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A Liberal Environmental Policy

October 25, 2019 4:56 PM

A liberal environmental policy

Some thoughts by Dr John Twidell

Our present life style is the cause of climate change and ecological disruption. The impending dangers are known and considered unacceptable by the UN, the EU and the UK. The good news is that mitigation by adapting our local and national lifestyle brings economic opportunity of more jobs, greater efficiency and application of modern technology. The key to mitigation is to blend ourselves with the natural environment, as is done with renewable energy and plant-derived materials. Consider some examples.

Keep fossil fuels underground.

Mining and thencombusting coal, oil/petroleum and fossil-gas (so called 'natural' gas) adds excessive carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Alternatives with renewable energy are proven and commercially available.

Examples available now are: utilities supplying electricity and biogas; electric vehicles, trains and, recently, planes; passive-solar housing; ground and air-sourced heat pumps.

Coal-generated electricity has all but disappeared from the UK as wind and solar generation has rapidly risen as the cheapest options to now approaching 50% of UK electricity supply; the path to 100% is assured with increased efficiency of use, more wind power, especially off-shore, more solar and widespread use of battery storage. Pressing ahead with 100% UK renewables electricity can bring many thousands of new UK jobs in manufacture, deployment and operation.

Improve and adapt building design

In the UK we immediately appreciate southward-facing rooms for warmth and cheerfulness. So why do we continue with new housing ignoring such orientation? Passive-solar buildings are variously orientated south-west to south-east, so allowing stimulating building-estate layouts. Windows need to be triple glazed with argon filling; walls need external insulation at least 150mm thick. Rainwater collection should be the norm, as certainly used for toilet flushing, washing machines, car wasting, and garden irrigation.

Building regulations and 100% inspections must stipulate such criteria for new housing, offices and building adaptations. Energy conservation is a legal requirement now for buildings, but the criteria are far from sufficient as compared with best demonstrated practice.

We all should benefit from warm housing and work places at reduced operational cost. Yes, capital costs may increase by 10% to 15%, so interest-free grants are needed as repaid by later savings.

Another aspect is that buildings usurp the natural environment, so can buildings integrate better ecologically? Responses include discrete and shaded external lighting, grass roofs, shrub and tree planted walls, nesting boxes and overhangs (e.g. for house martins), roof slots for swifts, bat lofts, enclosed vermin-proof composters. The bigger the garden and road verges, the more the opportunity for natural ecology to be safeguarded and enjoyed.

Clean road transport

It is intolerable that diesel and petrol vehicles emit health-preventing and climate-changing emissions. Alternatives are known and in production, but polluting vehicles are still allowed in streets and near schools. Cycling (with separated safe cycle tracks) and electric vehicles must become the norm, including lorries also fuelled by non-fossil derived hydrogen. Only vigorous legislation within an overall delivery plan can progress this policy, again with considerable manufacturing and employment opportunity.

Environment and agriculture

More trees to absorb excessive atmospheric carbon dioxide is an obvious requirement, as stimulated by local authority planning and estate management. Diets need to become more vegetarian, since edible plants are one-stop carbon dioxide absorbers. Meat requires a two-step process from plant crops for animal feed, animal growth, then human food; the animal for food path requires significantly more use of otherwise natural land. Ruminant animals, e.g. cattle, sheep, goats, also emit methane which is a significant climate change gas on a global scale.

Agricultural land and animal products in the UK are dominated by 'industrial farming', i.e. farming using herbicides, insecticides, artificial fertilizers, intensive housing and much fossil fuelled machinery. This mostly depends now on fossil fuels and combating natural predators and plants. The overall effect in the UK has caused huge loss of woodland and a sever reduction of natural ecology generally.