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.

Politicians opposing wind farms ‘a turn-off’ say voters – time for a positive vision

New independent research from ComRes – commissioned by RenewableUK – shows that political parties that oppose onshore wind development are likely to lose twice as many votes as they gain. In the 40 most marginal Lab-Con constituencies that margin doubles, with parties opposing onshore wind losing four times more voters than they attract.

The research chimes with our experience at the Centre for Alternative Technology, which is that where a positive vision is presented, people respond positively to it. Last year we launched our report Zero Carbon Britain – Rethinking the Future, a scenario for the UK in which carbon dioxide emissions were completely eliminated through concerted action to reduce energy demand, shift diets and build a new green infrastructure including wind turbines alongside a range of other renewable technologies. The research has been embraced by many communities and people calling for serious action on climate change. It is this positive vision that our Renewable Energy and the Built Environment MSc and other masters courses train people to create and implement.

People vote in favour of wind
Research reveals people more likely to vote for politicians in favour wind

New Onshore Wind Research shows politicians need positive vision

The opinion poll research revealed that of those surveyed:

  • 30% of Britons would be less likely to vote for a party that proposed to halt the deployment of further onshore wind schemes, with only 15% being more likely to.
  • Supporters of Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are all turned off by an anti-onshore wind attitude: voters of all three parties would be less likely to vote for a party which was anti-onshore wind than would be more likely.
  • In the 40 most marginal Conservative/Labour constituencies nearly four times as many people would be turned off by an anti-onshore wind party, with 39% saying they would be less likely to vote for a national party which blocked further development, and just 10% being more likely to.

According to Renewable UK,  the findings become even clearer once people were made aware of reports suggesting that household bills may need to rise if renewable targets are to be met through other means, as suggested by the Royal Academy of Engineering earlier this year. Five times more voters are likely to prefer the continued development of onshore wind compared to halting all further projects and bill rises (85% vs 15%).

In contrast, local candidates for election who are in favour of the development of onshore wind are likely see a boost in their support. Almost a quarter of adults (23%) said they would be more likely to support such a candidate, in comparison to just 16% who would be less likely to. The margin again grows in the 40 most marginal Conservative/Labour seats to 23% and 12% respectively.

Kit Jones, Zero Carbon Britain Communications Officer at the Centre for Alternative Technology said:

This research needs to be seen as the basis for a new cross-party consensus that we should be deploying all available sustainable technologies to eliminate Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. This is a clear reversal of the current direction of government policy and rhetoric, which is deliberately making it increasingly difficult for new onshore wind projects to go ahead.

Our own Zero Carbon Britain research demonstrates that it would be possible for Britain to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 whilst maintaining a modern standard of living. Onshore and offshore wind both have an important role in a renewable energy future. Most people understand this, and this new research shows they are prepared to vote for it.

RenewableUK Chief Executive Maria McCaffery said:

This poll shows that anti-onshore wind policy is a clear vote-loser, with Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem voters turned off by anti-onshore rhetoric. Those who espouse anti-wind views should pay particular attention to results in the marginal seats which will determine the next election. The public understands that we need more onshore wind.

Onshore wind is the cheapest form of low carbon technology, and provided enough power for 3.8 million households last year. Voters understand it’s wrong to rule out further onshore wind and will not back candidates who try to. This sends a clear message to politicians to back this technology and the 19,000 people who work in the industry.

New discovery trail and children’s activities for visitors centre

Childrens summer holiday activities mid wales

Summer holiday activities

CAT has a new Zero Carbon Britain discovery trail giving visitors an engaging new way of exploring the site. The new trail explore Zero Carbon Britain, CAT’s positive vision for a future Britain that doesn’t cause climate change. The Discovery trail, suitable for adults and families,  includes twenty-five new permanent display boards and a ‘Getting to Zero’ game.

The trail will be available for visitors to enjoy throughout the summer holidays, alongside children’s activities run every weekday which also explore the Zero Carbon Britain theme and have been specially designed by an artist/educator duo.

