The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (an organisation set up under the aegis of the United Nations) evaluates the risk of climate change caused by human activity and is unequivocal in its 2007 statement that human activity is a contributor to climate change.
While it is not the only factor, it is an important one, and around 50 per cent of that contribution is related to the built environment (both the construction and running of buildings). The rise in global average temperature recorded over the last few decades, and the increase in greenhouse gasses that have caused it, are largely the result of our use of fossil fuels coal and gas.
An important point to understand is that the effects of global warming do not lay some way off at a point later in this century. The effects are beginning to be felt now around the world. If it is a reliance on fossil fuel that is creating much of the problem, then it is, without doubt, the developed world that is responsible for the problem, but that problem is manifesting itself in various ways in both developed and developing countries.
Energy generated from the burning of fossil fuels is used by mechanical heating and air-conditioning systems that we have come to rely on in our buildings, as well as for water heating, cooking and lighting.
Consequently, it is something that interior designers can help to combat through the choices that they make in their work. If we are to mitigate the effects of global warming it is something that we must do, along with architects, developers, builders and our clients. In the words of Architecture 2030, an environmental advocacy group, ‘All projects need to be designed to engage the environment in a way that dramatically reduces or eliminates the need for fossil fuels’.
Precise figures for the proportion of our total energy used which is taken up by the running of our homes are hard to come by, as each source of information bases its calculations on slightly different criteria and assumptions. Not surprisingly, differences in the climate due to location also have a large effect on these figures.
However, most sources suggest that we use around 50 – 60 per cent of our total energy budget on keeping our houses at a comfortable temperature (this includes either heating or cooling, depending on location), approximately 25 per cent for water heating, five percent for cooking and the remainder on lighting and other appliances.
If much of the problem of climate change is centred on a profligate use of fossil fuel, then any steps taken to find substitute forms of energy or to reduce our energy use can do nothing but good for the environment. Energy-saving measures may have little impact on the aesthetics of an interior design scheme, particularly when carefully integrated into the building, but careful consideration of them and the scope for their use is just as much a part of the interior designer’s remit as is space planning or creating a decorative scheme.
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