The Happy Museum Project meets Zero Carbon Britain

 

Paul Allen, CAT’s director of external relations, writes about a recent Happy Museum Project symposium, where he presented the findings of Zero Carbon Britain.

This week I took train across the UK to Saxmundham on the East Coast to present the finding of Zero Carbon Britain to the ‘Happy Museum’ Symposium. This is a radical and innovative project aimed at exploring how the UK museum sector can respond to the challenges presented by the need for creating a more sustainable future. Its proposition is that museums are well placed to play an active part, but may benefit from re-imagining some key aspects of their role.

My role, alongside Andrew Simms of the new economic foundation was to offer a perspective on the global context of the challenges we face, highlight the inter-relationship of practical solutions in environment, energy, economics and well-being, and present our thoughts on how to build positive, yet realistic visions of the future. The symposium participants represented a wide cross section of forward thinking museums from the National Mining Museum of Scotland to the ‘Cinema Museum’ housed in the Old Lambeth Workhouse, Kennington.

It was a very dynamic, interactive and highly motivated event, reflecting the fact that the happy museum project itself seems to be punching well above its weight, with invitations to speak to museums from Australia to Europe. The key difference that the project intends to make is through creating a community of practice to discover a new role for museums to help foster greater wellbeing with less consumption for the communities with which they engage.

Collections and places are being re-imagined in ways that demonstrate the unique offer of museums. One exciting area of their work is to empower and enable the ‘municipal spaces’ museums provide to explore the link between sustainability and well-being – and there was certainly plenty of motivation and interest from those assembled.

From the conversations that followed my presentation it seemed clear to me that in these days where contemporary culture seems to always portray our future as dark and dystopian, it is vital we recognise that to create a positive future, we first have to be able to imagine one. An important first step in this is telling a realistic and joined up story of how we have got to where we are today, and the assembled knowledge and artifacts of museums from mining to rural life hold the potential to really bring this story to life, in a context framed both by well being and through relationships with the natural environment.

The Happy Museum project is informed by a manifesto and is currently exploring six action-learning commissions. It is a fascinating project and well worth a look – to find out more, visit www.happymuseumproject.org.

Durban Climate Talks

 

The website of the 17th round of world climate talks boasts that the world leaders will be ‘ working together, saving tomorrow today,’  the reality is once again rich nations refusing to take responsibility and action on carbon emissions, condemning the world to irreversible climate change and a more than 2 degree temperature rise.

As the climate talks got underway in Durban this week, activists from across Africa and the world began to descend on the coastal city.  Inside the conference the talks were already of to a gloomy start with most of the world’s rich nations attempting to delay any kind of binding treaty to slow down greenhouse gas emissions. With the exception of the EU who have taken a surprisingly strong stance- demanding that negotiations on a new legal agreement  begin next year, conclude in 2015, and to enter into force as early as possible thereafter.  The US, Canada, Russia, Japan, China and India  are all pushing to delay the implementation of any legally binding treaty. The delayers,  as they are now called argue that now is not the time to start a new set of negotiations, they point out that countries have only just started to implement their own domestic emissions reduction plans. Critics say that the delayers group is just covering up for the fact that they do not want to commit to a new legal agreement at all.

Outside the conference the buzzword of the moment is Occupy, following from the worldwide movement.  Occupy COP17 is well underway with activists from across the globe taking part in meetings, actions and workshops.. Former Costa Rican President José María Figueres is calling for people to Occupy Durban saying

“We went to Copenhagen [in 2009] with the illusion we could reach an equitable agreement. We went to Cancún [in 2010] where we saw slight but not sufficient progress. Frustration is now deep and building. Now we hear that we will need more conferences. Sometime we have to get serious. We should be going to Durban with the firm conviction that we do not come back until we have made substantial advances.”

There have even been rumours that people are planning to occupy meetings rooms inside the talks, reminiscent of Copenhagen in 2009 when delegates from the ALBA group of countries and Alliance of Small Island States walked out of the Bella Conference Centre.  The role of civil society to put pressure on governments to take urgent action on climate change is ever more pressing. On Saturday 3rd of December will see a global day of action from groups across the world calling for urgent action on climate change.  In London, UK  there is a climate change demonstration being held and a rally outside parliament,  speakers from CAT’s zero carbon britain project will be talking at the Bank of Ideas tonight at 5pm.

