Despite almost universal awareness of the threat posed by climate change, households are still left feeling powerless to act, says Paul King. In this week's Green Room, he sets out his vision that he believes would kick-start a "refurbishment revolution".
Tell Gordon Brown you'd like to go green, and can he please get that insulation out of his ears
A searing summer heatwave might not seem the most obvious time to talk about how we keep our homes warm during the winter; but the two things are closely related.
Recent temperatures in the UK and elsewhere give an indication of what life will be like much more frequently unless we get to grips with the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Shrinking ice sheets and images of polar bears might attract the headlines.
But it will be premature deaths through heat stroke and respiratory problems, failed harvests, wildfires, social disorder and mass migration that will make climate change a reality for people across the globe.
People have started to get this message. But it is a pretty depressing one, which is not a great spur to action.
Most of us think there is very little we can do; climate change is a global problem, and starting a revolution in our living room is not going to change the world, right?
In the UK, 27% of carbon dioxide emissions come from the energy we use to heat (and light) our homes.
It is not only carbon that's going out of the window - and for that matter the roof, walls and floor - it is our hard earned money.
But imagine if we could transform our homes from leaky, draughty places that guzzle energy, into more comfortable, brighter, places - warmer in winter and cooler in summer - with smaller bills.
Imagine if we could do that without it costing consumers a penny, or landing a hefty bill at the government's door.
And in the process, also create thousands of new jobs in green home refurbishment.
Unrealistic? Not necessarily.
The UK Green Building Council is demanding that the government - either this one or the next - should introduce a scheme that will kick-start this refurbishment revolution.
It is called "Pay As You Save". It's based on a simple premise: that the cost of installing energy efficiency measures be funded through the future savings made on that household's energy bills.
So how does it work? The majority of home energy efficiency measures pay for themselves over a period of time.
Some are quite cheap, such as loft and cavity wall insulation or low-energy lighting.
But others are more expensive, such as suspended wooden floor insulation, new A-rated boilers and particularly solid wall insulation.
Most of us put off installing these measures, particularly the more expensive ones, because we do not think we will get the benefit. It just costs too much upfront; and given we move house, on average, every seven years, why bother?
Pay As You Save is designed to address this problem. Firstly, the upfront cost of measures, for example £10,000, is put up by a third party (such as a bank, retailer or local authority), not the consumer.
Next, your home gets its makeover, carried out by trained and accredited builders, and as a result energy usage is slashed by around half.
Then, from the savings on energy bills, a "standing charge" is repaid, every month, until the original lump sum (plus some interest) has been paid off.
The trick is to structure the scheme so the householder, or tenant for that matter, starts saving money from day one, and always saves more each month than they pay back.
The other key part of the package that enables this to work is that the monthly charge is attached not to the person, but to the property itself and would be paid off over a period of 25 years.
Modern cities are becoming increasingly energy intensive
So when the householder moves on, the home's new occupant continues to repay the charge - and recoups more than that in savings.
Of course, this won't happen overnight.
It will take time to scale up the scheme, to ensure that we have enough trained builders that people can have confidence in, and to establish a network of trusted information providers who can help people access finance and guide them through the process.
But our research shows you could refurbish 50,000 homes next year, double that the year after that, double again the year after that and keep on going until we have refurbished seven million homes by 2020.
We know government is interested - they said this was an "option" in a recent consultation document. We know the opposition parties support the principles of such a scheme.
All that is needed is to get on with it!
Design for life
If you don't believe me, hear it from Mr Grand Designs himself, Kevin McCloud.
The tsar of the designer home reckons this is the next big thing to get worked up about. That's why he is leading the Great British Refurb campaign.
So go to the campaign's website and tell Gordon Brown you'd like to go green, and can he please get that insulation out of his ears.
A few tweaks to legislation are all that is needed; the market will then kick in, supply the money, the workforce and the products - all of which already exist.
We just need a bit of leadership. One thing's for sure; if we don't start a revolution in our living rooms soon, we're all going to cook.
