Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 13:19 UK

Time to leave the comfort zone

Sir John Sorrell (Image: John Swannell)
Sir John Sorrell

There are precious few examples of cities that are attempting to reduce energy and resource consumption and improve the quality of life for their citizens, says Sir John Sorrell. But nothing is going to happen, he argues, until politicians accept that they have a mandate to make the tough choices needed.

Congestion charge sign (Image: AP)
Future-proofing a city means creating the markets for green businesses and green technologies, and designing the space and facilities to support them

Some people think that cutting carbon means denying ourselves the things that make life enjoyable - no shopping, no fun - but I see it differently.

Tackling climate change isn't about self-denial, it's about reinvention; reinventing towns and cities, redesigning the way they work, and changing the way we all manage our lives.

As the government's design champion, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) reviews proposals for 350 of the most significant new buildings and spaces every year.

Out of all those homes, schools and health centres, we have only seen a handful with any serious ambition for sustainability.

Things may be changing, but far too slowly, which is why we are organising a climate change festival with Birmingham City Council, which is being held in the city from 31 May.

It gives us nine days to show we can do something positive and surprising together about climate change, centred on the way we build and use our cities.

Living the dream

We are not just asking people to see their city through new eyes; we are asking them to dare to dream about the kind of place that could be created over the next 10 years through cutting carbon.

Electricity pylon (Image: PA)
Cities import energy while natural sources are ignored, says Sir John

Which begs the question: how can you tell if you live in a sustainable city?

It currently costs a place like Birmingham, England's second largest city, up to £1bn a year to import its energy, yet only a tiny proportion of it is green.

The trick is to harness and capture the energy that is already there from the Sun, ground and air, and create decentralised energy distribution systems.

This is a lost art; the Royal Festival Hall was extracting energy from the River Thames to heat its building 50 years ago.

Buildings must change. For me, the glass tower of the Seagram Building in New York defines the time when energy was plentiful.

You effectively designed rows of desks in a sauna, and then simply added air conditioning.

Most of the buildings around us today will still be standing for decades to come, so it's their energy performance that must change.

Keeping an even temperature inside any building means serious insulation. Homes in an average large city produce more than two million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year. This is because the vast majority of older houses leak heat.

So if I were to suggest three tests for a sustainable city, this would be my first: are there grants or local tax incentives available to help people green their homes?

Car-free life

The second thing is about how we live our lives, not just how we live in our homes.

A "flying tram" at a show in Australia (Image: AP)
Getting people to abandon their cars for public transport? Trams might fly...

Our carbon footprints reflect how we get to work, how we shop, where our friends are.

It is interesting that the biggest carbon savings at BedZed, the UK's veteran eco-housing development, have been made as a result of establishing a car sharing scheme.

Cutting private car use generally means civic leaders being prepared to risk a few brave decisions.

For example, when a new suburb was built in the German city of Freiburg, they ran a tram service from the moment the first resident moved in.

This meant empty trams at first, but now nearly half of its residents are car free. Not so foolish after all.

So my second test for a sustainable city is whether you have a genuine transport choice.

Is it just as cheap and convenient to go by bus, tram and local train as it is by car?

Until it is, heavy traffic will continue to put most people off walking and cycling, which are the personal transport options that score best for fitness and protecting the planet.

Greening the city

My third test is about greenery. Are a lot more big trees being planted; are acres of new allotments coming on stream; are parks being properly maintained?

Flowers on a window ledge (Image: BBC)
Plants can improve quality of life in the urban jungle

Greenery is critical to counterbalance the "urban heat island" effect from hotter, drier summers, when night-time temperatures remain high because of heat retained by brick and tarmac.

Plants only cool the air if they stay green, which means capturing heavy winter downpours instead of letting them just flood the drains.

Storage can be cunningly disguised as beautiful water features.

And greening a place properly includes the roofs. In the northern English city of Sheffield, even bus shelters now sport green roofs to filter pollution.

There will be something else common to all truly sustainable towns and cities: they will be more prosperous than unsustainable ones.

This is because carbon emissions are only one sign of the inefficient way in which natural resources are being used.

As all these resources dwindle, economic pressure is growing to use them more wisely.

Future-proofing a city means creating the markets for green businesses and green technologies, and designing the space and facilities to support them.

In a well-designed, sustainable city, most residents believe their future and their progress are linked to its future.

If you are on a low income, you may have little choice about where you live.

So with fuel prices soaring, you want to live somewhere served by affordable public transport. You want your local authority to help with home insulation, and invest in local green energy which will protect you from perennial price hikes.

Whether you are looking at London leading on congestion charging, or San Francisco leading on solar power (with a system the size of a football field on top of its convention centre), it is clear that strong civic leadership matters most of all.

We need that kind of vision, backed by serious investment, when it comes to planning and managing the towns and cities of tomorrow.

Why isn't it happening everywhere? Because politicians don't seem to know that they have a public mandate to make tough decisions.

We want the climate change festival to show them that they do have that mandate, and give them the confidence to do the right thing.

Sir John Sorrell is chairman of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the government's design champion

The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Sir John Sorrell? Is progress towards greening our cities far too slow? Do politicians need to realise that they have been elected to make tough choices? Or are the costs of changing the urban landscape too high?