 

Zero Carbon Britain discussed in the Welsh Assembly

 

Last Wednesday, the 16th of November, Zero Carbon Britain was discussed in the Welsh National Assembly during a Plaid Cymru debate on climate change. A motion was raised by Jocelyn Davies to propose that the Welsh government “affirms the targets of One Wales: One Planet and the Climate Change Strategy for Wales and welcomes the notable contribution to meeting these targets of the Centre for Alternative Technology in its strategy for Zero Carbon Britain 2030.”


I’d like to help create a sustainable Britain. Please help us raise £80,000 to take this vital research to the next level. Find out how you can help.


Of the report, Davies said that it “puts before us a clear analysis of what Britain as part of the United Kingdom could do to tackle climate change.” Later on in the debate – which highlighted concerns around the lack of global agreements of action on climate change – Rebecca Evans said that “if there is not urgent action on a global scale to tackle climate change there will be far-reaching effects on the world’s environment.” She then went on to say that:

The Zero Carbon Britain report states that, because climate change is a global problem, it lends itself to the denial of personal power and the blaming of others. It is easy for individuals to argue that their individual impact is not as great as that of some other people and so it is not their job to take mitigating action. The report also shows that, although many profess to care about climate change—and increasingly a large proportion of people are undertaking some actions to reduce energy use—the vast majority are continuing with patterns of behaviour that make the problem worse. For many people, there is a large gap between their concern about the environment and their actions. The report also shows that the reasons for this are many and varied and that different approaches must be employed in order to cause behavioural change in different people.

Zero Carbon Britain has made a significant impact since its release last year; it’s been read by Energy Minister Chris Huhne and has been downloaded 28,000 times. To keep on developing the report, and answer some of the crucial questions it raises, CAT is now looking to raise £80,000.

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.

Podcast: Paul Allen on Zero Carbon Britain and food supply chains

Last Saturday, This is Rubbish in collaboration with CAT held Forum and Feast, a day of talks and workshops (topped off with a theatrical food waste feast!) around the issue of food waste. Paul Allen, CAT’s director of external relations, gave a presentation about Zero Carbon Britain 2030 and food waste, discussing how land use forms an important part of the report.

 

You can stream the podcast here or

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Previous podcasts

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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.

zero carbon controversy

The launch of zerocarbonbritain2030 was an exciting moment for the Centre for Alternative Technology – hotly anticipated and eagerly awaited- it was always going to be controversial. After all, reducing your greenhouse gas emissions to zero ( in fact below zero) within 20 years is never going to be easy.

The launch of the report was covered by a wide variety of publications- from national and local newspapers, academic journals to widely read popular magazines and trade journals. In the media department it was frenetic, managing the enormous tide of enquiries that arrived in every day. One of the biggest areas of controversy has been the land use chapter. Notably the land use chapter calls for an 80% reduction in grazing livestock. The zero carbon Britain 2030 report shows that acre for acre grazing livestock produce more emissions yet provide the least nutritional value

The National Beef Association who represent farmers and those involved with the beef industry were naturally concerned by the massive cuts in the grazing livestock and the impacts that would have on farming life in the UK. The zerocarbonbritain2030 report shows how changes to land use will be radical but positive and see Britain grow far more of its own food and fuel, whilst creating greater energy, economic security and new rural jobs. The report proposes a reduction in grazing livestock because logic and evidence compel it, not for any other reason. There will still be meat but less of it. The task at hand with zerocarbonbritain2030 report was to demonstrate that it is possible to bring British net greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

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A similar controversy of the report is the two thirds reduction in aviation, whilst the era of cheap flights has made life far more convienent and flitting back and forth between countrie sand traveling distances makes life easier,, aviation is responsible for huge amounts of carbon emissions. The zerocarbonbritain2030 report has found that it is possible through land use management to grow the crops needed to produce the kerosene in the UK. Orginally the press team hoped to launch the report at the TUC building in London in order to draw the links between a transition to a zero carbon society and increase in jobs that this would create. However aviation unions within the TUC were unwilling to be linked to a report that demands such a reduction and another venue had to be sought.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Centre for Alternative Technology were hosted by the Guardian online to debate land-use, farming and food. The CPRE claimed that following proposals of the report would mean a massive change in the British landscapes. Producing all our power at home would mean devoting 85% of England’s grazing land to large-scale biomass plantations. They suggested that nearly a quarter of England would no longer be covered by the familiar pattern of meadows and pastures which defines many valued English landscapes. Our response was that zerocarbonbritain2030 is about creating energy security, rural jobs and tackling climate change. It also increases food security. The benefits include many things the CPRE values: rural jobs, biodiversity and locally produced food. But it does result in a landscape that looks very different.

