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Keeping you informed about the TecEco cement and kiln projects.   Issue 39,   4th October 2004


John Harrison

I believe that our approach to sustainability must be holistic. i.e. a bit like dieting. The pain of either is less if one reduces intake and exercises. So it is with moves towards sustainability - we should reduce energy usage as well as undertake massive sequestration, produce less rubbish (e.g. packaging) as well as find uses for it.

I am also about demonstrating that the above processes would be even less painful if economic.

Changes in the technology paradigms defining our techno world are required. If durable materials for example incorporated carbon as a basic component as well as many wastes for their physical property then an important part of the techno process would require carbon making it a resource. In this way we could mimic nature and consume much more, possibly one day everything we produce leading to reduced linkages with the greater Geosphere-Biosphere.

I am sick of all the conferences. The focus should be on action, on harnessing basic human psychology to achieve the desired outcomes by evolving and changing techno processes to deliver cost effective sustainable outcomes. Economics will then define more sustainable resource flows.

The TecEco kiln, tec, eco and Enviro-Cements will have a major role in changing the technical paradigms, in proving that sustainability can economic and thus achievable.

AASMIC Conference

Recognizing the Importance of Materials in the Built Environment for Sustainability

The AASMIC (Association for the Advancement of Sustainable Materials in Construction) Inaugural Conference 2004 will be the first conference anywhere on the globe specifically considering the role of materials in sustainable construction. The conference will be held at the Marriott Hotel, corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets, Melbourne, Australia on the 18th and 19th November, 2004.

Click here to go to the AASMIC site and register

Sustainability is recognized as the major challenge facing the construction industry as we enter the 21st century. Design is important in relation to lifetime energies and tremendous improvements have been made in the last few years. Poorly understood however is the important role of materials which affect embodied and lifetime energies, recyclability, net emissions and affect on the environment when they are wasted.

Given the size of the built environment materials offer a tremendous opportunity for utilizing wastes and sequestration on a massive scale. The conference is multidisciplinary and will explore the economics, legal and accounting framework, planning requirements, architectural and engineering aspects and other ramifications of innovations, developments and practical applications of more sustainable materials within the construction industry.

Professional development points will be available from most Professional Associations.

Russia Signs Kyoto, When Will Australia?

On Thursday, September 30th the Russian cabinet approved the ratification of the Kyoto protocol for combating global warming paving the way for approval by the State Duma dominated by the Kremlin-directed United Russia party.

The 1997 Kyoto treaty is an attempt to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which are widely seen as a key factor behind global warming.

For the treaty to come into force it was necessary for it to be approved by no fewer than 55 countries that accounted for at least 55% of global emissions in 1990. That minimum can now only be reached with the inclusion of Russia after the US, China and other big industrial nations rejected the treaty.

Noticeably not involved are the American and Australian governments. Both countries' involvement in Iraq has overshadowed other international questions, but Russia's move now puts Kyoto back on the international agenda.

Kyoto is a start but widely considered not to go far enough. The consensus of more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries reporting to the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the largest and most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history say we must cut emissions by at least 70% in a very short time. Although this is much more than envisaged by Kyoto, the treaty is nevertheless important as an indication of the intention of member countries to as a global community take action.

Britain's chief scientist, Dr David King, last January said that climate change was a bigger threat than global terrorism. "We are moving from a warm period into the first hot period that man has ever experienced since he walked on the planet.....the heat wave of last summer in which 25,000 Europeans died had killed more people than terrorism, yet had not been given anything like the same level of attention.....I am sure that climate change is the biggest problem that civilization has had to face in 5,000 years."

In Australia the treaty and global warming are not even on the election agenda. Ian Campbell, Australia's present environment minister is right on one thing only and that is that Kyoto is"inadequate as an environmental instrument." While the scheme has its weaknesses, it is at least an attempt to do something tangible to cap the world's greenhouse gas emissions. What the Howard government fails to understand is that signing the treaty would indicate the intention of the Australian government to others governments in the international arena. Australia may be performing but other countries have every right to wonder what it is that prevents us signing. To the international community Ian Campbell is a lone hypocrite when he sings praises about the efforts of this country.

