The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)
CAT has been an influential focus of environmental innovation for over forty years. As a dedicated member of its core staff I was an enthusiast for its general mission, and this confident optimism colours some of the material in this section.
In recent years it appears that some of this confidence was misplaced. It has to be frankly acknowledged that as of late 2014, CAT is in a difficult situation, having narrowly avoided complete collapse in the immediately preceding years. Staff, turnover and activity are all sharply reduced relative to the apogee of 2003-8 when the organisation was still growing strongly. Many of the features for which CAT has become famous, such as workplace democracy, narrow wage differentials, a residential community 'walking its talk', and generating most of its own energy, are in abeyance.
This severe crisis has generated a number of reforms and I am now confident that the organisation will be able to regain much of its former glory, leaving behind a sense of having come through the neck of an hourglass.
There is of course a vast literature produced by CAT and about CAT. I'll offer a few sample items here, that I hope will complement the materials obtainable from CAT itself, principally from its web site: www.cat.org.uk . Recently we have taken steps to record and catalogue as much as we can about the crucial founding years of the seventies, and this will continue into the eighties and nineties.
I would like to refer to a number of items from the pre-crisis CAT, unblemished by the recent disappointments. Here are two, a historical article and a video interview:
CAT and the Legacy of E.F. Schumacher 2008 (doc)
Interview with Peter Harper 2010 (htm)
Here is a presentation about the evolution of technical systems, more or less up to date:
Buildings and technical systems at CAT 2013 (ppt)
Finally (for the time being) here is an assessment of CAT's achievements that began in 1995 and has been updated regularly ever since. One of CAT's important slogans is "Failure is the Compost of Success": that we often learn more from innovating, trying and failing, than from following the tried-and-tested. So we have traditionally relished "warts 'n all" accounts. However the recent failures have been extremely chastening. The contrast between the breezy optimism of this document, and the later comments and evaluations, speaks for itself. We are certainly sadder, but are we any the wiser?
Finally here is an interesting document from 2001, recording discussions of a consensus policy about many matters across the organisation. It includes a table of proposed contrasts between 'old' and 'new' environmentalism, not all of which, in hindsight, have favoured the 'new'.