Come Big Freeze or Heat Wave

GreenInfrastructureImageExtremes of weather should not be just boom-days for energy company’s profits.

Energy companies including British Gas and Centrica have reporting significant profits explained in part by the cold weather earlier this year. With people retreating from the heat to fanned and chilled rooms the summer heat will no doubt be good news for energy companies too. Behind the profits are of course both increased carbon emissions as energy is consumed and the the squeeze on people’s purses as they struggle with bills in hard economic times.

We could be far more effective managing the impact of weather extremes while actually contributing to reductions of climate gas reductions. What it would take is a change of mindset and the realisation that we can help nature to help us by systematically including more green infrastructure in our urban environment.

The Urban Heat Island effect is not just a question of discomfort; its impact of increased death rates among both the elderly and people with ill health is well documented. In the UK alone it is estimated to account for more than 1100 death each year, with an increase in around 8-11 deaths per day for each degree rise in temperature during summer heat waves. The potential of green planting to reduce the UHI effect is proven. Through a combination of shading and active cooling through evapo-transpiration trees, green roofs and green walls. gardens and parks can significantly modulate the climate. The Forestry Commission’s research note on Urban Forest published earlier this year points to the potential to reduce peak summer temperatures within cites by between 2°C and 8°C.

It may be more surprising to some that green plant can also significantly help during cold spells too. Carefully considered planting of conifers and non-deciduous hedging can be dramatically effective. According to Pam Berry of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute effective green infrastructure can be potentially reduce wind chill effects by as much as 75%. which in some circumstances could result in 25% reductions in heating demands.

These advantages of course just part of the multiple benefits of such an approach which would also have massive positive impacts for carbon reduction and absorption, air pollution reduction, biodiversity and human well being (see this policy position on Green Infrastructure from the Landscape Institute for more). With the likelihood of extremes of weather increasing surly we should be looking more systematically at better, more economical and environmentally sensitive solutions if the UK is to meet its aspiration of developing a sustainable Green Economy?

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