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!
“Well, maybe you do just eat a little bit too much…” said Laura’s (very tactfully!) when I queried her, slightly exasperatedly about my diet once I’d fiddled around with it in Laura’s Larder – the new online tool about healthy and sustainable diets launched today at CAT. The idea is, you fill in what you might eat during a week and then it tells you the nutritional values of your diet – kilocalorie (energy), protein, fats, salts and micronutrients; and the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from what you eat – ‘farm to fork’. Then, you can make changes to try to make your diet healthier, and lower in emissions.
We got a sneak preview as staff here at CAT and I’d had a bit of time to play around with it, but was having trouble ticking the ‘daily kilocalories’ box. It kept on telling me, basically, that I was eating too much.
I started out being quite honest about what I eat. I hadn’t kept a diary of my diet, but I thought about what I’d usually eat for breakfast every day, and filled in some examples of the things I might eat for lunch and dinner, together with the additional snack I have when I get home from work and the multiple cups of coffee that I sprinkle through mid-mornings. I’d included a few drinks of an evening (that I was right in suspecting was too many!), a bit of chocolate here and a portion of chips there. I generally eat pretty large portions of food, and I probably have a fry-up once on a weekend, and a (pretty disgustingly giant, but home-cooked, so obviously more healthy!) sunday roast.
Having worked on the Zero Carbon Britain project here at CAT for a couple of years, the first thing I noticed was that the GHG emissions from my diet were pretty high. I have picked up a couple of things whilst working with Laura herself on the food and diets model in Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future, and on the new report linking diets, GHG emissions and land use: People, Plate and Planet.
I knew that the culprit was probably cheddar cheese. I don’t eat meat (red meat is especially high in emissions), but I do like cheese. Since beef and milk come from the same animals (something I, surprisingly, had not thought about ever before in my life!), I knew that the GHG emissions from hard cheeses like this were almost as bad as those from the meat. So, I started cutting out some cheese from my ‘diet’ in the application (I have been trying to do this in real life too). But I was surprised about the next two things that contributed to my high GHG score – cider (yes, I drink too much of it), and broccoli. Broccoli?! “But its a nice green vegetable, and my mum always used to encourage me to eat it when I was little – its good for you!”, I exclaimed at my computer screen. I challenged Laura: “Yes, I double-checked that one too. All the sources agree. They must have to use lots of fertilisers to grow brassicas like that.” Down went the broccoli. Thankfully, I could replace it with kale – one of my favourite greens that happens to be low in GHG emissions as well. Excellent! I also decreased the cider intake, but thought I’d best leave in a pint or two for a sunny day.
With my GHG emissions now looking more ‘healthy’, I moved onto the next big issue: my energy (kilocalorie) intake was too high. And here is where I got stuck. I tried a few things: I replaced all my portion sizes with small ones, and cut out the chocolate and chips. I thought I’d be onto a winner. Not so. Next I ditched the second slice of toast for breakfast and the afternoon snack. Still no luck. I looked at the resulting overall weekly diet I’d ended up with: significantly reduced, yet still tasty and varied. The rest of my health indicators looked fine – it was a pretty rounded diet. In terms of micronutrients, I had to swap a couple of doses of peanut butter and jam for ‘yeast extract’ for breakfast to get my vitamin B12 up; and found out that I probably needed to eat a bit of seaweed every week to get some iodine without upping my salt intake too significantly, but everything else looked tickety-boo. I had a healthy diet. Apart from those kilocalories.
“I don’t know what to do Laura,” I said. “Unless I start cutting out whole meals – which I am fundamentally against! – I can’t see where I can make any more reductions, and I’m still eating too much.” When I’d told friends this result, they had suggested, encouragingly, that perhaps it was okay because I was a fairly active person and so maybe I needed the extra energy. “This is true,” Laura said “if you are physically active, you may require more in terms of energy than what is recommended in Laura’s Larder”. I do cycle to and from work (most days), but it is only a couple of miles. The recommendations, Laura explained, are based on a sedentary lifestyle (office job, driving to work etc), so I could have a little bit of wiggle room here, but I wasn’t convinced I did enough to get out of this one that easily.
