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
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."
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.
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
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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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|