GOING GREEN WITH THE CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY
No trip to the Coed-y-Brenin would be complete without a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. Although located in the northern most part of Powys, the eco-centre is about a 45 minute drive from Glyn-yr-Aur and offers a great day out for all the family or anyone just interested in saving the environment. Read the reports below to find out why a tour of the centre should be an integral part of your holiday itinerary.

INTRODUCING THE CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY
THE Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth has come along way from its humble beginnings in the early 1970s when its earliest volunteers used to vie with hungry wildlife in its leaking communal dining hall in a bid to bag a bite to eat.

At the site of a former slate quarry at Llwyngwern, a group of like-minded eco-activists planned to change the world when it began a pioneering attempt to create a community that was totally devoted to observing ecologically-sound principles.

With an evangelical zeal for all things green that was almost unheard of at the groupís inception in 1973, it wasnít long before scores of like-minded individuals began to flock to the site to realise their collective dream of making sustainable living a reality.

Soon news of the groupís mission spread far and wide until it reached the doors of Buckingham Palace; and after a whirl-wind tour by Prince Philip, the founders decided to open up a visitorsí centre to spread the gospel about the virtues of leading an eco-friendly life to the wider world.

No project seemed too challenging or demanding in the groupís desire to prove that living an environmentally-friendly life could be achieved cheaply and effectively; and provide power and electricity for people en masse.

Windmills and solar panels were just some of the early devices that the group used to power the whole community; and since its formation it has positioned itself at the forefront of research into alternative technologies and has proven time and again that they really work.

With more than 30 years of breaking back the bounds of concepts on green living and thinking, the centre now has a multi-million pound turnover, a dedicated staff of 90 people and visitors that regularly top 65,000 in numbers a year.

The organisation is also so highly respected that its site is to be home to the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (Wise), and it is anticipated that the new eco-building's construction will be finished some time in 2007.

Moreover, when arriving at the site in Machynlleth, visitors are assured an exhilarating ride on a 180ft high water-powered cliff railway which will quite literally transport them into a parallel universe. In this world, solar panels and wind turbines power the myriad of exhibition halls, restaurants and accommodation, and even the public telephones.

There is no area of the site that has not been totally transformed into a shrine to green and environmentally-friendly living. And with a recent cash injection of £550,000, many of the centreís ground-breaking exhibits have also been overhauled and revamped in a bid to give visitors even more of an awe-inspiring time.

A MORE IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE CENTRE'S EXHIBITIONS
IN all probability, one trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth would nowhere nearly be enough to enthuse over all the ground-breaking projects and innovations that have been brought into being.

Whether it's marvelling at being transported to the site's nerve centre by a water-powered cliff railway, or savouring one of the many exciting and informative exhibitions on recycling and cleaner living, visitors are undoubtedly bound to be amazed at just how inventive, dynamic and ingenious staff at the centre have been.

Who would think that the power of the wind could be harnessed to generate electricity for much of the community or that perhaps a whole theatre site could have been constructed using something as uncomplicated as bales of straw? Well at the Centre for Alternative Technology, they have not only been proving that the impossible takes no time at all, but also that the intelligent use of natural resources soon turns science fiction into science fact.

In the Spring of 1999, an ambitious project was begun to build a theatre consisting almost entirely of bales of straw. Taking a full year to complete, the scheme was also used as a training ground for recruits who wanted to gain an indepth insight into eco-friendly building techniques.

The first major task was to clear the site of rhododendrons that had sprung up into a dense colony over the years; and the second was to dig down through the slate waste from the former quarry to make way for two layers of concrete block.

Once the foundations were laid, the next phase was to put together wooden frames that were fabricated from local larch. The straw bales were actually used as infill for the wooden frames and were further held in place by wooden stakes. Finally, a green oak porch was fashioned in addition to a further larch frame for the roof. This was then covered with slabs of wool and zinc. After a final render to make the building complete, it was then used as a place for meetings and a theatre devoted entirely to children.

A spokesperson further explained: "The Centre for Alternative Technology has long offered an educational programme for its younger visitors, and our straw bale theatre project provides a valuable space for activities including theatre, science workshops and a very special trip to the beginning of time.

"We chose straw bale as a building material because it is sustainable resource that makes use of an agricultural waste product, is energy efficient and is cheap and easy to build with."

Moreover, with a fervent desire to harness all forms of renewable energy, the centre also guaranteed to buy all of the electricity a community-led power scheme could generate. Work began on laying the foundations for the installation of a second hand Vestas 17 wind turbine in April of 2002. The scheme was owned and managed by Dulas Valley Wind Partnership; and was up and running with the help of CAT by the July of that year.

Built on Forestry Commission land near to CAT's main site, it has helped to provide power for many of the centre's projects and schemes and any remaining electricity was sold on to the local network.

