The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT): Week 1

I’ve had a rollercoaster ride of a first week at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) situated at the border of the Snowdonia national park in Wales. CAT is an education and visitors centre that aims to demonstrate solutions to sustainability. It was founded in the early 70’s in a disused slate quarry at a time when the scale of environment degradation from human activities was only just beginning to be understood. The early pioneers wanted to develop technology that could be of benefit to humans, nature and the economy. In a similar spirit, during CAT’s existent the quarry has been ‘rewilded’, and now hosts an abundance of wildlife.

This is the entrance to CAT. When it's working, there is a car lift that uses that is water powered. I'll explain more next time.
Here’s the entrance to CAT. When it’s working, there is a car lift that is water powered.

It’s a kind of living laboratory for experimenting primarily with building and permaculture techniques. Many of the practices, materials and techniques developed here are finding their way into mainstream modern architecture. My favourite so far has been synthetic slate tiles that are made from recycled car tyres (touching is believing!).

Synthetic slate roof made from car tyres
Synthetic slate roof made from car tyres

I arrived on Monday, exhausted having just finished revision of a manuscript for publication at Imperial. I really, really could have done with a holiday! Instead I had volumes of literature to read in preparation for my designated project: I am presenting CAT’s flagship research project ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ (ZCB) to visitors to the centre during twice daily talks. ZCB is a technical energy scenario that presents a positive vision of how Britain can transition to zero CO2 emissions within around two decades. It aims to inspire debate and inform policy on how we can rapidly decarbonise the UK, whilst also highlighting the co-benefits of a zero carbon society e.g. cleaner air and healthier lifestyles.

Probably my favourite building- the walls are just straw bales with lime render and it's been standing for a couple of decades.
Probably my favourite building at CAT- the walls are just straw bales with lime render and it’s been standing for a couple of decades already

I gave my first talk on Wednesday and have been steadily gaining confidence with the multitude of facts and figures that are required to look like any kind of authority on the subject. The audience figures have not been as high as we would have liked (ranging from around 2 – 14 per session) but the level of engagement and debate all round has been really positive. Alongside this core project I have started working on an update to an existing report called ‘Who’s getting ready for zero?’, which “…maps out how different actors at national, regional and city levels are already modelling the elimination of GHGs on science-based timeframes compatible with 2ºC.” Essentially ‘Who’s getting ready for zero?’ collates information from reports like Zero Carbon Britain from around the world to show what could be done to decarbonise the planet.

We're experimenting with talk times although we have to work around the site and garden tours...

CAT has a great atmosphere to it. The people here are really friendly, helpful and there is a common purpose to the staff and volunteers. Outside of work I have been finding time to both socialise and to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings. As an intern I have the privilege of being able to attend short courses that CAT runs here over the summer free of charge. I was lucky enough to participate in the ‘Nature Connection’ course that ran over the past weekend. The aim of the course was teach practices and routines for connecting more strongly with nature, for example by having a designated ‘sit spot’ which you visit every day to mindfully observe the plants, animals and landscapes around you. The course turned out to be much more powerful than I imagined (given that I was slightly cynical at the beginning). I could write a whole other blog about it but needless to say I highly recommend any reader to attend something similar. I came away feeling energised and ready for the new week ahead!

This is my new sit spot where I contemplate life and the universe...
This is my new sit spot where I contemplate life and the universe…


One comment for “The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT): Week 1

  1. Wow! What a well written and inspiring piece, that conveys the really great work and advances that CAT is achieving. Great read.

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