Paul King is chief executive of the UK Green Building Council
The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Do you agree with Paul King? Would a "pay as you save" scheme kick-start a refurbishment revolution? Will this sort of scheme improve the energy efficiency of our existing housing stock? Or are there more pressing issues than worrying about the size of homes' carbon footprints?
Carbon emissions reduction is a must as soon as possible . The many solutions being suggested face problems like:- 1. Carbon sequestration - Unproven technology .
2. Building Nuclear power stations - Handling nuclear waste .
3. Using renewable energy - Costs , lack of feed stock for alcohol and biodiesel and availability in some areas - (wind and Solar) .
4. Stopping Or reducing deforestation - education of the masses and finding a substitute to wood fuel stock in the near term .
Refurbishing the housing stock faces no technological obstacle apart from the deployment of heat pumps in case they are adapted as part of the refurbishing program and at the end pays for it self . We in the Sudan are faced with such a harsh climate nowadays I can not wait to hear Mr. King's suggestion implemented In the UK and adapted for all countries North and South of the equator that must heat homes during winter and air condition them during summer.
Mr. F. W. Ssenkungo, Khartoum - Sudan
change of mind, let climate change happen, we are not 'saving the earth' the earth will survive, it can cope with a 95% loss of all life and still regenerate, we are just worried about our own 'lifestyles' so let it happen, maybe whats left will be less selfish and less reliant on 'instant gratifcation of one's own needs'
Ground-source heat pumps could solve many of the fuel cost issues and address some of the historic building issues also. A ground-source heat pump transfers heat from the ground in the same way an air conditioner works but much more efficiently.
Where buildings are placed tightly together or are historic monuments district piping could separate the ground loop from the building(s) by whatever distance is needed. The in-house unit is about the size of a small desk and typically goes in the basement.
In the U.S. payback times for these systems are under five years. Many UK providers are installing them on your side of the pond also. One UK company is even pulling heat from the tarmac in front of buildings; heat the house with the parking lot.
Pangolin, Chico, CA, USA
The Mumbaiites and the rest of India is sufferingf from an acute shortage of enegy and power. I would very much welcome that some such energy efficiency scheme is introduced experimentally in India at least in metropolitan cities.
Bal Patil, Mumbai, India
It is in my view quite feasable to hit a 70% reduction in heating energy use by householders reducing the heat levels in their homes, zoning houses, ensuring the basics like effiecient boilers, zoning and cavity and loft insulation. People have to realise that they also need to adapt their behaviour- technology alone does not provide all the answers and the belief it can lets people off the hook. Somehow there needs to be better education it is unclear who is supposed to be leading on this, central governement, Energy saving trust, local govt their should be a network of energy advice centres where people can go and touch and feel the products. London has circa 7million and no one place to go to see the answers. Instead you have to trek to the CAT on the edge of Wales
James Young, london
Some of the worst housing stock in terms of energy efficiency is that owned by Local Councils. If the councils were required to raise all of its stock to at least an F rating and in 20 years E rating and so on it would make a marked improvement due to the size of the housing stock councils own.
I agree with the comments made by Jason Rose. It isn't the general consensus amongst the scientific community that climate change is affected by human beings. Open your eyes people,scientific research funded by Energy Companies and megalomaniac Politicians will undoubtedly produce the 'desired' results. Would a study by Tobacco Industry funded scientists conclude that smoking was a health hazard?
This is not an enviromental issue but a political agenda to raise funds through another stealth tax. If Co2 emmissions cause climate change then how do we explain the reduction in overall global temperatures during post-WWII mass production? Individuals like Mr King use powerful words to instill fear into the general populace in a never-ending cycle of control and coercion.
Alan Doherty, Warrington,UK
Excellent idea! I just talked to my dad today about what we could do to insulate the house, he'd do it tomorrow if we could afford it. We just don't have the "capital". The carbon trust have been doing this for years, and we'd be streight on the list if we could.
