By Amita Bhakta (Loughborough University) and Jenny Pickerill (University of Sheffield)
At the end of November 2015 Paris will be host to COP21 where leaders gather yet again to debate and discuss ways forward to tackle the multitude of climate challenges we face. COP21, or the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, will seek to find a renewed international agreement to limiting global warming to below a 2oC rise. The Guardian this week emphasised that despite the efforts being made by 140 nations around the world to reduce emissions, average temperatures are likely to rise to 2.7oC and lead to rising sea levels, floods, drought, and the extinction of species.
In response to such challenges, communities with eco-friendly housing, low running costs and shared facilities are being built across the world. These homes seek to minimise waste and use of resources, whilst promoting the use of renewable energy. Such eco-communities are part of a grassroots movement bringing people of diverse backgrounds together to live low impact lifestyles.
But at the same time with a continually ageing population, we must also consider our future selves, and how our needs will shift alongside these environmental challenges. Inaccessibility for disabled people has long been discussed as an endemic issue which typifies the British housing stock (see, for instance Imrie 2006, Hemingway, 2011).
Yet, what remains clear is that whilst eco-housing is being built as a part of the responses to environmental challenges, it is not being developed to be inclusive of all needs and abilities. In our recent article in The Geographical Journal (Bhakta and Pickerill 2015) we discuss how despite a growing recognition of the necessity to build for diverse abilities, with a need to understand the complexity of disability and the consequences of this for engaging with the built environment, eco-communities have failed to provide physical accessibility for disabled people. Such failure has arisen from not just barriers to implementing accessible features in homes (such as high perceived costs, changes in regulations over time and a notable prioritisation of being ecological over being accessible), but also the ignorance of bodily differences, manifested through barriers in both eco-homes and their surrounding community environments. As such, lessons from the past on inaccessibility in British housing have not been drawn upon in new eco-house construction.
Our paper uses the example of eco-communities to illustrate that disabled people are in effect excluded physically and socially from ecological lifestyles and practices. And so, begs the question: is inclusivity on the agenda at the COP21 summit? Where does disability ‘fit’ in sustainable practice more broadly? Through bringing attention back to the (disabled) body, our article provides a reminder that whilst we strive to mitigate the effects of climate change we still remain part of the future. In seeking to make space for differences such as disability, in a future older population, our research highlights the need to consider how to not only sustain our planet, but also to sustain our individual selves and bodies as well.
About the authors:
Amita Bhakta is a PhD candidate within the Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) at Loughborough University. Jenny Pickerill is Professor of Environmental Geography at the University of Sheffield.
Bhakta, A. and Pickerill, J. (2015), Making space for disability in eco-homes and eco-communities. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12157