Our climate is changing – so must our politics: 10 ideas for creating a political system that can get us to zero carbon

As the UK General Election moves closer it offers us an important opportunity to think what it might be like to have a political system under which very serious challenges, such as climate change, are given the profile and action they deserve.

Continue reading “Our climate is changing – so must our politics: 10 ideas for creating a political system that can get us to zero carbon”

Imagining a climate resilient community

Anna Cooke-Yarborough reports on the latest part of the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course, which included sessions on permaculture with Chris Dixon and Ruth Stevenson, Values with Elena Blackmore (Common Cause) and Sustainable Architecture Practice with Sunand Prasad (ex president of RIBA).

The second part of the first module was ‘Context and Planning’ and our task for the week was to envisage a climate resilient community on the land around Castell y Bere. This is a castle initially constructed in the 12th century and now lies ruined, situated on a hill near Llanfihangel-y-pennant in Gwynedd, Wales.

Planning a climate resilient community
Planning a climate resilient community

We were divided into two groups and headed off to explore the location using Castell y Bere as a viewpoint. All the land we could see from the castle site was available to work with. The use of the natural drainage divide, marked by the peaks of the hills around, felt very appropriate as one of our aspirations was to make the area ecosystem enhancing. Understanding the precipitation and drainage of the land were key to improving the environment for all the organisms dwelling there. To give time to develop an individual view we approached in silence and came together once everyone had had enough time to consider the space alone. As a collective project this quiet time proved important, the group work that followed was full of highs and lows, concentrated, a little frayed, but most of all a great learning experience.

student exerise
Personal reflection was the starting point for the exercise

We were expected to provide for a population of 500, be fossil free within 10 years, increase resilience, be waste free, carbon sequestering and ecosystem enhancing, and to promote non-growth trading. With so much to research in a short time-scale both groups divided into sub-groups to explore the important areas of this imaginary community in more detail. These were decided as water and food, shelter and energy, health and wellbeing along with governance, transport and communication. The interdependence of all these aspects was clear from the start and so frequent sharing of discoveries and ideas was key. The realisation of the extent of flooding experienced in the area was an important turning point in much of our thinking, and this had to be considered alongside the likelihood of longer dry spells as well.

Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding
Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding

Spider diagrams, timelines, playdough figures, poems, acting, long discussions, longer debates and many maps all ensued. One thing was clear from the start – this was going to be a challenging week.

The Architecture Practice Lecture given by Sunand Prasad was full of ideas we could take forward and use in our community design. He made mention of ending reliance on fossil fuels, the importance of flexibility and symbiosis along with the idea of leaving no trace. Something I found particularly useful was the notion that buildings cannot be finished, that they need to be constantly tuned.

One of the key things we were able to look into throughout the week was Permaculture design, with lectures from Ruth Stevenson and Chris Dixon. The importance of cycles, appropriate zoning and working with natural systems in Permaculture design became clear, along with the versatility of the ideas involved, which can be attributed to all aspects of life. The emphasis on rediscovery and understanding traditional systems were particularly interesting. There is so often an emphasis on the development of new ideas, when many important possibilities are either hidden or forgotten.

Elena Blackmore from Common Cause came to give us a lecture and workshop on values. It was interesting to see how many of our values as a group were similar, which was probably related to the decision we took to take the course, whilst even in this niche setting some values were very contrasting in terms of how important we deemed them to be. Often perceived as something abstract it was good to learn more about values, including how they can be changed and how they affect responses to global issues. In terms of planning our communities it was useful to establish as groups the most focal values, using these to help guide some decision-making.

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‘Valley Republic’ working group

After a lot of table moving, information sharing and weaving together of ideas it was finally time to clamp down and get a presentation together. Both groups were secretive in their final plans, so the last hours were tense and exciting.

Republic of Naz told the tale of their community in the setting of “Memory Tavern”, making use of drama. It was an extremely funny, clever and playful display of the development of the community, complete with a special effects transport display! The Valley Republic similarly took the view to look back over the growth of their community, this time at a celebratory festival. They put together a presentation with Bardic linking to the different sections, complete with a beating drum. The community were caught out on their desire to be pirates with the inclusion of a large, wooden boat in their master plan.

cycling presentation
The Power of cycling – lively presentation by ‘Naz’ working group

So the group work phase came to an end. All of us had learnt a great deal and it was a little sad leaving behind all our plans. There are whispers in the air though.