I completely agree with this article. I would add, that the 'greening' of our cities would make them so much more pleasant to live in as well as saving energy and money. But it does take people with vision, human history is resplendent with visionaries, we now need one for the eco-age.
Chris, Leeds

Of course he is correct. Anyone with a brain can see that. We are facing a crisis. With high food prices and shortages, expensive bills and rent yet low wages, long working days and commutes, pollution, energy shortages, high stress, the credit crunch. Those are just scratching the surface, but all of them are related to our destruction of the environment and moving further away from sustainable lifestyles, making us dependent upon things that are not good for us in any way. We are part of the environment! So it is having a very real and frightening effect on us. I am very sick and tired of ignorant and hateful persons saying that "going green" will reduce the standards of people's lifestyles. What a load of rubbish! Please know what you are talking about before you speak. There is overwhelming proof to show that our quality of life has diminished greatly as a result of our energy intensive lifesyles. Our standards are about as low as they can be now! We "developed" countries rank with many third world countries on our quality of life. In fact many of them are faring better then we are in some areas. We have the highest stress, disease, obesity, no spare time, less time with our families and friends, are struggling to make ends meet, are slaves to our jobs, on and on. If you do the research, and see what is really possible by becoming sustainable and environmentally friendly (meaning PEOPLE friendly), it shows how it will improve the lifestyles of the EVERYDAY person. Our system now, caters to the elite only. As in, only if you can afford it, you get it. Otherwise, too bad for you.
Emily, Oxford

This is just yet another government-funded agency attempting to take over everyones' lives. That it's a governemnt agency means that you can't trust them. They were set up to do a job and they merely reflect the policies of the government that funds them.
Chris, Derby, Derby, UK

We do not have to wait for the politicians. We can make changes in our lifestyles and homes. We can drive less, waste less, be intelligent in our purchasing choices. Sometimes the People must lead the government!!
kat , Grand Rapids MI USA

We have been going on about climate change for a long time but there is little or nothing physical to show for it. We need radical and in some cases expensive action that may not be pleasing to many but fitting solar powered hot water systems to every new house is easy and adds no more than £1000 to every build. Retro fits cost only about £1500 so again not difficult and it cuts individual carbon emmissions drastically. Every town with a river could have a tidal barrage, again not difficult but its the investment in the future that the government and the power industry are not interested in. It is our children we should be building for, not us. And as to our children, we must under all circumstances discourage the runnaway growth of mankinds load on this poor planet so lets encorourage the world wide use of the vasectomy for every nation, creed, colour and religion.
Dave Tutt, Chatham Kent

"There is a divided opinion about whether man is responsible for current global warming." - Arvind Padmanabhan, Bangalore, India No, there is no 'divided opinion.' There is a concensus among all those who know what they're talking about that humanity is most definitely responsible for the changes we're seeing - and irresponsibly refusing to face up to it.
Colin Reynolds, Cambridge, UK

It seems to me that the issue here is about sustainability, quality of life and management of resources rather than the 'Global Warming' issue that a few people here seem to have such a problem with. If the planet was to warm, cool, become more prone to storms or whatever, maintenance of resources is still the key issue, and even more so if any of these conditions become extreme. Sustainability to me refers to the use of resources in a way that does not cause them to expire. Therefore, growing of bio-fuels, use of solar, wind, geothermal and bio-mass energies is a means to producing vast quantities of energy without the need of choking gasses or depleting fossil fuels reserves. Clearly it is more difficult to grow-your-own in a city than it is in the countryside, but the benefit of this is not just a global one it is a personal victory. Individuals can reduce living expenses and, more importantly at present, be unaffected by rising food, fuel and energy costs. In doing so you can stuff the tax hikes, government policies and restrictions and operate to your own set of objectives. From this communities that have a reason to share will grow and prosper, and that reason will be a higher standard of living at a lower cost to the individual.
Mark Burgess, Kent, UK

Good article containing many salient points. Hoever, what I find difficult to rationaliseis that, whenever a wind farm, or similar 'green' energy alternatives are proposed, the environmetalists immediately chirp up saying how the surrounding landscape will be destroyed and start lobbying for any action to be halted. What do these poeple want? Cheap renewable energy and a reduction in our carbon footprint? They are so quick to condemn what to most people are viable attempts to secure our energy future, yet offer no alternatives of their own, maybe apart from returning to living in trees/caves.
Colin, Bristol, UK

"FACT: The earth's temperature has not changed since 1998 so, why the fuss now?". "Cite your source please. I've seen the same garbage trotted out three times in these comments and, as the oceanographer mentioned, it has been debunked". See Nick G, Loughborough below. For a source try any of the recognised temperature data sets e.g HADCRUT3 as used by the met office, Perhaps you Nick should also do your own research. It is a "FACT" that there has been no global warming since 1998. You cannot "debunk" facts, although the IPCC try to.
Mike Owens, York

The city of Southampton has been running a combined Geothermal and CHP district energy system since 1986, which is how my flat is heated However I've heard very little about other cities taking up similar schemes.
Chris, Southampton

