Everyone knows that we have to reduce our carbon emissions. You can’t read a newspaper or a blog post without coming across the words ‘climate change’ or ‘carbon emissions’, generally accompanied by a subtext of a flashing yellow warning light and an alarm. The UK’s target is to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Things need to change, and if we are to hit the targets that we’ve been set, they need to change fast. But how is it going to happen?
Last week I attended Hot Property, a seminar on low carbon sustainable building. Organised by the Bath Ventures Innovation Centre’s Low Carbon South West network, Hot Property brought together academics, architects, engineers and businesses to talk about how to address the ambitious property sector target of 0% carbon buildings by 2016 (and 0% new build by 2019). In much the same vein as the recent eWEEK UK launch, there was much talk of the need for a fundamental paradigm shift – and the fact that it has to happen urgently. The country needs to change its attitudes and behaviour towards energy usage. No small feat when you consider exactly how huge a task this is across all sectors of society; individuals, businesses, public and private, and across all industry sectors; energy, manufacturing, property, IT, transport and so on.
A quick word about eWEEK UK. eWEEK UK is debuting at a time when one might question the sanity of launching of a new publication in an economic downturn. But as editor Peter Judge pointed out, there’s never been a better time. Online only, and employing a small team of permanent and freelance journalists, it can get news out as it happens, without worrying about the costs and turnaround time associated with a print publication. And the philosophy underpinning it has never been more timely: sustainable IT. Climate change and the economic downturn means that businesses, as well as individuals, need to embrace sustainability. This isn’t just green IT, but operating at a more sustainable level (both financially and environmentally) on a day-to-day basis. IT contributes towards carbon emissions, and if we are going to stand any chance of reaching the targets, then there has to be a paradigm shift in the way IT works.
Image royalty free courtesy of The Stock Exchange
I wasn’t sure how much relevance low carbon building might have for me, and perhaps that is telling within itself. We all live and work in buildings so it has relevance for everyone. Cities account for 2% of our landmass, but are responsible for 75% of greenhouse gases. New build can improve this, but retrofitting (improving the carbon emissions of existing buildings) is also just as, if not more, important. And that is down to the individual.
Here’s a few facts (if you know your green stuff, you’re probably aware of these):
- 30% of our topsoil is gone
- Acidification of the oceans, if it continues, could mean the bottom of the food chain disappearing – a truly scary thought
- If the US carries on consuming at the same levels, it would need 6 planet earths to support it. The UK would need 3 and Somalia one-quarter
The challenge is that lowering carbon emissions is complex, because it needs to be addressed at political, social, cultural, and infrastructure levels. There is a lack of ‘joined up’ thinking – no one is talking to everyone else. Fiscal and infrastructure policies are not connected with food and transport networks, for example, and this causes policy conflicts when it comes to trying to address carbon emissions. And of course everything is interconnected, at both a global and a local level. For example, if we were to use the Thames Barrier to stop rising sea levels flooding London, we risk drowning Holland. Every decision, big or small, affects someone somewhere.
The upshot is that capitalism needs to take responsibility. Whilst it is sometimes hard to talk ‘green’ without sounding evangelical, slightly mental or like a tree-loving hippy, the bald truth is that “the battle against climate change will be won or lost in towns and cities”. Whilst there are businesses, engineers and academics all conducting research into technologies and methods to lower building carbon emissions, the biggest question is how are these developments going to make their way into the market – and into the mainstream?
If people realise that by investing in home renovations to improve their house’s carbon emissions, they can cut their heating bills, would they be more inclined to put money towards this rather than buying a new kitchen? Or a new car? Is it the fact that the benefits are so intangible, that as individuals we will be forced to pay a price (rising energy prices anyone?) in order to rethink our energy use habits? And when is the government going to get involved and provide some kind of cohesive forum in which policy, planning, research and implementation can come together to start making things happen? It was refreshing to hear business people, designers and developers talking about how to save the planet, but when – and how – will they finally be heard? The problem is that no one seems sure how to make this happen on a national scale. Despite the fact that there are pockets of people talking, at the moment they are only talking about it to other people who are interested and who care. There was no representation from the government or local authorities at the Hot Property seminar, which begs the question of how this forward thinking, and the technological developments that accompany it, will make the leap from discussion to implementation.
Kate Gordon, email@example.com