Debunking the Silver Bullet Solution to climate change

Ruben Hanssen Fxdnx68llqs Unsplash

There are a number of pervasive myths in construction and sustainability that are at risk of obscuring reality and stopping industry from taking action to reach net zero. We wanted to pick apart some of these common myths, in particular the belief that a single solution, the Silver Bullet, promises a swift transition to a net zero carbon built environment. The real solution lies in consistently delivering and adopting the multi-faceted approaches that we already have. 



Myth 1: A silver bullet solution will solve the climate challenge  


There is no magical solution waiting around the corner to swoop in and solve the multiple complexities of tackling and responding to climate change for the built environment.  


It is tempting to hope that a future solution will get us to net zero at a pace not seen before and will turn everything around. But this isn’t feasible.


Reaching a net zero built environment is a multi-facetted challenge, where there is no single silver bullet, and we can't afford to wait on one either.  


The good news: there are many solutions already out there, and it's up to us to invest in, implement and scale them. Every individual and organisation must contribute to sustainable practices in order to make changes, regardless of where they are on the journey currently.



Myth 2: Future technology (that doesn’t exist yet) is the answer 


Technology has advanced so much over past decades and seems to keep accelerating faster than ever – the recent explosion of AI as an accessible tool across sectors is a testament to this.  


While technology advances rapidly and AI technologies will likely play a role in the decarbonisation of the built environment, we can't rely solely on hypothetical future innovations. 


There is no singular technology that can undo the damage that will be done while waiting, or one which acts as an easy fix to the complex challenges that have been born out of the built environment over hundreds of years.  


We need to prioritise the implementation and delivery of the solutions we already have, and that we know work like improving the energy efficiency of buildings, installing low emission heating systems and adopting lower embodied carbon materials, rather than waiting on unproven ones. 


There are no silver bullets, only silver buckshot. Bill McKibben
Environmentalist and author

Myth 3: There can only be one perfect solution  


Subject areas in construction go through phases where they receive more or less attention than before – be that volumetric construction, heat pumps, or Building Information Modelling (BIM). Areas of interest will continue to fluctuate, but one fact remains: the main agenda should be a Just Transition. 


No one solution is a complete one in isolation. Most, if not all, solutions come with limitations, intricacies or unintended implications that need to be fully considered in order to unlock their full potential and wide-reaching social, environmental and economic benefits.


A thoughtful and combined approach is required – one that considers all the elements, from cradle to grave.  


Our Edinburgh Home Demonstrator project as part of The Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region Deal is looking to take this holistic approach for delivering net zero affordable social housing in Scotland at scale by lowering environmental impacts through offsite modular building that eliminates on-site waste, ensuring a high standard of insulation and energy efficiency and low emission heating systems. The EHD project creates positive social, economic and environmental impact. It combines tried and tested approaches to deliver something new.  


There's no single fix. We must embrace diverse strategies to drive impact. 



Myth 4: New ideas are more attractive than older ones 


While innovation is essential, we can’t overlook the value of tried-and-true methods. 


It may be better to go back to the basics or look at what we might have forgotten to find what we should prioritise. 


‘Heat Pump’ may seem like a new word that’s entered the public lexicon, but the technology is 166 years old. That’s older than most of the buildings that we live in. Sometimes it is the thing in the past, the thing we’re bored of or don’t notice anymore, that will offer something new to us.  


Results will come through consistent delivery of what we know works, and trusting the process and trusting that the impact will follow. We must take an approach which is both solution-oriented and delivery-oriented in order to reach net zero carbon targets.  



The buckshot


Almost 20 years ago Bill McKibben - author of The End of Nature - warned of these pitfalls back in 2006 when discussing the climate change political landscape. Back then he said that there are no silver bullets, only buckshots. By this he means that we can only tackle the climate challenge by using a combination of strategies. 


When discussing geo-political commitments to net zero targets, he says, “If it's a deal that's too modest in attempting to rein in carbon emissions, then it may be worse than no deal at all. Precisely because we've wasted the past two decades, we need real, not token, action now.”  


This statement remains true seventeen years on. Despite this, mitigation is possible if there is a focus on delivering the solutions that are most effective for everyone, businesses, communities and people included.  

Mythbusting #3: The Silver Bullet

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