Letters: Green home-building

Developers claim that greener homes are too costly to build
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The Independent Online

Sir: News that the Government is planning to introduce greater requirements for sustainable buildings in the light of the Stern Report is very welcome, especially considering that the construction and occupation of buildings accounts for more than a third of the UK's greenhouse emissions.

Unfortunately, there has been a gap between the Government's rhetoric and its action. The Government's reluctance to make the proposed Code for Sustainable Homes mandatory is a clear case in point, as is the sight of some planning inspectors opposing attempts by local authorities to require developers to build to higher sustainability standards.

Some developers, such as those proposing a new community of up to 6,500 homes near Exeter, continue to resist attempts to encourage them to build greener buildings, arguing that it costs too much.

The Government's failure to require higher standards from developers leaves local authorities trying to tackle climate change out on a limb.

The Government is hoping the Stern Report will bring about a sea change in attitudes to climate change, not least in the US Administration. At the same time, it must ensure it raises the game at home by requiring developers to act.



Sir: It is wonderful news that the Government is to force builders to design greener homes. Unfortunately, the environmental impact of commuting to and from these new housing developments seems to have been ignored.

Northumberland cannot be alone in having a rash of large "executive" developments being tacked on to villages where there is little or no local employment. Each new house usually results in at least one single-occupant vehicle (often a gas-guzzling 4x4) making the daily round trip of 60 or more miles to the Tyneside conurbation.

Is it too much to ask for joined-up thinking between our environmental, transport and planning authorities?



Hooked by the desire for growth

Sir: The gist of Stern's message is that we have to make some sacrifices now to avert future catastrophe. The sacrifice we are being asked to make is to do without some economic growth.

This is an odd use of the word "sacrifice" because it would mean, in practice, that we would have to work less hard. And it would mean we would have to shop at a less frenetic rate, pay less for a home, and travel in cars and planes much less often. And because we would be less pressured and less stressed, we would probably be happier and healthier and have more time for each other.

The politicians believe climate change can be sorted out by applying a combination of green taxes, carbon trading and new technology. These measures will not be nearly enough. The real problem is the modern world's addiction to materialism and to the belief that "more is better".

We have more speed, but less quality time for ourselves; more choice, but less satisfaction; more schools and universities, but less education in the original sense of the word; more doctors and hospitals, but less health in any deeper sense; more telecommunications, but less relating in any meaningful way; more goods and services, but less self-reliance; more police and prisons, but less security.

Until we address the core problem - our addiction to materialism and our constant dissatisfaction with what we have - things will just get worse. Making driving or flying more expensive will not deter people. They will find the money somehow. If we doubt this, we need look no further than the housing market. What should be a basic necessity of life in an advanced society, a home, has now become a high-priced luxury, yet people are willing to go into lifetime debt to buy one, and to spend their whole working lives paying it off.

That is surely a special form of madness, but it is symptomatic of the pervasive madness of materialism, which generates so many of our problems, including the problem of climate change.



Sir: When Gordon Brown says his list of 21st-century priorities are "growth, full employment and environmental care" either he doesn't want to frighten people, or more worryingly, he still doesn't get it.

Growth in the real world, as opposed to the financial world, requires greater consumption of finite resources, the very cause of the problems we will face over the next 50 years.

We do not have, and will not have in the short term, technologies which can support "growth" on the conventionally desired scale without damaging the environment. The effects of continuing with unchecked growth will be felt not just by those usually on the receiving end of charity in distant countries, but also by people in this country who will be also placed in severe jeopardy.

So Mr Brown must address the simple question: does he want to see continued growth even if it will threaten the lives of billions of humans, including those of his beloved children?



Nuclear energy is not the answer

Sir: I am concerned by the government's enthusiasm for nuclear power, to which renewable-energy sources are taking second place. This is a terribly short-sighted solution, notwithstanding the problem of radioactive waste disposal.

It is now established knowledge that the combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon from reserves that would naturally remain locked away from the environment, thereby increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A comparable problem may result from the use of nuclear fuels, whereby the energy stored in the atomic nuclei of these fuels is released into the environment. In their natural state, this energy would take millions (or billions) of years to be transferred into the environment, but with human intervention this energy is released in huge amounts, relatively quickly.

Since energy cannot be destroyed, over time this will contribute to an overall increase in the amount of energy, or heat, present in the environment.

My conjecture is that this net increase in environmental energy would manifest in more extreme weather patterns, more devastating storms, and, of course, rising sea levels.

I postulate therefore, that using any fuel that releases energy that would not be available naturally, ie, without human intervention, whether fossil or nuclear, will have a detrimental effect on the global climate. Only energy sources such as wind, wave or solar can be sustainable in the long term since the ultimate source of their energy is the sun - the natural "fuel" for the Earth - wherein there is no net increase in the amount of energy released into the environment.



