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”

Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen

It’s now almost ten years since CAT’s first Zero Carbon Britain report was published. Today zero carbon is becoming a much more commonly accepted goal – but we urgently need to make it happen! Paul Allen introduces a new report, due out in spring, that looks at the barriers to getting to zero and how these can be overcome.

On 5 October 2016, the threshold number of signatories to the Paris Agreement was achieved, enabling it to enter into force on 4 November 2016. This historic agreement is underpinned by a global consensus of science that clearly recognises the need to reach zero carbon. Fortunately, a wide range of detailed scenarios and real-life practical projects clearly demonstrate that we already have the tools and technologies needed to get us there.  Continue reading “Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen”

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.


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.

Catalan independence is about energy as well as politics

Paul Allen, who heads CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project, is in Girona Province talking about the possibility of Zero Carbon Catalonia. 

From almost every balcony, rooftop or garden, flags have been flying the hopes and dreams of their owners, for the 9th of November is decision day for Catalonia. In many ways the decision of the central Spanish Government to refuse an official referendum on independence for Catalonia has deepened their resolve to press ahead, albeit with a less official status. For many there is a clear link between energy independence and political independence for Catalonia, hence an enthusiasm for hearing about the Zero Carbon Britain research.

energy independence Catalonia
Paul Allen heads for Catalonia

Girona Province has a long tradition of cooperatives and energy projects. Every year the Girona Province regional government supports a day-long education programme for all environmental educators in the area to increase their knowledge and skills in a particular area, and this year the topic was energy. The key aims of the event were as follows:

  • To provide environmental educators with practical tools and concrete ideas needed for energy education activities.
  • To encourage and support more environmental educators to offer activities on energy education.
  • To exchange ideas and best practices.
La Fábrica de Celrá
La Fábrica de Celrá

At La Fábrica de Celrá, the newly refurbished industrial heritage building which would host the event, the final panes of glass were being fixed in place as we arrived. This 19th century dye and pigment factory, with its vast chimneys and castellated roofline, was an icon of the fossil-fuelled industrial revolution and offered an ideal backdrop for the ‘Extraordinary Story of Human Beings and Energy’ I use as a scene-setter for the Zero Carbon Britain scenario, which was to open the conference proceedings. This was followed by a series of presentations exploring practical projects active in the Girona area, from improving the energy efficiency of sports facilities to arranging ‘Green Drinks’ sessions to bring people together in any particular locality. The emphasis then shifted to practical workshops designed to give educators new skills in addressing four key target groups:

  1. Kids and youngsters
  2. Municipal Councils, employees, buildings and facilities
  3. Citizens (in general)
  4. Private companies (both employees and customers).

I had been given client group B, and a clear steer to be very practical, giving examples, showing specific tools and practices, etc. This allowed me to draw on my work around the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill in Wales and the ‘Wales We Want’ national conversation to devise a workshop that could share the practical experience I have gathered as a Climate Commissioner for Wales in engaging local councils. The initial part of the workshop offered space for smaller groups to gain both the tools and confidence to envision a positive future, followed by a session exploring how the municipal decision-making in their areas could be enhanced to consider the wellbeing of future generations in the choices they make today.

It was a fascinating gathering, provoking many interesting questions and conversations. There is clearly strong enthusiasm to re-think the energy future in Catalonia, and an increasing desire to establish a physical site like at CAT.

A La Cucina information display
A La Cucina information display

My old friend Josep Puig Boix has been a long-time motivator behind ‘Ecoserveis’, the educational charity running the event, and is now spending a happy retirement getting the area’s first fully community-owned large wind project up and running. Wind is by no means new to the area, but Josep is devising this project in such a way as to make the process behind its development accessible to all. The costs for large wind power projects have now come down so much that it is viable with no subsidies at all, so it could be replicated anywhere. In addition Josep has been part of a group that are just publishing an economic analysis of the energy costs of running both Catalonia and Spain on both business as usual and a high renewables transition. The initial figures I saw make a clear case that – even with conventional economic analysis – the switch to renewables is a very good investment.

Although this was a long train journey, it felt like a very worthwhile trip: helping to support the vision for a Zero Carbon Catalonia, which has led to an invitation for a return visit to present at a 100% renewables conference in 2016, planned to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl.

by Paul Allen


What’s on this October half term at CAT?

Childrens summer holiday activities mid wales

Half-term highlights with an autumn theme

Throughout the October half term CAT will be running seasonally themed kids activities in the straw bale theatre ( 11am-3pm Monday to Friday). From celebrating the harvest and the coming winter to story telling, crazy inventing and our specially designed educational tours for children. For adults we will be running zero carbon Britain workshops and specialised tours of CAT. Check out the website for specific timings.

The restaurant will be serving warming, delicious and nutritious food, we hope you will come and join us

With over 7 acres of hands-on displays and gardens and with 40 years of experience in sustainability practice, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) inspires thousands of visitors every year. Based in beautiful Mid Wales, the Centre overlooks the Snowdonia National Park, renowned for its stunning scenery and outdoor activities. Join us with your family, friends or come alone and explore what you can do!

This summer there are loads of special activities going on throughout the half term school holidays. There is bound to be something you love, perhaps you want to:Childrens summer holiday activities mid wales

  • Ride on our water powered cliff railway
  • Explore our 7 acre exhibition site (map)
  • Enjoy the scenic beauty and nature of Mid-Wales
  • Play our Eco games
  • Become a Crazy Inventor
  • Learn about CAT on a Guided Tour
  • Participate in Specialist Tours about renewable energy systems
  • Take part in a workshop and learn something new
  • Get to Zero on our Zero Carbon Discovery trail
  • Be part of our Living Laboratory and woodland crafts and sustainable building in action
  • Get answers to your questions with our free information service
  • Nourish yourself with mouthwateringly good food from our renowned restaurant
  • Take something home from our onsite Eco store



Only £7.65 to attend all these events!

If you buy your ticket in advance online and choose to gift aid your donation. £8.50 at the gate.

  • Free to local residents (SY20/SY19), CAT members, carers and children under 3
  • Reductions for concessions and children
  • Reductions for groups of 10+


|Click here for full ticket details and to buy your ticket|

Opening Times

Open 10am to 5pm 7 days a week.


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.

Unhealthy, unsustainable diet!? Moi…?

Alice tests Laura's Larder

“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.

Alice tests Laura's Larder
Alice Hooker-Stroud, Zero Carbon Britain researcher

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!

Sustainable diet example
A low emissions, healthy diet on Laura’s Larer

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.

Carbon emissions from food portions
Highest emitting foods


Laura’s Larder was launched last month on the CAT website. Test your own diet here. Or, why not come up and visit us – we’ve got the app on site here at CAT.

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.