Philip James designed the new discovery trail and displays. Philip worked at an energy researcher on the Zero Carbon Britain project and has based the displays on this work. He said:

“When we do interesting research it shouldn’t just get written into a report and forgotten about. We hope the discovery trail is a fun way that anyone can understand our work. We want to inspire people to realise that it would be possible to set up our country in a way that doesn’t cause climate change”

Childrens summer holiday activities mid wales
Phil displays one of the new discovery trail signs

Visitors can pick up a discovery trail game-sheet from the shop. It is a fun way to explore the site and learn more about the buildings, gardens and technologies on display. It puts these technologies in context by showing the role they could play in Britain in the future.

Games, craft, play and learning

Also on offer at CAT this half term were daily children’s activities from 10am until 3pm. The activities will also be running during the summer holidays. Esther Tew (Artist) and Kirsten Manley (Environmental Educator) created the new activities.

Kirsten said: ‘By applying experiential learning techniques through role play, games and immersive experiences throughout the CAT site, participants take a journey of discovery and learning. The feedback from new staff, children and parents has been very positive. We feel excited to be developing accessible ways of understanding the positive message that Zero Carbon Britain is giving.’

Full story in the Cambrian News.

Cooperative housing and low carbon research – lessons from the US

Low carbon renewable energy strategies

This is the fifth instalment in a series of blogs by Paul Allen as he travels across the USA talking with numerous grassroots groups about CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research project. The first blog explains the purpose of the trip and the second blog details his time in Boston, in the third blog Paul was in Ohio and for the fourth he was in Utah. Now Paul is in San Francisco, where he visits Stanford University and the ‘Magic’ Community. 

Visiting Stanford University

My research stop in San Francisco’s Bay Area began with a visit to Professor Mark Jacobson at his office at Stanford University in Palo Alto. Mark’s innovative modelling work had originally inspired my trip; initially he developed a robust academic scenario exploring how world energy demands could be met from renewable energy sources. The interest around this work, from journals such as Scientific American led to much more detailed modelling to create ‘50 plans for 50 States’ across the US showing how each could be powered from 100% renewable energy by 2050.

I spent the morning excitedly sharing notes with Mark in his office at the interdisciplinary Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building or ‘Y2E2’ for short. This is the brand new hub for environmental problem solving forms the heart of Stanford’s Initiative on the Environment and Sustainability, linking expertise in “sustainable built systems”, “climate and energy systems”, “oceans and estuaries”, “fresh water”, “energy”, and “land use and conservation”. The building also accommodates researchers from biology, law, medicine, education, anthropology, and economics, as well as civil engineering and Earth systems science. Clearly one of the “greenest” building on the Stanford University Campus, Y2E2 utilises the latest thinking from Arup in energy and water management. Its ‘Coupa Café’ features the best single estate, certified organic and fair trade coffee on Campus to ensure the different disciplines are attracted to this space to cross-fertilise.

Zero Carbon Britain and The Solutions Project

We explored origins of our work, and how it is used, perhaps the key aspect was our approach to the research funding – we both ensured our research was free from corporate funding, to give confidence in its independence to those who use it. Mark offered his insights into Zero Carbon Britain, and compared our communications work with that of ‘the Solutions Project’ that is rapidly emerging around his modelling. The Solutions Project arose in June 2011 when he was meeting with actor Mark Ruffalo, banker Marco Krapels and filmmaker Josh Fox to discuss how they could collaborate around their opposition to extreme energy extraction technologies such as fracking. Their conversation sparked an important realization – it wasn’t enough for them to be against something. They needed to be part of the solution. That prompted them to create a project that can harness the powerful combination of science, business and culture to catalyse the transition to 100% clean, renewable energy – and in the process change how we think about the future. To help me get a better understanding of their communications strategy, Mark set up a meeting for me with the solutions projects communications expert Jon Wank to share ideas on how we can make the findings of this research accessible to those who will use it.

