Saturday, 26 January 2013

40 years of the CAT

CATs Kim Bryan, Paul Allen and myself at the Environment Question Time
It can take a long time to get to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) near Machynlleth.It is in deepest North Wales on the site of an old slate mine about 10 minutes bus ride from the town centre. It is its distance and semi isolation which adds to its mystique within the Green Movement. If you are going to go on a pilgramage to a place which was the springboard for a lot of the pathfinding work on 'green living' you don't necessarily want it to be easily accessible . A degree of remoteness adds to its status as a place set apart from the modern world where new ideas and ways of living could be explored free from distractions in an almost monastic way. I reckon I've been to CAT around half a dozen times, usually taking the water powered train /lift carraige. When you get to the top it is an alternative technology theme park dealing with environmentally friendly ways of growing food, dealing with waste and generating energy.

At the time the first pioneers went there in the early 70s we had a backdrop of the international oil crisis and concern about the 'population bomb' affecting our life support systems. Whilst in London, 70s politicians were  having 'beer and sandwiches' in Machynlleth the CAT pioneers with 'beards and sandals' were taking the first steps in establishing sustainable new ways of living in a modern world. My latest journey to CAT earlier this month was as a visiting lecturer on one of their Architecture courses talking about 'The politics of sustainable energy' drawing on my experience at the local and national level getting projects off the ground in an ever changing policy landscape.

For all its isolation CAT is not isolationist. It actively seeks novices to learn the technicalities and practicalities of integrating sustainable technologies in our communities. To help acheive this CAT have recently opened a purpose built educational facility, the Welsh Instititute for Sustainable Education (WISE), with lecture theatres seminar rooms and accomodation for visiting students. It is of course built to the highest environmental standards but this is further enhanced by its location which was particularly stunning with the addition of the snow that fell during my stay there. On the evening following my talk there was environmental question time for the students with myself and CATs Paul Allen and Kim Bryan where we asked a range of questions looking at some of the issues we'll be facing getting the green message across over the next 40 years. I left CAT in the snow impressed by their ongoing role as a biomassed fuelled crucible of ideas and passion rooted in the 1970s but still way ahead of their time.

And here from the 1970s is Al Stewart's 'Year of the Cat'. What else?


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