A spokesperson further explained: "Now that wind power has been proven to be a viable and desirable means of generating 'clean' electricity, the challenge is to up the installation rate and get community support for local wind projects.

"Members of the scheme have received share dividends from the sale of electricity and have had a say in major decisions. The project has been an environmental and economic success for local supporters."

The Centre for Alternative Technology has also injected a massive £550,000 into upgrading its range of exhibitions and displays in the last year. One of the main exhibitions to be revamped has been its Whole Home exhibition. Originally, it was one of the organisation's major showcases for sustainable living.

In partnership with construction firm Wates, the initial objective was to try to create one of the best insulated buildings in the UK. And this they feel they achieved by producing 450mm of cavity wall insulation. It has now been totally overhauled to contain a new contemporary range of fixtures and fittings that, above all, have a considerably reduced effect on the environment. The funding went mainly towards a new conservatory and car port for the house.

Visitors should make a point of watching the short film that is shown repeatedly throughout the day in the house on how to adopt a greener lifestyle. They will be able to learn about how to garden more organically, harvest rainwater and discover the secret of how to make rich and fertile compost.

A new building has also been constructed as a home for the centre's rocket composter, and as its name suggests, its primary function is to turn vegetable and kitchen waste into nutrient rich soil.

Typically, the long metal tank slowly turns the vegetable waste matter so that within just under two weeks, a fertile compost is produced - which is then readily added to the organic farming plots that are cultivated throughout the site.

A spokesperson added: "When vegetable scraps decompose without oxygen in a landfill site, they produce powerful greenhouse gases such as methane. By turning this waste into compost, we are reducing our impact on the environment."

Visitors to the centre should also take a tour of the newly refurbished Waste and Recycling display which promises to reveal just how much of a throwaway society we in Britain are today. People can scan grocery items through a special interactive supermarket checkout in a bid to find out just how much of the planet's resources are spent in their packaging and production.


A spokesperson went on: "The Reuse display will focus on the ways we can use materials again without changing their physical makeup. And the Recycle section, incorporating 'a guess what it was game?' will look at raw materials and will examine how we can give our waste a new lease of life by making it in to something new."

HISTORY OF THE CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY
SET up over 30 years ago by a group of like-minded green activists, the Centre for Alternative Technology was initially begun as a test bed for environmentally-friendly concepts and ideas.

Originally, the overriding aim was to establish a community that would be wholly dependent on ecologically-sound technologies and that would additionally, and perhaps more importantly, become a pioneering showcase for sustainable living.

Eco-activists from all over the country were soon inspired by the founders' and early volunteers' mission and objectives; and soon began to flock to the base camp at the site of the former slate quarry in Llwyngwern.

Complete renovations of dilapidated former quarry buildings were begun by new recruits to the new venture with the specific aim of making them totally reliant on energy from a renewable resource.

Farm animals and organic farming were also introduced to make the scheme self-sufficient, and also to ensure an eco-friendly ethos was fully interwoven into the whole spectrum of the group's activities.

People initially lived in eco-caravans at the centre, which were fully insulated with special foam coatings on the outside in a bid to conserve the maximum amount of energy that was possible.

Additionally, they all had all their water and electricity consumption carefully measured, to ensure that there was no wastage of resources and that the optimum amounts were only ever used at any one time.

Indeed models based on the early prototype designs are now actually used as holiday lets or as accommodation for delegates on the varied and myriad courses run at the centre throughout the year - which encompass topics such as how to turn cooking oil into fuel.

In the first few years of the project's life, however, early volunteers had to use all their ingenuity to make the very best of the basic conditions.

Early volunteers revealed that an old engine shed with a leaking roof was used as a communal dining hall; and yet further still, diners also had to do 'daily combat' with hungry shrews which seemed to delight in darting across the tables in search of a tasty morsel.

Moreover, news of the group's work spread far and wide across the country, until it reached the doors of Buckingham Palace. So impressed was the Duke of Edinburgh when he himself heard about the group's work that he decided to pay them a visit in 1974.

Full of admiration for the progress that had been made thus far, he and his entourage suggested that perhaps a visitors' centre would make a welcome addition to the fledgling eco-enterprise, and help educate people about how to adopt a more eco-conscious way of living.

Among the first innovations was an electricity generating windmill which had been based on a Cretan design, but this was soon replaced with a revamped model because its energy output did not live up to expectations.

One of the next attempts at creating energy, while at the same time adhering to the group's exacting ethical code, was in the guise of a second-hand water turbine. This used the abundant supply of water on site to generate sufficient electricity for most of the group's needs.

Moreover CAT was keen to utilise the power of the sun and developed a solar heating system for its main office building in 1975. The system had an interseasonal heat store which saved energy captured from the sun's rays in summer for use during the cold winter months.