The overwhelming core of our research methodology and findings were very similar. They key technical differences between our scenarios include the following:

  • Mark’s work has a major emphasis on the reduction of the human cost and economic cost of clearer air quality, and so shies away from using any synthetic liquid or gas fuels.
  • His 100% renewable scenarios do not include the significant methane emissions from agriculture and so do not aim to get to net zero emissions.
  • Mark’s scenarios have a target of 100% renewable energy by 2050, rather than 2030, although he stated that he felt it would be technically achievable by 2030, but that would be too fast a cultural shift for the US
  • My meeting with Mark made it very clear to me that our Zero Carbon Britain communications plans should not be modest in their ambitions. Despite much stronger anti-climate change misinformation in the US, the solutions project has attracted the support of a wide range of key celebrities such as Leonardo Di Caprio, made mainstream TV interviews such as the David Letterman Show (US equivalent of Michael Parkinson), and has attracted significant funding support.
Housing Cooperative Zero Carbon Britain Paul Allen San Francisco
Paul and Mark at Stanford University

Economics are a big part of the solutions project – they have already enrolled expert Marco Krapels and aim to show how this transition makes economic sense for all of us. Mark’s next area of research is to show how global renewable resources may change as the effects of climate change begin to be felt around the world, and the role offshore wind can have in storm mitigation and well as in emissions reduction.

Low carbon renewable energy strategies
50 States: 50 Plans. The Solutions Project

Whilst at Stanford, Mark had also requested that I make a Zero Carbon Britain presentation to his students on the Atmosphere/Energy Seminar programme, so they can see our perspectives on both the modelling and communications. This is also a good way for me to find new contacts for further meetings and investigation. After the lecture, Stanford provided lunch in the Coupa Café so I could spend time talking with the students. On of the students Aniket was particularly taken by my approach and arranged an invitation to Stanford’s Value-science living laboratory – the ‘Magic Community’ in Palo Alto.

The ‘Magic Community’ and ‘Valuescience’ – living our values

I accepted the invitation, the ‘Magic’ community is a living laboratory for Stanford University, it literally provides a home for people learning and communicating how humans can further ‘common good’ by practicing ‘valuescience’ i.e. scientific methods and principles applied to questions of value. I immediately felt at home, it reminded me of the CAT on-site community and of my time living at the Undergrowth Housing Cooperative that grew out of CAT in the mid 1980s.

Their aim is to maximise human wellbeing whilst also reducing their negative impacts. As we shared the most healthy looking salad and fresh vegetable meal I had seen since arriving in the US, I spent time talking with David, Hillary and Robin who form the core group of fellows, each with a tenure of more than fifteen years, and between them they shoulder primary responsibility for operating Magic. They work with several dozen associates and affiliates, including about a dozen who actually live in the Magic residential service learning community. A board of directors oversees the healthy functioning of Magic and they also draw upon support from a board of advisors. Each year hundreds of volunteers, donors, clients, and program participants contribute labour, material, money, and advocacy to make Magic happen.

I explored further what they mean by ‘valuescience’. Basically it is an approach for getting control of your life, so you can consciously make the best choices available, both for yourself and your environment – and can both learn from your mistakes and predict what might work in the future. They were excited to explain that it uses science principals to explore issues of human wellbeing and how this is influenced by lifestyle choices and the values sets that underpins them. They recognise that everyone practices ‘valuescience’ to some degree, although few of us do so consciously, all of us tap only a fraction of its potential, and so we suffer as a result of relying sometimes on choices subliminally biased by commercial interests. Clearly both Magic and its residents were thriving – at a location in which normal ‘nuclear family’ style residential living costs were unbelievable high! They had just completed the construction of an additional brand new super energy efficient residential unit with loads of communal space and two grand pianos! The findings from their ‘valuescience’ research forms part of the academic teaching at Stanford. But the essence of Magic is in a residential service-learning community so that we may better “walk our talk”. They describe their outlook in Thoreau’s words, “What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear a word you say.” The evening ended with acoustic guitar and fiddle music ringing around the table, and I caught the very efficient ‘Caltrain’ on to San Francisco with feeling fond comparisons to the CAT on-site community.


Starting an MSc is a life-changing decision

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. 

Helen Kennedy at Treffyn
Helen Kennedy at Treffyn

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 😉

CAT students making lime putty last week

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.

Cooking pizza on Saturday night

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.

If you missed the open weekend but are interested in the MSc courses offered at CAT visit the Graduate School of the Environment webpages or contact us.

Rapid decarbonisation in a conservative state

This is the fourth instalment in a series of blogs by Paul Allen as he travels across the USA talking with numerous grassroots groups about CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research project. The first blog explains the purpose of the trip and the second blog details his time in Boston. For the third blog, Paul was in Ohio. Now he is in Utah, the mid point of his journey.

