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Zealots are the last people you should rely on in an emergency

Paul Finch
  • 22 Comments

The embarrassing spasms of the Extinction Rebellion brigade are a reminder that zealots are the last people you should rely on when what you need is analysis, diagnosis and prognosis, writes Paul Finch

Sir David King, former government chief scientist, has forgotten more about climate change and its implications than most of us know. It was therefore encouraging to hear his cogent propositions about mitigation, rather than pretending that the UK can make any serious difference to global warming in addition to what we are already committed to doing.

The embarrassing spasms of the Extinction Rebellion brigade, determined to hate anything British, rather than focusing on countries making the big differences (China and India), are a reminder that zealots are the last people you should rely on when what you need is analysis, diagnosis and prognosis. 

What Sir David’s unit at Cambridge University is proposing is positive mitigation, given the apparent inevitability of global temperature rises in the coming decades. To an extent, we are already in the mitigation game, with our flood defence programme and the (to me, suspect) decision to abandon large chunks of the east coast to sea erosion. No doubt we will eventually get around to building a second Thames flood barrier.

This is accepting of what is coming our way; Sir David is talking about reversing it. Hence the ideas that have generated huge publicity, including spraying salt water into the atmosphere to create a sun filter, leading to the re-freezing of melting ice caps at the Arctic and Antarctic. These sorts of ideas tend to be dismissed by gloom-and-doom merchants, who want us all to suffer by making us eat insects and banning us from flying (obviously exempting arch-phoney Emma Thompson). 

But why not exercise human ingenuity? We have already discovered a way of generating non-carbon-generating energy, but the same hair-shirt gang hate nuclear power, too. They prefer chaos in the whole of central London rather than going over to France and complaining about all those nuclear facilities on which we depend for our energy in times of shortage. 

I am sceptical about the nostrums now being proposed by people of a Puritan disposition

This is probably because they know the French police would be rather more robust, to put it mildly, than the hapless Met and its even more hapless political leadership.

But action is required. King gave an alarming talk at an AJ conference in the 1990s about global temperature increases and the strong evidential relationship to man-made activity. Ever since, I have been all in favour of precautionary policies in respect of carbon generation. However, I am sceptical about many of the nostrums now being proposed by people of a Puritan disposition, who want to take us back to a command-and-control economy complete with ration books for food, travel, and direct energy consumption.

All this is a big architectural issue, partly because of the importance of buildings and construction in respect of carbon generation, but more importantly because our future actions need a synthesis of different approaches – dealing, for example, with both dearth and glut of water and with increasing demand for energy (all those laptops, pilot lights, etc). 

Architects should be joining with engineers and scientists in collaborative initiatives looking at the environment in the round.

  • 22 Comments

Readers' comments (22)

  • Paul Finch misses the point. He is only writing about climate change because of Extinction Rebillion. They've put it on his radar. What they did was intelligent, creative and unprecedented. He should thank them.

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  • Sorry Paul, but having been into construction since before 1969, and having experienced actual practical climate change in London since the early 1950's; I have to agree with Robert Sakula.

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  • A good, commonsense article that is a welcome change from the propaganda spewed out by the hysterical, humourless and hyperbolic extinction brigade.
    Why should the construction industry bear the burden of reducing our heat output?
    Why not mandate the clothing industry to increase the R-value of their products?
    Legislation could then be implemented to decrease the allowable inside temperature of dwellings by at least two degrees, thereby saving more energy than any quick fix the building industry could soon devise.

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  • Industry Professional

    Paul your use of statistics is simplistic and misleading - you used the total emissions of a country rather than the per person emissions.

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  • Total emissions are what cause the damage.

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  • Speaking as one of the zealots Paul Finch is so embarrassed by, I have to agree with the first comment, he is certainly missing the point. I think he agrees that human activity has brought us to this crisis point and continues to deepen the crisis with every day that we continue with the same way of life. What he seems to be saying is that we should carry on with the same activities that have brought us here and simply find ways to mitigate the affects of our disastrous inability to change. Isn't this not like saying, if we've got a headache from bashing ourselves over the head we just need to find increasingly strong painkillers while continuing to bash ourselves over the head!
    I understand that people like Paul Finch desperately want to cling to the life styles that have brought us to the brink but if we can open our minds to new possibilities we may find that a low carbon, more sustainable world may actually also be a more pleasant place to live.

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  • The zealots were surely mostly on the right track, but Emma Thompson's little excursion was not helpful and gluing themselves to a DLR electric train at Canary Wharf at a time when Britain had gone a week without coal-fired power for the first time since the industrial revolution was really rather daft Shooting themselves in the foot.

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  • What a Pompous idiot.