One of the major objectives of Kyoto is to put a cost on carbon emissions and use market mechanisms to reward countries which reduce them. By staying out of Kyoto the US and Australia will be unable to participate in carbon trading on the global emissions market now getting under way in London. Australia, in particular, is also likely to lose out on investment as a result.

Short term issues continue to dominate the election. When will our politicians demonstrate to the world that they have the honesty and statesmanship to face up to the long term crisis of climate change.

As a company TecEco will gain should the government of Australia sign the treaty as it will put a value on the carbon sequestered by TecEco Eco-Cement. It is not known whether the treaty will apply to the emissions reduction as a result of using Tec-Cements.

Why we must curb our energy-profligate lifestyles

Mayer Hillman, Senior Fellow Emeritus, Policy Studies Institute

Few readers of this article are likely to deny that we have an overriding responsibility to act as the current ‘stewards’ of the planet so that, as far as possible, the quality of life of people living after us is enhanced rather than diminished as a result of the lives we are leading. Indeed, most of us will express support for social justice and the need for people to be inspired by moral purpose and to act in the manner that does not prejudice the public interest. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. To what extent are we really prepared to alter our behavior when our convictions have to be put to the test?

It is all too apparent that we are at a truly defining moment in history. With only lip-service being paid at present to the accumulating evidence of the devastating effects of climate change, which climate scientists almost unanimously accept as being attributable to human activity, prospects appear grim. We must drastically curb our energy-profligate lifestyles, yet we to prefer to look the other way.

We now know that the planet has a fixed capacity to absorb greenhouse gas emissions. The ‘cake is finite’. We cannot go on ignoring the issue of equity as we have shamefully done in the past, and fob off those complaining about the size of their slice on the fallacious grounds that, with the larger cake from economic growth, there will be more to eat — isn’t that what is wanted? That line of argument can no longer be deployed for we are faced with the reality that, if some have more than their fair share, others will inevitably have to have less. The primary lesson that largely escaped thinking during the 20th century is that economic growth, as pursued in all countries around the world, cannot be maintained in perpetuity as it is too closely locked into unsustainable patterns of consumption to be able to be sufficiently ‘decoupled’.

A cause for real concern, therefore, is the underlying promotion and direct and indirect subsidy of lifestyle activities which are causing serious damage to the planet. In the UK, the average individual’s annual carbon dioxide emissions are about 10 tonnes – roughly half from personal use and half from industry. That total is two and a half times the world average which, in turn, must be reduced by 60% to about 1 tonne, in the opinion of most climate scientists.

In spite of this, motor mileage continues to rise in spite of the fact that, in the last 50 years, it has increased six-fold. More disturbingly, within the next 20 years, mileage by air alone is forecast to triple, thereby exceeding current mileage by road and rail combined. Yet the carbon emissions from a return flight from London to New York alone is equivalent to about 3 times what the annual personal ration for all our fossil fuel purposes must come down to!

The continuation of fossil fuel-based extravagant practices such as flying reflects a widespread state of denial about the compelling significance of climate change, with unworthy excuses for inaction. It is casually stated, as if an ill-informed opinion is as valid as an expert opinion, that ‘…climate scientists have probably got it wrong’. And there is a predisposition to wishful thinking that current policies will be adequate to deal with the problem. There is too an instinctive public response of ‘buck-passing’ — ‘it’s the responsibility of Government’ or the often-cited comment that ‘the Americans are far worse than we are!’ In effect, fingers are crossed that technology will come up with solutions that will let us off the hook, such as the proposition James Lovelock, the allegedly green scientist, tantalizingly put forward last week that we should engage in a Faustian bargain by urgently embracing nuclear energy so that we can continue with our un ecological and self-indulgent lifestyles – even though that would impose an obligation on future generations to look after the radioactive waste that such a policy would create for tens of thousands of years.