Laura had a quick skim over my ‘model’ diet. “It looks like you eat pretty well!” she said, knowing I’d already made modifications. We went through it together and tried an experiment: first we took out the fry-up, and replaced it with a more normal breakfast. Tick! Kilocalorie intake all good. Then we put the fry-up back in, but took out the sunday lunch, and replaced it with some dahl and rice. Tick! Kilocalorie intake all good. In fact, if I took out either of these meals, I could add a few more things back into my diet – brie on toast for breakfast once a week (yum!), extra glass of wine here and there (fantastic!) and still eat a diet that was healthy, low in GHG emissions and (I thought) pretty tasty looking. Success!
Although I know I won’t be following the diet I ended up with to the letter (there’s no way I’m that organised!), there are a few good things I have already started doing: eating only either a fry-up or a sunday roast, generally eating less for each meal, re-thinking when I pick up some broccoli at the market, drinking less cider (thankfully, the sun doesn’t shine too much in Wales anyway), and having ‘yeast extract’ on my toast a couple more times a week. Now, I just need to find a way to sneak some seaweed into my weekly diet… Perhaps I can hide it in a stew? I’ll ask Mikhael, our excellent chef in the CAT restaurant.
Why not also read about the implications of what we eat on GHG emissions and land use, in our new report – People, Plate and Planet; also launched today.
Ranyl Rhydwen, a lecturer in CAT’s Graduate school of the Environment on the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment, drills into the science of sea level rises and looks into the future. First posted by Sustain Magazine:
Humanity has already introduced enough CO2 into the atmosphere to raise the earth’s temperature by 4-6°C. This heat is being added at a rate approximately 300 times faster than when the earth’s ice sheets previously melted; past melt rates are therefore likely to provide low and conservative projections for the future. The earth’s remaining ice sheets contain 70 metres of sea level rise; with 40 metres of that being land locked in the East Antarctic Ice sheet that won’t melt unless CO2 reaches levels of >1000ppm. However the remaining 30m from Greenland, Western Antarctic Ice Sheet and the below sea level EAIS have all previously melted away when CO2 concentration levels were only 400-425ppm (April 2014 level 400ppm). A 30 metre sea level rise involves 50% of humanity, nearly all the world’s mega cities and large swathes of prime agricultural land. Sea levels will take thousands of years to fully rise, however 20 metres is inevitable and 30 metres probable. This needs planning for now as any manmade barrier is very unlikely to be able to cope with a 5 metre rise.
How fast will the melt occur?
Melt rates of up to 4 metres per century have previously occurred and although it is felt it would take the collapse of a major ice sheet to induce this 4 metre rate again, 1-2 metres per century is common, making the IPCC 80 cm projection by 2100 misguided considering the stakes involved. The 4m melt pulses occur due to the collapse of the marine based ice sheets. These ice sheets melt slowly at first as the glaciers get snagged on ocean bed ridges but once free of these ridges, they suddenly (after 200-1000 years) collapse in a process called rapid irreversible marine instability. These ice sheets are particularly vulnerable as they are melted from below by warm deep ocean waters lubricating the glacial flow and due to ocean dynamics warm waters (~3.5°C) currently bathe most of Greenland’s and Antarctica’s marine outlet glaciers.
The discovery that the Amundsen Sea outlet sea glaciers (that drain a third of the WAIS equivalent to 1.2 metres of sea level rise) have developed marine instability (i.e. they will now completely melt away) and are melting at an accelerating rate (30% greater than just 5 years ago) makes 4 metres a century look much more probable. Models suggest that this collapse is irreversible but may take 200-1000 years, however they didn’t account for the inevitable further warming of the melting waters. The last time Greenland, WAIS and parts of EAIS melted (120,000 years ago) melt rates of approximately 2 metres sea level rise per century occurred. The recent finding that the marine based glaciers draining the North East of Greenland (16% of it) have suddenly started rapidly melting and that the Fjords draining Greenland are much wider and extend further inland than previously thought all means that 4 metres in a century is again more likely. Therefore the recent evidence suggests that although 30 metres is the final outcome it is unlikely to occur by 2100, however 1-2 metres is virtually certain, 4-5 metres probable and greater amounts can’t be excluded.
