Hi Will! thats great, I'll have a look around, I'm sure we can do something with you? I have a couple of ideas actually, doing some work with the WEA and they might be interested in PBL stuff. ciao for now Mike
Brilliant you've sent those invites to the place-based learning event - it's inspired me to invite a whole lot of other people! At the Centre for Human Ecology AGM a couple of weeks ago I was talking with Sam Harrisson who graduated from our course a couple of years ago and is now running 'Open Ground' (I think he's on FierySpirits too) - who was talking enthusiastically about coming .... so inspired by that, I know of several more folk who are passionate about this and that's why there are now about 50 invites...
It strikes me that this ability to invite friends to events is one of the more powerful features of this fieryspirits.com site - I need to let more folk know about it...
Good to meet you again, here is a draft of the research behind our energy story of Wales film. I welcome your thoughts, we will keep you posted with how the film progresses....
The Energy Story of Wales
A brief history of fossil fuels
The story begins around 400 million years ago, with the formation of fossil fuels.
At that time, the Earth’s landmasses were covered with verdant mat of swamps filled with huge trees, ferns and other large leafy plants and the seas and lakes were filled with algae and plankton.
Fossil fuels are literally fuels from the fossils that formed as these plant and animal remains decayed, after being heated and compressed under thick layers of rock.
What we don’t normally appreciate is the sheer scale of the energy reserves which were deposited in the Earth’s energy bank account of fossil fuels.
Firstly, the earth’s lush mat of plants and single-celled ocean algae had a total surface area of 196,800,000 square miles.
And, with the sun overhead, every square meter of surface receives up to a thousand Watts of energy.
And then this massive planet sized solar collector lay basking in the sun for millions upon millions of years, soaking up the energy and locking it away.
That equals quite a lot of stored energy, by far, the largest most compact and most convenient energy store we have ever known - or are ever likely to know!
Life before fossil fuels
It is not surprising we found this massive reserve of compressed ancient energy so useful. For the first few thousand years of human civilisation our access to energy was limited to the sunlight which fell on the surface of the earth each year.
Everyone lived at the mercy of the seasons, ruled by the axe and the plough, not only to grow our food, but to provide our energy - grazing for our horses and wood for our fires. The elements driving our, watermills, windmills and sailing ships.
We depended wholly and completely on the sun, the seasons, access to land and the strength of our own bodies.
Both food and fuel were precious resources, and much blood was spilled in their pursuit.
The discovery of fossil fuels
The discovery of fossil fuels changed everything. Humanity was no longer constrained by the need to live on its annual rations of solar energy.
With the coming of industrial coal, Wales kicked off a trend for making withdrawals from our planet’s massive multi-million year deposit account of concentrated ancient sunlight.
The ancient Chinese and the Romans certainly know of it, but it was in Wales that the conditions were right for the coal race to really began.
For the first time history, we had access to energy independent of land or season, under our direct control, whenever we wanted it, wherever we wanted it.
We could begin to live as no one on Earth had ever lived before
Wales led the world into fossil fuels
Wales led the world into using fossil fuels - all the conditions were right for an explosion of coal production.
There were accessible reserves, but also the labour, skills and sea ports needed to bring the coal to market.
Coal quickly became the cheapest and most convenient ‘miracle’ energy resource ever discovered, driving changes the like of which the world had never been seen - the industrial revolution
Major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation swept across Britain, Europe, North America and eventually the world, triggering a process that marked a major turning point in human society; almost every aspect of daily life every where across the globe would be transformed.
Agricultural productivity rose 10 or 20 fold. Economic productivity rose 100 fold.
Networks of canals, then railways grew forth and multiplied to carry coal to ports.
South Wales coal was so abundant that the supply could be stepped up year after year after year to meet ever-escalating demands.
By 1840 4.5m tons of coal was being produced, Of this, 2.25m went to the steel industry, one million to the domestic market and other industries and 750,000 tons for export.
