Emergence Summit 2012 – Day One

Last night, the Emergence Summit – a major event exploring sustainability and the arts, organised by Swansea-based theatre company Volcano Theatre and the Centre for Alternative Technology – got underway with an inspiring opening ceremony created by Sue Gill and John Fox. The ceremony was on the theme of ‘baking the bread for tomorrow’, and participants were treated to a poem of the same title by John Fox, as well as reflections, highlights and experiences shared by some of the walkers on the Land Journey which began at the beginning of September, traversing two elliptical trails around Wales, converging on CAT the evening before the Summit.

Registration for Emergence gets underway...

The Summit was conceived by Fern Smith and others from the Volcano Theatre company as a way to take the Emergence project further. Several events had already been organised exploring the role of the arts in creating change to a positive, sustainable future – and in 2012, with other events of national and international importance happening in the UK, it seemed the perfect time to organise a summit addressing how we create the future.

Last night’s opening ceremony saw that vision come to fruition. After being welcomed to the conference, participants were invited to quite literally ‘walk in another person’s shoes’ – the WISE lecture theatre filled with a frantic energy as delegates scrambled to find a shoe-swapping partner with an appropriate foot size.

Paul Allen and Peter Harper from the Zero Carbon Britain research team contextualised the Summit with a discussion about the relationship between human beings, human societies and sources of energy. Zero Carbon Britain – which has now entered a new phase of development and research – is a pioneering initiative to try to present a plan for the rapid decarbonisation of the UK. However, as achieving such ashift requires considerable behaviour change, collaborating with creative projects to inspire us about a better, greener world may provide a way forward. As Paul Allen explained, if we can’t imagine a better world or a brighter future, and continue to present dystopian views of where we’re headed, we won’t be able to create it.

'Give and gain' from the delegates

Finally, to round off the evening, delegates were given two luggage tags – one to write what they thought they could give to the gathering, and one to write what they hoped to gain from the gathering. These were displayed outside the lecture theatre, to be read throughout the weekend, and eventually to be taken away and kept safely by another.

More pictures are available here.

Delegates 'in full voice' during part of the opening ceremony

Visit Festival of the Future: Six weeks of fun and inspiration at CAT


Today we unveil our summer plans: CAT will be hosting a six week ‘Festival of the Future’ for tens of thousands of visitors. Daily activities for all the family and a programme of special one-day events mean a day trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology this August could inspire a revolution in the way you live.

Festival of the Future takes place throughout the school summer holidays from 21st July until 31st August. Daily activities will incorporate creative renewable energy and sustainability themed activities for children, with talks and informative tours led by staff and researchers at CAT for adults. Every Wednesday will see special events for kids and adults such as storytelling and specialist tours of CAT’s renewable energy systems.

Two one-day special events will form the climaxes of the summer programme: Energy Day on the 8th August and an Arts and Sustainability Fair on the 29th August. Both days will be packed full of informative and inspiring activities and entertainment including stalls, music, workshops, storytelling, exhibitions, guest speakers and more, all themed around building a brighter, more sustainable future for the UK and beyond.

We will be posting a series of articles on the blog on the theme of Festival of the Future.

This packed summer programme aims to provide a fun and active day out for families and other visitors to CAT, but also to give people ideas about the positive contribution they can make to a sustainable future.

Visitors will be able to meet face to face with some of the experts from CAT who will be giving guided tours and hosting engaging discussions about eco-lifestyle changes and action that people can take in their own community to respond to bigger picture challenges.

Allan Shepherd, author of CAT’s latest book The Home Energy Handbook will be one of the CAT staff members talking to visitors. Allan said:

“There are loads of positive things that people can do to help build more sustainable communities that are fun to take part in. Festival of the Future is a great opportunity for people to come and learn a bit more about sustainable futures as well as picking up tips on everything from eco-friendly living to getting involved in your local community. It should be entertaining as well as inspiring.”

All the events going on as part of Festival of the Future are included in the normal CAT entrance fee. The Visitor Centre also has a restaurant serving delicious vegetarian food and a shop selling books and gifts. A full programme of Festival of the Future events, which run from 21st July to 31st August, can be found on the website: http://visit.cat.org.uk/festival-of-the-future. Festival of the Future is sponsored by Good Energy, the UK’s only 100% renewable electricity supplier.