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  • Architects, engineers and scientists can only implement what legislation compels them to. As architects we are not only bound by legislation but we are at the whim of developers. And as many will testify, they will often only put money to things that are essential. Speaking as an architect based in Scotland the regulations with regards to energy is failing massively. Too much of a focus is placed on reducing the in use carbon footprint of a building with little concern about the embodied energy our buildings produce over its lifespan. It would be interesting to do a study of a traditional pre 1919 tenement block, charting the embodied energy consumption of the building during its lifetime (100 years +). Compared to a new build volume house builder effort with KW's of eco bling tagged to its roof and vast amounts of foam insulation packed between its studs, wrapped tightly in plastic. What happens to all of these building materials in 50 years or so when the building is to be demolished? The cells used in solar panels cannot be safely disposed of. The foam in the insulation cannot be recycled safely... The list goes on. The governments regulations are continually playing catch up. As a result some really important factors are being overlooked in favour of a very superficial understanding of what it is to design and build sustainably. I'm not suggesting for one minute we go back to traditional masonry construction and banish contemporary technologies. Quite the opposite. I am suggesting we, as architects and designers, take responsibility by suggesting alternative materials and forms of construction in a bid to reduce our impact on the environment as a people. Progress was made when we discovered methods of retaining heat within buildings. That progress has been negated by a fundamental misunderstanding of building physics in recent years leading to very poor internal environments in favour of reducing energy consumption.

    Until the government have a serious re-think on how to build sustainably we will continue to wrap our houses in plastic and stack cells on top of our roofs whilst slowly suffocating on our own carbon dioxide.

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  • Paul Finch is an out-dated dinosaur whose opinions, (including those on womens' representation on design panels), belong in another era. This isn't an article, it is a one-sided rant that belongs in a comments section.

    He completely misses the point of Extinction Rebellions actions, which were to raise awareness. They have no doubt achieved that goal. Now it is for professionals in their respective fields, lead by solid Government policy, to tackle the issues in a pragmatic and scientific manner.

    P.S. We already have an efficient means of carbon capture - They are commonly referred to as trees!

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  • could we have some references or any kind of indication that Paul knows anything about climate change? (for starters I would suggest you go and look up the definitions of mitigation and adaptation). If teh whoel world needs to be zero carbon by 2050 then why should the worlds largest economy plan to be slower than that? This feels a lot like the "pull up the ladder behind me" kind of brigade to me

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  • This article has so many untruths that I really think it is worthy of being investigated for being "envelope journalism"

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  • Pseudonymous responses, as usual, tend to be ruder than those from people not ashamed or embarrassed to tell us who they are. Just for the record, 'Recently Qualified', I am all in favour of women on design (review) panels. Forty per cent of our 140 judges at World Architecture Festival are women and no doubt that figure will rise to 50 as the proportion of women in the profession increases.

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  • Hang on we’ve got to get on with primary emission reductions urgently ... didn’t the ER efforts at least in part lead to the announcement of an emergency by UK Gov...?... we all surely know that we need to do all we can to reduce emissions across the 10 key carbon scores of recreation (largest per person at 1.95t year) heating (every extra 0c in the thermostat = 25kg extra a year per ) person, food (do you drive to the supermarket!) household fridge, hygiene (shower instead of bath etc) clothing has been mentioned, commuting, aviation fastest growing, education, phones

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  • I wonder how often those climate change protestors have flown in the past five years? How many children do they have? Both of these are major contributions to climate change.

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  • Timber and/or CLT construction is the way forward from a embodied carbon perspective as these materials sequester carbon as opposed to create it.

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  • The mitigation argument which I have heard so often in science/tech. gagged first world locations, is unjust, as it allows the poor and underdeveloped locations to suffer (even more). Consumption (high per capita carbon output including overseas activities) must lead, which means Britain, US, also Europe.
    So many feel extinction have done us a service. Along with Attenborough, we are (mostly), better informed. Someone mentioned lately to me that she doesn't buy coats, a little overweight, says she drives everywhere so what is the point?! For some reason now, huge numbers of our population seem to have chosen to drive tanks? Ignorance is shocking and it was time for this.

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  • Ecologic

    It is always good to hear all sides of the argument but it hasn’t changed my mind! India and China are always brought up but their per capita energy consumption is much lower than that of the ‘Western countries’. In both countries, population is stablising so their total energy consumption will be down soon. China is also building eco-cities as are countries in the Middle east (err, where are the eco-cities in the UK?) People living in rich countries will continue as they are but as they are ageing populations, their energy consumption will peter off. One must remember that it was the Industrial Revolution that triggered off all the carbon now in the atmosphere. As someone with links with Cambridge University, I keep hearing about these Heath Robinson approaches to mitigate Climate Change and they do bring a smile to my face in the seriousness of the situation. The simple way to stop climate change is to live a simple life but that won’t work in here or anywhere- we all want ‘progress’ and technology! Well done to Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg who have been able to get wide spread support and publicity through simple but powerful actions, and with very little support and time. Sounds very Gandhi to me.

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  • Industry Professional

    Lots of discussion and anger on both sides!
    I agree with the need to try to live a simpler life. I last flew in a plane in late 2006(!). Unfortunately, some of my colleagues have no choice since they have close relatives in Sri Lanka.
    However, it is easier for expanding economies with a reasonable amount of spare land to build eco-cities than it is in the crowded and well-established UK. Personally, I think we (the UK) should concentrate on the investment of installing better insulation in our crazily-valued houses. It would reduce our demand for energy and reduce our production of carbon dioxide.
    PS I am English civil engineer adding this via the IHS system so I will probably come up as an unnamed professional.

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  • How fun that there is anger on this. What did happen to the eco-towns after government changed? What is happening with the garden villages? I think the answer is not much. Scaling the issue is important, insulating old buildings like retrofitting old towns can be problematic, but still important.

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