Thus a large proportion of humanity is under direct threat from this sea level rise. The USA military are planning tactical retreat, however moving an army base is not moving a city (London), a state (Florida) or a country (Bangladesh). The first step in adapting to sea level rise is to slow it down and reduce its magnitude and the only way to do that is to remove (bio-sequester) carbon from the atmosphere and getting to 350ppm still means a 20-25 metre sea level rise and require a massive increase in mitigation efforts, which will take a transformation of societal systems to achieve. Adaptation and mitigation therefore need to be considered together. Adapting to sea level rise will mean more than building a sea wall as concrete barriers will have large carbon costs and will be overtopped eventually putting future generations at greater risk.
It seems we need to think again and take the approach of planned retreat, combined with innovative developments that embed humanity’s community into the new ecosystems and create new settlements that are robust to the extreme weather whilst sequestering carbon into the materials used to create them. That radical approach will take a transformation scale of change and the widespread uptake of progressive adaptation planning and is why here at Centre for Alternative Technology, we are putting transformational adaptation into the heart of our sustainability learning and teachings to help understand how to creatively approach the task that sea level rise imposes.
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.
Using calculations being developed for Laura’s Larder, we’ve created a low-carbon Christmas feast. This week’s blog is the last of the three courses and features the low carbon dessert: Spiced Apple Cobbler. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these blogs and have fun trying out the recipes. Look out for more Laura’s Larder/food related blogs in the New Year, but for now – Nadolig Llawen / Merry Christmas!
Spiced Apple CobblerServes 8
For the topping:
210g self-raising wholemeal flour
Ice cream to serve
Peel, core and chop the apples into small chunks and divide roughly into two. Place half of the apples in a pan with the sugar, spices and some water and heat until the apples begin to reduce down. Once the apples start to look a little bit like stewed apple, take them off the heat and add in the other half of the apples. Stir the mixture, making sure all of the chunks of apple are coated in the sauce. Add the mixture to your serving dish.
NB// The sugar and spices can be added in stages to suit taste preferences. (Those with a really sweet tooth may need to add more sugar!)
For the topping; add all of the ingredients into a bowl and rub in the margarine until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add just enough water to make into a dough. Divide the dough into 8 and roll each into a ball before squashing slightly and placing on top of the apples. The topping should expand slightly when baked in the oven so leave a bit of space between each ball. Once assembled, bake in a pre-heated oven at 200◦C for approximately 15-20 minutes.
In order to make this dish suitable for vegans we used a margarine that did not contain any dairy products when making the topping mixture. We then served it with vegan ice cream. For the non-vegan option we served it with dairy ice cream. For those of you who have never tried a non-dairy ice-cream I would highly recommend it – it was absolutely delicious!
Greenhouse gas emissions of the dessert
- The scale of this bar chart is very small. These dishes have been designed to have very low greenhouse gas emissions scores
- All of the emissions values used are based on commercially grown produce. This means growing your own or buying locally produced ingredients could reduce emissions further still.
- High emitters:
- The apples contribute the most to this dish as we have used so many. When comparing foods on a per kilogram basis, apples have low associated emissions.
- Using the same amount of dairy ice cream as vegan ice cream makes the dairy option 2 ½ times worse from a GHG emissions perspective. The non-vegan dessert, however, still has very low associated emissions meaning that, if portion sizes are sensible, dairy products can be consumed as part of a low carbon diet. The downside to this is that when you look at scaling up these results for the whole of the UK population, rather than for one person and one dish – an emissions difference of 2 ½ times begins to make more of an impact.
- Sugar is one of the lowest emitting foods available. I would advise restricting it where you can for health benefits rather than for emissions reductions.