Zero Carbon Britain recognised as ‘inspirational’ in RenewableUK’s inaugural Energy Awards


The Centre for Alternative Technology’s pioneering project Zero Carbon Britain has been recognised in RenewableUK’s first Energy Awards

Zero Carbon Britain receieved the Renewables Campaigner Award, which recognises “campaigning excellence and leadership in winning public support for renewable energy.” The project, which is now entering a new phase of research, provides a clear policy framework for rapidly decarbonising the UK.

RenewableUK described the project as “an inspirational movement for change in the UK,” celebrating its positive, practical message in a ceremony in London on Wednesday night.

Paul Allen, Project Co-Ordinator for Zero Carbon Britain, said that “as the Rio+20 conference reminds us all of the urgent need to rise to our environmental challenges, the Centre for Alternative Technology us proud that our Zero Carbon Britain research has been recognised by the prestigious RenewableUK Energy Awards.

Integrating cutting edge research across a wide range of sectors, Zero Carbon Britain explores our options for rising to the scale and speed of the challenges defined by our most recent science. It clearly illustrates the parallel de-carbonisation and re-vitalisation of the UK’s economy, creating a single document of immediate relevance to citizens, communities, businesses and policy makers everywhere.”

Maria McCaffery, RenewableUK Chief Executive, said “we created these awards to receognise and celebrate excellence in the wind and marine energy industries. The extraordinarily high calibre of the winners, and indeed of the all those nominated, shows there is a great deal to celebrate. The awards pay tribute to these inspiring examples of tenacity and success.”

Don’t paint it black: why we need to talk about how we talk about the future


Paul Allen, CAT’s External Relations Director, writes about the recent Tipping Point conference he attended in Newcastle addressing how we can energise the creative response to climate change. “Through my work thinking about the communication of Zero Carbon Britain,” he writes, “I have noticed that dystopia abounds every time contempoary culture looks toward the future.”

Recently I took the train to Newcastle to join artists, scientists and creative practitioners at 2012’s Tipping Point conference. Equipped with 70 copies of our Zero Carbon Britain summary document, I set off to join 200 others for an exploration into how we talk about the future.

Set in the very welcoming arms of the Great North Museum: Hancock, this year’s Tipping Point not only pushed the barriers on what the cultural industries can achieve in helping the transition to 21st century thinking, but also built a lot of new links in the network, forming the basis of a useful way of examining how we see ourselves and our future.

Day one was themed “how do I feel about the future?” opening with a very interesting presentation from the Tyndall Centre’s Kevin Anderson, followed closely by so-called ‘Rational Optimist’ Matt Ridley. This quickly turned out to be a boxing match over data, though Matt’s use of very conservative figures for climate sensitivity multiplied by not enough emissions and selective anti-wind data was more Derren Brown than Mohamed Ali.

The second day moved on to explore “in what ways might I influence the future?” through a series of very well organized open space events, and a really clever word cloud drawn from everyone in the room’s biographies, a frenzy of networking and discussion ensued. The open space also gave me the chance to run a session to help understand why contemporary culture must always ‘paint it black’.

Through my work thinking about the communication of Zero Carbon Britain, I have noticed that dystopia abounds every time contemporary culture looks forward into the future. Children of Men, The Road, 28 Days Later – the list is endless. It was so different back when I was a lad – we had Dan Dare, Thunderbirds and Star Trek. When we thought about the future in the 1960s and 70s science and technology were going to take us up, up and away to exciting new places, we’d have labour saving gadgets, hover bikes and jet packs. But as the seventies rolled into the eighties and the wonders of technology were seen to be clearly bashing into the limits of the ecosystems. Bhopal, Chernobyl and a wide range of other catastrophes led us into a different way of seeing our future. From Blade Runner onwards the future became dark. Boys could still be heroes and lovers could walk off into the sunset, but all set against a dark dystopian background. Despite the fact that millions of people would like to imagine humanity capable of making the right choices, and rising to the climate challenge, the artists, novelists, film makers and playwriters always chose to paint it black.

Opened most ably by Welfare State’s John Fox, the final day set out to investigate, explore and develop new ways to engage people in positive, aspirational visions of the future in which we have risen to the challenges of climate change and which also addresses needs that are currently going un-satisfied.

The event taught me a great deal. Firstly, it confirmed my suspicion that there is very little out there in terms of positive visions of a 21st century future. It also helped me understand why – with little to go on in terms of hard data, there is a great fear amongst the creative industries that the critics will dismiss positive works with the all encompassing “yes, but that’s just an utopian view.” This is perhaps where robust scenarios such a Zero Carbon Britain can give confidence, as well as understanding that change is a social phenomenon just as much as a technological challenge.