Just 14 years later, 8.8m tons were being produced, of which 2.6m exported. The Rhondda Valley experienced the highest growth in production.
By 1874, 16.5m tons were produced, with over 4 M tons exported.
The rise of the Welsh coal industry seemed unstoppable, with high quality coal available in massive quantities.
By 1913 the capital city of Cardiff had become the largest coal exporting port in the world, 57m tons of coal was produced, by 232,000 men working in 620 mines.
How we got hooked on using more and more of them
Humanity had begun to access a massive and easily accessible “energy bank account”, and with the invention of the internal combustion engine, oil consumption escalated quickly displacing coal as our largest source of energy.
But there are more uses for fossil fuel than setting fire to them. In 1935 Du Pont scientist Wallace Carothers invented Nylon, the first purely synthetic fiber Then in 1951 research chemists Robert Banks and Paul Hogan discovered how to make oil into plastic.
Oil quickly became the feedstock for the thousands of products that are manufactured today using petroleum. These include plastics, acrylics, cosmetics, paints, varnishes, asphalts, medicines and fertilizers for growing foods.
Take a look around your home or office, how many items can you find that rely on fossil fuels in some form or another.
Back in those days the world was awash with fossil fuels so they were very much cheaper than they are today.
So our economy grew accustomed to ever greater volumes of dirt-cheap fossil-fuel energy.
In fact we created a system built on the assumption that growth is the norm, and it will be both perpetual and totally un-restricted.
Coal, then oil and gas were cheap, abundant and profitable to produce, so all our living and working systems were, quite literally, designed to use as much of them as possible.
Heating systems were fitted to un-insulated homes and offices, Manufacturing processes were designed, with little heed to the amount of energy they consume.
Nowhere was this ‘designer dependence’ on fossil fuels as marked as the coming of the motorcar. This was to be the major engine that would drive the post-war economy, so the development of the newly sprawling towns and suburbs were designed in such a way as to make the car not just a convenience but also an absolute necessity.
Almost without anyone realising it, fossil fuels have pervaded almost every aspect of our lives.
We became accustomed to ever increasing amounts being available
Our attitudes to energy are obsolete. Our old fashioned attitudes to energy still have a firm, yet sub-conscious grip on how we use energy, leading us blindly into wasteful practice, and making us far too dependent on having access to lots of it. The list is as long as it is shameful
We now export and import almost identical amounts of virtually identical non-essential foods and products.
We waste as much heat in making our electricity as we use in all our buildings.
We still haven’t really grasped our global energy predicament. Even senior experts, scientists and political leaders fail to comprehend the vast quantities of energy that are now essential for sustaining our civilisation.
One gram of oil gives as much energy as a manual labourer can deliver in a day’s work, yet a single day’s oil consumption now represents a line of barrels long enough to encircle the earth.
Industrial civilization, as we know it, cannot exist without access to abundant cheap petrochemicals.
Although our fossil fuels reserves are a massive energy bank account, we are currently drawing down reserves at a rapid and unsustainable rate through our unnecessarily wasteful attitudes.
Our reserves of oil and gas represent 70 million years of concentrated solar energy, and we have used the best half of it in a mere 150 years and the rate is accelerating. We used more than five times as much energy in 2000 as we did in 1950, and more than 13 times as much as in 1900.
The urgent challenges
The next 100 months represent a unique period for humanity. Never before has there been such a time. We have experienced market crashes; we have endured resource scarcities, fought wars and witnessed the collapse of empires. But never have the stakes been so high or the opportunities so vitally important.
On numerous fronts, the consequences of the past 150 years of rapid industrialisation are all simultaneously coming home to roost.
Not only are we half way though our fossil fuel bank account, with what remains at the bottom of the barrel being the dirtier, hard to get at, more expensive and much slower to produce.
