, allowing all of us to naturally conceive of a vision on site. After half an hour we erupted into chatter and started to tackle some of the most pressing issues in our future community. Where would we get clean water from? Where would we live and what would we eat? These were just a few of the most pressing issues we needed to agree on before lunch, never mind the education and health system.

MSc Students on a fieldtrip at Castell y Bere.
MSc Students, team naz, getting their heads together to discuss the main concerns of this budding utopian community.

It soon became apparent that setting up a new utopian community wasn’t as simple as it sounds, with a multitude of complex issues needing investigation before we could move confidently on. To make the most of our time we decided to list all the potential resources the site offered and, then continued shaping the broader issues at hand.

Recording the natural resources available to use was an important part of the day.
Natural resources in the ruins surrounding Castell y Bere include a small meandering river, and pasture land, which maybe is in risk of flooding considering climate change?

 

MSc Field trip to the ruins at Castell y Bere.
Ancient oaks cover the steep slopes leading up the ruins at Castell y Bere . Maybe this would be a useful resource for our new utopian community.

What should we do with the ruins themselves? To put in perspective the heritage of the site, the history tells a tale not unlike that of Game of Thrones; The site of dramatic wars with the English, where the Welsh king Llywelyn the Great held his authority over the Welsh. In 1221 Llywelyn took control of neighbouring Meirionnydd from his son, Gruffydd; Llywelyn had previously placed Gruffydd in power there, but the father and son had fallen out. The prince then began to build the castle of Castell y Bere with the intent of controlling the local population and securing his new south-west border, which included the mountain trade routes between Gwynedd, Powys Wenwynwyn and Deheubarth. Castell y Bere was the first of several stone castles built by Llywelyn and the initial castle consisted of several towers positioned around a courtyard, situated on a rocky hillock in the Dysynni Valley near Cadair Idris. 

Maybe we should just forget the past, as some of the group suggested, deconstruct the castle and reuse the stones for our new buildings? A fierce debate ensued, with a multitude of ideas for the castle ruins thrown into the air.

To be able to take all these complex and relevant issues into account in our plans certainly gave us food for thought, and it was there i left the group to develop plans of their own. The sun  had shone down on us  making this a very enjoyable day, jam packed with juice discussion. I’m sure that by the end of the week, the MSc students will have fallen out and made up a million times, be a bit battered around the edges,  but also be a bit more knowledgable about exactly what it takes to plan for the requirements of future generations.

Come to our open day on 16th November to find out more about the masters degrees in Sustainability and Adaptation, Renewable Energy, Planning and the Built Environment. 

 Susannah Trevelyan

Media and Marketing Volunteer CAT.

 

 

 

Join us on the biggest climate march in history

Everyone’s calling it the biggest climate march in history. As Mr Cameron joins other Prime Ministers and President’s in New Your this weekend, people all over the world will be taking to the streets to call for action. We want you to join us in London.

Alice Hooker-Stroud, who coordinated our Zero Carbon Britain research for the report we launched last summer will address the people who march in London to tell them that we know how to stop emitting greenhouse gas. Our research sets out a way we could eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by reducing our demand for energy through sensible changes to our buildings, transport system and lifestyles. And at the same time replacing coal and gas power stations with renewable sources of energy, investing in storage infrastructure and changing the food we produce and therefore the way we use land.

On the March we will be joining the Fossil Free block with our Zero Carbon Britain banner.

Meet at 12:15 by this red telephone box on temple place this Sunday:

Peoples Climate March
Meeting point

Click here for more about the fossil free block.

Hottest April, May and June on record – the heat is on and it’s early

By Ranyl Rhydwen, Senior Lecturer on MSc Sustainability and Adaptation – CAT’s brand new masters degree starting in September 2014.

April, May and June 2014 all hottest since records began

June 2014 has been reported as being the hottest June since records began in 1891 by the Japanese Meteorological society, 3rd hottest by NASA and hottest by NOAA – data released today. This follows on from April and May 2014, being the hottest or equal hottest since reliable records allow the earth’s temperature to be taken. The last time we saw three consecutive months break temperature records was in 2010 – the hottest year ever.

To break long term records like this with the natural variability inherent in the climate system is incredible and the odds of such things if there were no human induced warming would be exceptional. In a warming world, record breaking years are becoming more common, these headlines are becoming increasingly familiar.

California Drought climate change
Sacramento in California, one of the places experiencing severe drought (Photo: Kevin Cortopassi)

El Nino should make next spring even hotter

But that this year is breaking records is unexpected. One of the things that controls the natural variability in the climate is El Nino, which warms the surface temperature. El Nino events tend to start in the spring or summer, peak in December and last for about 10 months; but it is the year after they begin where they tend to cause the biggest temperature anomaly. Last time three consecutive months broke world records in 2010, and prior to that in the famously warm year 1998, we were into the second year of the El Nino.

An El Nino event occurs when warm waters flow back from the west pacific to the east pacific and cap off the cold upwelling waters off the west coast of Central America and Peru all the way to the Galapagos Islands; these cold waters normal cool the earth by a few tenths of degree. However when the warm waters return (and they do every 2-7 years) these cold waters disappear and thus the planet warms by a couple of tenths of a degree depending on how warm the waters are (or how severe the El Nino is, 2010 was a moderate event and 1998 was severe).

In 2010, the El Nino commenced in June 2009 and lasted until May 2010. Heating the world up takes time and thus the rise in the global temperature lags behind the El Nino arrival by around 6 months. Hence 2010 was the hottest year yet recorded and had by far the hottest spring in the records, whereas in 2009 spring was only the 6th warmest. What’s more, the El Nino that year had already emerged by June 2009; this current El Niño isn’t predicted to fully emerge until late summer this year.

The main point here is that it is the year after the El Niño that is the hot year, yet this time round the El Niño forming year is already bringing exceptionally hot months, suggesting that 2015 could well be another record hot year – depending on how severe this EL Niño turns out to be. The current predictions are suggesting this El Niño will be at least as strong as in 2010.

Increasing extreme weather

All this additional heat is also having an affect around the world: Hurricane Arthur this June was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the USA before July, and the 2 major hurricanes that formed in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico this May and June were both the strongest to have formed at this time of year since records began. Also this year we have seen severe hail storms in Europe, flooding across the Balkans, critical drought in California, outrageous flooding in south east China and severe heat in Siberia and Alaska.

El Niño’s tend to cause extreme weather around the world as all the additional heat changes global weather patterns. Australia gets drier, which will add to existing drought concerns there. The California drought should get some relief; rainfall will be higher. However even here the water may come as large deluge events as it does in Peru, and thus will cause flash flooding and severe erosion especially on such dried out lands. Look out for the severe extremes to come around the world next year. In the UK the affect of an El Niño isn’t that clear cut although the winters tend to be colder and drier in Northern Europe, and wetter, milder through southern Europe and the Mediterranean, which won’t be much comfort for the Balkans.

Sustainability and Adaptation Planning

As extreme events are becoming more common, the need to transform society and plan for the new normal becomes more pressing. Sustainability should be at the heart of the plans governments, organisations and communities are making for the future and so should adaptation. Both require us to start judiciously planning – involving people in proactively choosing how to respond. The extremes in the last few years – and the ones we are likely to experience over the next year – must be taken as a call for change.

Join us on our masters degree in September to explore about Sustainability and Adaptation in depth.