Throughout the decades that followed, the rate of inventions gathered apace and soon the centre was replete with several more solar powered energy resources, a wind turbine, a water-powered cliff railway and a theatre constructed largely of straw.

And perhaps most importantly, and by no means least, there is now an ever-changing series of exhibitions and displays which seek to educate visitors about the virtues of conserving energy, recycling, reducing pollution and eating fair-trade, organically produced food.

Today, the centre also has an eco-adventure playground, farmyard animals and an underground exhibition for children where they can learn about 'Megan the Mole' and her soil-living friends.

A spokesperson said: "CAT is concerned with the search for globally sustainable, whole and ecologically sound technologies and ways of life. If we want to survive in the future without a huge environmental crisis, our best hope lies with understanding and working with natural processes, rather than trying to conquer nature.

"We show people the impact they have on the environment, and help them to take steps to reduce that impact. We offer a wealth of practical experience gathered over three decades by experimenting with alternative ways of living.

"It's not just the big things, such as solar panels and green building methods, but the everyday details of life that can be made more sustainable. For example, anyone can begin by installing energy saving light bulbs.

"CAT exists to teach people how easy these basic steps can be. By inspiring, informing and enabling individuals, government and business, we aim to change our self-destructive habits before it's too late."

NEWS REPORT
TIME TO PULL OUT ALL THE STOPS TO AVERT GLOBAL MELTDOWN SAYS CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY
TIME is running out to save our planet from ecological meltdown and environmental catastrophe according to campaigners at world-renowned conversation project, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth.

Results from recent scientific surveys have shown that ice sheets are retreating at an alarming rate at both the North and South poles and that, more specifically, around 200 cubic kilometres of ice are being lost from Greenland and the West Antarctic each year.

The unrelenting weakening and erosion of the polar ice caps can be attributed entirely to global warming, says the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), which it warns is a direct result of the ever increasing number of greenhouse gases that are pumped into the atmosphere each year.

Waste fumes and bi-products from factories, power stations and cars are among the biggest contributors to the greenhouse effect. This is said to occur because the waste gases contain massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), which in turn builds up into a significant layer of cloud which then traps heat from the sun. This then creates abnormal weather conditions for many areas of the planet, particularly at the poles where a few degrees increase in temperature results in mass meltings of ice sheets and can cause a disastrous chain of events.

Factfile
To explain further, short wave solar energy seeps in to the atmosphere on a typical day and then as the earth heats up long wave infrared radiation is produced. However, because of the ever increasing build up of carbon dioxide in the sky, too much heat stays trapped in our atmosphere.

Ordinarily an optimum level of greenhouse gases is needed to warm the surface of the Earth. Otherwise it would all be reflected back out in to space and the planet would just freeze.

However, in the worst-case scenario, the trapped heat would rise to critical levels, melt polar ice caps and plunge our climate back in to the Cretaceous period, according to some experts, when crocodiles swam freely at the North Pole.

The poles are also crucial in reflecting excess heat back out in to space in a bid to keep the planet's thermostat under control. Moreover, without them there is no geographical 'cold trap' to prevent a dangerous overabundance of moisture in the air - which can lead to freak weather systems and all the chaos they bring.

A cold trap is where atmospheric water vapour can be extracted from the air and trapped as ice in typically cold regions of the planet ie at the poles and at high altitudes. It's an effective way to remove water from the water cycle by restricting evaporation and keeps rainfall at manageable levels. (Definition of the water cycle: Rain clouds are typically formed by evaporating water from the oceans, which then falls as rain on land and sea, and finds its way back in the ocean again through rivers, drains and streams ie the water cycle)

According to the World Health Organisation global warming has caused the deaths of over 150,000 people since the 1970s in addition to untold damage to eco-systems and wildlife. The terrifying Hurricane Katrina that laid waste to New Orleans and large swathes of southern America in 2005 was blamed on the increasing rise in greenhouse gases. It led to the death of just under 2000 people and caused around 81 billion dollars worth of damage.

And finally, researchers have shown that if everyone in the world used resources and generated carbon emissions at the rate we do in the UK, we'd need three entire planets to support the global population which stands at nearly 7 billion people.

At the centre, a dedicated team of staff and volunteers spend almost every day of the year committed to developing green concepts and projects in a bid to inspire visitors to become more ecologically responsible in every aspect of their lives.

The centre is currently campaigning for carbon emissions into the atmosphere to be drastically cut, and is additionally pressing for people everywhere to live their lives in a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable manner. And over the past 30 years, it has developed a series of schemes and working projects to show just how much green energy schemes are needed. Soon campaigners warn schemes such as theirs may no longer be just a desirable lifestyle choice, but an absolute necessity for people the length and depth of Britain.

