Time to manage our households

Oliver Neve, a management consultant specialising in sustainable strategy within the built environment at Ramboll, who recently advised the European Union on climate adaptation within the built environment, discusses how we should respond to the climate change crisis.

We are seeing record temperatures globally and devastation with wildfires in Greece this summer.  There has been tragic loss of life and the crisis will leave a huge negative impact on the Greek economy. It is noteworthy that the word "economy" comes from the Greek words "oikos" and "nemein", which mean "household" and "to manage," respectively. In other words, an economy is the way we manage our household and, within the context of climate change, will affect our planet.

The climate crisis is a major threat to our households. As the planet warms, we are seeing more extreme weather events, such as wildfires, floods, and droughts, that are affecting the world including us here, right now, in the UK. These events are causing widespread damage to property and infrastructure, and they are also disrupting our economy.

The wildfires in Greece are a recent example of the economic costs of climate change. The fires have destroyed homes, businesses, and crops, and they have forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes. The Greek government has estimated that the cost of the fires will reach billions of euros.

So how can UK households contribute to the fight against climate change?

Avoid making the problem worse.

Firstly, we must avoid making the problem worse; with climate change this means reducing our carbon emissions. There are plenty of ways households can reduce their carbon impact, but one that is not often discussed is the use of air conditioning during heatwaves. In June this year the National Grid turned on standby coal-powered plants to respond to the increase in energy demand from air conditioning . To avoid the UK becoming a nation of chilled rooms with air conditioning units bolted onto properties we need to lean into more passive measures to reduce our energy demand and keep ourselves cool.

These solutions aren’t rocket science, but households are within their power to make simple changes and the limiting factor is typically cultural rather than a practical one. As an example, take the climate in Lille is almost identical to that of London. In Lille there is widespread use of external shutters to protect against the heat gains of the summer sun. These can be discreet mechanical roller shutters mounted under the window eaves or traditional folding shutters on the façade. By comparison, external shading is almost non-existent on housing stock within London.

Bringing more vegetation into our lives.

Another method to reduce temperatures during a heatwave is to bring a bit more vegetation into our lives. It is frustrating to see that many driveways across the UK have been completely paved over. This compounds the urban heat island effect as well as increasing surface water run-off which leads to flooding. Moreover, in recent years we have seen growing awareness around greenhouse gas reduction, but we are yet to see the same level of awareness for biodiversity. Simple solutions such as re-wilding our front drives becomes a win-win against climate change and biodiversity loss as well as improving well-being.

Insulation is not just for winter.

Insulation is another good example of not only reducing our energy demand for heating in winter, but also keeping the heat out on days where the external temperature is higher than the internal temperature. Again, these solutions are simple and cost-effective, rather than specialist knowledge.

We are seeing extremes in climate that are occurring with greater incidence which has arguably caught people off guard. Only in May of this year did the World Meteorological Organization predict that “there is a 66% likelihood that the annual average near-surface global temperature between 2023 and 2027 will be more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year”. It warned of the wide-reaching ramifications for health, food security, water management and the environment, and the urgent need to be prepared.

To borrow from the world of fitness, we need to tackle prehab for buildings rather than rehab after the injury occurs. We need to be proactive in our approach rather than reactive otherwise the cost will be far too great a strain for our households or economy to take, especially for those with fragile health. The tragedy in Greece is yet another a stark climate reminder for us that we need to manage our households and our economy sustainably.

If you would like to contact Sarah Walker about this, or any other story, please email sarah@infrastructure-intelligence.com.