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Carbon austerity

The Royal Society's Phil Trans A is back on the global warming bandwagon, with a whole issue devoted to "materials efficiency" (Roger Harrabin's coverage is here).

The general theme seems to be that if we are going to meet our carbon emissions targets, we are going to need to recycle more and use less of everything.

Reducing requirements for production of new material would lead to reduced rates of extraction of natural resources, reduced energy demand, reductions in emissions and other environmental harms, and potentially has national political advantages through offering a reduced dependence on imports and increased self-reliance. However, the core motivation for examining material efficiency in this Discussion Meeting Issue arises from its potential as an emissions abatement strategy: materials production is both energy intensive and already largely energy efficient.

It reads like politics rather than science to me.

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Reader Comments (25)

emissions abatement strategy

You can only draw one conclusion from that.

It ain't mankind friendly either.

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

I was enjoying Chris Goodall's piece on Peak Stuff when I saw Roger's Phil Trans piece.

From CG, quote mining to get you to go and read it :)

"I think a strong case can be made that growth in mature economies is profoundly good for the environment, partly because it speeds up ‘dematerialisation’."

"Have the UK, and perhaps other mature economies, reached a peak in their consumption of natural resources?"

section e) especially counter-intuitive.

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoddy Campbell

The general theme seems to be that if we are going to meet our carbon emissions targets ...

I don't recall any politicians ever asking the British people if we want those carbon emission targets. If the purpose of such targets was to improve fuel efficiency and if they seemed too be achievable, or at least not too unrealistic (there might be something to be said for ambitious targets) then there might be a lot of support for them. If, however, the aim is to "save the planet" by ruining our economy and turning the clock back to the days of war-time rationing then I doubt if the plans would attract much popular support.

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

We can easily meet our 'Carbon Emissions Target' simply by exporting all manufacturing to China.

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

already largely energy efficient

So the plan will be to make it more inefficient, albeit with reduced emissions...

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:37 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

If we abandoned this nasty technology lark we could get back to basics and not need the evil fossil fuels.

I seem to remember this what they did in Kampuchea!

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

I thought these guys were supposed to be scientists. What am I missing?
(No, don't tell me ...)

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:48 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Carbon emissions targets can't, won't, and shouldn't, be met, unless they are set at a level which can be ignored. It's only a problem if we have governments trying to enforce such asinine laws. Whatever happens, it will only be a problem for us, not the rest of the world that is unencumbered by such laws.

In my life time, visible improvements in materials-efficiency seems to have been driven by Japanese industry, not pontificating Western academics, journalists and environmentalists.

I also recall learning in high-school that many increases in material well-being actually lead to decreases in the amount of raw materials consumed. There really is a limit to the amount of physical toys that people want.

Long before that, we start to value how free we are to spend our limited time as we wish. Harrabin et. al. appear to believe that, given the choice, we would choose to spend 25 hours a day driving round the M25 in traffic jam.

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:57 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"It reads like politics rather than science to me." Getting research funding is a matter of politics.

Jan 28, 2013 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

I have a really hard time dealing with this. We grew up poor. We turned off lights and didn't heat rooms that weren't being used. Material that could be re-used was stored and recycled.

Now; my partner and I are in our 60s. She runs a small manufactury and two shops. We still turn off lights and don't heat rooms not in use. We still store and recycle material which can be re-used. In any business, waste is a cost, and always needs to be monitored and controlled.

For some barking reason, the great minds of the Royal Society need the imprimatur of science to lecture us on the need to be frugal. No shit Sherlock. Where do these people come from? Wherever it is, they have no idea about manufacturing competitiveness, let alone balancing a family budget.

Jan 28, 2013 at 12:54 PM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal

Oh - and this is going to work world-wide, is it - or are we in the UK just supposed to 'set an example' to everyone else..?

Jan 28, 2013 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

They don't have to ask...they already know whats good.
Comes with developing your politics around the kitchen table in North London, or in the student common room at Winchester.

Jan 28, 2013 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Ah, the Sustainability meme, from UN Agenda 21. I wonder how many of our 650 MPs have even heard of it. In their ignorance, significant numbers of local authorities are busy implementing it, just as they were instructed to do on their Common Purpose courses.

Wait until we get to the bit which bans private ownership of land and/or property. In UK, the BBC is the proponent-in-chief of leftie idealism, traceable right back to the Frankfurt School Agenda. We used to have a Special Branch and an MI5 that rooted out and prosecuted such threats to the well-being of democracy and the preservation of the State.

Dangerous times ...

Jan 28, 2013 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered Commentertherealviffer

Whilst the Royal Society may have some 'political' as well as science motive, surely making more efficient use of materials makes good sense?