If its the public transport the government want us to us in a long run. Should they not first make them greener? In UK, if you reduce 10% carbon emission from each Stagecoach Bus, how much greener would it be just on the road? Also I agree some of the bus fare are rediculously high. The same journey from my home to city centre cost £1.30 while the same journey cost £6.00 if you take it from the bus route on the parapelle street. Why should I go on the bus?
Caz, UK

Fair enough public transport is expensive sometimes, I used to live in Shropshire and it cost less for two people to share a taxi to town than get an unnecessarily circuituous route on a bus for an extortionate fee, but in Edinburgh the buses are fine, because they are so widely used. expensive services will become cheaper as more people use them. Old country towns can't be made bus-friendly with their narrow cobbled streets etc, but they can be pedestrianised for hours of the day (retractable bollards anyone?) which would help. The story of the tram outside Freiburg is amazing and visionary, more action like this, which no doubt would be pilloried by the tabloid press over here (imagine the uproar of one household having a tram to themselves), would make a massive difference. Ultimately though, I guess my point is this, When I get on a bus and it carries me for miles for about a pound, I feel that I get a lot more for my money than when I hand over £2.60 for a pint of lager. Compared to the cost of road tax, insurance, petrol, and parking, never mind buying a car, I dont see how people can flatly refuse to try public transport. As for this talk of "rights", saying you have a right to pollute the earth as much as you like misses the point. When did Human Rights become about individuals, not humanity? I thought that rights were there to protect individuals from harm, not to enable anyone to do anything. When are people going to realise they are not *entitled* to do whatever they like? If you want to be beholden to no-one, go off somewhere and be on your own.
Ben Simmons, Edinburgh

Bottom line, unless we the electorate accept responsibility for the our actions and our own short term views when it comes to elections then there will never be a mandate to civic leaders to do what is important. The one unfortunate failing of democracy is that it is not conducive to long term planning because we the electorate demand results by the next time we vote. However, in some instances such as environmental policy we need to look over the long term, which may span several governments and unless we the people (pardon the pun) provide our leaders with the mandate to make such changes without being voted out of office because we have not even sought to understand the issue or simply want to stick the knife in, then we are as guilty as the politicians for the garbled mess that is our environmental policy. It's easy to blame others or the government, but it's another matter entirely to actually stand up and be counted and take responsibility for ones own actions and that! above all is the only way any real progress in this issue will be made.
Zee Oliver, Ashby de la Zouch, Leictershire

@Bubble from Croydon: If it's so certain that we need to save energy, why are there no grants available for solar or wind power installations? [There are, just not enough money as the fund has pretty much run dry] Why is there no legislation to ensure that all new builds and conversions (where possible) come with such 'greener' energy capabilities? [There is - under future building regulations all new homes will have to be zerocarbon by 2016] @ Kate from Angelsey: I totally agree. People complain that politicians aren't doing enough. The only reason why is because we live in a democracy and any government which started to utilise unpopular policies would be voted out of office. Look at the reaction to road pricing for example, which any researcher on transport planning will tell you is inevitable eventually. The trouble is that difficult choices have to be made and people will have to give up some of their cash and lifestyles to make it possible. Understandably people don't like that, so politicians simply represent the people and it won't happen until the tipping point occurs.
Jon, Bristol

No matter what is wrong and who is to blame. What are you going to do! Do something! Create a community garden-allotment, set up a local car share, grow food in pots on your window sill. Be positive, Volunteer, make a difference!
Chris, Gloucester

Very interesting article and the usual divide of comments. I still find it amusing that some humans still like to blame anything other than their own species for any damage done to the planet. The idea of greening is a good one. it seems that local councils like to spend money choppping the branches off every tree alongside roads. I've never worked this out... why have trees if you take off all the branches? If you need to prune them, then do one in three or so. I can't really see anything changing though - hopefully that means that humans will die out soon. they really are a disgusting species and deserve everything they get. Shame they insist on trying to take everything with them though.
laurence, SW London, UK

Unfortunately, at this point, these changes may well be like re-arranging furniture on the Titanic.
Marcy Brown, Washington, DC

Since I keep hearing people saying that there hasn't been any warming since 1998. It should be pointed out that 1998 was an El Niño year (warming effect in the pacific) and was at the time a new record high by a big margin, 2005 is now the record holder. 2007 matched 1998 with no El Niño effect and with the sun at low point in it's 10-11 year cycle. If you pick 1999 then you could say every year since has been hotter.
Michael W, Oakham, UK

in response to Bubble from Croyden, "If it's so certain that we need to save energy, why are there no grants available for solar or wind power installations?" - there are grants in place, you just have to apply for them. the problem is, the government makes no money from renewable energy - so why should they enforce it? money is more important than life for these idiots.
Chris Walton, Durham

There's a forth test: Are large businesses decentralised? Having a centralised meeting place, to which all staff must travel, demands huge use of energy and resources and is a major cause of congestion and pollution. Each town and city needs to have a business park with modern communications systems, thus enabling staff to be in touch with their colleagues regardless of their location.
David, Cheshire

Government, both local and national, could start by moving services back to the point of use. The hostpital in our town has closed, the one in the next town has been downgraded. For a simple checkup I now need to use three different busses and loose the best part of a days work, or drive. When my daughter was unemployed she had a 20 mile round trip to sign on involving 2 busses in each direction and passing through two other towns on the way.
Peter, Bucks

Greening the city also means engaging with the people, which means understanding them. London, isn't a lump of Londoners, it is a very close set of tightly packed villages and small towns, some which work, some don't! Engage with the villages and you start to bring the people on board, then you can make real change. Ignore the people and you end up wasting huge amounts of their money, achieve nothing and alienate the people you arrogantly claim to be working with !
Simon Mallett, UK Lenham

Had Mr. Brown kept his promised to burn all quangos; there would be more than enough money for house insulation and double glasing. I believe that current expenditure on quangos is over six billion a year.
joe blanco, london.

