Dinner at Sara’s

Our group’s last evening abroad was spent at the home of Sara Levine, the director of the Hollins Abroad program in London. The menu was extensive and included salad; seafood pasta; bread; mozzarella, tomato, and basil salad with avocado; and a variety of desserts including chocolates, chocolate pie, and fruit tarts.


Sara said that she made everything from scratch with the exception of some store-bought cheeses and a few of the desserts—quite an impressive feat when feeding a party of 21. Dinner was accompanied by champagne and good company. After everyone’s first plates were gone, we were reminded by our hostess to go back for seconds and thirds, as it was a sustainable practice to not leave any leftovers behind.

Sara was an invaluable resource for planning our journeys in the UK, and we are incredibly grateful that in addition to making our trip such a success, she also warmly welcomed us into her home with a delicious meal. Thank you Sara!

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Department of Energy and Climate Change

First of all we were incredibly lucky to snag a meeting with DECC, as they don’t usually meet with groups, so a huge thanks to Sara for her assistance! We arrived back at the Meininger Hostel in London less than 15 minutes before we had to head out to make it to our meeting in time. This wouldn’t have been an issue except for some of us were a little less than presentable after 6 hours on a bus. We were happy to tackle the myth that girls take too long to get ready and made it to DECC early (and only a little sweaty).

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A common theme on our trip seemed to be the consistent failure of technology and this was no exception. We received an impromptu presentation regarding DECC’s international endeavors from Ed. He discussed the importance of having an interdisciplinary understanding of the issue, which was a particularly valuable insight for our group because we come from such a huge range of backgrounds and interests. In order for the world to ensure that global warming temperatures don’t raise about 2 degrees celsius, global emissions need to be cut down by 50%. The United Kingdom only makes up 2% of the global total emissions. It was interesting to hear that in a worst case scenario, it will cost 20% of the world’s GDP. To help put that in perspective, the current economic recession is only 2% of the GDP. UK has a mentality that no one in the world can afford that so it is worth the investment to help protect all of our futures.

Reese had time to sort out a presentation for us by then, and while he apologized that it wasn’t that slick, we were impressed! DECC was created only 2 years ago with the aim to power the country in the most efficient way possible. Their four major foci of the department is building, transport, industry, power. They have a developed a plan to reduce their carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. “The Carbon Plan,” has three steps for meeting this ambitious goal in all areas including complete and prepare, mass deployment, and finalizing. One of the huge areas of progress that has been made already is making homes more efficient. By subsidizing the cost of insulation an encouraging both the insulation of the walls and the attics, they have saved huge amounts of energy cost and carbon emissions. They are planning to finish insulating homes in the UK and continue to use currently existent technology to reduce emissions.

When it comes to travel, they showed us the breakdown of emissions within the transportation category. Cars were the biggest impactor by far, and they discussed the importance of including public education to reduce travel as a key step to meet their goals. They are currently pushing for more electric cars, with plans to switch to biofuel and perfecting their carbon capture storage system which will trap carbon emissions and store them in the cavities under the ocean where oil used to be.

At the end we played with the 2050 calculator which was developed to help them, as well as other people understand the balancing and prioritizing that must occur for them to reach their target of 80% reductions. It is certainly not an easily solved problem, in fact their are huge cons to even the sustainable technology such as large amounts of land required for biofuel or the dangers of nuclear power plants. If you have a minute we definitely suggest trying it out here!

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This shows the amount of land that the “sustainable” solutions will take.

We felt like the UK is taking the environmental issues much more seriously than we are here in the United States. They have invested much more into developing technology and strategies to protect their futures then we have. It is a difficult situation because while it will certainly be great if the UK meets their carbon goal by 2050, we all live in the same system and unless we make changes as well their attempts may be futile.