This article has been written by Alex Maccioni. Alex is one of the founders of JunkWize, a London rubbish clearance company that aims to recycle as much rubbish as possible.
Homes built before the 1950s are almost invariably better suited to the modern desire for a circular economy than homes built since then. My colleagues and I have come to this surprising conclusion after two years working in the waste and recycling sector in London. This point has been proven time and time again when my company has been called upon to remove all sorts of building waste from homes across the capital. The old houses end up providing us with a veritable bounty of quality items that can cleaned, sold and reused with a minimum of fuss. With new houses, though, this is simply not the case. Cheap materials, dense concrete and undesirable designs make sure that landfill is the primary destination for an unreasonable amount of what’s collected from these properties.
If we take a simple look at the building materials being used in both then it is quite clear why this is the case. Let’s take a typical Victorian terrace house – the sort found across the United Kingdom – as being a good example of an old house. It is immediately clear that many of the materials are of real quality; clay bricks, slates, ceramic tiles, wooden framed windows, brass door furniture and wooden floorboards. Although we are waste removal specialists, the reality is that the material we collect from houses like these is not ‘waste’ at all. In fact, it is a valuable commodity and it can be brushed up and reused without much trouble at all.
The wooden sash windows present in old homes can last for well over 150 years assuming that they receive a half decent amount of care. Modern PVC ones struggle to last for more than 20 years before they change colour and become warped or brittle. The designs present in old homes also have a timeless appeal, and as such people are happy to recycle them. A basic enamelled steel bathtub will always be preferable to the modern buyer over a vernacular avocado green plastic one. As people are willing to pay for this old quality, there is a financial incentive for owners to sell their possessions as opposed to scrapping them.
Compare this sensible method of building with the modern one that has been in existence en masse since the 1950’s. Here we see building methods and materials being used on a massive scale to fulfil short-term political targets regarding housing numbers. A classic example of this can be seen in the tower blocks that stand tall in our cities. Made up of concrete, next to nothing can be salvaged from their rock hard carcasses. As these blocks provided people with unpopular and cramped living conditions, many are demolished every year. A large chunk of this rubble goes to landfill, although some of it can be crushed and reused for industrial scale building projects.
Even the comparatively Edenic 1960s semi-detached homes are stuffed full of plasterboard (a material used in most new builds today). Since plasterboard contains gypsum, when it is left with biodegradable waste in landfill, it can produce hazardous toxic hydrogen sulphide gas. The problem is that that plasterboard is weak and easily damaged and it is because of this that it is hard to encourage the recycling of it. Compare that to recycling Victorian wooden panelling or a brass lion door knocker; because both of these are well made, hardy and desirable objects people queue down the street to get hold of them.
A ‘circular economy’ is a much talked about concept with all sorts of long winded definitions, but in truth it’s quite simple. The phrase should be used when an economy re-appropriates as much of its waste that it feasibly can at a given time. It is clear from our experiences that our forefathers were a great deal more adept at being able to encourage this than we are at this present time.
We’ve asked some of our current students to write a short blog post about their studies after each module. You can see all of our student blogs here. Over the next year or so Rachel, a former long-term volunteer at CAT, will share her experiences on the Part II Architecture course.
Last month I started the Professional Diploma in Architecture course at CAT. It’s a very different approach to the study of Architecture, one I’m really looking forward to!
The first week was an introduction to the realities of climate change, one that will really set the context for our studies over the next year and a half. To start the week, we were plunged in at deep end with Ranyl Rhydwen’s lecture on environmental change – an interesting summary of the science behind climate change and the urgent need for immediate action. Having worked with Ranyl for six months before the start of the course, I was already familiar with some of the topics he covered, but it was still daunting to see the scale of the challenge we face! His adaptation and transformation lecture later in the week gave us a slightly more optimistic look at the future.
