It was intermittently raining and shining and we had a glorious crowd of walkers who are happy in the wet. We stayed at the centre for a while at the beginning for introductions and a reminder about the skillshare aspect of the outing; that I’m not an expert, that we are all learning, that we carry around books with us to delve into for .possible enlightenment or further questioning. I mentioned that I always play it safe as a forager with groups of people, only working with plants that there is little or no risk in confusing with poisonous plants. As I learn more, I realise that even plants that I’m confident about could be confused by someone else, so we looked at a few such plants, during a wonderful revisit to Wyck Gardens, with new eyes and some new plants spied in all the wet summer lushness.

A great crowd as ever and we started the day with discussion of the elements of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain report. We all took some element of the report which was either a ‘Power down’ factor (energy use needing to be reduced by 50%) or a ‘Power up’ factor, (where the energy we do need for well being is going to come from sustainably).

Power down:

  • All new buildings must be built to zero carbon specifications
  •  We need to renovate 20 million homes in 20 years. This is called ‘retro-fit’ and represents the largest decrease in emissions.
  •  Change fuels for cars from fossil fuels to electric vehicles
  •  Make everything more local so people need to travel less (work, school, shopping, leisure, holidays)
  •  Reduce the use of the private car by vastly improving public transport, walking and cycleway systems.
  •  Get goods back on the rails. There is plenty of capacity on the rails at night.
  •  Domestic and European flights are replaced by high speed electric train network
  •  Long haul flights is reduced to one third of current levels
  •  Hydrogen and british grown biofuels (made from wood not food crops) for heavy goods vehicles that can’t be run on batteries.
  •  Animal production for food is reduced but this creates more land for overall food production because less land if required to grow feed for animals.  Food security is improved
  •  Diet and health is improved as people eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. There are still animal foods available, particularly from animals that don’t feed on grass like pigs, and chickens. One third of dietary protein would still come from livestock products
  •  Britain would become self sufficient in essentials but would still import ‘luxury’ products such as olives, wine, coffee, chocolate and bananas.

 Power up – renewable energy

  •  Britain is a wind swept country. Half the energy we need can be captured from 195 giga watts of off shore windfarms and the rest can be harvested from a mix of other renewable (solar, on shore wind, tidal, hydro, biomass, biochar.)
  •  Nuclear generators will be used until the end of their lives but no new ones would be built.
  •  Energy generation will have to happen on all levels, from gigantic offshore wind farms to micro generators like solar panels on our homes.
  •  Smart grids can predict and control demand (eg charging cars when there is excess power) so there is no break in energy provision and the lights don’t go out!
  •  There will be back up from energy stored in batteries and also backup generators using UK grown biofuels (made from wood, not food crops)

 We all took one slip of paper with one factor on it and decided whether it was Power up or Power Down, then we gathered with all the other people having the same kind of Power, talked about the information with our group, then with the opposite group. The aim of this was to further familiarise ourselves with the arguments and data around sustainable energy so we don’t get left behind with the debate and also to be able to make a difference. CAT suggest getting in touch with your MP to ask them to read the report. You can lobby your MP to sign Early Day Motion 853 which calls for Zero Carbon Britain by 2030.  To lobby your MP using the Campaign for Climate Change’s information hub see here.

Available here is the Zero Carbon Britain 2030 Report produced by the Centre for Alternative Technology, (CAT) which outlines a practical, well researched plan for reaching a zero carbon economy by 2030. To order free 8-page ZCB 2030 pamphlets, or find out about ZCB training days e-mail bruce.heagerty[at] with ‘Zero Carbon Britain Day’ in the subject line.

OK, onto the plants. We looked at chickweed, to not confuse with Sun spurge (euphorbia), we looked at Sow thistle, at lovely St Johns wort, and Fat Hen and Good king Henry growing right next to a similar looking but poisonous Black nightshade


Text from the handout on the day


Net global emissions of greenhouse gases must be reduced to zero as fast as possible and this should be the overriding goal of the entire global community acting together through a fair and binding international climate treaty.  

Within this context some sections of the global community have a greater responsibility to reduce emissions more and faster than others. The United Kingdom belongs to the richer developed part of the world with a high per capita level of greenhouse gas emissions and, as the pioneer of the Industrial Revolution, an enormous historical carbon footprint. We believe that the UK can and should do its fair share to reduce global emissions and be prepared if necessary to lead the way. 

Given the immensity of the threat we face from  the catastrophic destabilisation of global climate, the time lost already in addressing this threat and the uncertainties around, for instance, positive feedback processes and ‘tipping points’, no target can be said to be entirely ‘safe’. At the same time while justice demands that we do our ‘fair share’ our national security demands that we do not only that, but enough to persuade the entire global community to act decisively with us.

In this context we are calling for a target of around zero net carbon, and zero net greenhouse gas, emissions by 2030. We cannot be one hundred percent sure this will be enough to forestall catastrophe and nor will it be easy but we are certain that with the political will and a great deal of urgency and determination it is possible. And it will bring a great number of other benefits besides giving us a fighting chance in the battle against climate catastrophe.

ImageThe Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales has been working through its Zero Carbon Britain Project on a strategy for rapid decarbonisation of the British economy for many years. Last year it published its latest report “Zero Carbon Britian 2030” which outlined in meticulously researched detail how Britain might reduce its emissions to  zero by 2030. This is just one possible way and there will be much disagreement and discussion over many of the details but the report serves magnificently well the purpose of demonstrating that it is possiible. Half hearted attempts or opportunistic tinkering will not do it but with bold, radical and far sighted strategies – we can.