I can recommend the book 'Sustainable Materials - with both eyes open' by Julian Allwoood, the lead author of the study referred to - freely downloadable at . It is packed with interesting information, whether or not one places much weight on the carbon intensity issues.

Jan 28, 2013 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic Lewis


Doesn't that depend on the costs versus benefits of using them more efficiently?

Jan 28, 2013 at 2:01 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I tend to believe we should be frugal with resources unless the costs of doing so are prohibitive. I don't believe there always has to be a cost justification for doing so. But that's just me, I'm Scottish.

Jan 28, 2013 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

I'm all in favour of conserving energy and resources and have taken sensible measures for purely pragmatic purposes.

Saving the Planet from overheating is not one of them.

Jan 28, 2013 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Good reason to cancel HS2 - and all those windmills.
Saves a lot of steel, don't you know....

Jan 28, 2013 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I don't expect many who turn up here think that we should be wasting resources in any form. I suffer today from the fact that my Father instilled into me the need to conserve everything, much as Hector Pascal describes above. I have a garage full of stuff I will never use and will gladly give away, but I couldn't chuck it in the landfill if my life depended on it.

I have had an interest in low-energy housing since the first oil-shock (when we had oil heating) and believe that British effort should have been expended to lower our energy footprint, not subsidise expensive ways of replacing gas. I say British because if you want a depressing game - go to a self-build exhibition and play spot the UK made housing product.

What is unsustainable (sorry) is the idea that using less resources will lead us back to a golden time. My Grandfather worked 60 hours a week to earn a pittance, then dug his garden to grow his own food and chopped his own wood to keep warm. The idea that we should return to this utopia is barking, but that is what many deep greens believe - living a self-supporting lifestyle was unremitting, there is no wonder many died so young. I respect anyone who does it, but if they try to legislate for me to do it - they are looking for trouble.

Today it is mostly the chattering classes who have this utopian view, ignoring the value of a hydrocarbon fuelled economy.

Jan 28, 2013 at 4:42 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

"Good reason to cancel HS2 - and all those windmills.
Saves a lot of steel, don't you know....

Jan 28, 2013 at 4:11 PM | David "

And fossil fuels of course, people seem to think they matter, but also the double whammy of that arch CO2 producer concrete. Huge transportation costs and and vast quantities of planetary 'glazing released.

Moreover, having today glanced at a few of the maps relating to the route of the proposed second arm, I very much doubt that the suggested costs include everything that will be required or the things that will be 'lost', economcally speaking, in the next 20 or 30 years are the potentialy affected areas become economically stagnant whilst awaiting the start of Osborne's Little white elephant vanity scheme. (Or is Osborne just a front man for someone else ..?)

It's fascinating, looking at the maps and reading the 'node' names, how they mostly manage to name things after obscure places that only the locals will have heard of, thus making them sound remote perhaps?

One of the more interesting concepts of the plan is to have the route pass though a tunnel under the East Midlands Airport. Apparently, according to the local MP, seeing the Map was the first the Airport had heard about it.

EMA is owned by Manchester Airports Group and I see the branch line into Manchester will run very close to, perhaps onto, their territory in Manchester as well. As I recall they have just bought Stansted too. This, presumably, means that negotiations could be rather interesting.

Jan 28, 2013 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrantP

I remember those days - we used to pull nails out of wood and straighten them so we could use them again. Saw wood by hand. Wash milk bottle tops and save them in a bag for the guide dogs.

I don't want to go back to that crap. I don't want it for my children. I don't want it for anyone.

Just like the Cat Counter I don't want to "go into the stream and bang my washing with rocks like some medieval c**t" - no I want to "stick it in the electric machine instead".

Jan 28, 2013 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Bishop Hill
"Doesn't that depend on the costs versus benefits of using them more efficiently?"

Yes, of course. But, in this context, I am taking efficiency to encompass costs as well as benefits. And in many cases, the extra costs are relatively small - e.g. just more design effort.

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic Lewis


But are you taking into account the opportunity costs?

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:25 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

A very minor point, but there is no significance in Phil Trans A "devoting a whole issue" to a single topic, as these days Phil Trans A only does single topic thematic issues.

Jan 28, 2013 at 10:25 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

What nonsense.

Imagine you were living in the 1960s. For a consumer to own all the functions now available in a tiny smartphone, you would need to manufacture:

- a telephone handset and associated wiring;

- a mainframe computer and many, many punchcards;

- a still camera and film;

- a movie camera and film;

- a watch;

- paper, writing implements, stamps, envelopes;

- etc, etc.

Quite a few materials, and a fair bit of energy, required for all those, not to mention that many items would be unaffordable for all but the very rich.

These people seem to lack even basic logical and analytical skills. Fortunately, the public (and business) is a lot smarter than they are.

Jan 29, 2013 at 12:53 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

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