Our unstoppable fossil fuelled economies are now being halted by the immovable facts of geology. No one is talking about oil and gas "running out", but rather the realisation that just as energy demand is exploding, global rates of production may be at, or approaching, their peak.
In addition, we now find burning them has been having damaging effects on the planet.
Initially these effects were barely noticeable, but as the decades rolled by, and our awareness increased, and the more scientists find out the more worried they become.
The problem is, global greenhouse gas emissions are on the point of triggering very much larger and un-stoppable runaway feedbacks in natural systems which could run away our of control.
This would be a global catastrophe on a scale that would dwarf any recent hurricanes or floods and run for tens of thousands of years.
Humanity faces a complex mix of climate, energy, economic challenges. Left unchecked they will synergise, resulting in economic collapse and dislocation unseen in modern times.
Enter the Alternative Technologies
But crisis contains opportunity – thirty five years ago, concerned by our dependence on fossil fuelled technologies, a bunch of young idealists colonised a derelict slate quarry in the village of Pantperthog, near Machynlleth Mid-Wales. These early pioneers were inspired by the notion of building a living community to test the emerging alternative technologies, in order to find out which ones worked and which ones didn’t!
At that time what we meant by being green was a lot less defined, and a lot less tested. Society had just emerged from the swinging sixties, and few were people were watching the problems, let alone looking for the solutions.
This original community set out to develop and prove, by a positive living example, new technologies which would provide practical solutions to the problems that are now worrying both the world’s ecologists, economists and energy analysts.
The result of 35 years research, evaluation and development is an action plan called Zero Carbon Britain showing how we can eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels in just two decades.
Business as usual no longer works from the climate’s point of view; it doesn’t offer energy security, and it is certainly not delivering global economic security.
By taking the right actions now, we stay ahead of events – through re-thinking our attitudes and taking an uncompromising new approach to energy we find can deliver well being on a lot less energy, and we can extract the energy we do need from our indigenous renewable energy sources.
So rather than residing at the end of a peaking pipeline of polluting fossil fuel import, Wales can head its own indigenous renewable energy supply chain. Every field, forest, island, river, coastline, barn or building holds the potential to be a power station, with different technologies appropriate to every scale or region.
By their very nature these renewable reserves will not peak, in fact as the technology matures and becomes economic in a wider range of applications, the available reserve actually increases, whilst making the Welsh economy resilient to price hikes from overseas and preventing future financial turmoil as the cost of our energy imports spirals.
A new Wales
By taking visionary action now, Wales will not only tackle climate and energy security, but also invest in our economy at ground level, get our labour force back to work, and so tackling recession.
Such a rapid de-carbonisation is currently at the very boundaries of what is ‘politically thinkable’, it is every bit as much a challenge for our society and our democracy as it is for our technology.
Zero Carbon Britain offers a smart, conscious and systematic approach, building on decades of detailed knowledge and experience from the agriculture, construction, transport, energy and almost every walk of life into a national framework offering a common, coherent vision linking government and industry and citizens - endorsing, supporting and connecting actions across all sectors of society.
All across the developed west, our focus on material affluence has left us with a ‘poverty of meaning’.
Once we have the basics, using more and more energy simply doesn’t make us any happier, in fact, quite the opposite.
We can perhaps kid ourselves it does for a while, but in out hearts we know we are deluding ourselves.
A life rich in meaning is what we all really seek, and it is there for us if we want it.
These are critical times for planet earth – and there is a role for each of us. Through this vital struggle we will find, meaning, friendship, community and hopefully a better world to leave for our children.
Through learning the hard lessons of the past, Wales can most effectively un-leash its collective creativity - offering tangible sense of purpose and creating a new kind of economy; stable in the long term, locally resilient, but still active in a global context, rich in quality jobs, a strong sense of purpose and reliant on indigenous, in-exhaustible energy.
Paul Allen B.Eng (Hons) FRSA
External Relations Director - Centre for Alternative Technology