Pocket-sized potential as hundreds of mini green revolutionaries visit CAT for the Cooperative’s Green Schools Revolution

Last week over 400 primary school pupils and 65 teachers visited CAT to take part in the Green Schools Revolution, a project initiated by the Cooperative to support the uptake of environmental issues and sustainability in schools. Green Schools Revolution ‘challenges young people to become green pioneers’ by supporting UK sustainability education programmes with resources, activities and trips, and ‘encourages school children from the age of five to 16 to think differently and to get involved. With lots of ideas on how to live more sustainably, we can inspire them to change their world.’

CAT played a part in this revolution by being host for a week of activities for local schools. We were happy to welcome over 400 pupils from 14 schools including Ysgol Hiraddug, Montgomery Church in Wales School, Bishops Castle Primary, Whitton Primary and Ysgol Morfa Rhianedd. Pupils took part in a day of activities with different sustainability themes – Food Footprints, Water Footprints, the Green House and an Eco Quest.

One of the activities The Green House (usually referred to as Dan’s House) explored the environmental impact of daily decisions in the home. The activity is based around an interactive bar chart which plots the emissions of various domestic activities such as transport, food, shopping and heating. Pupils are given a range of options, such as whether to catch a train for your annual holiday or fly, or buy locally produced food or imported Peruvian avocados (for example), and vote on which choices they will make and watch the bar chart adjust accordingly.

This activity empowers young learners to take responsibility for their decisions, inviting them to witness the consequences of their choices. It encourages them to make informed decisions about a real life situation, leaving plenty of scope for some interesting, authentic responses. Typically pupils observe how they can successfully reduce their greenhouse gas emissions quite significantly, whilst also concluding that their quality of life will not have been impacted negatively.

Here is some heart-warming feedback from a group of year 5 pupils from Bishops Castle Primary who seemed to enjoy the day:

I really enjoyed going on the water train that took us to the top of the hill. Also I found out a lot about being green.

I thought it was great, I’m going to try and be more greener. I especially liked the mole hole and sticking my head up through the hole.

I thought that the trip was really fun. I especially liked the workshops and games.

I experienced a lot, I think CAT is an enjoyable place. It made me more green. I really liked it!

All the technology was amazing and although I’ve been before it was better than ever. My favourite thing was the water train and the playground.

It was good, I liked the Food Footprint because now I know that what we recycle we can use again (referring to how reusing packaging is much better than recycling.)

I really liked it because I learnt a lot and had fun at the same time.

Cool! I loved it and I would like to go again, it was amazing!

Their teacher also left some positive feedback – Green Schools Revolution at CAT was

‘a great introduction to the ideas and really made the children think … it showed them that environmental issues are not ‘black and white.’

Dan’s House will soon be available free for download through our education website. If you are interested in receiving news about this resource and other educational activities from CAT then please sign up to our once per term Education Newsletter by emailing me.

Other related activities can be found on the Footprint Futures website – a whole project on sustainability developed by CAT for KS 2 – 3 pupils.

Why the fuss over 2 little words

On the 4th of November, Platform and PIRC ( Public Interest Research Centre) held a day long seminar at CAT to discuss the implications of the term ‘Energy Security’.  The term energy security has become increasingly problematic due to the way it is used to lefiitmise a wide range of actions that are entirely at odds with environmental and social justice values.

Here are my thoughts from the day….

I went into the seminar about energy security slightly skeptical. My thoughts were, “there are so many things that do matter in the world right now, why are we worrying about these two fairly innocent words?”

I work as a media officer at CAT; I am also part of the Zero Carbon Britain team- a project at CAT that is working towards the rapid decarbonisation of the UK.  The term ‘energy security’ often helps to contextualize our work- one of our key messages is that if we reduce our energy demand 56% we can power up the UK to a 100% renewables future –thus creating lasting energy security.

