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Actions speak louder than words

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James Kirkwood's picture
Owner, kW Energy Consultants

Owner kW Energy Consultants; Experienced energy consultant and project manager of wide-ranging, varied and complex energy efficiency projects; Display Energy Certificate (DEC) assessor...

  • Member since 2020
  • 8 items added with 10,017 views
  • Dec 10, 2020

Firstly, apologies for missing November’s blog, wow what a busy month! From EPCs at the beautiful Coombe Country Park to Smarter Choices energy audits in Southend, assisting GP surgeries with Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme grant applications, working with local farms to make them more sustainable, delving into powerful new energy management software, more EPCs and MEES surveys to ensure buildings are meeting the required standards upon being let, before surveying several domestic properties and modelling them for an innovative district heating scheme, more EPCs and support to get an educational facility back up and running as efficiently as possible in Lincoln, supporting SMEs with FREE energy efficiency audits and plenty of consultancy and DECs for schools along the way! Phew! If that wasn’t enough, we decided to move to a new house amidst a global pandemic as well as look after the office pooch (a rescue dog from Romania), so it’s all happening.

Meanwhile, winter has suddenly drawn in with a cold spell – the clear, starry night skies and moonlit mornings are pleasant enough but signal the arrival of sub-zero temperatures, hot water bottles and cranking up the thermostat…and therein lies the problem. Of course, given our latitude we are bound to have cold winters, but for how long?

Climate change is an ever present threat and its impacts are already noticeable – hotter, drier summers and milder, wetter winters are already par for the course (remember February 2019? I was sat outside a pub near Leeds with friends…yes, we really did used to do that…in shorts and a t-shirt!). This sounds quite nice; hotter, drier summers could be a welcome boon for our seaside resorts as staycations become the norm and as for not shivering throughout the long dark nights of winter, what is not to like about that?

One of the worries, of which there are many, is that if this is happening here, in our temperate climate of warm summers, cool winters and generally wet all year round, i.e., not extreme and something comforting and predictable about our unpredictable weather (if it is not raining now, it will be soon), what is happening elsewhere? As mentioned, the climate in the UK is not extreme, temperatures gradually increase over summer and decrease in winter, the odd hot and cold spell here and there, sometimes a big storm or two a year but usually just steady, reliable year-long rain with the odd week-long dry spell…if we are lucky. A change to this climate is not a huge problem, but still noticeable – we are having more extreme storms, not just during summer but outside of this period too, when the land is more saturated and evaporation rates are lower, leading to widespread flooding on a more regular basis.

What is happening elsewhere then? Outside of our relatively stable temperate zone the tropics and the poles are facing a very different proposition; the level of sea ice is reducing at an alarming rate with some models suggesting within the next decade the Arctic might not have any sea ice over the summer, having a devastating impact on wildlife but on our species too. Indeed at the poles temperatures are rising at more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet and as that ice melts, sea levels rise causing flooding and increased risk from storm surges, the salinity of the oceans themselves become unbalanced and impact on circulation patterns (watch Day after Tomorrow for a dramatic, fast-forwarded but ultimately accurate portrayal of what could happen) and ecosystems from the apex predators to coral reefs get damaged and die, leading to further coastal erosion.

As for the tropics, well, they’re expanding. Sounds ok, warm tropical weather, sun all year round, lovely. The issue is the edge of these tropics where arid, parched lands lay; desertification is spreading. You only have to look down on Spain to see how arid it is, especially in the south. With fewer plants able to survive and dry seasons lasting longer, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases and flooding increases as there is reduced interception from these plant and tree species.

So, a slightly milder winter in the UK is just the tip of the iceberg (whilst we still have icebergs), it is part of a much bigger and extreme picture. On the flip side, actions we take here will have a big impact globally too. This is obvious; at the poles the air is clearer as there are few humans there whilst in the tropics there are large swathes that are uninhabited (as well as a whacking great ocean acting a carbon sink, for now). Ironically then it is the areas where no or fewer humans are present that are suffering the most, because of what has been happening in the rest of the world; industrialisation, a greedier and growing population demanding more and more etc. so if anything, it is our duty, our moral and ethical obligation to protect these areas – save the poles and the tropics, save the world (well, save ourselves, the world will carry on very merrily without us).

Thankfully, things are changing for the better and the general awareness of climate change has never been higher. Being aware is the start, the more people that are aware and the more that we all understand, the better. The next step is talking, of which we are all doing; the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget with the headline recommendation of cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 alone is significant, especially when considering under the original Climate Change Agreement the target was an 80% reduction by 2050, now of course it is net zero by 2050. This comes just days after the UK Government’s Ten Point Plan to tackle climate change.

Of course, words and targets are meaningless if we do nothing about them; the budgets and the plans will do nothing sitting there on paper, it is the final step, actions, where the ultimate difference will be made. These actions range from popping that piece of plastic into the recycling bin and not the rubbish bin all the way up to smart cities and innovative technologies. There is a lot in the middle too;

  • Increasing renewable electricity generation – such as solar panels and wind turbines
  • Decarbonising heating systems – including air or ground source heat pumps and green hydrogen
  • Making active transport and public transport safer and more affordable
  • Re-wilding our cities and restoring woodlands, planting millions and millions of trees
  • Investing more in carbon capture and storage
  • Making buildings more energy efficient

This last point neatly brings us on to something that is a bit more tangible for us all. Improving insulation levels in your walls, roof, floor and windows as well as reducing draughts is key; you have to get the building as primed as possible before the next step of improving efficiency of heating systems, lighting, ventilation, air conditioning, catering equipment, office equipment, hot water services and all the auxiliaries – pumps, motors, fans, even humble hand dryers can all be improved. Finally, it is about offsetting what you cannot avoid with renewable technologies and getting your building or buildings to net zero.

Sounds so easy when it is laid out like that, but it can appear daunting where to start, especially if time and resources and tight – but there is plenty of support available out there. After all, that is our expertise, our moral obligation, our duty.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 10, 2020

So, a slightly milder winter in the UK is just the tip of the iceberg (whilst we still have icebergs), it is part of a much bigger and extreme picture. 

Well said, James!

James Kirkwood's picture
Thank James for the Post!
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