CAT Week 2: People and Environment

Hello from sunny/miserably wet/weather-indecisive Powys.

Visitor numbers and hence audience figures for the Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) talks have been low due to extremes of hot and wet weather. CAT tends to be busiest when it’s a bit cloudy since most families head to the beach on really hot days, and no-one wants to tramp about in the rain (at a mostly outdoor activity centre) when it’s pelting down! In between giving talks I continued to update the ‘Who’s Getting Ready for Zero’ database with new scenarios although progress has been hampered somewhat by an ultra-slow satellite link-up internet connection… At the end of last week my supervisor Paul and I began discussing the idea of doing a ‘Zero Carbon Liverpool’ for a collaborator and expanding the ‘Zero Carbon’ brand out to cities across the UK. It is not something that I could attempt in my final two weeks here, but instead a possibility for a long-term (6-month) project for the future. Since the database has been difficult to progress with I have taken on producing a two-page ZCB summary flyer for anti-fracking campaign groups so that they can present an alternative to the public.

I have met some really interesting people here at CAT since I arrived. On Tuesday I met a lovely couple, Paul and Fallon who came to my talk. We ended up discussing geopolitics and ecological living for about two hours (the talk is supposed to be 20 minutes long).

The water-powered lift for visitors.
The water-powered lift for visitors.

On Thursday Roger, an old engineer who arrived at CAT in 1977 and who recently designed and built his own steam engine to power his Land Rover helped me take apart and clean an old piano. He was one of the original designers and engineers who built the water-powered lift that takes visitors from the car park to site level.

Last Wednesday I helped out on the door for my supervisor Paul who was giving a talk at a local arts venue, entitled ‘The Extraordinary Story of Human Beings, Energy & Happiness’. The story begins with the Big Bang and charts the course of human and technological development culminating in our present extreme energy culture.


The poster for Paul's talk on the history and environmental impacts of human development
The poster for Paul’s talk on the history and environmental impacts of human development

The talk describes how prior to the discovery of fossil fuels, the only energy that humans had access to came from an annual ration of sunlight stored either in plants, wind or rivers. Fossil fuels effectively gave us access to millions of years worth of solar energy, which we have subsequently burned up at an entirely unprecedented rate over the past 150 years or so. Tied-in with this is the story of how consumer Capitalism has given rise to over-consumption through advertising and public relations (originally branded as propaganda). There is then, the requirement for a new narrative and a positive vision for our future in which we live within our annual energy ration, but now with new tools to capture orders of magnitude more energy using renewable technologies. During the talk Paul was accompanied on piano and synth by Lola Perrin, a London-based composer and performer who wrote a score to accompany the piece. It received a lot of praise and positive feedback from the local audience and they have also been invited to perform the the Royal Opera House. I am expecting a front-row invitation.

This week I have been reflecting a lot on the importance of people and teamwork. CAT relies on volunteers and is a tolerant and considerate environment for people to come and work in. Sometimes these qualities mean that people on the fringes of society and with poor social conditioning are accepted onto the volunteer staff. While one of the functions of CAT as a charity is to act as a community hub, over the past week this has proven to be challenging to some of the volunteers (including myself) as one or two strong characters have dominated many social situations. A new week however brings with it a turn around of volunteers and has led to a new and fresh atmosphere.

The CAT reservoir from which drinking water, lifting and hydroelectric power (when it's working) are obtained
The CAT reservoir from which drinking water (don’t worry it gets cleaned), lift power and hydroelectric electricity (when it’s working) are obtained

On the weekend my girlfriend Abi visited and we escaped to the nearby village of Caersws where we looked after some chickens and mostly sheltered from the tempestuous weather.

The sun came out at the beginning of the week and Paul was kind enough to let me swap Tuesday for Saturday so that we could spend the day enjoying the beautiful valley between Machynlleth and Corris. I still haven’t quite managed to persuade Abi to move to North Wales but I think swimming in the CAT reservoir surrounded by lush flora didn’t harm my cause…




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