Our other lecturers looked at different aspects of climate change and sustainability: Tom Barker introduced us to the importance of biodiversity and the need to protect and encourage it; Adam Tyler summarised the current energy situation – how much we use, and where it comes from. We also heard about CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project from Tobi Kellner: a scenario where Britain could rapidly decarbonise and be run entirely on renewable energy. Finally, Tim Coleridge’s lecture near the end of the week talked about the role of the construction industry, and the need to adapt the built environment for future climate conditions.
The week wasn’t all lectures, however, as we also began our first studio project! We have been tasked with producing a master plan for the future of the CAT, a possible vision of what the site could be in the next five, ten or twenty years – working alongside members of the community here and building upon strategies that already exist.
As most people were new to CAT, our first job was to get to know the site (or, in my case, get to know it better). So, sketchbooks and cameras in hand, we set out to explore. For two days we wandered the site collecting information, drawing and photographing the things that caught our eye, talking to members of staff and visitors and reading up on the history of the site. Even having already worked at CAT for some time, I was able to really get involved and learn new things about this fascinating place.
Later, as we collated our notes and sketches, the issues and problems we wanted to tackle quickly became apparent – as did the potential opportunities. We set about preparing some initial strategies and proposals (gaining some insight into designing by consensus along the way), and discussed how we were going to involve the CAT community in our project.
Next month, we will start the consultation with CAT members of staff and ask them what it is they want for the site in the future. We’ve done our groundwork – let’s see where it goes from there!
In a disappointing U-turn for the party masquerading as ‘green’, this Saturday the Liberal Democrats voted to drop their longstanding opposition to nuclear energy.
Paul and Danielle from Zero Carbon Britain say of the decision:
“It is deeply concerning that a political party manifesting as ‘green’ would take such a regressive stance on nuclear, while the case for investment in renewables continues to build in terms of safety, local job creation and rising to the challenge of climate change.
The UK is ideally positioned to benefit from sustainable, home-grown and renewable energy technologies. Technologies that, unlike nuclear, do not have costly or difficult waste to manage; do not increase the risk of very serious and lasting damage from natural disasters or global political instabilities, and do not require expensive and lengthy decommissioning processes; we do not currently have plans for the high levels of nuclear waste we have generated already.”
Most importantly, recent modelling for the Zero Carbon Britain report demonstrates how we can in fact meet our energy needs with 100% renewable technology, with no nuclear component at all. Managing variability in a 100% renewable system can be achieved using long and short term energy storage technologies available today (see page 63 of the report).
In fact, strong winds on Sunday (just one day after the Liberal Democrats’ U-turn) led to new wind power records in the UK. At around 2pm, the National Grid’s live data feed reported production of more than 5.7 GW of power from wind. This the highest ever recorded in the UK, producing 18% of the UK’s electricity and getting very close to the 6.6 GW produced by the UK’s nuclear power stations at that point.
And during the early hours of Monday, another record was broken: at 4am, absolute wind power output had gone down a bit to 4.7 GW, but due to the lower overall power consumption at that time of the day, this was enough for another record: for the first time in history, UK wind turbines produced 20% of all electricity in the grid.
Of course, the highly variable nature of wind power means that at other times there is much less power available. Opponents of wind power will be quick to point out that only a week ago UK wind output hit a low of 0.085 GW (0.2% of demand). Therefore, it’s more useful to look at longer term averages:
In 2013, the average so far has been 5.2%, up from a 4.0% average for 2012. And if the autumn of 2013 is a windy one then that figure could still increase, especially as some large offshore wind farms were completed this year.
The UK does not need base-load power from nuclear; we can manage variability in a 100% renewable system with the appropriate and flexible energy storage technologies available today.
That the Liberal Democrats are adopting this new stance, alongside pro-fracking commitments, under the banner of a ‘zero carbon Britain’ is a disgrace.
Nuclear is high risk, unsustainable and an energy source we can do without.