It was time to celebrate the end of a long week again and Friday night made way for a Halloween party. There was a lot of face painting, a murder mystery game underway in the straw bale theatre, music and dancing, with thanks to the super organisation by Kirsty Cassels, Josh Shimmin and James Irvine.

Halloween face painting
Face painting for Halloween party

On Saturday we had the opportunity of a lecture and workshop from Anna Beswick, who works for Adaptation Scotland. Having had a week working largely outside of real-world scenarios this was a valuable and positive insight into the difficulties faced along with possibilities and examples of adaptation across the UK, with the importance of dialogue, community involvement and working across regions made clear.

At lunch we headed our separate ways again, our heads full of ideas and thankful to everyone that made it such an enjoyable week. We all went away a great deal more knowledgeable about the challenges and opportunities surrounding community planning.

To find out more about this course and others, come to CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment open day on November 16th

Catalan independence is about energy as well as politics

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

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

energy independence Catalonia
Paul Allen heads for Catalonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

A La Cucina information display
A La Cucina information display

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

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

by Paul Allen

 

ZCBlog: Catalysing the shift we need

As we press ahead with our new Zero Carbon Britain research, we are all motivated by the clear evidence that our climate and energy challenges have not gone away, and in many ways they are getting worse. AT ZCB we are keen to explore new drivers that can help Britain rise to that challenge – and one of the most interesting areas of work is in the development of Tradable Energy Quotas, or ‘TEQs‘ for short. In line with this, the new Zero Carbon Britain report will include a section suggesting and evaluating policies such as TEQs, cap and share, emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes that might be used to achieve a zero carbon future.

Currently, our Government has over one hundred policies that impact on emissions. Yet it has produced, in the words of Parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee, “a confusing framework that cannot be said to promote effective action on climate change.”

We desperately need a clear, focused framework for reducing emissions in the kindest, fairest way possible. This is what TEQs offer – to unleash grassroots invention and collaboration, to make energy use a visible in people’s lives and to generate a common purpose in addressing these challenges.

“If I weren’t working at CAT I’d go and work with Shaun [Chamberlain]”, says ZCB’s Paul Allen, “he’s doing really inspirational things with TEQs and The Lean Economy Connection”.

The TEQs Board is currently looking for two interns to help research how TEQs can help deliver a radical change in UK energy policy. They describe their work as “a way to address social injustice, climate change and fuel depletion that is politically achievable” – check out the description below to learn more!

 

TEQ Internships

We are currently seeking two interns to help move TEQs forward towards implementing a radical change in UK energy policy.  Although we cannot offer payment for this at the moment, there may be the possibility the role could progress in the future.

TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas) is an electronic energy rationing system designed to be implemented at the national scale. There are two main reasons why TEQs are needed:

1) Climate change: to guarantee achieving national carbon reduction targets.

2) Energy supply: to maintain a fair distribution of fuel and electricity during shortages.

Currently, the UK government has over one hundred policies that impact on emissions levels yet it has produced, in the words of Parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee, “a confusing framework that cannot be said to promote effective action on climate change.”  Accordingly, nobody currently expects us to meet those legally binding Climate Change Act emissions targets.

We desperately need a clear, focused framework for reducing emissions in the kindest, fairest way possible, and this is what TEQs provides for a nation – a context created to unleash grassroots invention and collaboration across sectors; a context designed to make energy use a real, visible thing in people’s lives; and a context built with the express purpose of generating that elusive thing, common purpose, in addressing our key collective challenges.

At the heart of the TEQs scheme are two things:

1)    The need to respect the non-negotiable limits set by the physical realities of climate change and fuel depletion.

2)    A recognition that if our society is to thrive within any sufficiently tight cap on emissions, it needs to dramatically change its relationship with energy, and that this change can only be driven from the bottom-up.

