A zero-carbon life close to home: is a technological fix enough?

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University

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Paris 2015 #COP21. Photo Credit: Ron Mader

If you have seen a television news report or read a paper in the past week, you will have likely been reminded of the significant COP21 meeting which was held in Paris. The Guardian hailed the COP21 agreement to limit global temperatures to a 2oC rise as ‘the world’s greatest diplomatic success’, as leaders came together to negotiate a way forward to deal with the vast and complex challenges brought on by climate change, representing each of their nations as a whole.

But, whilst our nations are represented on this significant global stage, what does this mean for you, me and each individual of each of these countries?

One way to assess the potentially relevance of the Paris Agreement to us as individuals, is to quite literally look closer to home. Walker et al (2015), in their Transactions article, outline one of the fundamental challenges which could hamper these efforts to reduce emissions: the belief that being zero-carbon in places such as the home is reliant predominantly on technology which can ‘do the job’, and that the social element of being, of living in the home has little relevance.

COP21 brings with it a mandate for changes which will affect humanity, along with the broader changes which are intended to be positive for the environment. Yet, to what extent will each of these nations be investing in ‘green’ infrastructure such as homes and commercial buildings, and what role will the users of this infrastructure have to play? You could look at it in the simple sense that an individual cannot get a machine to work unless they know its functions, and how they operate, and the same principles apply to zero-carbon homes.

The agreement this week should provide a reminder that each of us will have a role to play in meeting these targets, and that a change in technology also needs a change in our behaviour. As policies are written, however, it is important to remember that our everyday practices within the home from using less water, turning off lights and swapping the central heating for a jumper will be just as important as the solar panels on our roofs, if we are to progress towards a zero carbon future. And so begs the bigger question: will COP21 be seen as the wakeup call for us to change our living practices to curb the effects of climate change?

60-world2 Harvey F 2015 Paris climate change agreement: the world’s greatest diplomatic success The Guardian

books_icon Walker, G., Karvonen, A. and Guy, S. (2015), Zero carbon homes and zero carbon living: sociomaterial interdependencies in carbon governance. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 494–506. doi: 10.1111/tran.12090

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