ZCB US research trip: Stop 3 – Salt Lake City, Utah

The next stop in my research program was Salt Lake City Utah. Both Boston and Oberlin had been mainly liberal social / political landscapes, so to get a more comprehensive overview, I also wanted to see if rapid decarbonisation scenarios and interdisciplinary perspectives of sustainability could thrive in a more Republican environment.

Paul at HEAL Utah

My first point of contact was Steven Burian of the University of Utah’s innovative ‘Global Change and Sustainability Centre’ (GCSC). The centre was established in 2009 with the goal of bridging departments and disciplines to facilitate interactions among social scientists, natural scientists, engineers, and policymakers who are interested in understanding the complex challenges and dynamics in both natural and human-built systems.

I was invited to make a ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ presentation to the GCSC. What struck me immediately as the post-presentation discussion got underway was the power of bringing together an interdisciplinary group who, once they all got to know each other, could offer an exciting range of academic perspectives. They explained that they see the sustainability challenge as a very deep and complex one, so it seems a very logical approach to bring together a wide range of disciplines to map and explore the dynamic interactions and interconnections that exist within those systems, and to explore the role of humanity in both creating and helping solve the problems.

From the point of view of my research, rapid decarbonisation touches many parts of our lives, so a cross-disciplinary perspective such as that offered by the GCSC would be essential in mapping how it can actually be delivered. I was very impressed by their research, so I decided to explore one of their programmes in more detail to see an example of how their interdisciplinary approach is evolving.

Steve kindly hooked me up with a programme led by Associate Professor of Communication Danielle Endres exploring ‘how low-carbon energy scientists and engineers talk about the social, cultural, and political implications of their work and how they influence policymaking’. Previous research to date had suggested that scientists and engineers primarily use technical scientific forms of reasoning in their internal conversations and then switch to non-technical, or value-based, forms of reasoning when interacting with the broader public. This new research sets out to discover whether (and how) engineers and scientists blend technical and non-technical modes of reasoning as they navigate the interface between science and decarbonisation policy. I was invited to attend Prof. Enders’ presentation of her initial findings, although the project is only about a year into its three-year duration. Using a range of methods her team had begun collecting and analyzing the ‘internal’ discourse between groups of engineers working in wind energy, nuclear energy power and CCS (carbon capture and storage) technologies. Perhaps their most interesting analysis arose from a technical conference where CCS was being re-branded CCUS (Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage). CCUS involves the use of captured carbon dioxide to force the heavier, thicker oil out of wells that have past their peak production. Their analysis revealed a much higher percentage of ‘non-technical’ or value-based arguments amongst the internal technical group than would have previously been expected. It is early days for this project, but clearly an interesting and innovative line of enquiry.

Using the university’s campus as a Living Laboratory

The University of Utah also operates a ‘Sustainability Resource Centre’ that fosters the living, learning laboratory concept, where academics interact directly with ‘campus operations’.  Working in close collaboration with the GCSC, they guide, support, and enable the transition to a ‘sustainable campus’ whilst also enhancing educational opportunities and supporting student engagement through the use of the campus as a ‘living lab’.

I explored several examples of this work. Their programme to reduce car use includes employing a ‘bicycle officer’ to support cyclists, and offering free bus/tram passes to all students. However, as the campus is dispersed over several miles, the university is in the process of installing an innovative cross-campus electric bus. My hosts very kindly arranged for me to take a ride – it uses wireless power charging points between vehicle and roadway to reduce battery size and extend battery life, and so reduce costs.

Paul learns about the electric bus
Wireless charging for the electric bus

Another part of their living lab concept is the ‘Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund’ (SCIF), which provides funding for student-led projects across campus. It works like this: as part of his or her admission fees, every student at the University pays $2.50 per term into the SCIF. Any student or group of students can then apply for funding to support projects with a positive environmental impact that can also help to educate the campus about sustainability. In order to ensure academic outputs are robust, students must collaborate with a faculty or staff member to deliver their projects. Projects have included a living roof, bee-keeping on the roof of a campus library and secure ‘cages’ for storage of bikes on campus.

Bee keeping on Utah campus

In 2010, the University of Utah released a Climate Action Plan with a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. However at time of writing no detailed ‘scenario’ had been developed.