Sir: Regarding "What is the best solution to dispose of Britain's nuclear waste?", (27 October), dumping nuclear waste in holes in the ground, in Scotland or England, is no solution to the problem of dealing with this country's deadly radioactive waste legacy. Solving the problem should not begin with bribes, but should start with a pledge not to create any more waste.

Nuclear power is a white-elephant technology with so many unwanted problems during and after its operation.

This latest part in the waste saga is further evidence that creating further waste from new nuclear power stations should not be countenanced.

No sites have been identified for a nuclear dump, nor are there proven designs, accurate costs or willing host communities. Anywhere in the country remains a potential dump site.Even if a community were to accept inducements to host a dump, it is vital that each and every affected community is properly consulted.

After all, an escape of radiation from a transportation accident or from a leaking dump-site will not respect artificial town or county boundaries.



Big business must learn to switch off

Sir: Large businesses are not doing enough to protect the environment. At night, you see office lights ablaze, lights outside buildings for no particular reason other than decoration and to draw attention. All businesses should have to draw up a three-year environmental protection scheme, setting out what they are undertaking, and including an action plan with specific goals, timescales and named responsible manager. Environmental-impact assessments should be undertaken on all policies and developments.

Public authorities are required to produce race-, disability- and gender-equality schemes, and undertake equality-impact assessment. We need a similar approach to the environment, extended to all businesses.



Sir: Businesses are naturally concerned that any green initiative they take will also provide minimal impact on their bottom line. One way in which this can be achieved is through allowing homeworking.

Using internet telephony enables staff to work remotely, greatly improves staff productivity, dramatically cuts communications overheads and uses less hardware than traditional telephony, meaning less landfill. It also cuts out a commute that is getting ever more costly for the driver and the planet.



Green taxes must be ring-fenced

Sir: It was instructive to read David Milliband's comment that the "green" taxes proposed in his leaked letter to the Chancellor are "not there fundamentally to raise revenue". From that, I infer that they are. (Who will be deterred from flying by an extra £5 tax per flight?)

If ever there was a case for a tax gain to be ring-fenced, and not simply lost in the Consolidated Fund, this is it. It would be a nonsense for the money raised by green taxes to be expended by the Government on non-carbon neutral adventures, and we can all think of a few of those in recent years.

It would be ironic if increased tax yield on carbon fuels, for example, was used to fund new roads, or yet another war. The people must tie the Chancellor's hands on this one; any green tax gain must be ring-fenced for green expenditure, and accounted separately as such.

Any attempt to do otherwise should be met by taxpayer resistance, with the under-used lesson of a tax strike.

If the leave-your-car-at-home-day, became the leave-your-car-at-home-fortnight, or month, the multi-nationals would begin to scream, public transport would collapse under the pressure (demonstrating its inherent inadequacy) and the Treasury would be unable to fund many of its odder projects. Sounds good to me.



Population density is the real problem

Sir: The most blatant correlation between the cause and effect of global warming is that between carbon emissions and population density. People and their activities are the engine of every kind of pollution. This will be remedied only by population restraint. Even reducing the average birth-rate to one child per family will take a century to begin to curb population overshoot.

Malthus and Milliband suggest we have only two options: to curb it voluntarily, or resign ourselves to calamity. The obstacle to the first is organised religion. Has the Government the moral courage to give a lead in this matter?



Energy pricing encourages waste

Sir: If the Government is serious about reducing our domestic consumption of electricity, it would need to intervene in the market to change the pricing structure. Power companies charge more per unit for low users: the more you use the cheaper the cost per unit, hardly an incentive to switch off non-essential lights and gadgets.



Hot news

Sir: Paul Vallely repeats extravagant claims about the power used by a permanently connected phone charger. The alleged quarterly cost of £26 would buy him about 260kWh, implying a continuous consumption of 120 watts and a guaranteed meltdown of the charger's plastic casing!



Back to the 1930s

Sir: The Independent is showing a similar lack of imagination to the Government and Ken Livingstone in proposing rationing by price to tackle climate change. At this rate, we shall return to the 1930s when only the rich could afford air travel, foreign holidays and cars. The social revolution of the post-war years when these were available to nearly everyone will be reversed.



Ration-books return?

Sir: Where once we accepted rationing because of national economic bankruptcy caused by the Second World War, should we not now consider a similar approach to global ecological bankruptcy and start printing ration-books?



What I did in the war

Sir: Having grown up in the war years when one never lit a fire before 5pm, I am less anxious than my middle-aged young are about a potential energy crisis. I am happy to turn the heating down, put on a pullover, thermal undies and warm socks. There are lessons to be learnt from the days when the washing and ironing was done once a week, one thought twice about using the oven, shared the bathwater, and bought imported food (which did not arrive by plane) only for special occasions.



Grants needed

Sir: To match the rhetoric with action and as a demonstration of intent the Government could increase the grants for home micro-energy installations and remove the cap on funds available for the purpose. I understand the grant pot is about empty for this year.