One weird side effect, as a source of investment that is pretty much guaranteed, what effect would opening this up have on the financial markets and the broader economy? Apart from linking the savings people and builders closer together.
Josh W, Swansea, Wales
From what I have read above, it seems to me to qualify for a grant you have to use an approved contractor who charges inflated prices. Why not allow anyone (including the homeowner to do the work) and then employ inspectors who come to inspect the work to ensure that it is up to standard and if it is, then the homeowner gets the grant, if not, then they don't?
Amanda Wilson, Suwanee, Georgia, USA
i am agree with the idea of pay as you save and i think about the mill or fan by storm that could create electric curents. that is will be interstring and save
hany kamal, cairo
The bottom line here is that efficiency is the most cost-effective way to save money on energy. With energy prices skyrocketing over the last decade, helping people cut their home energy bills will save consumers money, create local jobs that can't be exported, and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Retrofitting millions of drafty, leaky homes is a worthy challenge that will require government leadership, utility cooperation, and private contractors. I like the "Pay-As-You-Save" program, because it removes those initial cost barriers, and helps people see the cost benefits of investing in energy efficiency.
Andy Mannle, California
Let me see now - how long would it take to pay off a loan of, say, £10,000, with savings of, say, £200 pa?
I really can't see too many takers for this scheme.
Peter, Bristol, UK
Even if global warming isn't happening then we should still reduce our energy consumption. Why? Because there are better things to do with land than build power stations.
The closest strategy to spot-on I am yet to find.
The key to tackling climate change is global cooperation. And that is precisely the reason the problem is not being dealt with sufficiently -because a very small minority in the planet are actively participating in fighting it.
The barrier to global cooperation is the fact that people cannot relate to the matter. the vast majority feel that yes, it´s all very shocking how the ice caps are diminishing etc., but cannot see how it directly affects them. However, in any case, if money is up for grabs, it is funny how people can immediately relate to an issue.
Xanthe Hayes, Valencia, Spain
It all starts at street level. What surprises me the most is that in China there are solar water heaters everywhere. This in a country long scorned by the west for being dead set against protecting the environment.
Also at most traffic lights in the big cities there are count down clocks so that people who drive are less stressed and don't burn uneccesary fuel like in the west because there is no surprise when it turns green.
Small things do make a difference, too bad we don't know that in the west. Especially when we are still the biggest culprits.
Allistair Neil, Almaty, Kazakhstan
As one of the many people whom rent their propery, I definately feel that if this was given the go ahead it would make a serious impact. I have always had the desirre to be as green as possible but like many people, I do not want to invest in such expensive measures only to move flats a year later and leave behind such an investment that will then only profit the landlord and next tenant. When it comes to energy saving I do try but with drafty tenements to compete with this can only go so far before the investment overcomes the savings on a years lease. Purely from a tenants side this would be perfect.
I would be interested, I've just never had the money to invest in my property and all schemes involve a larg up front cost which takes many years to recover.
Kerry Penver, York, United Kingdom
Yet again it's home owners.
I dearly want to cut my bills and save the planet while I'm at it... But a few years ago I decided against taking out a mortgage I thought I couldn't afford. Now everyone's helping those who made the wrong decision, yet here I am, stuck, getting poorer and unable to make a change.
More and more people in this country can only afford to rent, and this isn't going to help. No landlord will pay for this, nor does it make a wise investment for a tennant.
We need all the help we can get to save energy in our homes. I installed solar panels to heat water for my house. I saved some money by installing it my self, but i had to take a week off work - not everyones cup of tea!
Michael Kohout in Atlanta, C02 in the atmosphere has increased 40% since the industrial age began. Those three tenths of a percent you talk about do eventually add up. Its not credible to think that 40% would not make a difference to the way our atmosphere works.
Jason Rose wrote, "50 years ago respected scientists would have told us we would be living on mars by now! You cannot trust all these 'scientists'. The issue isn't whether people like me or you should be acting, it is a question of technology."
Lack of progress with space exploration has little to do with whether scientists were wrong: it has been the result of the lack of political will from President Nixon onwards.
