Visioning a low carbon future

Visioning a low carbon future

What impact does the strong thread of dystopianism that we see in fiction have on people’s engagement with the world? Coupled with the often confused ideas that they have of Climate Change this seems to lead to a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

At CAT (the Centre for Alternative Technology) we’ve always been trying to explore positive futures, both in demonstrating a variety of technologies and looking at the ‘big picture’. At the moment we are developing educational activities that enable people to create their own vision of a sustainable future. Our aim is to produce materials that will equip them to do this as realistically as possible. This is a real challenge as there are so many issues to consider and so much information that they need to get easy access to in order to make informed decisions. Of course, all the information that we provide them with has to be based in well researched science.

We have already produced a couple of resources that can be drawn on. One is Energy Trumps, a set of 30 cards on energy sources and ways of using and storing energy with back-up Fact Files on each one. The other is an online greenhouse gas calculator designed for use with pupils. Both are available for free on the CAT website (

CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research project is a fruitful source to develop other resources. This explores one possible version of a sustainable future where the numbers do add up. An essential part of the process is how they vision it. We use a large map or aerial photo with a variety of models, card, plasticine and other modelling materials, so that they present their ideas in two or three dimensions. We’ve found that this has the added bonus that it prompts creative humour. All sorts of things appear on the map, some pure jokes, such as sea monsters appearing in all sorts of unlikely locations, but most making an important point in a clever way. These workshops are always fun.

The target audience is school pupils from Y6 to KS5 and also community groups, so one challenge is producing differentiated resources. Another challenge is time in the curriculum. Exploring sustainable futures can deliver curriculum content across a range of subjects but that seems to be a difficult ‘sell’ these days. It is potentially easier in schools in Wales than in England, with the Welsh Baccalaureate offering particular opportunities.

Just creating a vision is an essential first step but it is a long way from making it happen. The visioning workshops frequently lead into a discussion of what we can actually do ourselves and with older pupils may well go into the issue of where power lies in our society. My personal view is that it is fundamental to enable young people from the youngest possible age to make decisions collectively and have some control. I have been told of some rare examples of schools doing this meaningfully. With this foundation they are more likely to become engaged members of a democratic society and feel that there are ways to try to implement their visions.

Ann MacGarry

Centre for Alternative Technology