If it's so certain that we need to save energy, why are there no grants available for solar or wind power installations? Why is there no legislation to ensure that all new builds and conversions (where possible) come with such 'greener' energy capabilities? Why does the closest 'park and ride' scheme to me cost more than for me to drive to work? Why do new-build estates come with no amenities, forcing residents to drive their cars more than is necessary?
bubble, Croydon

I agree that we urgently need to do something, however I have grave doubts about our government's willingness to act. Ten years ago "Green Taxes" were seen as the way forward, however after a decade of expensive petrol and diesel has not brought us the improvements in public transport we all hoped for - and were promised in 1998. This government MUST stop treating motorists as a cash cow. With £40bn in tax revenues, it has no incentive whatsoever to put money into affordable, clean and reliable public transport. If we carry on like this I fear that the green lobby will suffer an irreversable PR disaster because the public are fed up with the sky high Green Taxes not being used to fund the public transport system Britain urgently needs. Britain also needs to adopt a sensible approach to public transport for the many millions who don't live in cities. Forcing the cost of travel to the point where it's the highest in Europe is starting to stifle the economy and turn the public against the whole green arguement. Ultimately, it's legislation not taxation which changes behaviour. However, the government in Britain at least is behaving as if it's focussed solely on revenues, everything else is a distant distraction.
Paul, London

RE:peter ottenhof, kingston, canada & using petrol taxes to fund free public transport The problem there is that you will start with a big pot of cash as people are driving and not using public transport. However, as you use the cash and get more people out of cars and onto buses etc. you end up with less money to fund the public transport. Ultimately if everyone used public transport there would be no money to fund it. So you'd have to (1) charge fares and (2) reduce quality which would encourage people back into their cars.
Lee, Nottingham, UK

All this waffle about reduction,reduction.Do you honestly beleive the electric,gas,fuel companies want you to use less. Come on. they have shareholders they are responsible too. They have been forced to do what the government says it has to do. It's only lip service. We are encouraged to buy a new more efficient version of a perfectly usable piece of equipment be it car,fridge or cooker. What a waste of resources.Remember as we buy more fuel efficiant vehicles the government gets less money in it's coffers. Wake up you are being hoodwinked
David Harpin, st albans /uk

The price of buses in my town are ridiculously high! Why use them if they are so expensive??? I dont see clear signals from the government about trying to help us green our lives. Where are the grants to help with wind / solar power for the average consumer? We are made to pay green taxes but is that money realy being spent on green issues? That is where i want the transparency to see where my money is being spent! I dont want to be paying a green tax only to see that money being spent on schools and hospitals otherwise its not realy a green tax is it!
Javier, Shrops

People tend to believe what they want to believe but reality does exist and if you read New Scientist and Scientific American there is no doubt, global warming is here and is challenging. Not only that but the first struggles for resources, oil, water, food, metals, minerals etc. are already upon us, mass emigration has already started. Unfortunately we are being asked to be "grown up" and that's not something we do very well. The natural radicals propose solutions that could be seen as fascist and the natural conservatives oppose all change. It's odd how we now come to accept our extraordinary lifestyles as natural, e.g. our grandparents would have been horrified at the size and speed of goods traffic speeding through our villages and worried that all respectable people travel in tin cans leaving the streets to low-life, children and the elderly. For all sorts of reasons not just CO2 we should be re-examining our lives. Or do we all like commuting long distances to work in ! stuffy offices to buy stuff that goes out of fashion in a week? Perhaps we don't want to walk to work in towns that are litter free and so pleasant to live in that we forget to go on holiday. Perhaps we don't want shared public amenities. Perhaps we really do like junk lifestyles, junk food and junk TV? Being Green should mean living better, not being restricted.
Julian Smith, Rochdale

yes,i do agree with Sir John.but the fact is....everyone would be knowing those words how to reduce the changed climate,or nagate the loses but not willing to act on their part for it would slow economic why not some world bodies like UN take initiatives to force some mandates or do other favors? here in India pollution is a big problem and still going to be worse in near future. It must be of more value if the festival is held in the developing countries like us where the most factories still depend on outdated machineries producing more pollution. more resources on educating the masses is also needed since in these countries most of the peaple are illiterate. instead of waiting for the new technologies like production of energy from the sun,for the time being more emphasies could be given to better use of the existing means........ rajkumar romi.
rajkumar romi , imphal,manipur,india.