Similarly, much low carbon technology is already available or is well developed: whether it is deployed is again mainly a matter of will.
I am with the author on this. We need to stop thinking about the appearance of properties. ditch the need for planning permission for green related changes and go for it. As a species we spend to much time talking and filling in forms and not enough time in action.
Christopher Thomas, Weston super Mare United Kingdom
How about replacing gas-fired boilers with ones that don't use a pilot light - that little flame in my boiler uses 1 unit of gas every 7 days; that's 50 million units per year per million households.
I really like the white roof suggestion - i once lived in Bermuda where the white roof is standard(and all collect rain water). If every house had a white roof, might it at least partially make up for the effects of shrinking polar ice sheets? You would of course need to get local planning committees to change some of their opinions though.
I've been saying for a while now that one thing the government could do is when you buy a new house to give you a voucher for the amount of stamp duty that you paid on the house which you can then spend on solar panels or a new boiler etc. When we bought our house we paid £2500 stamp duty and now can't afford to replace the boiler which is over 30 years old. That £2500 would come in very handy.
Payback on energy saving projects such as these is determined by the cost of electricity. Governments are in a big fix at the moment when it comes to money. How do they speed up the time that these projects pay back. Put tax on electricity. Poor people suffer. Rich people feel virtuous whilst saving money. And of course landlords do nothing to improve their properties because they don't have to pay energy costs. Who loses well poor people and the environment but the government get to pay lip service to the environment and raise taxes to pay back the cost of bailing the banks out. This applies to government whatever ideology. Be careful what you wish for.
Oilybird, Ayr, Scotland
What an excellent idea.
Shame the article had to start with the usual attempts to create a climate of fear - do what I say or you will all burn in hell!!! The fact that these type of measures make perfect sense for energy/money saving is a much better motivation than panic mongering.
Pity more 'environmentalists' can't come up with workable alternatives like this.
All of the activities of mankind put together produce three tenths of one percent of the CO2 produced in the entire world. Other far more important sources of atmospheric CO2 are volcanos, seismic activities, decay of vegetation, and the respiration of insects, animals and sea life.
It is simply not credible to think that any change in such a miniscule portion of the CO2 produced in the world can possible have a profound effect on the climate.
Michael Kohout, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
I have been researching the possibilities of uprating my house with solar water heating, increased insulation and possibly P.V. electrics. There are small grants available, but when I dig deeper or apply for quotes for work, I find that the grant is only available if I use an 'approved contractor'. AND guess what , the quotes are always somewhat inflated, normally by the amount of the grants. I had a quote for solar water heating that amounted to a payback time of over 50 years, not even counting alternative interest earnings.
Barry P, Havant England
Im sorry, but who honestly believes this drivel the media continues to splurge out about how we're all going to die in a mass heat wave in a few years.
50 years ago respected scientists would have told us we would be living on mars by now! You cannot trust all these 'scientists'. The issue isnt whether people like me or you should be acting, it is a question of technology.
More money in the long run needs to be invested in alternate fuels, in fact, we already have the technology to implement it, but energy companies, and the government knows that these new sources are hundreds of times cheaper and they will lose money on us punters.
In my view, this scaremongering is merely to create rationing of remaining oil reserves, instead of the development of new technology, so the oil companies (which often buy out patents to renewable sources) can squeeze every last penny out of the finite supply.
Who can actually prove global warming is caused by humans? In particular, our energy usage. The worlds cows for instance produce far more Co2 than cars do, but you dont see hippy types slaughtering cows in the same way theyd like to slaughter a Hummer or Hilux...
A little look back in history will reveal that both in the times that Stonehenge was built, and in Medieval times, that it was indeed warmer than it is now. Alas, the media fails to highlight these small points.
And my biggest gripe with all this is that what do we need to absorb this "Co2"? Trees... What are we cutting down everywhere across the world? Trees! In the 90's the big environmental issue was deforestation, but apparently people have forgotten that this is still happening. Without trees indeed we will all die, but it wont be because I dont use public transport, it will be because environmentalists and concerned people read this codswallop.
