Christopher Rootes

The greatest obstacle to a low-carbon transition is the extent to which carbon-intensive lifestyles have become institutionalised. The scale of the changes in behaviour that are required of individual consumers is huge, but the changes that individuals can make, without considerable personal inconvenience, are, in the absence of institutional change, modest. Imploring individuals to ‘do the right (green) thing’ is, accordingly, insufficient and as likely to annoy as to inspire. Worse, the individuals of whom change is demanded are (mostly) citizens, and governments reasonably fear that they will be punished electorally for imposing changes in behaviour upon consumers, whether directly or via taxation. Citizen initiatives that demonstrate what some citizens are willing to do are required to embolden timid governments, but government initiatives are required to support and encourage such citizen initiatives and to give them more than marginal exemplary impact.

Institutional change requires government action to provide or encourage the provision of infrastructure that itself minimizes carbon intensity and that facilitates low-carbon behaviour. The design and siting of buildings of all kinds to minimise their carbon-intensity should have highest priority because so much flows from it, including the economic provision of frequent, fast and reliable public transport. Strict building codes and better urban planning are essential but, because most of the buildings we will use in 2050 are already built, ambitious initiatives will be required to encourage the adaptation of existing buildings and to provide transport and communications infrastructure to serve them. A progressive and rapid switch to the use of renewable sources for the generation of electricity is essential, but without more profound institutional changes in the built environment it will not suffice.

Christopher Rootes, Professor of Environmental Politics University of Kent

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One response to “Christopher Rootes

  1. Graham Palmer

    Prof. Rootes has hit the nail on the head. Governments are too preoccupied with the next election to do anything and individuals are not prepared to be the first to sacrifice any of the good life they regard as their God given right.
    It is also true that the vast majority of the buildings we will be living in in 2050 have already been built and worse that there is a total lack of commitment or incentives to build environmentally appropriate new buildings.
    I would have hoped that a Au$5.238 billion ‘Nation Building Economic Stimulus Package’ which will see approximately 20,000 new homes for disadvantaged people built by 2011 would take advantage of an opportunity to ensure they were energy efficient. While they are supposed to be 5 Star energy rated, there is little evidence that they meet anywhere near that standard.
    Private housing being built in Australia still produces over sized homes, known locally as “MacMansions”, that offer twice as many bedrooms as occupants and often as many bathrooms. There is little or no consideration of passive heating or cooling since Australians prefer to rely on inefficient air-conditioning. Gone are the days of verandahs or wide eaves, instead houses are crammed on small lots with minimal setbacks between each property ensuring that each house absorbs and reflects heat upon one another
    We are being told we are getting close to ‘tipping points’ and for the need for urgent action. Instead, I observe the public at least here in Australia, rushing out to grab their share of the spoils as if they were aware that the economic system in which they live was in its death throes but subliminally they prefer to ignore what is patently required to avoid its demise.

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