There is a divided opinion about whether man is responsible for current global warming. Whatever be the truth, what matters to me more is that our cities are getting more polluted by the day and the world is running short of precious energy sources. If we could only implement the three things mentioned in this article, there is no doubt that our cities will become better places to live - and I don't need to dream about a farmhouse in the countryside.
Arvind Padmanabhan, Bangalore, India

Less than 10 years ago the price of Brent Crude oil was $9.57 per barrel today it is over $127 per barrel i.e. more than twelve times as much. If it continues rising at that rate it will approaching $1500 a barrel ten years from now. We will be using less oil ten years from now because we have no option. We can either plan the change and do everything we can to move rapidly to an economy with zero energy homes, low energy businesses and far more efficient transport or the cost of living will make our present lifestyle beyond most people's means i.e. price alone will reduce the demand for oil.
Peter, Oxfordshire, UK

Not much happening here in NZ, in fact things are going backwards in terms of protecting and improving the environment. My job is to protect urban trees, the trouble is most people, including the politicians, don't want trees as they produce shade (a benefit considering the strong UV rays here), drop leaves or are a perceived threat. Don't believe the green clean image projected by NZ, they are really only interested in covering what is presently one of the most beautiful places in the world with ugly houses.
Timbo, Auckland NZ

Judging from the previous comments it seems that quite a large number of people are able to think for themselves. How inconvenient for the so-called elite who wish to exert further control over our lives. Anthropogenic global warming is a scam and Sir John knows it. Luckily a whole new generation of serfs are being indoctrinated to accept this new orthodoxy. Keep up the good work, British schools.
Chris Sherwin, Windsor, Canada

Even by conservative estimates, the government is moving far too slowly. It seems to be driven by pleasing donors and companies rather than any real impetus to do good. We need less half-hearted "oh we'll cut a few carbon thingies here and there for the hippies" policies and more definitive action. Why not take the £2000-a-second spent on the war effort and use that to fund homeowner and council subsidies? Or at least NHS reform? It would finally give our troops some rest. Unfortunately, it seems that as a student, I and my generation are destined to be clearing up the ridiculous mess made by politicians focusing on their third and fourth cars rather than doing what we pay them for: changing our countries, and the world, for the better. If war is a way to make politicians feel they will be remembered, then perhaps my generation should do our best to erase the names of those famous for it from history, keeping only their ridiculous legacies to learn from.
Robin, Coventry

I agree with Sir John!
Jen, Denver, Colorado, USA

"FACT: The earth's temperature has not changed since 1998 so, why the fuss now?". Cite your source please. I've seen the same garbage trotted out three times in these comments and, as the oceanographer mentioned, it has been debunked. Do your own research or at the very least update your incorrect fact list. The point is, we have finite resources and are continuing to reproduce. Something has to give.
Nick G, Loughborough

Great article, unfortunately it's true that these changes are unlikely any time soon. In my area you have to take the freeway to get to the nearest bus stop, even though I live in a big city. With all of the political problems around the world and other crises my worry is that environmental issues will keep being ignored, since the biggest effects of them have yet to be seen and we tend to believe only what we see. Plus, now that the earth may be entering a cooling period (in which the planet SHOULD cool down but due to us heating it up it will likely just hold steady before continuing to warm), people may take this as evidence that nothing is wrong and ignore the issue entirely. I guess it's hard for people to see the big picture, or to make any changes in their life for things they can't easily see. If we're lucky people will start thinking more about the future...
Claire, San Diego, California

It seems to me we have a lot of hype, and a bunch of people telling us what needs to be done... But nobody is going out and doing it. I still have to drive 50 miles to recycle. and although I live in America I do not have a gas guzzling SUV. but at $3.30 a gallon ( for the cheap stuff) I cannot afford to be driving all that way every week or so, and as far as solar energy goes... well it is a great idea but cannot afford those either. A new gas efficient car? no way, mine is a 93 murcury Topaz and I can barely afford it. I want to know what I can do for my part, without furthering the credit crunch and going deep into debt by buying all this new stuff that I need to help the planet... I guess that is how our greed can change the world, and not our wish to save the planet.
Kari, Arizona

Why can't the government take the simple step of removing the tax on diesel for buses bringing them in line with trains?
David wilson, Wokingham England

I totally agree. Lets tax car owners into oblivion. Lets upset the ordinary working man even more. Take away his right to drink, smoke, or eat what he wants to. Lets stop everybody voicing an opinion that goes against the wishes of the government. Lets even - dare I say this - record all their phone calls and emails. Total claptrap. Even better idea - lets ship all these 'eco friendly', non realists to a remote island somewhere, where they can live in their own idea of heaven. Then, and only then, can the rest of us normal people face up to the reality of keeping a job, a family, and somewhere affordable to live.
Wurrows, Derby

Susan Ryland from Surry put it best; "I absolutely agree. Our politians are currently failing us. The first politician to show vision and leadership on this issue, will get my vote. " But it's unlikely to happen. The government needs to take the initiative. They moan that the public doesn't do enough, well make them! If all the buildings built were insulated properly, that would be a massive start - that can be forced by regulation. Then all the government offices. And solar panels on top of government offices. Alone that would do loads. It would also give the lead to individuals to try their hardest. If your government doesn't give a hoot or show their belief in the country, why would anybody else? I doubt it will ever happen though!
Jonathan Sklan-Willis, Salford, Manchester