All of these debates are important and there are many more to be had in the transition to a low carbon society. Zerocarbonbritain2030 is just one of many possible scenarios – there are many other mixes- some that include more meat but less aviation or more aviation but less meat- the mix is endless.

As we move towards a zero carbon society there are difficult choices that we need to make. Things are going to change – be it through a change in climate or changes we introduce in order to combat climate change and deal with energy and economic security. The global consequences to humanity of not taking measures now to reduce our carbon emissions and keep temperatures well below 2 degrees will be devastating. We all have a role to play- it is important that we understand the debates in which we engage and the consequences of not taking action

CAT hosts Bristol Schumacher Conference 2010: Zero Carbon Britain – from Aspiration into Action.

“In the shadow of economic globalisation, an extraordinary variety of creative voices have emerged to challenge and reverse the dominant trends.”

On 16th October 2010 delegates from the European Environment Agency, Good Energy and the Centre for Alternative Technology will lead a day of lectures, workshops and discussion on the most pressing issue of our time – the need for a transition to a zero carbon Britain.

Britain has the potential, skills and natural resources to lead the world in carbon reduction. Join in workshop discussions with Paul Allen (CAT), Eugenie Harvey (10:10), Prof. Peter Reason (University of Bath), Victor Anderson (WWF), Jean Boulton (Sustain), Mark Gater and others.

zcb2030

Become part of the solution. Put the date in your diary!

Continue reading “CAT hosts Bristol Schumacher Conference 2010: Zero Carbon Britain – from Aspiration into Action.”

Tick Tick Tick….

The number of secondary passes is now so low, that I am on my way home. By train it’s 24 hours, but that includes a reasonable nights sleep on the Copenhagen to Cologne night train. Over the 10 days the CAT team have been here, we have distributed two thousand leaflets inviting delegates to download the Zero Carbon Britain ‘Copenhagen Special’ report, we have given four TV interviews, two radio interviews, I presented at two side events, and personally offered a copy of the report, or an invitation to download it to every single country delegation.

Together with members of the International Forum for Sustainable Energy, CAT has continually staffed two information stalls, one in the Bella Centre, the main negotiating hall and one in the ‘Klimaforum’ event for civil society. We have literally talked to hundreds of people, making the point clearly and repeatedly that the barriers to agreement at COP15 do not arise from the technology; we know we have the means to change – our limits are social and political. I believe we made an impact. But as well as presenting what we have learned, we have re-vitalised links with old friends, made many new contacts, and explored grounds for future collaborations with others organisations doing similar work.

I must admit I leave with some feeling of apprehension, particularly with the resignation of Connie Hedegaard as president of the summit. If we don’t shape up and pull something solid out of this, its hard to see where the process can go next to deliver what is needed fast enough. We are beyond the limits to growth, it is now a simple race against time. The first ticking clock is the expiry of the hard-won Kyoto protocol, which took a lot of effort to reach, and still offers a viable platform for moving forward. The second ticking clock is the on-going breakdown of the earth’s climate systems, as peak oil now drives us in desperation to dirtier and dirtier fuels. I saw Al Gore personally presenting his most recent work on ice melt, and it is very sobering stuff.

But the third ticking clock is the thinning patience of the majority world. COP15 had a very different mood to its predecessor in Poland. Although majority world delegates and observers were courteous, respectful of the process, I felt there was a rising fear, anger and exasperation in their voices, as they told first hand experiences of losing land, livelihoods and even their families to the ever advancing effects of climate chaos.

But I also leave with a deep and renewed sense of connection. I have met hundreds of inspiring people from projects all across the globe; individuals, communities and organisations that have not waited for their leaders to catch up with the science. There are literally millions upon millions of people from every walk of life, from every continent on earth, working for change. There is an emerging ‘ecosystem’ of activity; some documenting the problems, others monitoring and conveying the effects, yet more working on solutions, each focussed on filling their own particular niche, but aware of being part of a larger whole. I was extremely proud how many people I met had heard of CAT, and had taken inspiration from us at some point in their path. I was even more surprised how many ex-staff, volunteers and students I ran into along the way.

So whatever happens over the final three days, it’s defiantly ‘gloves off’ now and into action for the final chapter. We have the technologies; we even have (at long last) a feed in tariff. We recently have achieved access to media and campaigning tools undreamt of when I began as a peace and anti-nuclear activist in the late 1970s. There are more of us than there have ever been before, and it’s never been easier for us to find each other.

The science says we must, the technology says we can, now lets go do it!