Climate change: Inaction is not an option

As the world’s leading scientists warn that extensive action is required to reduce the devastating impact of global warming on our planet, architect, Thomas Denhof, asks: when will we get serious about climate change?

In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a landmark report about the impacts of global warming on our planet.

It’s the year we’ll remember a town in California, called ‘Paradise’, being turned into charcoal. The likelihood of extreme weather will increase drastically if we fail to keep temperature rise to 1.5º maximum. The symptoms we are experiencing already are based on an increase of 1º since the industrial revolution began.

With CO2 emissions still mounting, we are currently heading towards 3º, resulting in a global climate catastrophe, with mass extinction likely.

The sobering news is that we have a mere 12 years left to avert global havoc.
What’s our plan?

UK construction and the lack of sufficient regulation
According to the Technology Strategy Board, the construction operation and maintenance of the built environment accounts for 45% of total UK carbon emissions. The UK had the highest level of people living in fuel poverty in Europe in 2013, partially caused by a substandard housing stock, emitting vast amounts of CO2 and impacting on health at hugh financial cost to the NHS. While the Climate Change Act 2008 is committed to reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, is the construction sector actually doing enough to achieve this?

Those working in the UK long enough will still remember the ‘Ecohomes Assessment’, the ‘Code for Sustainable Homes’ as well as the ‘Zero Carbon’ agenda. The latter was meant to be implemented by the whole industry in early 2016. While none of these measures were perfect, they were created for very good reasons. All three schemes disappeared mysteriously without any suitable alternatives put into place to fill the void. A flawed Building Control system is pretty much all that’s left. May I suggest that opposing business interests have played a significant role in the downfall of these essential measures by means of lobbyism?

Those shouting the loudest seem to get their way these days, regardless of what the wider consequences mean to all of us.

How is it that we are constantly reminded about all the things we can’t afford in the UK, despite living in the fifth richest country in the world? It’s political choices defining the settings, not a question of inevitableness.

As long as governments worldwide protect the interests of the rich as a priority, we should not be surprised about decisions diametrically opposed to tackling looming climate breakdown. The phasing out of the feed-in tariff for photovoltaic by the end of March this year, jeopardising a whole industry’s existence, the plans to sneak in dangerous shale gas fracking under Permitted Development rules, as well as Heathrow’s third runway, come into mind.

We have the tools to build a greener future
Let’s open the toolbox and build a greener world with the UK leading the way. Huge business opportunities are waiting to be deployed.

There are many tools to be used: zero carbon buildings, Passive House, Breeam, car-free cities, green roofs, LED lighting, renewable energy, smart glass, district heating, smart thermostats, sustainable materials, low-energy cement and many more. Large scale funding for research into new green technology and materials needs to be provided. How about diverting the large subsidies still flowing into the pockets of the fossil fuel junkies? It’s down to us to stop the fossil fuel industry, with governments reluctant to do so.

I believe climate change goes hand in hand with inequality and corporate greed and it will affect the poorest worst. If your bank and power provider can’t let go from fossil fuel extraction you should swap to greener choices. Reducing meat consumption is another important step.

We need to depart from an ideology of short-term gain and start building a long-term vision again. Perpetual growth is incompatible with the limited resources our beloved world provides us with.

Climate change is an existential threat to life on earth. Inaction is not an option.
There is so much to win if we only want it.

Thomas Denhof – Architect & Passive House designer