After an amazing, inspiring and thought provoking day long workshop with great presentations and participatory activities, I felt, as one other participant put it  “as if something has profoundly shifted in my way of thinking.”  My initial skepticism quickly evaporated – those two words are not so innocent after all.

the tar sands in Canada- an example of aggressive expansion of unconvential fossil fuels

The work of Tom Crompton and PIRC on the Common Cause project about values and frames is central is central to understanding why using the concept of energy security is flawed.  Both the Common Cause report and the (yet to be published) PIRC/ Platform report provide definite food for thought and I certainly can’t do them justice by trying to explain them in this blog post.  However and what I took away from discussions from the event was that one of the problems lies with the use of the word ‘security’ and the framing that is given to it.

By implying that our societies are vulnerable and fearful we reinforce the frame that we are constantly ‘at risk.’   This all in turn feeds into the idea that the future is bleak- that we need excessive militarization and government control to bring about the necessary changes and secure us.  This in turn serves to justify right wing government policy in tightening border controls, exploiting the last remaining wildernesses on our globe for fossil fuel extraction, developing new nuclear programmes, war mongering etc etc.

This is a far cry away from the positive zero carbon Britain that CAT imagines – where the future is not about security but about energy democracy-about creating a world which not only deals with climate issues and sustainability but also has embedded at its core social justice.

Embracing a renewable energy future is essential to tackle the challenges of our times – but the way in which we build, own and maintain these new sources of energy generation marks an opportunity to shift away from the domination of global energy markets and oppressive government control towards community ownership.

Understanding and deconstructing dominant societal trends is vital to reconstruct an energy democratic future.  In attempting to build, create and prepare for the great transition to a zero carbon future it is vital that we create spaces, time and resources for these important debates.

There is a lot more to chew over and there were many other interesting discussions that were going on throughout the day. From a personal and CAT perspective it was great that PIRC and PLATFORM choose to hold the event at CAT, that it was free and accessible for people from the local area to attend.  I look forward to digging into it a whole lot more and integrating some of the ideas from the workshop into the work that I do at CAT.

5 resources for teachers on climate change and the environment

We’ve uploaded some of our teaching resources to the Times Educational Supplement website. They can be downloaded and used by teachers and youth leaders for free. On the TES website you can sort the activities and lesson plans by Key Stage and subject.

1. Energy Trumps
Energy Trumps is a card game which enables players to learn more about different supplies of energy (eg. fossil fuels, nuclear, renewables) and the various positives and negatives associated with each. Download.

2. Build a model of a solar water heater
An exciting activity aimed to help students understand the engineering and design of solar water heaters. Using simple materials this basic design can be used in any class to support teaching on solar energy. Download.

3. Zero Carbon Britain

Explore this innovative view on how we could reach zero carbon in the UK by 2030. Shortstepping the governments’ proposal of 80% by 2050 by several paces, this report can be used in the classroom to inspire the pupils’ ability to build sustainable solutions for our uncertain energy future. Download.


The CAT education department produces a wide range of resources, runs courses for teachers on sustainability education and provides educational visits for school groups.


4. Sustainable Food – Go Beyond Food Miles
Where do you buy your food and what impact does this have on your environment? This guide gives an overview of the issues, challenges and possibilities related to the way we produce and consume food. Download.

5. Energy Futures
Tackling climate change and energy poverty is arguably the most important current affairs debate of the 21st century. This guide explores the challenges faced and reveals possible solutions by examining energy futures in a nutshell. Download.

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Why does 60% of all food waste happen before the food reaches consumers?

 

Here’s a disturbing statistic: UK households waste a third of all the food they buy. Or how about this: every year we produce 5.3 million tonnes of avoidable food waste.

This picture – in which we waste £12 billion each year – is a particularly concerning one in the current age of austerity and deepening environmental concern.

Thankfully, there’s inspiring work being done by the like of Fare Share, FoodCycle, and Food Not Bombs. These three groups share a common ethos: that food headed toward landfill can be put to good use, feeding those in need, providing opportunities for volunteer cooks to build skills, and to engender community spirit.