21st Century challenges cannot be solved with 20th Century thinking – and how we construct our future is no different.

Latest Zero Carbon Britain newsletter


A big welcome to a selection of articles from the latest Zero Carbon Britain newsletter. The whole newsletter is available here, and you can sign up to receive the ZCB newsletter straight into your inbox here.

The next phase of ZCB

We are excited to be planning a further research phase of the ZCB project. A welcome process of criticism, feedback and reflection, plus the emergence of new environmental technologies since publication, has clarified the way forward.

Specifically we would like to look how improved wind prediction might reduce emissions from back-up facilities.

We also intend to investigate the possibilities for using the Sabatier process to store energy when there is excess electricity in the grid. During this process the hydrogen released by electrolysis is combined with CO2 to produce methane, which could be stored or introduced into the gas grid.

The ZCB2030 Land Use section provoked a great deal of interest so further work has already been commissioned to expand on its ideas.

Finally, we will develop a piece of modular open-source, energy-modelling software that will allow many more people to understand, use and adapt the basic ZCB scenario.

ZeroCarbonBritain Day on 21st July

For the second year running we are planning a ZeroCarbonBritain Day in order to draw attention to the ideas in our report and the possibility of taking action to prevent unnecessary climate catastrophe.

ZeroCarbonBritain day is being co-organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change and this year will take place on 21st July. The idea so far is for groups to take action in their local areas to draw attention to ZCB and to draw their local MP’s attention to the solutions laid out in the report. Feedback from last year’s demonstration and actions can be found here.

A selection of news from the sectors addressed in ZeroCarbonBritain2030…


According to DECC, in 2010 UK greenhouse gas emissions rose by 3.1% to an estimated 590.4mtCO2e. The government claims that this was caused by the cold winter last year, but the figures indicate that consumption of fossil fuels is increasing. Even by its own measurements the government is failing in its duty to reduce emissions, and this is without taking into account the added emissions from international flights and imported goods.

Climate science

How governments around the world sponsor wrecking the climate.

Lord Lawson’s climate sceptic think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has been served with a Freedom of Information request with regards to its donors in order to determine if they have vested interests in the fossil fuel industry, which they have hitherto denied. David Attenborough has also criticised Lawson for not looking at the facts on climate change.

The built environment

A new life-cycle analysis study proves what ZCB has been saying all along, that in the main, renovating old houses produces far less CO2 than knocking them down and building new ones.


A new breakthrough on batteries for electric vehicles could mean that they achieve a greater range than other vehicles.

World & UK renewables

On 28th December 2011, a record 12.2% of the UK’s electricity was produced by wind power, smashing the previous record of 10%. Onward and upwards!

World investment in ‘clean energy’ reached $260bn in 2011 and the US topped China again for the first time since 2008.

Policy and economics

There has been widespread confusion in government as to how the Feed-in Tariff for solar PV ought to be changed. CAT’s own information officer, Tobi Kellner, makes sense out of the recent furore.

CAT at El Sueno Existe


“How can we build a more sustainable and zero-carbon future?”

CAT asked festival goers at last year’s El Sueno music festival for their ideas…

Look… smiley faces and sunshine! This will get you warmed up for the summer!

CAT was pleased to be part of local music and politics festival El Sueno Existe which took place in Machynlleth, Powys last August. We asked festival goers for their ideas on how we can build a more sustainable future together, and then took their photos – here are a few of their responses…

“Grow your own vegetables – using seeds and varieties for each area”

“I buy my milk from Mr News behind the clock in glass bottles – then I take the bottles back to use again”

“BREWERIES – start taking crates of bottles back, and re-using them!”

“Take public transport, walk, cycle. Less flying, more train connections!”

“More Skype, less travel”

“Reduce high carbon consumables”

El Sueno celebrates the life, music, politics and culture of South America and Wales. The festival is a melting pot of cultures, with musicians playing mezclas of celtic folk and traditional Andean music, alongside discussions and talks on left-wing politics and how we can collectively build a more harmonious, equal and sustainable world. For more information on this year’s festival, take a look at their website.

Tell us your ideas on how we can build a more sustainable and zero-carbon future below – if you have a creative way of telling it to us – perhaps through a photo or video – even better, we’d love to see it, post your responses below!

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.