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Adventures at The Center for Alternative Technology (CAT)

1/19/2012

The Center of Alternate Technologies (CAT) has been known for its use in sustainable resources.  For example, the incline, which is powered by water, transports visitors from the parking lot to the establishment and community.  Further evidence of CAT’s resourcefulness is their repurposing of an old slate mine into the facility that it has become today. When CAT originally opened, they were completely cut off from the national grid, and created one hundred percent of their own energy. Unfortunately, the methods they utilized to store the excess energy formed was unsustainable. Currently, only thirty percent of their energy is produced on the grounds, while seventy percent comes from the national grid. However, despite how it sounds, this method is actually more environmentally friendly than the previous process.

    

The thirty percent that CAT does provide comes from various techniques around the area. One example is the wind turbines, or razors, that stand on the hills. Further efforts come from water turbines and geothermal heating. CAT also collects rainwater for their sinks and to flush their toilets and grows plants on their roofs to increase insulation. They are a big proponent of introducing more vegetation to the area as it provides habitat for animals, and can reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Jo Gwillim, a physicist who researched and taught at Oxford and spoke with the group today, brought up CAT’s shift from focusing on self-sufficiency to educating others about the education others about making the world a more sustainable place. Today he discussed a plan called Zero Carbon Britain 2030, which reduces the carbon output by replacing less desirable fossil fuel methods with more green sources of power. The idea of Zero Carbon Britain 2030 was made more relatable when the class came up with Zero Carbon America. This plan was broken down into five sections that all interrelated. The sections were building, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture/land use, and energy production. The class created a model of what a zero carbon United States in the year 2030 would look like. As we discussed our solutions to the five topics, Gwillim compared our solutions to CAT’s plan so as to show how similar the two were.

The exercise brought up the realization that it is necessary for our way of life to change, if we wanted to be zero carbon by 2030. This point was made clear when transportation and agriculture were discussed. As a society we are used to frequent use of cars and airplanes, however this is not an ideal mode of transportation. Additionally, it would be more sustainable if communities bought locally. By this it is meant that transporting goods, especially food, is not always practical or the greenest. This also brings up another problem of whether or not people would be accepting of the necessary changes.

Regardless of whether or not the solutions created today were optimal or even in some cases all that practical, this visit to the Center for Alternative Technologies taught the group self awareness of our daily practices and consumption and potential avenues of decreasing our carbon footprint.

Dani, Macy, Abby, Daniela and Nicole

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Visiting the Senedd

Simply viewing the Welsh National Assembly building, the Senedd, is enough to understand the Welsh government’s ongoing commitment to sustainability.  The structure itself is built in a very sustainable manner, using locally sourced materials whenever possible and designed to last at least one hundred years.  Most of the building is glass, allowing in natural light to decrease energy costs.  Windows in the glass provide ventilation, and there is a rainwater collection system in place, with the rainwater going to flush toilets and wash windows.  There is no air conditioning, and heat comes from geothermal and biomass sources.

The Welsh government also supports cultural sustainability by continuing to support the Welsh language.  Our group sat in on the First Minister’s questions, in which Assembly members ask questions of the First Minister.  When the First Minister was asked a question in Welsh (usually by a member of the Welsh National Party), he always responded in Welsh, demonstrating the government’s commitment to sustainability on multiple levels.

There were several very noticeable differences between the Welsh National Assembly and representative bodies in the United States.  The main difference is that about half of the members of the National Assembly are women, which came about as a result of the recent establishment of the Assembly (the Welsh government was devolved in 1999) and the progressive nature of the Welsh people.  The entire representative system is much more transparent as well; anyone can watch the National Assembly in action easily, but viewing even the Virginia General Assembly requires jumping through many hoops.  The glass of the Senedd, in addition to being very green, represents the suspicious Welsh people’s desire for transparency in their government.  The First Minister’s questions demonstrate another fundamental difference between the two countries’ legislative systems:  there is a much more spirited and direct exchange in Welsh (and British) politics.  There was a healthy back-and-forth between the members of opposing parties, but little actual animosity, unlike the more nasty, polarized politics in the US.

