So, the CAT is 40 years old!

Cretan-windmillJim Perrin, one of the UK’s leading outdoor essayists, wrote in Environment Now (and included in his Yes, to Dance, Essays from Outside the Stockade collection) of impressions from an early visit to Centre for Alternative Technology and interviews with early managers, Gerard Morgan-Grenville, Bod Todd, Tim Brown and others, highlighting some of the issues that are still hot debate topics now as then:

“constant points of reference are an awareness of whether fuel sources are renewable or exhaustible, whether the effects on the environment are benign or prejudicial”

“Scatological instincts find plenty to amuse us amongst the composts and manures and watering cans labelled pee … inviting contribution for composting. (As Prince Charles did on his 1978 visit) And in the same male toilet there are also baby changing facilities … “

Perrin describes the prejudice CAT had to face at the time … “Communists, thats what they are and Hippies, and Vegans, making a fortune from visitors, all on social security …”

Roger Harrabin, writing in the Guardian today (01 August 2014), picks up on the same hippy stereotype:

‘Hippies in a slate quarry in Wales are celebrating four decades of green revolution this weekend, having transformed the character of a local town, pioneered new energy technologies and constructed a water-powered railway’

But, as Harrabin rightly points out that whilst many of the Centre’s alternative technologies are no longer considered alternative, “the centre’s original aim to democratise technology remains unfulfilled, and there is a realisation that its mission is far from complete. Its radical recipes for achieving a zero-carbon Britain remain unpalatable to politicians and the public” 

See Zero Carbon Britain at http://zerocarbonbritain.org/ 

I first visited CAT in the mid/late 70’s (before the water powered cable car was installed) with a head full of west coast rock, (welsh rockers Man in particular), probably on a wet day as part of the then regular climbing trips to Mid and North Wales. Maybe looking for alternatives to my career which had just changed from Quantity Surveying to Site Engineering. Or looking for a UK equivalent to the Whole Earth Catalogue, and trying to understand Stay Hungry and Foolish.

As it happened it didn’t change my career, then, but planted seeds to later incorporate alternative approaches into my construction thinking, in what would later become ‘sustainability’, mainstream in construction and become a huge part of my now independent career and enable me to continue challenging.

So Happy Birthday CAT – and as Jim Perrin wrote:

“Go to the Centre for Alternative Technology, Go for a day. Go for a weekend or a weeks course… Go and soak up the ambiance of a lovely place. Go and acquaint yourself with a more than normally altruism intelligent and gentle community of people”

Image: Centre for Alternative Technology Blog: http://blog.cat.org.uk/

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environmental literature top 5

Looking at the search topics entered to land at isite, the subject of environmental literature, movies, music and people features large. So starting a new mini series of environmental muses, I scanned my book shelf for what I would consider five of the more important environmental literature that has influenced my thinking over the years. Other topics will include music, environmental handbook or guidance texts, videos and people that have shaped my views.

Environmental Literature top 5:

Very much influenced by ecology, relationships with the great outdoors and connectivity with nature, these are not about climate change, about zero carbon or even sustainability, but fundamental to my understanding of how we approach environment and ecological issues.

Yvon Chouinard – Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman 

An autobiography that brings CSR firmly into business. Every time I have done the write thing for the environment I have made a profit write Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia clothing organisation. Any organisation serious about Corporate Social Responsibility should read and learn from this one.Not surprisingly Anti Roddick recommended this book for every school teaching business.

Henry Thoreau – Walden: Or, Life in the Woods 

The classic, often quoted, I first read this in-situ in New England in the late 1970’s after visiting Walden Pond, and remains a book that I dip into again and again. The notion of living simply in a cabin in the woods has always been appealing – but for me it would now be on the Isle of Skye with Internet access!

Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac: With other Essays on Conservation from `Round River’ (Galaxy Books)

Aldo Leopold was an American ecologist and environmentalist, For me this contains a classic passage that still haunts me when I read it – reminding us of the connection we need to find between everyday life and nature.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra: The Journal of a Soul on Fire 

A journey in which Muir makes connections with nature. In the UK The John Muir Trust is one of the country’s leading guardians of wild land and wildlife. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States. His writings and philosophy strongly influenced the formation of the modern environmental movement.

Robert MacFarlane The Wild Places

A tour through McFarlane ‘s Wild Places in the UK serves as a reminder of why we need wild places, and what wildness means to us, even if we don’t get to see them, and only view them from maps, TV programmes and sat navs. It is also a book that laments about ecological damage. It is about experiencing the wild places, some to be found in very unexpected places. And in the case of McFarlane, experience means sleeping wild, including on frozen Lakeland tarns – and swimming in wild waters.

Limiting this list to 5 was hard and had to leave out Jim Perrin one of our best current essayists – from his 1970’s essay on the Centre for Alternative Technology (within Yes, to Dance: Essays from outside the Stockade) to his current piece in The Great Outdoors and Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

What would you add? What are your environmental literature muses?