2010 wasn’t a good year for the green movement. It was the year that saw the Gulf oil spill, failure in Cancun and coverage of climate change dropping to a five year low. One of the glimpses of hope last year came from the Labour Party. It, being the main reason I worked through the summer on Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, was his unrivalled commitment to environmental issues stating our that generation will be defined “as either the first generation who got climate change or the last generation that didn’t.” Now, with climate change lower down on the electorate’s priorities, how can Ed Miliband stick to his word – committing to the environment yet get the general public on side?
Although climate change might not be a priority for that many, the housing crisis certainly is. With 4.5 million people on the waiting list and an extra 1.25 million expected to join them, it is central to many more peoples lives and the need to address it is not in dispute. With the government passing responsibility of housing to local authorities, many believe it will result in fewer houses being built. Labour need to tackle the coalition on this but whilst doing so provide an alternative, an environmental alternative.
When John Healey was housing minister, he wrote on LabourList about Labour’s commitment to build 10 eco town sites by 2020. As he said, more than a quarter of our carbon emissions come from housing so the scope to reduce it is huge, but building zero carbon houses is not an easy solution. Schemes of this sort have existed in the UK since 2002 with BedZED (Beddington Zero Energy Development) in Sutton. As Heather Rogers discovered in her book ‘Green Gone Wrong’, there were many problems with the development – the power station didn’t work so they switched back to the grid like every other household and the technology needed to maintain the project was too rare in the UK. This does not mean future schemes cannot work – BedZED has still reduced Sutton’s emissions greatly and in 2010 saved Sutton Council £227,000. So we must learn from what failed in Sutton by attracting the technology and investment.
One scheme in the German town of Vauban has been a roaring success since its creation and the reason behind its failure to spread through the rest of Germany yet is attributed to lack of political will rather than the cost.
This raises a crucial point in this argument. Building zero carbon homes such as those in Vauban are affordable and they’re available to any of the 4.5 million people on the waiting list who desperately need them. Through this, we can demonstrate how tackling climate change can help the lives of people in this country. This is an argument Labour needs to make on behalf of those people. Its not ideological, its common sense.