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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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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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A Little Something About Sheep

The first thing you’ll notice about Brecon Beacons National Park is that there are a lot of sheep. One million sheep inhabit the park alone, so it’s no surprise that lamb was one of the options for lunch. Also included on the menu was a medley of potato, leek, cheese, and bacon, chicken, meat pot pie, vegetables, salad, tarts and pies, coffee, and tea. There weren’t many vegetarian options, which proved frustrating for some members of our group. In a country so focused on meat, finding protein alternatives can be very challenging.

When asked about the lunch menu, the presenter Sunita mentioned that 85% of the food and drink was sourced locally from Wales. However, it seems to come from all over: Sunita knows the lady down the street who makes their pasta, their desserts are made on-site, and the beef pies come from an outside company that specializes in meat products. On first look the 85% seems quite low, especially considering the fact that the two primary professions at the park are agriculture and tourism. In a community that is heavily rooted in agriculture and surrounded by sheep, why only 85%? The answer comes from the various items on the menu that are hard to grow locally such as cocoa and coffee beans. Those little off-menu items seem to make all the difference.

On the subject of sustainability, even the fences keeping the sheep from wandering off the land are sustainable. Our guides Ron and Hailey pointed out two different types, which are sometimes used together: twigs and branches (sustainable)…

and wooden posts with wire (non-sustainable).

The sheep were also put out to pasture on a large piece of land known as “the commons” which belong to everybody. Farmers are able to mark their sheep with different color dyes and let them wander Brecon Beacons without worry.

Another issue within the park is the fact that consumption has a trickle-down effect on the landscape. While the farmer’s sheep graze on the grass freely, they are thinning out natural shrubs and grasses. Additionally, farmers make an effort to clear land and create pastures for their livestock. This does nothing to prevent erosion and a landscape that was once dedicated to people is now being transformed into one dedicated solely to the sheep (which in turn feed the people). Ironically enough a popular sign at the Welcome Center said something along the lines of “Watch Out for Sheep Invasion”.

—Foodies

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Brecon Beacons and the Sheep

On Wednesday, January 19, 2012, our group traveled via coach to Brecon Beacons, one of the 15 national parks in the United Kingdom. It was also the only day we’ve had rain since getting to the UK. Seems appropriate, right?

After several curving & winding roads, not to mention some nasty motion sickness, we were later told that these were some of the better roads in Wales. After finally making it to our dreary destination, we had lunch in the localized café located on the park grounds that strives to only serve local & sustainable cuisine. After our meal, we met our three lovely guides: Ron, Haley, & Sunita. We had a brief active interaction asking questions related to sustainability with our peers, with the goal of becoming aware of our own sustainable practices. The park’s biggest goal is to connect people to the landscape within the park.

After the activity, Sunita gave us roughly a 10-minute presentation on the history and about the park’s goals as a sustainable force. During this presentation, we learned that unlike in the US, people live on National Parks in the UK. Currently, 33,000 people – including children – live in Brecon Beacons, occupying 9,000 households. More than 90% of the land is used for farming, forestry, and tourism, which are the main industries of the park. These industries lead to 3.9 million visitors per year, and generate £200 million to the local economy.

In addition, the idea of sustainability was stressed in the presentation. The Sanford Principle is the main practice, which states that nature must always come first.

To get our feet wet in the practice of ecotourism, we went on a 1.5 hour hike with Ron & Haley. Thankfully, we were provided with weatherproof gear, as the rain was less than pleasant. On the unfortunate side, poor Mya left her inhaler in one of the raincoats, which has yet to be rescued. Once properly prepared, we were taken throughout the common area among the sheep! Fun fact, one million sheep call Brecon Beacons their home. Unfortunately (from my point of view), they were not up to cuddling.

In addition to the friendly sheep, the park is home to a biodiversity haven. The park’s management of the land over centuries has modified and encouraged the development of these habitats. While the environment of the national park is a semi-natural landscape, the natural systems but influenced by mankind’s management of the land. The fact that the Park is a “cultural landscape” is important to remember as the management of the Park’s environment involves close working with the people who live and work in the Park.

