A Hop across the Pond….
Meet the Americans who are setting up at CAT in the US.
Christopher Carter and Deborah Amoral are two intrepid American environmentalists who travelled over 4000 miles, in the middle of winter, to learn how the Centre for Alternative Technology runs, and has been running for the last 40 years.
Inspired by an afternoon in the visitor center last year, which left them in a “full, awe, inspiration state” they left muttering, “We have to do this, we have to go home and do this”. It was decided; they would set up an equivalent center near their hometown of Saxapahaw in North Carolina. Despite their passion and vast knowledge of all things sustainable, they realized they had no idea about how to run such an organization, and so returned to for a month to gain insight and inspiration.
Saxapahaw is a recently renovated ex-industrial village that sits along the banks of the river Haw, a defining natural feature of North Carolina. The settlement was originally founded as one of many riverside developments that once flourished along with the areas famous plaid textile industry. An industry that had defined life in the area until in 1994, when a tornado struck, taking the small town out of action. Until recently the place had been left to disintegrate, the mills to crumble and the past forgotten about. That is until the architect grandson of the mills owner, decided to renovate, repair and redesign the small town, creating the necessary infrastructure, such as shops and a petrol station, to support a new community.
Saxapahaw now has a huge music venue, to which people flock from the nearest big towns of Greensboro and Raleigh, a delicious local produce café and store, places to stay and things to do. It is in fact becoming a cultural hot spot, with a rapidly growing population, (planners apparently predict a region-wide increase of 50% between 2010-2030). All these factors mean that Saxapahaw now has the infrastructure and people to support an alternative environmental education centre, and Chris and Deborah are going to make it happen.
Chris was a pioneer of renewable energy systems in the area, and was the first certified Solar photovoltaic installer in in North Carolina. Fuelled by anger at power companies who wouldn’t stop dismissing renewables as inappropriate and too expensive, he felt it was his personal mission to prove them wrong by demonstrating just how appropriate, and affordable they could be. His hard work installing as many small-scale renewable systems as possible became led them to become known for their resilience and power. Hurricanes hit, ice storms rained down and time and time again, Chris would get calls saying “Geeesh – Thank you so much- we are the only ones in the neighborhood with our lights on”.
This positive feedback only fueled his passion and before he knew it he was on the local radio developing “The Home Power Hour” a radio station talk show that spreads his knowledge of renewable systems and makes the most of his wicked sense of humor and acting skills. Chris is not just an engineer but also an artist and actor, and plays a vital role mechanizing the local (environmentally-themed) puppetry troupe, and drama group. This compliment of arts and science, has helped champion his environmental ideals helping broaden the appeal of serious and scientific issues. His sense of fun and creativity comes through in his radio show, a take off of an American favorite talk show, “Car Talk”, where two grumpy old men take calls about car mechanics. The Home Power Hour, assumes everybody already has a renewable solar or wind system attached to their house, and that they need regular tips and advise about how to maintain it. “Solar Jim” Chris’s radio personality and “Sustainable Jack” his lecturer side-kick, blend good old fashioned silliness with forward thinking advise about renewable energy and sustainability. Packed with spontaneous interviews with cyclists, growers, and engineers, the show is a weekly celebration of sustainable living.
If you are interested in listening then please just type “ The Home Power Hour WCOM” into your web browser and you should discover podcasts and listings for the next show. Apparently the shows were such as success that they have been appropriated for T.V and the local channel refuses to stop showing them!
The reason why these two have decided to set up a sustainability center is because they see a demand. Nobody else nearby is offering any sort of alternative to the “business as usual” ideology of climate change denial and people are asking them if they can run courses. The are picking up on a younger generations enthusiasm to learn the crafts their grandparents failed to teach them; simple home economics; how to preserve food, tan hides, build using natural materials, woodland management, and ecology amongst others.
They have detected a hunger from people who want to learn skills that will equip them to live more sustainably and independently. Having already given a few individuals short courses offering their skills and expertize in renewables and “home economics” people are asking them to run more. If the planners are right about the dramatic increase in population, they hope to guide new homeowners to build sensitively to the landscape, building their lives in a manner that benefits and enhances the natural landscape, with the formation of an advisory service called “The Homesteaders Association”.
So not only do they have the wisdom and skills, but an amazing place to deliver them from. On their own land they have a 45 ft round wooden yurt inspired structure spaces for offices and toilets, which they hope to develop into a hub of sustainable education. The local community college does teach evening courses in trades, such as welding and mechanics, but there is nowhere, local, you can discuss and experience an alternative ecological lifestyle. With a residential approach to learning they hope to create a space that immerses you in a positive alternative reality, with discussions and campfires to ignite the seeds of change.
Chris and Deborah are deeply concerned, shocked at the lack of governmental awareness to the ecological crisis we are all facing and it is the transformation of this despair into positive, affirmative action that marks these two out from the rest. They are sowing the seeds of hope in dark times in a State, where it is now illegal to consider climate change or sea level rise in any governmental decision making, where low profit social enterprise corporations have been outlawed, and where fracking and oil exploration are officially celebrated.
CAT has been running for the last 40 years to a similar tune, and through its evolution has many lessons in organizational structures, decision making processes and financial accountability that can help Chris and Deborah on their way. Using their imagination they can run ideas forward and backwards in their mind in the hope of avoiding the pioneer hiccups that CAT as an experimental and daring organization has had.
If you are interested in following the progress of these pioneering and inspiring individuals on their mission to help the US get back on track then, feel free to email them on Info@hvisax.com or find them at HandyVillageInstitute.org or on Facebook at “Handy Village Institute, Inc “.