Sunday, 22 February 2009

The Centre for Alternative Technology

Image of eco-cabins robbed recycled from CAT's website

This weekend, together with a bunch of cool people from Green and Away, I stopped in an eco-cabin at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales.

The place is set in a beautiful wooded valley and the site itself is full of life, with trees and many plants growing up, and a lot of wildlife flying, scurrying, croaking and clucking around. This in itself is quite surprising considering the majority of the site evolved atop a slag heap of waste material from a slate mine!

What is most inspiring about the place is that it has been created by a bunch of committed people, containing many specialists in their field, who find out about or invent technology that may help people live sustainably, build it, try it out and see what works. They then share the knowledge that they gain and train others in using it.

This has resulted in a lush site full of many interesting things: living and working spaces that are beautiful, energy efficient and built in sustainable ways; pollution-free ways of powering everything such as microhydro, wind power and the like; sand filtered water from a reservoir; organic food and herb gardens; amazing ways of treating waste, such as reed beds for a very ornate and healthy way of treating sewage; and many other things. The site works so well that they are actually net exporters of power, providing the rest of the electric grid with more energy. Neither do they require mains water or any help dealing with sewerage. They started out with very, very little money too.

It is quite amazing to see what is possible. Often we live in dull buildings in ugly cities, that are hugely inefficient, very polluting, isolating, harmful to life and just generally not that pleasant to live in. But we could be living in such beautiful places within a happy, supportive community where life could thrive, oh, and accidentally save the world1 while doing it!

1 humans' place in the world

Thursday, 12 February 2009

It's ok, let's talk

(Coldplay - Talk)

Talking openly and honestly with someone you trust, where you don't judge but try to understand, where there is respect, empathy and truthfulness concerning feelings and intentions, can enable people and their relationships to flourish beyond what is often thought possible.

Often, however, that doesn't happen: we play emotional games, we act self-defensively and we generally act in ways that create strife. So, which are your favorite ways of causing rifts in relationships?! Mine are displacement and stonewalling, but there are many others to choose from...

Globalization: "Everybody Does That"
Blame-Shifting: "And you do the same thing but worse."
The Victim: "I'm so good to you, and you treat me so badly."
Gas-lighting: "I was just kidding; Can't you take a joke?"
Entitlement: "You are the one who made me angry; You deserve it."
Denial: "I'm not angry."
Displacement: "Just because you had a bad day at work, don't take it out on me."
Guilt: "I work my ass off to give you everything and you can't even make me some tea."
Shame/Blame: "You are a human slug; you never do anything."
Stonewalling: "This is the way I am, take it or leave it."
Projection: "You think I'm stupid, don't you?"
Devaluation: "You really could lose some of that extra weight."

Actually, I am not proud to have used any, and it hurts to see any used. I really strongly agree with Dr. Bill Cloke's article (from whence these came) that "To not defend ourselves, but instead hear what is being said, and then be able to express our understanding through acknowledgement will beat a box of chocolates any day" (Thanks to Sophie's blog on being open for bringing my attention to this quote). Deeply connected relationships are so important in life, so, so valuable. For these understanding and compassion are essential, and these require openness and honesty. It may be difficult to understand and accept another, to be open to their views, and their criticism, but the benefits that are gained from this make life worth living!

I also believe that only through healing rifts in our own personal lives can the healing of the larger rifts between communities and between nations be achieved.

I know I have just as much work to do here as anyone else and so I am most grateful to all those who spend the time to listen to me and to understand me, and I hope that I too can return this gift to others.

Happy Valentine's day! (And happy non-Valentine's days also!)

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Happy Valentine's day, or not! (It all depends where you get your gold)

"The production of one gold ring generates on average, 20 tons of mine waste. Gold mining has been linked to violent conflict, has displaced people off their lands and traditional livelihoods, and poisoned waterways with toxic chemicals" (Earthworks article)

But if you are a traditionalist (if indeed gold rings are traditional) all is not lost, because you can get responsibly sourced gold (the above site will probably tell you more)

Anyway, I now know why Mordor in the Lord of The Rings is so dark, why little grows and the inhabitants are angry and twisted - Sauron did not follow The Golden Rules set out by the No Dirty Gold campaign!

I can just imagine Sauron (or the Eye of Sauron) sat at his laptop in the depths of Mordor peering at the No Dirty Gold website reading "As an industry leader, you have a real opportunity to be at the leading edge of the jewelry industry when it comes assuring..."!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Just because you are paranoid...