Though the Welsh political system is similar to the British system, the Welsh political beliefs are different from English beliefs, as evidenced by the Labour majority in the Welsh National Assembly and the Conservative majority in Parliament.   It was very evident that the Welsh government did not agree with many decisions made in London, especially concerning social services.  One way the central British government is dealing with the financial crisis is by mandating that National Health Services facilities operate within their budget with no extra funds.  This has led to the closure of several critical medical centers in Wales (one of which we passed on our way to Brecon Beacons).  The Welsh Labour majority was quite upset with this result of the austerity measures passed by the English Parliament, and though the Welsh government is devolved from the UK government, London still controls the money flow to and from Wales.

Another area of contention with the UK central government was the relationship with the EU.  With the increasing tension between the EU and the UK that we discussed at the EU, Wales is taking its own steps to ensure its continuing role in the European economy despite recent tension.  The Welsh are very keen to retain their ties with the rest of Europe for trade purposes in this time of financial hardship.

Our visit to the Welsh National Assembly was very enlightening in our understanding of the Welsh government and the relationship Wales has with the rest of the UK.  Once again, the strong independence of the Welsh people was clear, as well as the Welsh government’s pioneering commitment to sustainability.  For more information on the National Assembly, please visit www.walesassembly.org.

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“The Bike Club”

Affectionately nicknamed “the Bike Club” by the inhabitants of Penyrenglyn, Valleys Kids is ­­­a thriving example of an organization committed to community sustainability. Housed in a renovated Welsh Baptist church, the headquarters are home to a plethora of youth activities for children of all ages. Valleys Kids is working in the south Wales valleys where communities have been struggling in a recession for decades and generations of families have remained unemployed as a result of the failed coal mining industry that had previously energized these areas. Staff and volunteers have a shared mission to “celebrate the achievement of individuals” and they use art, theatre, athletics, outdoor activities, and even simple play to engage with and enrich the lives of children. Following the recent purchase of an old soda pop factory, a new project has emerged to support their mission. “The Factory,” as it’s dubbed, now provides a space “for live music, video & digital arts training”. This training, as with all other opportunities provided by Valleys Kids, is offered free to the community.

We’ve been talking a lot about environmental and economic sustainability with academic and government leaders throughout our trip, which needless to say is tied to the Valleys of South Wales. The incredible poverty found in these areas is certainly cause to think about economic sustainability. Still, Valleys Kids is a community organization that is addressing a less tangible area of cultural sustainability and wellbeing. Implementing social programs that uplift and better the community is a necessary and vital element to and sustainability plan, and fortunately this non-profit organization is fulfilling that role. Staff members were eager to share the incredible number of families and individuals who continue to engage with Valleys Kids over the years. Looking at the success of Valleys Kids, it seems that when planning a more sustainable future, our “green plans” need to encompass a wide breadth of goals beyond carbon emissions and renewable energies.

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Strategies to Bring Home

After waking in the wee hours of the morning, we piled into the bus with our ever-cheerful driver, Keith, and made our way north from Cardiff to the Centre for Alternative Technology. The drive itself took about three hours on the same winding roads we loved so much on the way to Brecon Beacons National Park, but luckily most of us slept on our way north.

To our disappointment, upon arrival at CAT we discovered that the hydro-powered tram usually used to carry tourists up the hillside to the community does not run in winter. We reluctantly trudged up 58 steep steps built into the side of the hill, but were pleasantly surprised to be met with the breathtaking array of eco-friendly projects spanning the site. There were solar panels, a community garden, a multi-purpose auditorium with sustainable cob walls, green roofing, rain-water trapping technology, and a sustainably planned café offering local vegetarian fare.

