Tearing down old structures and throwing up new ones is how we usually make our streetscapes. It’s also ruinous for the climate
A new and highly swanky hotel lands in Edinburgh, a mass of shimmering bronze-coloured coils, and all anyone can think to say is: doesn’t that look like a giant poo emoji? Londoners are confronted with plans for a giant burning-red orb, which will supposedly serve as a concert venue, and it brings on the shudders.
New buildings can amuse or repulse us, induce awe or yawns, but there is a case for thinking of them less as objects to walk around and more as processes to worry about – because the process of building is one of the most wasteful and carbon-hungry engaged in by humanity. We tear down old houses or shops, and to create new ones, we cover the Earth with materials that have gobbled up fossil fuels: Concrete, of which the world pours enough each year to patio over every park and mountain and back garden, every square inch, in England; steel, of which every tonne produced emits nearly two tonnes of carbon dioxide; plastics. While Conservative MPs argue over who is going to foot the bill for green energy for our homes, hardly anyone in Westminster discusses the upfront carbon costs of building houses and office blocks and shopping malls. Yet construction directly accounts for about 10% of our carbon emissions. Turning approximately 50,000 buildings to rubble every year creates two-thirds of all the waste produced in this country. If the UK is ever to translate its net zero ambitions into reality it will need to change the entire building industry.