Jason Rose, Hockley, Essex
Another idea is solar warming of water: much of our heating needs is from needing hot water to wash and bathe in. In summer, we don't need the heating for anything else. In winter, every little helps (tm).
Mark, Exeter, UK
Mike, how would you feel if, say, your local MP got his brother to contract the work to upgrade his second home paid for out of taxes? THAT is why you can't get large payments. However, what you CAN do is if you're replacing the roof tiles, get white roof tiles. It would be nice if you could get roof panels that are solar cells and a guarantee that they will be bought back by the council to be replaced in 10 years (to ensure you upgrade when the technology has seriously advanced). Heck, even just using a light colour for the roof helps: in winter less air through the soffits and therefore less heat from the attic lost, in summer, a cooler attic and less heat island effect (if widespread).
Mark, Exeter, UK
Measures like 'Pay As You Save' and 'Cap-and -Trade' are definitely healthy steps in new direction which is going to pave the road for 'low carbon' or 'carbon free' technologies. 'Ability to pay' is an important criterion when some body wants to promote eco friendly equipments. Eco friendly technologies get defeated in the market due to availability of other cheaper options. Till eco friendly equipments and technologies become profitable in the market, these measures are going to play a significant role. In my opinion, twenty five years is supposed to be a long period in a fast changing world.
Sanjay Singh Thakur, Indore,India
I have the worst of all worlds -Old house, and there are millions, don't have cavity walls to insulate like millions. We are in a National Park (hundreds of thousands and more destined to be included if CPRE get their way) so forget wind turbines. We are grade II listed so forget solar panels and air source heat exchangers, our planners would say no. The roof is lagged as best can be done, the oil (no gas) fired boiler is 90%+ efficient. There must be hundreds of thousands with some or all of these problems who are getting fed up with the ideal solution that will never help us! Abandon planning rules in National parks? Relax listed building changes to allow double glazing? Allow external stuff like solar panels - get real it ain't going to happen
John Loader, Leyburn UK
Whether one believes in Global warming or not, one thing is clear - we only have one planet to live on and is is pretty stupid to pollute it by any means. But, why is it always all stick and no carrot? Many householders are competent DIYers, but you don't get a look in for Grants if you don't get an expensive 'Professional' in to do the job. Obviously, work done needs to be checked, but if we could save SOME money on the installation, more people would do it.
Mike Randall, Worcester England
We certainly agree with Paul King about the need to improve the chronic energy inefficiency of the country's existing homes. If anything he understates the carbon gas emissions from homes; our research puts the figure at nearer 40 per cent. We also agree with the cost and benefits of measures to improve that efficiency resting with the home rather than the owner to get round the problem of the long time before that investment can be recouped. In the present economic circumstances, however, it is unlikely that sufficient initial resources for the sort of schemes Mr King suggests will be forthcoming. That being the case, the most promising way to deal with the problem in practical terms is surely by promoting behaviour change among householders. The government claims the general introduction of "smart" gas and electricity meters will do that, by inducing consumers to save money and reduce their carbon emissions. This is not true. Smart meters provide greater accuracy and frequency of billing but on their own do not provide any more information to consumers, or incentive to change their behaviour, than the present generation of meters does. Reducing energy usage and cutting carbon emissions requires effective consumer engagement. Research shows that real-time energy monitoring displays in the home are the most effective tool for bringing about a reduction in energy use. They can cause a fall of some 14 per cent if used fully. There are also other mechanisms, some of which are even more cost effective; these include websites and printed reports, and messages sent to mobile telephones. All these mechanisms may not yet be accessible by all, but as they are complementary it is likely that a combination of them will indeed bear fruit. Rather than demanding investment that is just not going to materialise in the short to medium term, commentators should accept reality and concentrate on promoting more practical ways of meeting the aim of cutting energy use in the home.
Robert Clark, London, United Kingdom