The principle underpinning TEQs was put perfectly by the late David Fleming, the founder of TEQs:

“Large scale problems do not require large-scale solutions – they require small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework.”

While it is tempting to think of a tightening global cap on emissions as a solution in itself, such a cap is worthless without on-the-ground solutions at the local and individual level – and TEQs facilitates this action in a way that is meaningful to everyone.

TEQs have won supporters from all the main political parties. The UK government funded a pre-feasibility study into the scheme (2008) and 2011 saw an All-Party Parliamentary report in support of TEQs, with extensive international media coverage.  After fifteen years of political and academic study of the scheme, the intellectual argument had been won.

However we now need a campaign to put climate and energy front-and-centre again in the public and political consciousness, and to press for the answer to one simple question:  Given that implementing TEQs simply guarantees that the legally-binding targets set by the Climate Change Act are achieved, are we, or are we not, going to respect climate science and UK law?

If you are interested in applying for an internship, or discussing further details on what the role might involve, please contact Shaun Chamberlin at shaun@teqs.net

 

ZCBlog: reflections on an Ecobuild seminar

If you attended Ecobuild last week (CAT’s review to follow), you know there were almost too many intriguing conferences and seminars to choose from. We didn’t manage to make it to ‘Is this the end of the road for zero carbon?’ but if anyone else did we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. (Our answer is a definite “Not if we can help it!”)

We did manage to get to the final conference of Ecobuild, though, and it was well worth the wait. In ‘Encouraging sustainability through art,’ psychologist Oliver James, The Idler founder Tom Hodgkinson, and artists Sophie Molins and Clare Patey discussed how art can help us overcome our addition to consumerism and work for a healthier planet. Of course, this fits right in with ZCB’s artist in residence project. In this week’s ZCBlog, we’ll talk about some of their arguments and projects we found most exciting.

Coming to terms with climate change

Host Oliver James got things off to a provocative start by calling Britain a society of “credit-fuelled consumer junkies,” but went on to describe how today’s climate challenge is for all of us to accept the facts, and then to tolerate the distress these facts cause us. He then outlined three psychological coping mechanisms, the first of which is denial: climate change isn’t happening, or if it is humans aren’t causing it. The second is maladaptive response, a category most of us fall into: to accept climate change but blunt the feelings of fear, grief, anger, panic and so on with a range of arguments. These include:

  • We’ll fix it through technology, like geoengineering
  • Live in the present, and ignore the scary future
  • Diversionary tactics, i.e. small behavioural changes (“if I recycle then I’m doing my bit”)
  • Blame shifting (“the US and China are the real culprits”)
  • Indifference
  • Unrealistic optimism

The third response, and the only one that leads to effective action, is adaptive coping: to accept climate change, go through the process of mourning, and transition to practical problem solving. The best way to encourage others to cope adaptively, James concludes, is to walk them through their fears gently, and ease them into considering new values.

Stop climate change by doing nothing

One of these new values might be idleness. Tom Hodgkinson spoke about how doing nothing – and thus travelling less, buying less, using less technology, etc. – can mean fewer carbon emissions. At the same time, he argued, we get our good ideas and do our creative thinking when we are at rest.  Setting aside time for this could be crucial to planning for sustainability.

He also offered the idea of permaculture as a model of the ideal lifestyle. Permaculture is an intelligent system that requires less input from the humans running it: minimum effort for maximum output. As we try to reduce energy use, we might turn to ecological solutions like permaculture to guide our thinking.

Is art the answer?

As we craft solutions to carbon emission reduction, should we turn to art to convert people to a particular way ofthinking? Sophie Molins is Art Co-ordinator at Artists Project Earth (APE), a non-profit that uses popular music to raise funds for climate change and social justice causes. Musicians in other countries make remixes of popular songs by artists as diverse as Eminem and Mumford & Sons, and profits from these tracks have funded over 330 projects to date.

While APE tries to raise awareness of our moral and spiritual obligations to stop climate change, Clare Patey’s site-specific work emphasises social engagement and bringing people together – and she is adamant that art should not be didactic. She helped design the Carbon Ration Book,

and organises Feast on the Bridge in London every year to get people involved in the process of food production, consumption and disposal. Another piece she created laid out all the food an average British person would eat in their lifetime, from the thousands of milk bottles drunk to the sheep eaten. Rather than presenting a finish product for people to view, Patey shows the huge transformative power of including people in the creative process.