We were split into two groups—one to sit in on a workshop about the Dyfi Biosphere Reserve, and one to learn more about the exciting strategies of Zero Carbon Britain. Our group, Ecotourism and Conservation, considered the Biosphere Reserve. We were challenged to put a puzzle map of an aerial view of the Biosphere together on the floor. As Hollins women, we rose to the challenge and were able to complete this project successfully, even without being too familiar with the area. Our host, Julie, complimented us on our geography skills, which we attribute to the enthusiasm of Professor Bohland!

Julie then gave us an overview of the Biosphere and gave us each ten minutes to tackle a tough topic that challenges the area. We role-played as managers for the Biosphere, each developing strategies we would implement if were in charge of organizing the site. This covered areas like food, ecotourism, building, and renewable energy.

As a general rule, we found that most of us suggested either incentives for positive eco-friendly behavior within the Biosphere, or financial penalties for non-renewable choices. Some examples include: a tax on products that must be transported from a distance outside of the Biosphere, a charge for the amount of trash the city must collect from each individual, a financial incentive for builders to share sustainable technologies with each other and the public, incentives for recycling, and government funding for public access to compost and recycling bins.

We finished the session with a short introduction the Zero Carbon Britain from Julie, which certainly made us want to give the US Government a swift kick in the pants to draft more legislature to combat climate change.

Our experience at the Centre for Alternative technology was spectacular. Many of us have left with dreams of returning in the future for internships or other long-term projects. We are also looking forward to trying to find ways to implement some of the technologies we have learned about (like micro-hydropower or a green roof), both at CAT and at Brecon Beacons, on our home turf of Hollins University. Sounds like drafting a proposal for next year’s green fee allocation may be in our future!

Tomorrow we return to London, and then our journey home will begin. See you stateside!
–Team Newt

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The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), in mid-Wales where we were served an entirely vegetarian meal that was also sustainably grown at CAT . We were served, family style, a spring mix salad with edible flowers and a mustard seed vinegarette. The main course was penne pasta with tomato sauce, zuccini, red onion, red pepper, eggplant, green pepper and lots of cheese. It was very flavorful and filling. In addition to the meal, we were served red and white wines.  For dessert,  we were served vanilla ice cream with berry preserves.

Following our lunch, we attended educational workshops where our educators kept of busy in efforts to fend off impending food comas. One workshop  was based on the Dyfi biosphere reserve and the other one focused on zero carbon Britain for 2050. The Dyfi bioshphere group learned how the locals in the area utilized and preserved the area included in the preserve. We worked with a giant map of the area. Our educational leader, Julie, pointed out areas of interest including Aberystwyth, a peat bog, the River Dyfi, and CAT. The leader of the other group spoke more about the food that we ate and it’s significance to the people it feeds. For example, much of the land in Wales was, at one point, balanketed by trees. Deforestation practices occured to make room for the animals. Because Wales is populated by more than a million sheep, their constant chomping prevents regrowth of forests. The sheep eat the grass down to the base (they don’t rip up the roots like horses and goats do). Therefore, the grass is kept at a height usually acceptable for most golf courses. Farmers have to be careful with the farmland that they have. If one crop is planted in the same plot for an extended period of time, then the soil will be depleated of certain nutrients. It is important that farmers rotate their crops. Different crops have different nutrient requirements. Rotating crops prevents certain nutrients from being depleated from the soil. Another important concept was the notion of buying local. This is not unique to the UK, because it’s hard to drive around Roanoke without seeing a bumper sticker saying “Buy Local”. By buying local, we’re supporting local farmers (which in turn prove produce for the surrounding community) and we’re reducing carbon output by reducing the distance that food has to be transported to reach it’s ultimate destination, our table.

When CAT was established in the 1970s, it was focused on self-sustainability. The goal was to go off the grid and become a completely independent community. They aimed to raise their own fish, cows, sheep, goats, ducks, pigs, and other animals. Another goal involed harnessing the methane given off by the cows for use as fuel. Due to the cold temperatures, this did not prove successful. However, this focus has changed over the years. The goal has shifted to one of education. By educating the public, the people at CAT hope to extend their efforts beyond the limits of the property.

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