Just as the vaccine was produced to save us from COVID-19, so the government hopes investment in new technology will save us from global warming. Yet, gambling is no way to save our bacon. Investment is needed to insulate our homes.
The UK government’s Net Zero Strategy problem is that its own actions don’t support it. It is a ‘wish’ without a will to act. Where we need bold action, we get timid attempts to solve the problem through broken markets. So, we go on investing in fossil fuels while extolling the virtue of carbon-free energy. We seek more trade deals, destroying rainforests and increasing the carbon footprint of our daily lives. Politicians want us to go on behaving as if nothing needs changing.
There are good points in the UK government strategy. Of course, there are. But half measures and ‘incentives’ are no longer sufficient.
We need a bold strategy for insulating our homes, particularly for older houses. If we do that, then energy savings will return the costs. A significant program must be rolled out region by region. Heat pumps are not effective if heating poorly insulated homes.
Insulating older homes with solid walls is much more expensive. So, offering incentives to those who can’t afford it isn’t sensible if homeowners can’t afford the rest. Instead, we need to bite the bullet and invest as a country. It is a social problem that needs a social solution. For, we all depend on rescuing the planet from man-made emissions.
It is estimated that the UK must insulate 25 million homes. Experts say more than one home every minute will need to be refurbished in the UK between now and 2050. Yet, It is beyond the means of many. While we should bring all homes to a set energy efficiency standard, we lag behind other European countries.
From 1831 London suffered a series of cholera outbreaks. At the time, the inhalation of ‘foul air’ was widely held responsible for spreading the disease. Many blamed the fetid smell from the River Thames – little more than an enormous sewer by this time. In reality, cholera was a waterborne disease. It wasn’t the stink but the sewage contaminating drinking-water. It needed action.
Faced with a fundamental public need, the Victorians built sewage systems. It was a massive task. In London, construction required 318 million bricks, 2.7 million cubic metres of excavated earth and 670,000 cubic metres of concrete: 82 miles of intercepting sewers parallel to the River Thames, and 1,100 miles of street sewers at £4.2 million. So, dealing with our energy-inefficient homes needs such boldness. Equally bold measures are needed to insulate homes.
Strategy “riddled with holes”
Environment organisations are of one voice, saying the government proposals fall short of needs. Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs says the Net Zero Strategy is
Riddled with holes and omissions, this strategy falls a long way short of the bold action plan needed to decarbonise the UK. The rapid electrification of new vehicles is undoubtedly welcome, but many of the carbon savings this could be wiped out by the government’s £27 billion road programme.”
The failure to say no to further fossil fuel extraction seriously weakens UK credibility ahead of the crucial international climate negotiations, COP26.
The Chancellor has announced a raft of measures, but it is not clear how much of it is genuinely new money.
Friends of the Earth also criticises the Net Zero Strategy for failing to accept that the growing demand for aviation needs to be constrained instead of relying on unproven and speculative sustainable aviation fuels.
Too much reliance is put on wishful thinking for technology options such as CCS, heat pumps as cheap as boilers, and harmful emissions.
Gambling on the future
It is a roll of the technological dice, hoping invention will rescue the planet. But, unfortunately, it is unlikely to do so, and where there is hope, it will take a decade or more in development. We no longer have the time to wait and wish. Now, it requires a substantial change in the way we live. And for that, we need courageous leadership. Unfortunately, Santa Claus is not coming to the rescue. Government must provide the bold investment needed to insulate homes.
Writer: Ray Noble is a Chartered Biologist.