During our hike, we talked about some of the natural plant life growing, such as the rush bush, which if peeled properly, can be used as sustainable candlewicks. We also spoke about the negative aspects of ecotourism, but there were few and far between. The one major issue, that they are currently putting their heads together in order to solve, is the transportation needed in order to get to the park. This does not provide for a completely sustainable ecotourist site. However, the park is currently attempting to coordinate public/mass transit located within the boundaries of the park, which is rather massive.

Overall, we had a lovely stop in Brecon Beacons, and we would love to go back again and hopefully see it when there’s sun out! Thank you very much to our lovely guides and the rest of Brecon Beacons for having us :)

Sincerely,

Team Newt

 

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“Please eat all the food — it’s sustainable!”

At the reception already previously described on this blog, we were generously provided with a buffet style dinner of seafood, pasta, meat pies, artichokes, cheese, crackers, bread and wine. When the talk was over, we were encouraged to eat the rest of the food to keep from wasting. It’s sustainable!

During Rhodry Thomas’s presentation he gave us a brief overview of the history of Wales. Cows were the main sources of business in Wales until the early 1800′s when the discovery of slate, coal and copper shifted the focus. Mining became the biggest source of income for the citizens of Wales until the late 1900′s when the mines were shut down. Although this may be an environmentally friendly move, many people were thrown into poverty and have yet to recover. This begs the question of economic sustainability.

Now there is a move back toward agriculture, specifically sustainable agriculture. Communities are trying to source their own food again, including growing their own fruits and vegetables and raising their own livestock as a way to support themselves after being thrown into economic despair. Rhodry humorously mentioned that people are outnumbered by sheep in Wales four to one.

Rhodry went on to describe a few of the areas and organizations in Wales that are working for more sustainable food. Taffs Well, a village to the north of Cardiff, has alloted public land for a community food garden. This enhances opportunities for social interaction and allows individuals to grow food that could not otherwise produce their own. The community garden engages all aspects of society including schools and social groups. Food brings people together! Cittaslow Mold is an international movement that promotes slow pace food growth. Pembroke 21  is a community association that works to restock ponds with fish.

Although the focus of the talk was not food, there is undeniably a strong sustainable food movement in Wales that has come along with every other green movement it has experienced.

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One Wales: One Planet

After settling into our hostel, Riverhouse Backpackers, we were thrown a welcome reception at the University of Cardiff. We were wined and dined beautifully, then had the privilege to attend a lecture given by the charming Rhodri Thomas, a representative from Sustain Wales.

Sustain Wales is government-funded not-for-profit organization responsible for communicating and promoting sustainable development across Wales. This organization seems designed to bridge the gap between government, business, and the citizens of Wales. According to Rhodri, Sustain Wales coordinates opportunities for citizens and government officials to collaborate to create policies and communications that will encourage sustainability throughout Wales.

It is important to recall that Wales was once a heavily industrialized country, relying on copper ore and coal for the majority of economic growth. Rhodri told us that Sustain Wales tries to encourage community activism that supports the protection and utilization the reneweable resources Wales has to offer, such as hydropower (as in micro hydropower pipelines generated by small streams), and bio-gas plants (as in recycling human waste into methane to be burned as a fuel source). Advancements in sustainable technology have allowed Wales to transition itself from an industrialized economy into an economy that derives a large profit from ecotourism.

This ecotourism can be seen in the attraction of peoples from around the world who are interested in enjoying the preserved Welsh landscapes as well as learning more about small-scale sustainable communities.

A huge revelation revealed to us by Rhodri was the idea that implementing sustainable technology and attitudes into Welsh villages is not as difficult as we might expect. This is because the hardships faced by ex-coal miners suffering from financial difficulties due to the closing of their source of livelihood have led to citizens’ attitudes that depleting fewer resources and recycling more is not only good for the earth, but economical. The valleys between the mountains housing the old coal mines create enough separation between communities that becoming energy independent allows the villages a potential source of income as they sell any excess energy generated back to the grid for the rest of the country.