Meanwhile, successive governments — not just in this country — are averse to acknowledging the enormity of the essential changes that have to be made, no doubt informed of the electoral consequences of doing so. This holds true even when the British Prime Minister admits, as he has done recently, that the issue is “very, very critical indeed”. Instead, they have sought to impress on the electorate the view that they have matters well in hand. This appeals to industry, the viability of which is very dependent on a ‘business as usual’ growth scenario. And it feeds most people’s strong preference for not foregoing precious freedoms that they have come to take for granted and for what they see as an inalienable right for continuously improving material circumstances.

In some ways, climate change — the most awesome of issues ever to have faced mankind — can be seen as a divinely-inspired conspiracy to prevent the world from destroying itself by the ever-widening adoption of unsustainable lifestyles, especially with its burgeoning populations nearly all of whom are intent on raising their material standards. From this perspective, on both moral and political grounds, the only strategy with any prospect of delivering the degree of reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions required to avoid serious destabilization of the planet’s climate is one based on equity.

The framework for this has been devised by the Global Commons Institute. It is called Contraction and Convergence. Within it, the ‘contraction’ to relatively safe levels of emissions is targeted at the same time as the ‘convergence’ is progressively delivered according to a system of national quotas of the emissions, based on population. At the domestic level, this quota will have to be translated into a system of personal carbon rationing. In effect, it is equivalent to a new currency which will be able to be traded on the ‘white market’. Only in this way will it be possible for the difficult transition to very different lifestyles to be made without considerable public opposition.

In the early years of its introduction, relatively wealthy people will be able to buy the surplus rations from those who are leading energy-thrifty lifestyles. In this respect, it will represent the ‘win-win’ situation of redistributing income by rewarding ‘conservers’ those who are imposing the least environmental burden. But, with its decreasing availability, the cost of any surplus will steadily rise as the tonnage of the ration is progressively ratcheted down from year to year.

In the absence of both better and realistic alternatives to the awesome predicament which we now face from climate change, the implication of rejecting this strategy is that we should leave things more or less as they are and hope to ‘muddle through’! That increasingly looks like resolutely taking the road to ecological Armageddon.

If we in the developed world do not agree to substantially restrict our own carbon emissions, there can be only two possible but totally unacceptable outcomes. Either we will witness and bear the costs of an inevitable and devastating intensification for future generations of the problems caused by climate change. Or poorer people, mainly but not exclusively those living in developing countries, will have to be denied their fair share of the fossil fuels required to maintain even a basic standard of living. Burying our heads in the sand on this crucial and simple equation to avoid facing reality cannot continue. If we wish to sleep with a clear conscience, we need to be true to ourselves!

Our present and future decisions about the extent of use of fossil fuels in our activity will have a major impact on the quality of life of people in the next few decades and the generations succeeding us. We have a moral responsibility to act with this inescapable truth in mind. Future generations will justifiably sit in judgment on what we chose to do in the early part of this century in full knowledge — that is as accessories before the fact — of the devastating consequences of continuing with our energy-profligate lifestyles. The accumulating evidence on climate change and its damaging impacts make it progressively unacceptable that we attempt to plead ignorance with the excuse ‘I did not know’ — with all its haunting World War 2 images of the outcome of looking the other way.

Comment by John Harrison

Mayer Hillman is Senior Fellow Emeritus at Policy Studies Institute. His research has been concerned with transport, urban planning, energy conservation, health promotion, road safety and environment policies. For over thirty years, he has argued that public policy should be more socially and environmentally conscious. He was one of the first proponents of carbon rationing as a way for the world’s population to prevent serious damage from climate change, and continues to highlight the lack of urgency in tackling it.

The book "How We Can Save the Planet" (ISBN 0-141-01692-2), published by Penguin Books on Thursday 3 June 2004 that Dr. Hillman has written with Tina Fawcett gives an in depth analysis of global emissions reduction in the context of carbon rationing.

My own view is that a more holistic approach is required. This means that massive sequestration as envisaged by TecEco with tec and Eco-Cements would reduce the need for rationing carbon to cause emissions reductions. Putting a price on carbon through Kyoto and further more ambitious treaties invoking emissions reduction together with massive sequestration will hopefully reduce the need for rationing that would be difficult to politically implement on an global scale without war and suffering.