We can slash our fuel consumption by switching to low consumption cars and by filling our cavities. These two things are a doddle to do and cost nothing, yet we can't even do that. How are we going to do the hard things?
Malcolm, Wirral, UK

Its funny we are all being told to use less electricity, gas, petrol for the good of the planet, while all the time prices keep going up, and no-one can offer us any alternatives. The only winners here are the producers as most of their generating plants are life expired, and by convincing us to go green and use less while charging more, they keep making the same money and don't have to rush to build new expensive generating plants, and the finite resources last longer so they stay in business for a few more years. And the scary thing is that government goes along with it because it manages to get the extra tax revenue from the deal. Its funny but if we could all generate our own energy at home, prices would drop and they would be begging us to consume more and forget 'global warming'.
Ian Blair, London

Lets be honest from a mildly enlightened scientific perspective, and take notice of how primitive almost all commercially available technology is compared to the current breadth of technological knowledge, and this is not with out cause. The advances science has made specifically biotech has already made the industrial revolution seem like the stone age and it is only gaining momentum across every spectrum. The technology is there and it has been there but its just not as profitable in the short term for large businesses with established infrastructure. Despite the attempt to sell the public that its our right or anyones right to burn the cumulative residual energy from nearly all biomass ever created in the history of this planet, innovation and sheer obviousness is becoming harder and harder to ignore. And it very well could lead to the downfall of the monopoly of the globalized industrial banking complex. I truly believe the industrial/bank complexes currently in ex! istence only want to keep the planet and its peoples(commodities) stable (however fragile that stability may be) for long enough to just suck it/us all dry. Not until the power companies can find someway to sell us the suns power will we see fully implemented solar power however greed may catch up to them because with where our technology is taking us the sun gives us more energy than anyone could ever need and when a couple months worth electric bills will by solar panels that will make the consumer receive checks not bills the myth that life needs to be expensive will no longer work. So my point is this article was great one of the better ones I've read in a long while on a mainstream news sit. But the inaction of politicians and big businesses (if you don't think we live in a globalized fascist world your intentionally missing some things) only means that we have to bypass them and 'mandate' our own future into our own hands.
Ben E., Arcata, Ca. (technically! the US)

I find it fascinating that people like Tony from Deal can completely disregard research from a huge proportion of the scientific community in such a forthright and definitive manner. To attribute global warming solely to variations in solar activity is frankly, ridiculous. Although it is true that solar irradiance directly influences the Earth's temperature, the sun alone does not define it. Greenhouse gases are a natural part of the climate system and it is hardly likely that human additions to those concentrations are in no way significant.
Tom Mills, York

I could only dream of a world when i didn't have to wake up every morning just to jump in my car to get to university. Unfortunately, living in a mid-sized city in the United States does not give much option in the ways of public transportation. Lancaster is not bike friendly, the buses run once an hour (if that), trains are incredibly expensive, and having a car is a right of passage here. Having a public trans system would be amazing, yet its so far fetched at the same time... "Go Green--Buy Used Books
Adriana Russo, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Jamie Dowling's comment is as correct in the US as the UK. Train and bus commuting costs %30 more than car use and is slower too. Improve public transit and car use will dimish - not because it's green but becuse it saves money and time. However Kate, More users of public transportation = more profits = lower taxes. (Yes, lower.)
Roger, New York, USA

The trouble is that as things stand, not everyone will be impacted by these necessary changes equally. For most working people it ends up being almost all stick and no carrot. In LA I can travel between distant appointments by car on average at least twice as quickly than taking public transit. If forcing ordinary people to use public transit means that they will be taking an hour longer to get to work and an hour longer to return home at basically the cost as what they had been paying to be far comfortable in a a private automobile then there will be massive resistance. Whatever the future can be at them moment the future looks like paying ever more goods and service and working longer hours for an increasingly uncertain and ever more disagreeable existence. Does a new Dark Age emerge out of the failed experiment called capitalism?
L Teagarden, LA CA USA

I agree to most of what Sir John proposes. However, a clear point must be made about what "public" means. Public schools and public transport are all but public!! The UK has mass transport in the hand of companies with shareholders to please. Consequently, transport in the UK is inefficient and usually not integrated. We are trying to reduce car use in towns but there are no other means of efficient transport in place! I'm not sure how politicians can change that. In my particular case, I live only 10 miles from work and it takes me 20 minutes by car and 90 minutes by bus. How exactly can I use the public transport as a viable alternative?
Vitor Pinheiro, Cambridge

This would be great, if it wasn't fiction! How many authorities can anyone name that would stick their hands in the budget to improve the local area. I have lived under three different councils, each of which have raised costs and cut services, dumped old policies in place of higher revenue creating policies. We are constantly told to cut our electric consumption only to be told that we should use trains and trams??? The world is fraught with greed and this is the only reason why the green movement will move forward. Not for the good of the earth or it's residents, purely for money! FACT: The earth's temperature has not changed since 1998 so, why the fuss now? What human acticity was responsible for the last global warm? None, we weren't here! It's a natural cycle of the earth, it cools or warms as needed, what we do now will not influence the climate change, it's going to happen anyway. People need to stop being blinded by the media, which is ultimately government driven. Do the research yourself, find out the REAL truth, ignorance is not an excuse!
Gary, London