Key learning from University of Utah:

  • Interdisciplinary cross-fertilisation of ideas works very well – it is essential in increasing engagement and getting to grips with both the drivers and barriers to change.
  • Practical on-campus ‘living lab’ work is engaging and motivating and can have very positive academic outputs plus physical real work benefits.
  • Infrastructure is important but so is ‘culture’ – car habits are still proving hard to break, despite: bike parks, bike lanes, a bike officer, free student pass for all public transport plus the electric bus.
  • Little or no integration with the other two big local players (City and Church) limits the sphere of influence and synergies in comparison with Oberlin.

Research outside the University – HEAL Utah

In addition to exploring the activities at the University of Utah, I also made time to meet the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah). HEAL is housed alongside other non-profit organisations in the new Artspace Commons, the first net zero mixed-use building with onsite solar production in the state. I arranged a lunchtime meeting with staff followed by a public ZCB presentation for their members and supporters in a local library.

Like many others I have met on this trip, rather than just oppose what they feel to be wrong, HEAL decided to develop a positive vision to show what they actually wanted. Their ‘eUtah’ scenario illustrates how renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, and geothermal can deliver the state’s energy needs, demonstrating what happens when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Rather than address all energy as ZCB does, eUtah only looks at electricity. An enthusiastic and diverse audience attended my ZCB presentation, and the room was buzzing with conversation by the end of the evening. Several invitations materialised including one to a lecture by leading climatologist Michael Mann as I make my way through Salt Lake City on the train back to Boston.

Lessons from HEAL Utah

  • Having a ‘solutions scenario’ like eUtah keeps up momentum, makes it easier to build links locally and helps engage with a wider public through a positive focus.
  • Engaging with ‘energy utilities’ is vital – their work developing comparisons of the percentage of wind turbines on promotional material compared with the percentage of wind in their power mix offered a useful perspective.
  • HEAL recognise the need to engage with utilities on their comparable constituency areas, which don’t always fit with state boundaries.
Paul meeting Chris Thomas from HEAL Utah

ZCB US research trip: Stop 1 – Boston, Massachusetts

This is the second in a series of blogs on Paul’s trip to the USA to talk about CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research with a range of grassroots groups. The first post, explaining the trip, can be read here.

Travelling by train can often offer us time to catch up on a number of the things we have been meaning to get around to doing, from background reading to sleeping. In my case it was a chance to watch the movie ‘Gas Land’. As proponents of fracking claim a wide range of positive outcomes from the US experience and as fracking is now being re-proposed for a number of sites across the UK, it seemed timely to explore an alternative view of the US experience. The story opens as filmmaker Josh Fox receives an unexpected offer of $100,000 for the natural gas drilling rights to his property in the Delaware River Basin, on the border of New York and Pennsylvania – fortunately he resists the urge to accept! Instead, he embarks on a cross-country journey to investigate the environmental and human impacts of agreeing such a deal. As the story unfolds, Fox discovers that fracking was exempted by the Bush-Cheney Energy Policy Act of 2005 from the United States’ most basic environmental regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

The movie had a number of surprises. I had not really grasped that the fracking fluids used in the process were actually a chemical cocktail consisting of 596 chemicals, including carcinogens and neurotoxins, diluted in somewhere between one and seven million gallons of water. Another aspect I had not yet realised was the sheer scale of the drilling required to deliver meaningful quantities of fuel. There are approximately 450,000 wells in the U.S., and Fox estimates that 40 trillion gallons of water have been infused with chemicals for drilling, much of it left seeping or injected into the ground across the country. The US wider public remains unaware of the potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing, while state and local environmental agencies do not have the resources to fully investigate or regulate the industry. Anyone able to secure compensation from the gas companies must sign non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from bringing lawsuits or informing others of their experiences. Gas land was highly gripping, well worth watching and a great way to open a US research trip!

Following the shortest air flight from the UK, the stop-over in Boston was meant to allow me to get used to the four hour shift in the clocks and to prepare myself for the coast to coast train trip. However, a friend pointed me towards the Better Future Project based in nearby Cambridge. As their website carried the phrase “Envisioning and building a better world free from the burning of fossil fuels” I thought they would be well worth a visit.