A spokesperson said: "As Isaac Newton discovered, every action causes a reaction. Everything we do has a consequence, good or bad. Everything is connected, and it is very difficult to predict the reactions caused by our actions. This is why it is so important to think about our effect on the planet."

Again, if global warming starts to result in greater volumes of water in the sea, this could then reportedly increase the likelihood of mass flooding in low lying areas across the world. And the weakening of the poles in this manner could also, it is said, throw worldwide weather systems off course and result in more freak weather conditions such as tornados, droughts and hurricanes with the resulting damage to communities, eco systems and wildlife habitats.

Indeed, some experts theorise that parts of Britain could be flooded and its temperature become much much colder and resemble Canada's in Winter. They believe that the Gulf Stream, which is a hot water current that passes up the western shores of Britain, could collapse and its warming influence on our temperate climate would cease to exist.

Large ice sheets at the North Pole reflect the Gulf Stream back down to the warm waters in which it originated near Central America. As the Arctic ice sheets thin and weaken, the Gulf Stream is no longer relayed back to its starting point, and just merges with the cold icy waters in the uppermost reaches of the northern hemisphere.

Moreover, the average global temperature rose by just over half a degree (Celsius) in the last century according to the latest research, with that rising to a whole one degree centigrade since 1960 in central Britain alone. This in itself, says CAT, is the first significant leap in mean temperature figures in over 350 years.

More worrying still, say campaigners, is that the mean temperature in Britain is predicted to rise by another 2 degrees centigrade by the end of the 21st century, which they claim could leave a potentially lethal legacy of environmental chaos for future generations.

A CAT spokesperson continued: "It has been scientifically proven that by using up resources and polluting the environment, we are causing rising sea levels and shifting climates and extreme weather systems. These massive changes will have serious consequences for the human race."

CAT is also an associate member of a consortium of green campaigners called the Climate Clinic. Its spokesperson Jason Torrance echoed CAT's comments and said such predictions were of the utmost concern, and that climate change was among the greatest threats our civilisation has ever faced.

He explained further: "If the current trend continues the climate in our country will face profound changes in the lifetimes of our children. Our organisation is calling on politicians of all parties to support urgent government action, both domestically and on the international stage, to prevent a climate disaster. The solutions to this exist, what is now needed is political will."

Professor Chris Rapley of the British Antarctic Society, who has spoken at Climate Clinic events, added that average sea levels could rise by 5 metres in the near future, and that even if carbon dioxide emissions were stabilised, sea levels could continue to rise because of the residue gases already emitted. He concluded: "What's going on is worse than we thought and the current international action on curbing greenhouse gases is inadequate. Politicians must respond to the urgency of this issue."

The Centre for Alternative Technology is three miles north of Machynlleth on the A487 in Powys (SY20 9AZ) or can be found on Sustrans Route 8. To find out more ring, 01654 705950 or e-mail info@cat.org.uk or visit the centre's website on www.cat.org.uk

The centre is open daily throughout the year from 10.00am-5.30pm in the Summer season. It shuts at dusk in Autumn/Winter. Prices are £8 for adults and £4 for children in Summer. They are reduced to £6 for adults in Winter.

Moreover, the centre regularly runs courses throughout the year on how to live more sustainably. It will also answer any questions people have about becoming more environmentally friendly via phone or e-mail.

It also has a myriad of free fact sheets on its website to answer people's most common concerns. A consultancy service is also on offer to businesses to offer advice on how to become more environmentally aware. A number of higher education courses are also run in association with the group. Check out the website for more details.

TOP TIPS TO REDUCE YOUR ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT ON THE PLANET, CONSERVE RESOURCES AND REDUCE HARMFUL CARBON EMISSIONS


1	Reduce air travel and holidaying abroad because this is said to contribute massively to 
        the greenhouse effect.  A return flight to Sydney from London, for example, releases 5.6 
	tonnes of carbon dioxide in to the air. (Glyn-yr-Aur offers the perfect UK holiday!)

2	Do not leave household appliances on standby.  Experts predict that such action will 
        have caused £11bn in energy to have been wasted by 2010, and will be responsible for 
        the excess emission of 43 million tonnes of carbon gases.
        
3	Only boil enough water in the kettle for the amount you actually need, and, by the same 
        token, just cover vegetables with water when you actually boil them in a pan. 

4	Install energy saving life bulbs into your home. This could save you around £33 a year.

5	Hang out washing to dry naturally and wash washing at 40 degrees.

6	Turn down your boiler's thermostat by 1 degree and save around £49 a year.

7	Put in cavity wall insulation and save around £130 a year.

8	Always turn the lights off when you leave a room.

9	Invest in draft excluders for doorways, letterboxes and windows.

10	Change to a green electricity supplier such as ecotricity or install solar panels.