I was lost for words when a radio presenter, someone responsible for informing the public, recently told me that you can grow concrete. I had been invited on to talkRadio to speak about being a part of Insulate Britain, and was instead asked about my job (I’m a carpenter), and whether cutting down trees is “sustainable” (I pointed out that, unlike concrete, trees grow back). The internet has erupted in laughter at the one-minute clip, but what’s not funny is the government’s pitiful support for home insulation.
Insulating homes is an essential part of our transition to net zero. This is why Insulate Britain is going ahead with protests despite the government’s nationwide injunction against our campaign. Today, campaigners blocked major roads connecting the M25. We have a simple demand: insulate all UK homes by 2030 to cut carbon emissions and end fuel poverty.
While concrete doesn’t grow on trees, insulation does: wood-fibre boards and hemp are both excellent insulators. Yet the government has squashed such simple solutions. Its long-awaited heat and buildings strategy doesn’t go far or fast enough, and doesn’t include proper support for insulation. And in March, ministers scrapped the green homes grant, which would have offered households assistance of up to GBP10,000 to install home insulation.
Providing the funding to insulate homes is a no-brainer: it rapidly cuts CO2 emissions, keeps people warm and reduces the amount they need to spend on heating, and could create thousands of new jobs in the process. In fact, the best insulated homes require virtually no heating at all. Instead of faffing about with heat pumps, the government could be taking the steps right now to reduce our dependence on heating in the first place.
So why isn’t the government already doing this? To answer this question, you need to think about who benefits from uninsulated homes. Energy and fossil fuel companies are the main beneficiaries of cold, poorly insulated homes in which people are forced to spend more on heating. And, unlike heat pumps or electric cars or hydrogen boilers, insulation isn’t “sexy” – it’s simple.
The benefits of insulating Britain’s homes wouldn’t just be environmental. Thousands of people in the UK will face a terrible choice this winter between heating their homes or putting food on the table. Skyrocketing energy prices will hit the poorest people in our society the hardest.
Britain is a nation of old, poorly built homes that are becoming more expensive to heat. Every year, some 250,000 new houses are built that will need retrofitting as soon as the keys are handed over to unsuspecting new owners. There are some great builders out there who exceed the feeble standards that the government sets, but many of the homes currently being built are not fit for the 21st century. And when big firms in the property sector who are responsible for meeting government targets are also contributing a quarter of the Tory party’s funding, it’s no wonder they’re getting away with it.
We recognise that insulating Britain’s homes is an urgent priority for tackling the climate crisis, and ensuring the transition to net zero doesn’t hit the poorest in society hardest. This is why Insulate Britain has taken to the UK’s motorway network in protest. The group has a simple demand.
As the government’s former chief scientific adviser David King recently said, the next three to four years will determine the future of humanity. A recent report from Chatham House outlined the scale of the crisis that faces us if we fail to act now. It predicts that, on our present trajectory, in the 2030s more than 10 million people each year will die from heat stress and by 2040 almost 700 million people will be exposed to droughts for up to six months each year. This will create conflicts on an unimaginable scale.
Yet ministers don’t seem to be listening. Enough is enough. We’re sick of empty promises and wishy-washy meetings, and won’t stand by to watch this government wreck our future. We face a choice: either we’re complicit in the unfolding crisis or we engage in nonviolent civil resistance. What will you do?
Cameron Ford is a carpenter and Insulate Britain campaigner