There is an expression that 'just because you are paranoid, it doesn't mean they are not watching you'. Well, this expression can be done away with because, paranoid or not, they are actually watching you!

An article in the Independent today stated that the government intelligence centre will store "names, addresses, telephone numbers, seat reservations, travel itineraries and credit card details for all 250 million journeys made in and out of the UK each year". This is added to the recording of "every phone call, email and internet visit made in the UK " that is already planned (Independent article), and the storing of innocent people's DNA (Liberty human rights website).

While a lot of people are concerned over this, rightly stating that it is a breach of personal privacy, others aren't. The argument is that if a person is not doing anything wrong, what have they got to fear. Well this is true, but the problem is the definition of 'wrong' changes. Once a government decided it was 'wrong' for Jews to exist, or those helping Jews to exist. A fair few governments think it is 'wrong' for political activists to exist, for human rights activists, women's rights activists or any other activists to exist. It also becomes so easy in a world full of fear of 'terrorists' to brand someone you don't like as such. In some countries I would be branded a terrorist for writing this blog. Now that you have read this blog you are now an associate of this terrorist and have been recorded as such in a central database.

So apparently it is being done for our safety, and maybe it is, I don't know. But just a brief look at history and a brief look at governments around the world should tell you that it isn't safe in the long term.

We are said to live in a democracy so I suggest we get more informed as to the issues (here is a start), that we inform others, and that we then make our choice be known and be acted on.

As always I welcome your comments.

PS. For a free audiobook of George Orwell's 1984, which is both a very interesting novel and a very powerful warning of what can happen with too much surveillance, click here.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Sustainable Eating Challenge Part III

OK, so far it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. The first day I was pretty ecstatic trying out new recipes, such as the spelt pancake with apple and honey, but when it came to trying out the split peas which I had in a stew in the evening things starting looking a bit bleak. The thought of only being able to eat split peas for a month is something I hope none of you have to consider!

However, things quickly started looking up again when my unleavened bread and my biscuits came out of the oven - I could do this thing! A day or so later things again were not looking good, the excitement of pancakes and biscuits had past and the reality of not being able to eat chocolate for the next few weeks had hit - the North of England sadly isn't known for its cocoa plantations!

Again though, things picked back up - I discovered an unlikely comfort food: mashed potatoes (and other vegetabls) with fried eggs. Quick to make and tasty, it makes all things well again! Added to this is the discovery that maple peas are actually really nice and that they go well with butter, barley and vegetables. My liking of apples has also increased, and today I found some British pears which will make a positive addition to the diet.

I also decided to get some yogurt today. I don't normally have much dairy, but as my diet is quite constricted I thought this would help give me more variety.

It has also been the case that I have had to buy more non-organic food than normal - it would seem that often organic food is imported whereas its non-organic counterpart is more easily available from this country.

NEWS JUST IN: While I have been writing this blog my carrot and honey cake has finished cooking and it has turned out beautifully. The need for chocolate has been staved off for another day! I can make this, one day at a time!

(Part I and Part II are here)

Monday, 2 February 2009

Connecting Through Food: Sustainable Eating Challenge Part II

Tomorrow I begin only eating food grown in the UK. (See original Mark's Sustainable Eating Challenge post).

I was feeling seriously concerned over the lack of UK foods available in the shops, but today things are looking much better. I have found a source of split peas, maple peas and marrowfat peas, all good sources of protein and all grown in the UK. The maple peas were a bit of a find, apparently parched peas made from maple peas is a local traditional dish - with the city I'm living in (Preston) being mentioned repeatedly in the places I was looking for information.

I have also now got UK grown spelt and rye flour. UK honey and UK barley malt.

So I am feeling really excited now, and there is this feeling of naturalness, of power, of connectedness. I have a strong feeling that over the next few weeks my roots are going to grow deep into the ground of where I am, powerful, thick, deep roots, like that of an oak, that is going to ground me and provide me with much nutrients and energy. It is amazing, feeling like this makes me wonder how people cope with eating international food all the time - it must make people, indeed has made me, kind of spread out, weaker, lacking a powerful connection. Well that is how I feel right now, it will be interesting to see how it goes, but wow I'm excited!

A few dishes I am looking forward to trying...

Split pea, barley and vegetable stew.
Unleavened honey rye bread.
Spelt pancakes with stewed apple and barley malt.