some ideas on how to create sustainable society, part 4

All new houses built could be required by law to install solar geysers and solar panels (if no access to a clean energy generation is available, such as wind power) as well as energy conservation strategies e.g. passive solar, orientation, roofing colour (to reduce the need for air conditioning and heating). All pre-built buildings and houses should be given a certain date by which to install these (possibly subsidised) technologies, and perhaps banks could be mandated or encouraged to create energy efficiency loans. These loans would mean that the house-owner could make these changes and pay no more per month than they would otherwise in electricity bills. Heating of water accounts for around 35% of household electricity use, depending on factors such as income level, family size and country. So, aggressive legislation and subsidisation around solar water heaters alone would go a long way to reducing energy use.

The way we produce our energy now and up until now, accounts for the major share of climate change, and is a cause of a number of other environmental and health crises. Our continued reliance on fossil fuels also holds the potential to cause global conflict in the future, as it has up to this point. Coal generation can be phased out, to be replaced by wind power and other viable sustainable energy sources. In some developed countries fossil fuels are heavily subsidised by taxpayers, making it more difficult for renewable energy technologies to gain a foothold in the market. Also, there is the concern that should one major economy switch to renewable energy, then it would disadvantage them in global trade terms. If these issues could be tackled, renewable energy is not considerably more expensive than fossil energy, and with greater market share combined with declining stock of fossil fuels, would quickly become less expensive. It is a wise country that is investing in renewables now.

Government can ask businesses to carry costs on behalf of the environment, with a clear conscience, if it imposes those same requirements on all foreign goods imported into the country. In other words, if a local business is asked to pay a carbon tax directly for it’s activities, then the imported good of similair function should pay a levy or duty to the same extent. Under current WTO trade laws, imposition of these duties would justify one country or corporation taking another country to court, and very likely over-riding these protections. WTO trade laws deny the right of any country to impose environmental and social protections, and place economic action and profit motive above all else. This kind of framing of the law is inherently unsustainable.

A considerable proportion of emissions come from construction of buildings. Buildings are often built far in excess of practical or safety purpose, and often done so in a way that has no relationship to the surrounding environment, or to reducing energy needs. Thus it makes sense that we would shift to using sustainable building materials and techniques. There is no easier way to do this than to tax carbon emissions and legislate against particularly destructive building materials and techniques. Through carbon tax, many building materials would be less processed, and closer to their natural form. Using these materials wisely with well-documented and historically practised methods would in no way be a threat to our safety, and would simply make it necessary to re-build more often, say, more often than once every two hundred years. Our buildings are often demolished in far less time, due to reasons other than material decay.

As in Hong Kong, there could be a limit to the amount of land open to new construction annually, an environmental tax on new buildings per square metre (considerably cheaper up than out), which will encourage more sustainable refurbishment (instead of dumping buildings wholesale in a process of urban decay) and wiser use of space. If carefully implemented, it could lead to more harmonious and vibrant social living, as opposed to a scenario where we are lost in a concrete expanse, navigable only through the isolated envelope of our vehicles.

City zones could be redrawn and re-planned to reduce our work to home trips and associated emissions. We should have the option to live, shop and work in the same places, so we may consider ourselves part of a community, and we may increase social cohesion and in doing so guard ourselves against social ills resulting from community breakdown. Our cities should reflect who we are and what we need: the chance to create bonds, establish identities together with others, to be part of a unified community.

Urban planning could become informed by discoveries made in psychology, of the links made between nature and human happiness and health. A quota on public green spaces in the urban environment, as was implemented in London with some form of public green space every two blocks or so. would go a long way to breaking up the monotony of concrete. If authorities wanted to modify existing cities according to this mandate, they could be legal holders of the first right to buy.

Ultimately, instead of building piecemeal legislation in a variety of sectors, a comprehensive points system could be worked out to ascertain what effects any activity has on the environment in terms of carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation, social cohesion and any other relevant terms. These effects, if able to be offset, could be offset elsewhere to compensate for any harm done.  But there would be a limit, a cap, on all of these vectors.

As mentioned before, every household should have access to a minimum of water and electricity. Registering of occupants may go a ways toward making this system more precise. After this point, there would be steep progressive environmental taxes, to curb waste and abuse. The same theory could be applied to corporations. How much water should a corporation be entitled to use, in relation to how many employees it employs? How much they benefit from use of natural resources, especially in a permanently degrading way, should be limited in accordance to how many people see the benefit, and to what degree.

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