Overall this conference touched on a whole host of issues about how we limit our emissions and respond to a changing climate. Should we create art, or seek therapy – or just sit at home and play cards? Perhaps we can do all three. Above all, this last conference at Ecobuild was an inspiring glimpse into the way creativity can turn even the of biggest challenges into an opportunity.

 

For your Zero Carbon news, check out the Spring 2013 ZCB Newsletter!

Meeting with the education department. From Zero Carbon Britain to Zero Carbon Europe?

We are usually very busy with lots of different schools visiting the CAT site for tours and teaching. However, we also manage to put some time aside to get together as a team and both report back on some of the projects we have been involved in and share games and ideas for new activities we could run.

In our last meating, Jo reported back on his trip to Portugal where he ran a session on Zero Carbon Britain with people from the arts industry. Ann told us about a project she has been leading on working with several of the local schools to develop new teaching resources about sustainable buildings for them to use in the classroom. My contribution was to talk about a trip I made to Germany where I also ran a session on Zero Carbon Britain… with a twist.

In Germany I was helping to run a seminar about Climate Change and media campaigning with 27 young people from 9 different countries across Europe. In one of the session I started by talking about Zero Carbon Britain and then, using a big map of Europe, we tried to create a vision of what a Zero Carbon Europe might look like. This was a great activity because by pooling our collective knowledge of the resources that were available in each country we were able to get everyone involved in creating a really positive vision for the future.

Land Intensity and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

These two graphs show the difference between current land use and a zero carbon britain 2030 scenario. The red bar is the area of land used, green bar is nutritional value and the black bar carbon emissions. In the first graph, showing current land usage it is immediately obvious that current agricultural practices in Britain see a lot of land used from grazing livestock , which has relatively little nutritional value yet high carbon emissions. By contrast the zerocarbonbritian2030 scenario shows a far smaller area of land allocated to livestock products, yet the total amount of nutritional value substantially increased. Any remaining positive emissions are sequestered bringing the UK to zero.

Current Land Use

land use is a zero carbon britain 2030 scenario

Zerocarbonbritain 2030 scenario

land use is a zero carbon britain 2030 scenario

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

Site Community and Open Day

It’s all go in site community this Summer… for the last few weekends the cottage area of site has been opened up for visitors to come by and take a look at what is going on. The community at CAT started in 1975 when a group of people disillusioned by modern day living and concerned by what they saw as a looming environmental crisis moved to the abandoned slate quarry that is now known as CAT.  Over the years, the hard work and enthusiasm of 1000’s of people has meant that the quarry has transformed into a  fertile oasis with abundant flowers, fruits, vegetables and tree’s. Although CAT has expanded and grown there is still a living community here at CAT.  It is  home to 16 people including three children and three cats ( of the feline variety) who live in a variety of different houses, from renovated old slate cottages to eco-buildings, tried and tested at CAT.

Chris, Carlos and Mary tread the clay, whilst Neru wathes on
Chris, Carlos and Mary tread the clay, whilst Neru watches on

The site community residents aim to put into practice the ethos of CAT through sustainable low impact living. All the houses are very well insulated, water is heated through a combination of wood burners and solar water heaters. Wood also provides heating for the houses. The community aims to reduce it’s carbon footprint by sharing resources such as washing machines etc   buying food together and putting into practice sustainable low impact living. As well  environmental sustainability the community is also concerned with sustaining ourselves as a community. All the decisions about the community are made through  consensus decision making process in which all residents are involved. Regular meals together and work days are also important elements of community life.

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The new community kitchen

As well as the weekend tours this summer,  residents of site community are also working on their amazing new kitchen. The building dubbed ‘mini WISE’ as it is in the shadow of the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education is a timber frame, straw bale building with a hemp and lime render on the outside and clay inside. The kitchen is going to provide much needed cooking and eating space for the site community and long and short term volunteers who come and stay at CAT.