Paul Allen meeting members of the Better Future Project in Boston

I quickly arranged a meeting with their Executive Director, Craig Altemose. We had a lot in common and time flew by very quickly. It turns out Better Future Project was founded a couple of years ago by a student leader, a community leader, and a faith leader to integrate their various activities into a powerful, unified movement. Having collaborated here and there, they decided there was a need for a new organisation that would work across silos to engage a range of stakeholders in this important work. They recognise that there are many, many reasons to move beyond fossil fuels – health, security, and justice foremost among them – and they seek out any and all partners who share their goals, even if they are motivated by a range of values. They provide support, structure, and staffing to students, mothers’ groups, churches and volunteer activists, offering the three main processes of empowering, connecting and activating. At the end of our discussions, after I had outlined the key findings of CAT’s of Zero Carbon Britain research, Craig suggested it might be mutually beneficial if I were to make a longer presentation to the state-wide volunteer group 350 Massachusetts that evening in a nearby church. I know from experience that organising a public talk early on in a visit attracts those who are interested in the rapid decarbonisation topic area, enabling me to build links and find out a lot more.

Paul Allen about to enter a public meeting in Boston

The group I presented to was highly focused and well organised, working on legislation to protect drinking water from hydraulic fracturing and to support ‘divestment’ of funds from fossil fuel futures. However most of their work to date seemed to have been built around working to stop the stuff they didn’t want rather than assembling a picture of the future they did want. But I soon learned this had actually given them a powerful appetite for developing a zero carbon 100% renewable model for their future. That very afternoon they had been exploring how they could develop the Massachusetts scenario from the 50 States – 50 Plans set of 100% renewable visions from The Solution Project, with whom I will be meeting in San Francisco later in the trip.

Key lessons from Boston:

  • Allocating a relatively small amount of resources to bringing together a range of groups seems to be working well, particularly in helping focus the energy of volunteers.

  • There is a growing appetite for a positive vision to help ‘envisage’ the world people want to see. Yet despite being on the doorstep of many universities including Harvard and M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), there seems to be little available for their home state. However ZCB certainly got the group excited about building a similar detailed vision for Massachusetts. The 50 States – 50 Plans Project offers a suitable framework that can be populated by more detailed local knowledge, crossed with some methodology from ZCB.

  • Once the meeting switched from trying to pass legislation to ban the bad, to ALSO building a picture of the positive future the group wanted, they clearly began to operate in a different way. Building a positive picture of what you want seems to change ‘how people think’.

  • There is still a large gap in politicians’ awareness of the need to lower emissions. The BFP (Better Future Project) is working to build relationships with candidates in advance of the upcoming state election, in an effort to ensure that the future governor will already know about the issues – and that the issues are discussed between candidates in the run-up to the election.

  • The BFP sees a carbon tax as a useful tool for lower emissions – but they emphasise it should be ‘revenue neutral’, meaning the funds will be released for other purposes rather than remaining in government coffers.

  • Similar to CAT, the BFP sees the value of arts for getting ideas across. Independent members of the group wrote a short theatrical piece to be performed outside the state capitol, comparing the carbon “bubble” to previous bubbles, namely dotcom and real estate. They also held a “funeral for our future” and marched into TransCanada’s office (the main company developing the Keystone pipeline) singing an original song: “Digging us a hole”.

  • Members of the group were clearly motivated by the ZCB model, and the chair of the meeting said, “I’ve worked in solar energy, and this is the most sophisticated vision of a zero carbon future that I’ve seen yet.”

CAT runs masters programmes in Renewable Energy and the Built Environment, Sustainability and Adaptation and Sustainable Architecture. Find out more at our open day.

Zero Carbon Britain calls for faster emissions reductions in advance of IPCC mitigation report

Leaks from the latest IPCC report from Working Group III, being discussed this week in Berlin suggests it will call for radical emissions reductions globally which will require “large-scale transformations in human societies”. The IPCC will propose a reduction in emissions of 50% (from 2010 levels) by 2030 for developed nations such as the UK.

Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) research from the Centre for Alternative Technology shows how it is possible, and desirable, to reach net zero emissions in the UK by 2030. They will be presenting their work at an event in London (and broadcast online) at 6.30pm, Wed 9th April.


