Zero Carbon

The WISE Centre at the Centre for Alternative Technology is sophisticated.
Forget any images you have of hair shorts, hair shirts, damp caves, this modern lecture hall/ venue near Machynlleth, constructed from hemp and lime, rammed earth and local wood, is light and airy and spacious and warm … just gorgeous actually.


The event I’m attending has been organised by Powys Transition Network and they have a full house of 125 people grappling with the coffee urns and rustling their papers. The first presentation is by Paul Allen. Paul is a bit of a legend really. Not of the hyped-up hair-styled media-darling variety but more the enduring unannounced kind. In fact if legendary status were dependent on hairstyle …
Anyway, Paul has been a driving force at CAT and also Dulas Engineering since 1988 and now the coordinator for Zero Carbon Britain. I’m kind of in awe.

We are guided through the story of energy ~ from the laying down of fossil fuels during the carboniferous period, some half a million years ago; to the “Annual Sunlight Ration” of early agricultural societies; inexorably onwards to the recent discovery of coal and oil that fuelled the industrial revolution; all sorts of wonderful and awful things; and finally climate change.

Zero Carbon Britain is CAT’s chunky piece of work for really properly addressing climate change, demonstrating that
a – its possible, and we have all the technologies required in terms of energy demand reduction and clean energy production
b- it will only happen if global decision makers and leaders accept the global cap and agree to leave the percentage of fossil fuels that scientists confirm we cant burn because it would be bonkers in the ground and under the Arctic.

After a break, up to the platform comes Alice Hooker-Stroud who is a seriously good speaker and the subject is Zero Carbon land use. This is an interesting piece of work about current land use in Britain and having asked the question “Can we improve our diet and reduce Green House Gas emissions?” Alice neatly maps out how we could, by shifting to zero carbon land use.

At the moment 65 -70 percent of land in UK is under food production, but we still rely on 42% of our food being imported. A shift to less livestock/more vegetable and cereal crops, along with a reduction in waste ~ 30 percent of UK food in 2011 went to waste, primarily for spurious marketing reasons ~ would mean that the UK could reduce the percentage of land currently producing food and actually feed everyone too. Which could free up more space for trees, peat land and rich grassland for carbon capture plus agricultural production of biomass to provide backup for renewables. In the zero carbon land use model, people would eat less overall and also more healthily. A large percentage of deaths in this country are diet related at present, so we could do with an overhaul.

This event really lifted my spirits. I can’t do justice to all the speakers in 800 words but a final mention for the presentation by George Marshall. George is a lead advisor to the Welsh Government on climate change communications and has previously worked as a senior campaigner for both the Rainforest Network and also Greenpeace US. His work on communicating climate change includes how to reach people, fight denial and build a shared vision. His final comments? We have to break the climate silence of the last couple of years and start talking about it.

Big thanks to Mike and Sally and the team for organising this event and if you want to know more about and get involved with Transition Powys, who are up to all sorts of good things with some funding from PAVO, please contact:

First published in Broad Sheep

Written by Rachel Francis, Sharpening Pencils



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