I agree totally with John Sorrell but believe that this would not be going far enough,all this needs to be started now,and feel once the public at large start to feel the pinch with fuel and food price rises action will start and peoples opinions will change for the better and will start to be heard in Westminster.Where all the biggest decisions need to be made.
Scott Blowman, Rothera Research Base Antartica

You're not going to get a serious reduction in car use until you get a serious reduction in the need for a car. Free or heavily subsidised public transport has to be in place before people will stop the short car journeys which are most damaging. Taxing alone is no incentive if there is no viable alternative.
Tim Mortensen, Swansea

Bearing in mind that the global population is predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050, small steps are going to be counter-acted by this! What we need is some firm leadership who have the courage to make tough choices. Unfortunately, politics has become more about popularity than policies. Whether you believe or not that global-warming is being accelerated by human activity, you cannot possibly believe that relentless consumption of the earths resources and pollution can result in anything positive?!
Steve, Faversham

When politicians and self appointed rulers start leading by example, then I'll follow them. Wasting resources is stupid. But making the revolution in society that these lentil huggers want is a BIG change to make. So I say lets try it out on them first; if it works, I'll sign up
Brian, Northampton, Northampton

We have all too many tragic examples from recent years of politicians claiming a mandate to "take tough choices" when it suits them. Their failure to do so on climate change and sustainable urban communities therefore suggests that - incredibly - they still *don't* realise the urgency of action. And unfortunately too many of us voters have been conditioned to vote for the option of lowest monetary cost, not the option with the best environmental and social cost-benefit ratios. Which is why we have such low housing energy efficiency standards, such poor public transport integration and councils who are prepared to sell off allotments for a bit of extra cash. As for me, I'd gladly live in a city such as Sir John Sorrell describes, and after rapidly being disabused of any illusions of Labour's commitment to environmental sustainability, for the last ten years I have voted consistently for a party which *does* take this seriously.
Peter B, Stockport, England

I disagree. This is not something that can be acheived in a top-down way. The government should educate and regulate only. This is suposed to be a democracy and therefore decisions should be made at the lowest level. Indeviduals, Families, Companies, Clubs, Churches and Fraternal/Professional bodies (e.g.RICS) etc are the primary units of society and it is at this level that the change needs to take place. Sir John should focus his efforts on creating a cultural ground swell and leave the cumbersome burocratic government out of it.
Guy Bolt, Plymouth

Lefties have been trying to think of ways to stop people using their cars since the 60s and 70s ... they see cars as individual & elitist rather than as having "community spirit". So along comes Global Warming and they leap on this as a way of finally clobbering car lovers! Well I see it as one giant conspiracy.
Terry Owen, Buckhurst Hill, Essex

"it has been proven that for this to happen by CO2 content would require so much CO2 that none of us would be able to breath. The heat is coming from the Earth itsself (ie the Earth's core), and is part of a natural cycle that has been occurring for millions of years;" - Toby Johnson, Hastings (see below).

I'm an oceanographer, and this has been debunked so many times that it's not even funny any more. People like this moron who insist on burying their heads in the sand and crying "It's all natural" are the biggest threat faced by this planet.
Ben Taylor, Plymouth, UK

Do politicians really have a mandate for this, though? Would we really be happy (especially bearing in mind the 10p tax debacle) to pay for other people's insulation grants and for public transport to be as dramatically improved as it needs to be? People have talking for decades about the need to improve this country's public transport, but the fact is that there is little support for the levels of public spending required for it to work.
Kate, Anglesey, UK

The biggest problem is that we see green as being a tax raising issue. Until all new housing developments, goverment building etc all have sustainable energy generation provided by adding solar panels for energy & water heating, this will always be the case. Why are these subject to VAT ?!
Paul, Sheffield

Agree. Singapore can give useful ideas for the UK. Car ownership entitled only upon payment of a very highly priced Goverment Licence ( thousands of pounds) , and intended to reflect the costs of urban congestion and cost of infrastructure, and intended to encourage the use of public transport. Not so practicable in rural areas.
John George, Warwick

Best article I've read in ages! Good public transport, trams, well-designed buildings, attractive features and parks aren't just good for the environment, they're great for the economy by attracting tourists & investors, and there's even evidence that, by making people proud of where they live, they even cut crime! Oh, and they make people happier too :-) but that can't be measured in numbers. Now if ever there was anything that could inspire people... The only question is what to do in the 4 years it'll take before PR men read about this in trendy magazines and tell politicians that there's votes in it. I've heard of 'guerrilla gardening' - people quietly and cheekily turning urban decay into attractive and sustainable greenery off their own backs while no-one is looking. Apparently its really good fun. Anyone for some guerrilla tram network installation?
Alan S., Glasgow

if petrol taxes were used first and foremost to fund free in-city transportation, it would rapidly and in a fairly hands off manner solve the other problems.
peter ottenhof, kingston, canada

I fully agree with Sir John - most politicians are reluctant to plan beyond the period of their elected term. Improving our urban landscapes should be a top priority for local and national government alike. Aberdeen - Europe's energy capital - should be well placed to lead the way in this green revolution. However, for years Aberdeen's politicians have lacked ambition and so the city fails to fulfil its potential. We should all be prepared to elect individuals who demonstrate vision and a willingness to make tough decisions for the benefit of future generations.
Steve, Aberdeen, UK