One village generates energy through a hydropower reservoir and uses that energy to power an electric car that is shared by the village. We will be learning more about this process tomorrow in our expedition to Brecon Beacons National Park, where the village is located.

Rhodri also told us a few nifty facts about the Welsh Government that explained why a division like Sustain Wales exists. When Wales wrote its constitution in the late 1990′s, a promise that the Welsh government would protect the environment and encourage sustainability regardless of which party was in power at any given time was implemented. They focus on the healthy well-being of the people of Wales, the management of the country’s ecosystems, biodiversity, economic output, and social justice. Most importantly, the government is not only conscious of, but actively trying to reduce Wales’ ecological footprint.

Being Team Newt, we were particularly excited when Rhodri went on a small tangent about the protection of newts in Wales. Even the smallest of creatures is crucial to the survival of any ecosystem because they could (even unknowingly) be a keystone species, and the Welsh government knows this! When we visited the site of the Olympic Game in London, we were distressed to learn that over 4,000 newts have been displaced by construction. In Wales, construction sites often build small walls to contain newts during the building process, and they then sometime moved to an area that is as close to an exact replica of their previous habitat as possible. We realize this is not ideal, but it is certainly better than losing 4,000 newts!

In the current Sustainable Development Scheme (a vision of the Welsh government’s commitment to sustainability), called “One Wales: One Planet,” Rhodri reminds us that the government of Wales has unique duty to protect the environment. This scheme is the current plan for businesses and other entities to pursue sustainability in Wales, and will be reevaluated every few years.

Our team is excited to visit the valleys of Wales and Brecon Beacon National Park in the morning, to hopefully be presented with a new and different perspective on sustainability as we explore previously industrial areas that have been cleaned up by the implementation of sustainable technology made possible by government organizations like Sustain Wales and community activism alike.

Cheers, Team Newt

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Sustainable Wales

Today’s talks at Cardiff University reflected Wales’ commitment at both a national and local level towards becoming more sustainable.

Unlike the United States, small organizations and Universities in Wales are working more collaboratively with their government. They both are playing different, but vital roles in taking affirmative action towards being more sustainable. For instance, we learned from our tour at the Welsh Parliament, which is only over a decade old, that they have sustainability as a platform in their constitution. Their building reflects their stance; the redwood cedar that makes up a great portion of the ceiling and interior design and comes from a sustainable forest, does not need treatment and can last for upwards of one hundred years. Additionally, the building uses rainwater that they collect from their roof to flush their toilets and water that is heated one hundred meters below ground to heat their floors. Another green method employed in this building is the use of scrap wood chips as a secondary method to further heat the building. With these sustainable and additional measures, the Welsh Parliament is the most sustainable building that we have seen on this trip, as it uses 30-50% less energy than if other methods for the same functions were utilized.

Earlier this morning speakers from Cardiff University provided more insight to how communities play a role in using local resources effectively and sustainably to enrich their community. Terry Marsden discussed how the uniqueness of each community prohibits the same green action being taken in every region. Rather, different communities have a variety of available resources and must come up with their own plans that’s in the best interest of their community. An example of this is when local residents invest money in building a wind turbine that contributes to powering their town. Another speaker, Dr. Alex Franklin mentioned a shift from government being solely responsible for implementing green policies, to working alongside corporations, non-profit organizations, and individuals to make the implementation smoother and more successful. One town that was mentioned during this lecture came up with Car Club, which are cars that are shared by members of the community, provided that they pay a monthly fee. The idea behind this is to encourage less carbon dioxide emissions by having fewer cars in the area. The plan was such a success that as its popularity grew, more people supported the idea and even encouraged its continual growth by creating more accessible parking spaces for the community shared vehicles. The theme of communities becoming more sustainable was continued when she mentioned a new trend of communities using small streams to power turbines that produce energy that the community sells for a profit. This is a perfect example of small groups working to use renewable resources to better their village.

In our opinion, Cardiff University is setting an example of little ways to adapt to counteract the high demand for nonrenewable resources. It was interesting, and provided insight into ways to make sustainable methods both practical and economical.

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