Yet, while it’s heartening to think that we’re combating the issue of food waste by redistributing what’s left unwanted, it’s worth considering that what can be found out the back of a supermarket isn’t representative of the large-scale losses the workings of the food industry cause.

It’s been estimated that 60% of all food wasted is wasted before it reaches consumers – which makes the problem considerably larger. Starting right from the beginning of the supply chain, needless excess is produced, and wasted.

Wales-based This is Rubbish were formed in 2009 at a mass waste food feast. Committed to making changes higher up the supply chain, 2011 has seen them holding feasts all over Wales. Featuring a pop up cafe and community events, the tour has raised awareness about the surfeit of wasted food.

But how much is wasted? Rachel Solnick from This is Rubbish talks me through the waste-cycle of an average potato crop.

The problems begin with the agreements between farmers and supermarkets. In order to meet demand, supermarkets require farmers to meet their required tonnage exactly. But as anyone who has gardened knows, the matter is rather more inexact than that.

For fear of losing their contracts, farmers are encouraged to over-produce, growing 140% or so of the required amount in case of disaster. It’s unlikely this produce will be sold; farmers may be restricted by contract, or there may not be another interested buyer on the horizon. At this stage, the excess will probably be left to compost in the ground.

Then it’s on to harvest. The potatoes lifted will be subject to stringent aesthetic standards. Supermarkets evidently live in fear of the horror the British public will experience if presented with an unsightly tuber – and act accordingly.

As an indicator of how much these requirements affect the accepted yield, the experiences of 2007 are illuminating. Tristram Stuart reports in his book Waste that the potatoes were adversely affected by flooding, causing the loss of 40% of the crops. Supermarkets still managed to source most of their produce from the UK, however, simply by relaxing the aesthetic standards.

Potatoes that do make the grade will then go through production, and packaging. By this stage, the amount of wasted food will have mounded up, concluding with that thrown away by supermarkets in accordance with use-by dates which may or may not be accurate, and further aesthetic standards.

As Rachel notes, “there’s something that twangs in all of us” at the prospect of throwing away food. However, we’re not just throwing away food. When a potato goes to waste, the energy and water used to grow it, the paid labour that lifted it, the cost of transporting it, and the energy and water used in processing and storing it are lost too.

All up, it’s a massive loss – an estimated 3% of the UK’s domestic greenhouse emissions, and 6% of all domestic water usage.

What’s causing this situation? While supermarkets are not keen to claim responsibility, the constricting contracts they have with farmers no doubt contribute.

Then there’s the lack of communication up and down the supply chain. Excess produce could find another buyer; unsightly produce could be used where its appearance is immaterial. Wherever the origins of the current arrangement lie, the present situation, which generates and discards an excess at every stage of production cannot be called efficient by any standard.

So what’s the solution? This is Rubbish ask that industry takes on the task of auditing themselves, so a realistic picture can be drawn, while also encouraging the government to introduce legislation to effectively reduce food waste.

And for the passionate, there are plenty of options for making a difference at the personal level, from using consumer power wisely to getting political.

Download This is Rubbish’s top tips for making a difference to food waste here.

6 blogs about food waste you should be reading

 

Love Food Hate Wate
UK households throw away an estimated third of all the food they buy. Love Food Hate Waste helps individuals make changes to reduce the amount of wasted food – there’s tips for rescuing wilting produce, recipes for leftovers, and information on getting portion sizes spot on.

FoodCycle
Tackling wasted food and food poverty while encouraging volunteering, FoodCycle supports communities to collect surplus food and cook meals which are served to those in need.

WRAP
The Waste and Resources Action Programme assists different groups – from local authorities to the retail supply chain – in working toward a world without waste.

