Climate change is a hot topic
I was at a workshop in RTE about BAFTA’s Albert, a system that measures the carbon impact of TV and film productions. Really interesting, thoroughly enjoyable. It also scared the daylights out of me. And I can do doom and gloom like the best of us. We are running out of time.
We need to get to zero carbon
The carbon emission graphs are still shooting up, and we are genuinely running out of time. We are now at 407 parts per million. It was 400 in 2015. It was 310 in 1955. An exponential curve upwards. If it gets to 480, we are done for. We have about 25 years left to get to zero. As in no emission whatsoever. Because all emission adds to the parts per million. Zero, nada, nothing.
Carbon is everywhere
Everything you currently buy has carbon in it. That all has to stop. Within 25 years. If your kids are five now, that means we need to get there by the time they are 30. One generation from now the world will need to look very different.
Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living
Starting with your own behaviour. Hence Ken Kroes’ “Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living”. Trying to bring carbon emission closer to home. Trying to bring the use of water closer to home. The book is full of interesting facts:
- Did you know that several large rivers, including the Colorado, Rio Grande and the Nile are so extensively used by industry, farming, and cities that at times they do not even make it to the ocean?
- That land has sunk as much as thirty feet in parts of California due to extensive pumping from the underground aquifers?
- The same aquifers that, due to depletion, are drawing in more salt water from the oceans, making them difficult for future generations to use.
- That roughly one-third of the world relies on underground water for irrigation and drinking.
- That in the United States, about 80% of the consumptive water is used for agriculture
- That we are running out of water.
Our supply lines are under threat
We are also running out of other materials. Examples include molybdenum (used to make high-grade steel), phosphorus (a critical component of fertilizers), and copper, with estimates of supplies becoming quite scarce sometime in the next century or so. Other examples of resources in limited supply are strategic metals such as germanium and thallium. Read “No ordinary disruption”.
Each year we are dumping about 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean. By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean, by weight, that there are fish. In the air, we add carbon monoxide (CO), methane, sulfur dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. For our water, beyond plastic and mercury, there is acidification, excess chemicals from our fields and untreated or undertreated wastewater from cities and factories. Our soil is not spared either with domestic and industrial wastes that are not properly disposed of, excessive use of farming chemicals, and mining activities. Read “The second half of nature”.
That is the macro level. At a micro level these are the figures:
Your mobile phone
The average person replaces their cell phone every 2 ½ years. Manufacturing of a new phone and getting it to you is resource and energy intensive. From a report from Apple, roughly 45 Kg of CO2 is required. Depending on the manufacturer, a smartphone will contain 40 or more different materials. As s smartphone is small, so it does not take much of these materials to build and the amount of CO2 is about the same as burning 15 litres of gasoline in your car. In 2016, 1.5 billion smartphones were sold worldwide. That is 22.5 billion litres of gasoline. The materials needed each year to build the world’s supply of smartphones is 67.5 billion kg of CO2. In Canada and the United States, the recycling rate for phones is somewhere between 30 and 50%, and it is even lower in Asia with China’s rate being around 15%.
In recent years, the size of the worldwide apparel market has surpassed 3 trillion dollars USD (22) or 150 billion pieces per year. Though the world’s population has increased 28% over the last two decades, our consumption of clothes over the same period has increased by 400%. 13 million tons in the US alone are disposed of each year, and only about 15% of this is recovered for reuse or recycling. An incredible waste considering that an average cotton t-shirt takes 700 gallons of water to make and that one pound of textiles can produce as much as seven pounds of CO2 emissions into our atmosphere. A single wash of a fleece (polyester) jacket can release as much as 1 ½ grams of microfibre plastic. 25% of the world’s pesticides and 10% of the world’s insecticides are used to grow cotton. The textile industry, per the U.S. Energy Information Administration Department, is the 5th largest contributor to CO2 emission in the United States.
Your soap contains Triclosan and other nasty chemicals. Triclosan is a chemical used as a preservative to kill or remove bacteria in various products including soaps, lotions, toothpaste, and deodorants. While the amount in the products you buy is not a health risk to you, it poses a risk to the environment. Triclosan is a chemical used as a preservative to kill or remove bacteria in various products including soaps, lotions, toothpaste, and deodorants. Many of these products contain a few ‘active’ ingredients that may be on the label, but contain twenty, thirty or more ‘inactive’ ingredients that are usually not clearly marked on the packaging. Ideally, you want products that are free of sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and petroleum.
- How would you like an extra $1200 per year or more? That is the amount that the average family in North America throws away in food each year. In the United States, thirty-one per cent of food went uneaten (60 billion kilograms) from the retail and consumer levels. Retail losses are about ten per cent and consumer losses about twenty per cent. The energy that goes into the production, harvesting, transporting, and packaging of wasted food generates 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.
- Only 12 plant species provide 75% of our total food supply. Rice, wheat, and corn alone are around half. This monocrop technique has challenges in that it leads to biodiversity loss, more vulnerability to bugs who have to adapt less, and increased herbicide use
- Over the last century, there has been a decrease in key vitamins and minerals in our fruits and vegetables. There is some debate on if this is due to farming techniques that are centred around yield instead of quality, worsening soil quality or different food processing methods, but regardless of the cause, the result is a decreasing trend. Read “The hidden half of nature“
- The top two products on the chart, milk and cheese, account for roughly 9% of the food carbon footprint of the average person and about 15% of the water footprint.
- Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts are nitrogen fixers which means they take nitrogen from the air and turn it into ammonium to enrich the soil for subsequent crops. Tomatoes are environmentally friendly and easy to grow yourself even if you just have a balcony (more details in the gardening section at the end of this chapter). Broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables. Potatoes have a relatively low water footprint at 50 gallons per pound and can be stored for long periods of time. Oranges are one of the most water-efficient fruits.
- Rope-grown mussels – Mussels are one of the most sustainable farmed aquaculture species. They filter water for their food and produce minimal effluent. If grown on ropes, then harvesting is a breeze with no damage to the seabed.
Nearly 90% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully fished or overfished. The report also shows that our consumption of fish, per person, has doubled since the 1960’s. In a report from the World Wildlife Foundation published in December of 2016, a warning was issued that stocks of species that are currently fished could collapse by 2048.
Your bottled water
In 2015, roughly 11 billion gallons of bottled water were consumed in the United States. The production of these takes the equivalent of about 17 million barrels of oil. In other words, if you fill up your water bottle with about ¼ crude oil, that is the amount it takes to make the bottle. To make matters worse, the United States achieved a recycling rate of 30.1% for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles in 2015. That means that 2/3 of the water bottles ended up in landfills.
In the USA 18.5 billion dollars on chocolate bars or about 4.3 kg per person. The carbon footprint is about four times the weight of the chocolate, and the water footprint is about 24,000 litres per kilogram. At 2-ounce candy bar has a carbon footprint of about 8 ounces and 360 gallons of water were needed to make it.
According to statistics from China’s national forest bureau, 3.8 million trees are used each year to make disposable chopsticks. That is enough to cover 10,000 square miles! So, the next time you are at an Asian restaurant use re-usable sticks, bring your own, or ask for a metal fork!
Your hot shower
Next to heating and cooling your home, your water heater is probably the next big consumer of energy and represents, on average, 18% of the total household energy consumption
The carbon footprint to get a new book to your bookstore is about 4 kilograms CO2e. The rough carbon footprint to get a new e-reader to you is about 168 kilograms of CO2e, which is the carbon equivalent of about 40 new books and many more if you get used books.
The United States over 1 billion dollars are spent each year on stuffed toys. Most of these are made in developing countries with petroleum-based fabrics and plenty of chemicals. How many stuffed toys do you have?
In 2016 there were 95 billion pieces of advertising and unsolicited postal mail delivered in the United States That is the equivalent of about 40 pounds of mail to each address and would need about 100 million trees to support this. Since most are not recycled or is printed on non-recyclable paper, a great deal goes straight to the landfill.
Your dogs and cats
Cat and dog poop has been classified as a non-point source pollutant by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) placing it in the same category as herbicides and other toxic chemicals. Cat and dog faeces cannot be used as a fertilizer and contain nasty bacteria such as salmonella, and E. coli Here are some other disturbing numbers: A city of San Francisco study showed that “animal faeces make up nearly 4% of residential (landfill) waste – nearly as much as disposable diapers”.
Your sun lotion
Oxybenzone, a UV-filtering chemical compound found in 3,500 brands of sunscreen worldwide, can be fatal to baby coral and damaging to adult coral in high concentrations. Between 6,000 and 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen lotion winds up in coral reef areas each year
Each year in the United States we are putting about 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde, 65,000 tons of steel, 20 million board feet of hardwood, and 1.6 million tons of concrete into the ground for burials
Globally we use about 10 million plastic bags per minute or about 5 trillion per year. These bags use up 2.2 billion gallons of oil each year to manufacture. The recycling rate on these bags is very low, around 1%. Plastic on its own does not bio-degrade. It just decomposes down into smaller and smaller pieces. This means that even though the average plastic shopping bag can take anywhere from 10 to 10,000.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, each year Americans buy, use, and throw out billions of batteries with at least 1/3 of all single-use batteries ending up in landfills.
We have less than 25 years
And we can go on. Everything you buy has carbon in it. Ken thinks we have less than 25 years. Researchers are saying that if we breach 450 ppm, then we will have crossed over the “bad stuff happens” threshold. Our current growth per year is somewhere between 2 and 3 ppm. This means we may reach that 450 threshold somewhere between 14 and 21 years from now!
Everything has carbon in it. Start with stop buying things you don’t need. For major purchases such as a car, television, or new outfit, go out and do the shopping and find what you want. Do everyone a favour then wait 30 days before buying it. Which is why I am not buying the new TV I don’t need and the new bike I want (I love bikes).
Not all gloom
If you could just stop calling, eating, washing, drinking and dying, it will be OK. Stay out of the sun as well. It is not all doom and gloom. In the middle of the book goes “Drawdown” and lists all the possible solutions such as:
- Plant-Based Plastics (Bioplastic)
- Room Temperature Super Conductors
- Artificial Leaf
- Solar Paint
- Nuclear Fusion
- Small-Scale Nuclear Fission Reactors
- Space-Based Solar Power –
- Helium-3 Harvesting from the moon
- Synthetic Meat
- Biodegradable Electronics
- Asteroid Mining
I am an optimist and if you are a follower of the Singularity University, you will be too. Exponential will solve a lot of our problems. Read “Bold“. That does not mean we should not do our bit. This book will help you do that.