Much of our current legislation in the UK, and possibly worldwide, needs to be re-evaluated in the light of the risks we face due to climate changes.
Our legislation, particularly design and manufacturing standards, has been written to deal with risks that were the highest priority at the time they were drafted. These issues included health and safety concerns, public health, human rights, equal opportunities and others. We are now in a period where our overriding concerns are the risks we face that follow from climate changes. There does not appear to be a process that allows standards to be overridden in cases where they are preventing action or adding costs. This is not to say that other legislation is not important, or has become irrelevant, but how can other concerns outweigh a concern for a sustainable future?
An example of this is a case in the UK where a recycling plant is unable to sell the compost it creates from household waste because of the risk of pathogens that might be in it. These pathogens would come from meat products or waste that is part of the recycling process. The alternative route for waste processing is to put such waste into landfill. If the compost cannot be sold it may also be put into landfill, even if it is generally suitable for food production.
The risk to the environment of damage from methane from landfill waste entering the athmosphere is high. I suggest that the danger of pathogens that are already in the foodchain entering compost is low, and that the extent of the damage that would be caused by the pathogens if they did get into the compost is also low. But this lower risk appears to be pushing such projects in the direction of higher risk.
Another example is the case where a home has been insulated by part filling the cavity wall, as was common for the last 50 years or so. In cases where it is advisable from a technical and energy standpoint to fill the remaining portion of the cavity, installers are refusing to do so because their insurance liabilities will not allow them to do so for fear of contravening the insurance of the original insulation. Here again we have a risk, a very small risk, which is taking precedence over a much greater risk, and preventing landlords and tenants, as well as homeowners from benefiting from the maximum energy efficiency that their homes are capable of.
We have some hard decisions to make and some negotiations to enter into if we are to benefit as much as possible from the technical strides we have made in recent years, and not allow well-meant but ultimately crippling legislation and practices from standing in our way.