I last visited Machyllth when I was 5 years old. I imagine my reaction was similar to now: Life is good in the mountains.

One thing that has changed is the Centre for Alternative Technology – founded on a slate quarry of idealism in the 1970s – it’s now not only a top visitor attraction but a burgeoning institute for studies in sustainability.

I came to hear presentations from the current MSC students and to see the new WISE (Wales Institute for Sustainable Education) building which is a giant mud-packed lecture theatre, bar, restaurant, and accommodation carved beautifully into the slate quarry.

The postgrad presentations were a bit like a TEDx in that they were 20 minutes each and focused on specific topics including investigations and experiments in:

  • Pro-environmental behaviour changes (it happens through social and emotional connections – as we know from MSC Grad Sam Tyres who studied Tribewanted Vorovoro members in 2008 and discovered similar results)
  • Community led approaches to energy reduction in Oxfordshire (showing that the ‘big society’ is happening regardless of ‘big gov’t)
  • Local councils reducing CO2 in housing (all housing was sustainable until 1850s, now it’s far from that)
  • Potential for bore-hole heating through city parks (it could work but you’d have to dig up the city’s beauty spots)
  • Dishwasher frequency & efficiency (hit the eco button I think, impressed this can hold someone’s attention)
  • PC management in hospitals (there are too many PCs!)
  • Refrigeration in supermarkets (at the moment they’re based on domestic systems which is a little crazy)
  • Hemp-lime walls (probably the most experimental but this was a little too close to post lunch fatigue syndrome)
  • Wind turbines next to motorways (could make annual profit of 38m quid in UK – call Dale Vince!)
  • Renovating 1930s housing (27% of UK CO2 emissions come from 25m homes of which 80% will still be here in 2050 – ie sustainable renovations vital)
  • Should gov’t burn straw as biomass? (No. Use it on farms as compost and build more straw bale houses OR make biomass much more efficient)
  • How do we get high st shops to be more energy efficient? (Aside from making them go out of business so they close down – thank you Woolworths – you need to give them business case for environmental action, technically known as ‘Ecological Modernisation Theory’ OR turn off the bloody heat blaster outside the front window)
After which I welcomed the pints of Welsh Ale to help me digest this onslaught on green geekiness. I rather surreally ended up attending the excellent graduation ceremony and after-party at the local. The three mile walk back up the valley river under a winter moon was just what I needed to recover from both the knowledge and beer.
Conclusion: All power to the CAT Postgrads for their highly relevant and important studies. I hope to see this instution go from strength to strength.
Graduate School for the Environment
Centre for Alternative Technology
Zero Carbon Britain 2030