No, Politicians are elected to follow through on their promises. If they've been elected on a manifesto to increase employment and prosperity in the coming 5 year term, they should be doing that; so far I'm not aware of a government coming to power on a platform emphasising the need to do *anything* else. Should Sir John and his supporters believe otherwise, they should organise a party and stand for parliament. Oh, wait, someone did that - and failed to get into power. Sir John and the rest of the Greens need to convince the people that they're right before claiming they've already *got* their mandate.
S. P. Hamilton, Braintree, England

I very much want to live in the town described here. Individuals can only ever change the small scale: a re-use of a plastic bag here, an energy-saving lightbulb there. Councils and governments can do so much more -- which just makes it more infuriating when they sit on their hands while spending millions on ad campaigns to guilt the rest of us out! Let's have some stringent, enforced building guidelines. Let's seriously invest in making our public transport better. Let's insulate homes; provide accessible recycling; make use of our waste heat. Let's put money into the future, not a fly-by-night millenium dome. Let's make real changes. We can do it.
Joanna McKenzie, Glasgow, UK

Public transport is overpriced, overcrowded, often unreliable and in many places inadequate. In short it is a great advert for people getting a car and driving. The suggestion that Britain has or is heading towards an integrated public transport system is at best laughable. What are Sir John's ideas for improving public transport to remedy these huge weaknesses?
Jamie Dowling, Birmingham, England

Sir John is correct. Rapid changes need to be made increase efficacy of our energy infrastructures. The urban landscape needs to change with decentralised energy capture and large scale small changes. The longer its left the more expensive it will become. Go Sorrell!
David Preston, Edinburgh, Scotland

There's that wonderful word "sustainability" again. The "sell more stuff" industry has hijacked the phrase as another bit of marketing banter for carry on "business as usual" Instead; we have "sustained" our increasing numbers, and "sustained" our increasing consumption of planet. And the human activity levels keep grinding inexorably upwards . . . When are we going to look sustainability up in the book, and stop !? It's too late mate; we've bust it; and this is all "green dreaming" before the phones, lights, and the credit cards stop working !
steven walker, Penzance

For once, I entirely agree with an architect, on all his 3 points. In particular, we should be looking at micro generation of heating and power, so that all the countries south facing roofs can be used to this end. Gov't funding is probably necessary to get this gong, but the rewards should be great. I don't have the knowledge or info'n to project a likely power gain, but I would expect it to be substantial.
Hugh, Bexleyheath

Hi, I quite agree with all the article said, however, I am sure we can be more radical than that: 1. Ban all pets. 2. Ban all non - Zero Emission Vehicles from urban/suburban areas. 3. Only ZEVs allowed i.e. hydrogen fuel cell or bio-diesel electric hybrids such as the new VW. 4. As much local space used to produce all fruit and veg for the population. 5. All food to be fairtrade, organic, local and seasonal as standard. 6. As much power produced locally as possible i.e. all south facing roofs to be fitted with solar panels in partnership with the local authority and utility company. 7. Peregrines to be encouraged to "clean up" the pigeon problem. 8. Grey squirrels to be shot, turned into pies and exported back to the USA. Well, just a few off the top of my head. I am sure there are many more ideas out there just waiting to see the light of day. Many thanks.
David Bargh, New Brighton, Wirral.

I absolutely agree. Our politians are currently failing us. The first politician to show vision and leadership on this issue, will get my vote.
Susan Ryland, Hindhead, Surrey

Homeowners are more sensitive to energy costs because they have to pay for them directly. But office buildings are sometimes shockingly energy-inefficient and wasteful. Many factors go into office rent, including location and convenience factors like parking. Building codes will have to be modified and perhaps even property tax formulas adjusted to encourage these buildings to be more green.
Jeremy, Houston, Texas

I find it hard to believe that people still cling to the idea that climate change is happening as a result of the way we live. Substantial evidence has shown that it's the oceans that are warming, and it has been proven that for this to happen by CO2 content would require so much CO2 that none of us would be able to breath. The heat is coming from the Earth itsself (ie the Earth's core), and is part of a natural cycle that has been occurring for millions of years; it has nothing to do with what we get up to on the surface. Sure, "greening" our cities is a nice idea, but any changes will be purely aesthetic. It's time that people woke up, and started that all the alarmist reporting that they are believing is in fact a bunch of lies, deliberately told, as part of the big plan currently in place to install fear into our lives.
Toby Johnson, Hastings

But nothing is going to happen, he argues, until politicians accept that they have a mandate to make the tough choices needed. Translation: raising general taxation; raising the cost of living generally; reducing the standards of people's lifestyles. And for what, inpursuit of a failed theory. Has Sir John not noticed that there has been no warming since 1998, that we are heading into a period of reduced solar activity and lowered irradiance - if you want to see what that means, google 'maunder minimum.' Further; Because politicians don't seem to know that they have a public mandate to make tough decisions. I have news for you, they don't, apart from die-hard eco-fanatics, check the opinion polls.
Tony Judge, Deal, Kent

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