Thursday 5th September this year was the BBC’s ‘Energy Day’. BBC Radio 5 Live was powered entirely by renewables throughout the day as they hosted debates on and around the theme of energy. Tobi Kellner, one of CAT’s renewable technology experts, was on hand during the 5 Live breakfast programme to provide an expert opinion on Zero Carbon Britain and the future…
When I got off the tram at Salford’s MediaCity UK at shortly after 8am, I was a bit apprehensive about finding the venue for the BBC 5 Live Energy Day. I needn’t have worried. Right on the piazza in front of their snazzy their snazzy glass & steel office towers, the BBC people had assembled what looked a bit like the cross between a village fete and the CAT Renewable Energy MS. Between various tents and marquees there was a sea of solar panels, a forest of micro wind turbines, various hamster wheels and bicycles for ‘human power’, two cows – and a real Secretary of State for Energy, Ed Davey. Yes, there were some obvious flaws: Half the solar panels were evidently not wired up, the location was utterly useless for wind power, and the Energy Minister is part of David Cameron’s “greenest government ever”. But it was clear that the BBC was keen on putting renewables right at the heart of the debate about energy, and that their approach was to combine the big, heavy questions (how can we keep energy affordable?) with some more light-hearted ones (how many cyclists does it take to power a radio show?)
Bills, not bears
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the debate I was invited to join was what wasn’t talked about: climate change. Right from the very first email the BBC sent me when they invited me, it was clear that for them the energy debate is all about “how can we protect people from rising energy costs”; it’s all about (fuel) bills, not (polar) bears. And from one perspective that focus is completely understandable, as it is simply unacceptable that there are families that have to choose between heating and eating, especially while big energy companies still make obscene profits. But there is reason to suspect that this new focus of the energy debate isn’t only driven by a concern for the poor. As a quick internet search for “Daily Mail energy bills” shows, tabloids tell us that the main reason for rising prices are ‘green taxes’ and wind turbines, even though in reality rising fossil fuel prices were to blame for most of the recent increase in household energy prices.
Breakfast with Ed
Fortunately, when Radio 5 live Breakfast went on air, it became obvious that people just don’t buy the story of ‘green vs affordable’.
So I had my concerns when, clutching my copy of the latest Zero Carbon Britain report, I went into the broadcast tent for Your Call. Fortunately, around 9 minutes into the programme there was an opportunity to introduce the ZCB report and explain that, yes, it would cost a lot of money, but that it would be cheaper in the long run, and that the money would go into manufacturing jobs, not fossil fuel imports, and that CAT advocates much more ambitious policies on energy efficiency.
Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, was with us in the tent and had the rather unenviable job of defending the government’s flagship programme on energy efficiency: the ‘Green Deal’. So far, around 58,000 people have had their homes assessed under the scheme but only 132 of them had signed up for energy efficiency measures under the Green Deal. As I put it to Mr Davey, by expecting people to pay market rate loans on energy efficiency measures under the Green Deal while giving generous tax rebates to ‘fracking’ companies, the government isn’t exactly sending a clear signal that energy efficiency is at the top of the agenda. Fortunately, Davey and I didn’t have to leave on a bad note. In response to a question from the studio audience about solar panels, I explained that in the ZCB energy mix it is actually offshore wind power, not solar, that plays the leading role. This gave our Secretary of State the opportunity to not only praise the UK’s windiness in general and the potential for offshore wind in particular, but also to tell stories of him inaugurating the world’s largest offshore wind farm (twice). Something tells me he prefers this topic to the Green Deal.
After the end of the show, Ed Davey went back to London with a copy of our Zero Carbon Britain report, and I went outside to try my luck on the energy-generating bicycle, while in the background the Blue Peter people were filming the cows (which were there to illustrate research on methane emissions).
It would be easy to be cynical about the Energy Day with all its token wind turbines and unconnected solar panels. But that would mean missing one very important point: the debate during the hour-long live breakfast programme showed that people don’t buy into the rhetoric of ‘green vs affordable’, that there is a growing consensus that now is the time to invest in renewables and energy efficiency, precisely because energy bills are rising, and that people are getting impatient with the government’s lack of action. Who knows, Ed Davey might just read that report we gave him.