This is Rubbish
While other organisations concentrate mainly on the food thrown out by supermarkets or in the home, This Is Rubbish concentrate on the food wasted before it reaches consumers. Launched in 2009 at a mass public food waste feast, TiR have been touring Wales this summer with a popup food waste café.

FareShare
Working to relieve food poverty while also reducing food waste, FareShare provides food for those in need sourced from surplus products from the food and drink industry. In 2010/11, their work helped make 8.6 million meals.

Food Not Bombs
A global movement that protests against war and poverty by recovering food that would have been discarded and sharing it. Begun in the United States, there are now over 1000 local groups, from Asia to the Middle East.

5 blogs about domestic renewable energy you should be reading

 

YouGen Blog
A popular blog, with a useful filter enabling you to find posts by selecting the category you’re interested in. The host site is a mine of information about all aspects of renewable energy for the home.

Renewable Energy Law Blog
Detailed and technical blog about renewable energy development. A great place for information around the changing laws surrounding renewables, this blog keeps you informed about the debate.

Renewable Energy Blog
Though it also hawks free quotes, this frequently updated blog provides a lively and variable source of news about renewable energy.

Green Energy Net Blog
Packed with lengthy, well-researched articles, this blog provides interesting commentary on renewable energy. While not exactly light reading, it’s a great source of information and analysis.

The Green Energy Blog
While perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea with its preference for Top Ten lists and consumerist leanings, this blog nevertheless interesting information about environmentally friendly products and innovation from solar powered gadgets to clothes made from recycled plastic.

PV Roof

George Monbiot speaking at a lecture at CAT last week

Leading British Environmentalist says climate talks are now ‘dead’

At a recent lecture given by George Monbiot at the Centre for Alternative Technology and pocast in part here, Monbiot argues that the international climate change negotiations are failing.  He says that we are faced with  “the complete collapes of the international process, the process is now dead…. it died in Copenhagen”  and says that for the first time in his lifelong work as an author and activisit  he has not got a clue as to what the answer is  “my certainities of what needs to be done have crumbled in the face of the complete ineptitude and uselessness of the worlds governments.”

The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Cancún, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010. Although world governments reached agreement, many environmentalists have criticsed the Cancun agreement. John Vidal, writing in The Guardian, said the Cancun agreement did not show leadership nor tackle underlying questions such as how the proposed climate fund will be financed or commit to a legally binding emissions reductions.

George Monbiot- Author and Journalist
George Monbiot- Author and Journalist

George Monbiot was speaking at a lecture on the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies at CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment (GSE) that offers a range of inspirational post-graduate programs. Courses are directed by a unique combination of leading professionals, academics and authors. They are based in CAT’s stunning new eco-educational facility, the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education. With flexible learning programs to suit all needs, and teaching that places sustainability at its core – CAT offers an unparalleled academic and practical learning experience.

Other lecturers on the course include

Paul Chattertonwatch you tube video

Senior lecturer of Geography at Leeds University

Lotte Reimer- watch you tube video

Tutor on the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies at CAT

For more information on this or any other part of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s work in informing, inspring and enabling practical solutions for sustainable living, please contact the press office.

Turned on! The UK’s First Micro Grid Goes Online

This week, Jase Kuriakose an engineer at CAT turned on the UK’s first totally renewable micro grid. The systems works by combining all the wind, solar, bio mass and hydro energy we produce at CAT and storing it in a battery bank. When it needs more energy it simply connects to the grid through an intelligent electronic control device to take more, when we are producing too much it gives the energy to the national grid.

Jase, the engineer behind the island generation project
Jase, the engineer behind the island generation project

Currently we waste around 65% of energy from power stations by transporting it to our homes, not only that but the electricity sector in the EU is responsible for over 1,2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. Something that Jase says is unsustainable.

There is a vital need and enormous opportunity to move towards a more sustainable decentralised system, which protects the climate and provide future generations with secure energy.”

Continue reading “Turned on! The UK’s First Micro Grid Goes Online”