Consuming Sustainably – Doing Good Deeds for the Planet’s Needs
mars 19, 2021, 4:32 e m
Coal-fired power plants in Bergheim, Germany. (Source: EPA)
The global material footprint is predicted to rise drastically due to population growth, urbanisation and industrialisation. The global focus is mainly on consuming raw materials for growth, instead of using the resources that have already been collected more efficiently. But what can we, as individuals of our communities, do?
The Carbon Cost of Mining Raw Materials
Most people may not be fully aware of the true carbon cost of products created by mining raw materials. The main resources being consumed are non-metallic minerals such as sand and gravel, fossil fuels such as coal, and metallic ores such as iron and aluminium. More than 100 billion tonnes of natural resources were consumed in 2020 (Rhodes). In addition, mining is responsible for 4-7% of all GHG emissions. However, the biggest problem lies with coal mining and combustion. Coal mining is responsible for most of the 1.9 – 5.1 gigatons of the CO2 e (CO 2 equivalent) released into the atmosphere every year. The combustion of coal releases extreme amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, contributing to global warming at extremely high levels. Similarly, coal mining causes fugitive methane emissions.
Although the mining industries are willing to reduce carbon emissions, they are far from reaching the targets presented by the Paris Agreement goals. In order to achieve these goals, they need either a 41-72% decrease in emissions for a global warming limit of 2o C, or a 78-89% reduction for a limit of 1.5o C (Delevingne, Glazener et al). This may seem impossible. Of course, the demand for raw materials is rising, so decarbonisation will lead to a large economic loss as well.
However, there are still ways to solve this. Different types of technology that support decarbonisation have been suggested, such as wind turbines, metal recycling, and carbon capture and storage (Delevingne, Glazener et al). But how can the mining industries make a change? If we want the net greenhouse gas emissions to reach zero, the combustion of coal must be reduced as much as possible. Decarbonising the mining industries will especially be a challenge for the coal industry. If metal companies decide to use hydrogen and biofuels as a source of renewable energy, however, the demand for coking coal (the coal used for manufacturing steel) will decrease. Additionally, mining more iron, copper ore and aluminium can help to support the economic losses, even if it cannot replace coal. To reduce emissions, mining industries can improve energy efficiency, electrify trucks and gas appliances such as pumps, capture methane by covering dams, and switch fuel from diesel to hydrogen. But will this really be enough?
What You Can Do
Kimberly Nicholas is an associate professor at Lund’s University. In one of her research projects, she has found the most effective ways of reducing CO2 emissions. These are mainly by avoiding air travel, eating a plant-based diet, living car-free, and having one less child. One trip by aeroplane saves 1.6 tonnes of carbon emissions, eating a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of carbon emissions per year (which is four times more per year than recycling), and living car-free for one year saves 2.4 tonnes, which is equivalent to three years of eating meat (Nicholas).
As she has stated in an interview: “The next biggest thing was to live car-free. […] Living somewhere as I do now where I have the option to even walk or cycle to work, where there is a good network of public transport, makes that choice much more feasible. And that saves a lot of emissions.”
Kimberly Nicholas and her colleagues created a list of sustainable options. Although it may seem impossible to make a difference, we can reduce our carbon footprint drastically as individuals by applying simple behavioural changes and consumer decisions such as upcycling. Here are some effective options:
❏ Conserve electricity by turning
❏ off the lights when leaving the room.
❏ Make sure to upgrade your light bulbs to LED lighting.
❏ Recycle effectively.
❏ Try to reduce your meat consumption.
❏ Only run the dishwasher when it is full.
❏ Reuse, eg. clothes if they’re not dirty, only keep and reuse one plastic bag (although try to avoid these), reuse containers provided freely from restaurants, etc. Machine wash in cold water. If you are above 18 you can make election impacts.
Motivate your parents to make a difference!
Every single deed counts. Together, we can make the environment better for the future.
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