Commenting (ahead of the release of the IPCC report) on why we in the UK might need faster emissions reductions than the IPCC top line figure of 50% by 2030, Alice Hooker-Stroud, Zero Carbon Britain research coordinator says :

“Any greenhouse gas we put into the atmosphere from now on risks people’s lives and happiness as well as ecosystems. It isn’t yet clear how likely these levels of emissions would be to increase temperatures by more than two degrees in the latest model, or how the IPCC have divided the responsibility for cutting emissions between rich and poorer nations. Both of these things are important moral questions relating to climate mitigation which the report will have to make a judgement on.

What is clear is that radical action is necessary. Our judgement is that as a rich nation with a long history of high emissions and therefore particular responsibility for the climate problem, we should be doing everything we possibly can to limit climate change impacts around the globe, remembering that all future emissions carry a risk.”

Zero Carbon Britain is a rigorous energy scenario which demonstrates that achieving net zero emissions in the UK by 2030 is technically possible using only current technology, while maintaining a modern standard of living.

The in-depth research, which included modelling hourly energy production and consumption data over a ten year period, shows that net zero emissions are possible using a combination of reducing energy demand, 100% renewable sources of energy and careful management of land.

The IPCC report shows that implementing these kinds of solutions would have several knock-on benefits for human society and the environment, but that we are currently failing to implement them fast enough. They warn that we are currently on track to overshoot the 2 degrees ‘guardrail’ in global average temperature increase, and would have to consider large-scale carbon-negative technologies if emissions aren’t reduced quickly enough.

Alice argues that it is neither sensible or desirable to rely on uncertain, large-scale, carbon-negative future technologies : “We already have everything we need to act responsibly, and play our part in the global effort to tackle climate change. We shouldn’t be relying on future technologies that may or may not get us out of the problem we all saw coming and knew was avoidable.

“Overshooting the 2 degree ‘guardrail’ would be devastating. I wouldn’t call that a plan at all – its reckless and irresponsible. Smaller scale carbon capture by natural ecosystems could play a role in getting the UK to net zero emissions, but we have to respect that there are limits to these systems. There are so many other options for producing low carbon energy and reducing consumption, and there are benefits from choosing to do so.”

Rapidly reducing emissions can’t rely on any single technology. It requires big cultural changes including potential changes to diets, transport patterns and energy consumption. The Zero Carbon Britain scenario includes reducing the amount of meat and dairy in our diet to allow for more provision of food from UK sources, all biomass for energy to be grown sustainably in the UK, and expansion of natural ecosystems for carbon capture.

Yet most of these actions required to reduce emissions were highlighted as having multiple benefits in the IPCC Working Group II summary report released last week: “Examples of actions [to mitigate climate change] with co-benefits include (i) improved energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources, leading to reduced emissions of health-damaging climate-altering air pollutants; (ii) reduced energy and water consumption in urban areas through greening cities and recycling water; (iii) sustainable agriculture and forestry; and (iv) protection of ecosystems for carbon storage and other ecosystem services.”

Alice concludes on the scale of the transformation necessary: “Large changes will be necessary to act on climate change, but the solutions are here. We can make these changes now, or have changes imposed upon us from a changed climate for generations to come: its our choice.”



Zero Carbon Britain Event 9th April: Join us online here!

ZCB FBOn the 9th April, the Zero Carbon Britain team from CAT will be hosting an exciting evening event to present their latest research and practical solutions for a zero carbon future. We’ll be joined by Duncan Clark, Owen Jones and the latest from the IPCC meeting in Berlin that week.

Details and registration here:

The event will take place in London between 6.30 and 8pm (with drinks and informal discussion until 9pm), but will also be broadcast online for all of those who’d like to take part from elsewhere.

How to join the online event

We’ll be broadcasting it live here, so simply make sure you’ve got internet signal and come back here for 6.30pm on 9th April!

Social media

Slides from the event:

Input from twitter will appear in this box below. Use the hashtag #ZCB or tweet @centre_alt_tech to propose questions for the panel and join the discussion.

Hosting a screening

Some people are hosting ‘screenings’ in their area, which is absolutely great! If you’d like to do that too – even if it’s just your friends and family – please go for it!

There are no issues about licensing or anything to worry about – and if you’d like a number of hard copies of the ZCB report to do in a ‘sale or return’ fashion we can sort that out too.

For more information or any questions, please get in touch with Danielle at

Please don’t forget to spread the message to your friends and networks. Thanks!