Savings needed to meet future demand for resources

Steel works, Turkey (Getty Images) The global steel industry accounts for 10% of the world's annual emissions

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Governments need to spark a lightweight revolution in the way things are made so the world can keep up with the demand for resources, say scientists.

They say homes will have to be built with less cement; cars with less steel; and gadgets with less plastic.

And it will need to be done in a way that radically cuts emissions from producing the materials, they add.

These are among the conclusions presented in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

Several papers in the journal tackle the dual problem created by the increased demand for goods as people grow richer and population increase, coupled with the threat of climate change.

One paper warns that unless demand for materials from UK primary industry is reduced, Britain will need the equivalent of a four-fold increase in nuclear power or a 40-fold increase in wind power to meet its target of a 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 from pre-industrial levels.

The paper, by UK government chief energy scientist Prof David MacKay, says readers can draw their own conclusions as to whether it is feasible to generate this amount of clean energy.

'Little incentive'

Another author, Julian Allwood, from Cambridge University, has been studying the five most energy-intensive sectors: steel, aluminium, cement, plastics and paper.

Landfill site (Image: PA) Societies need to become less wasteful in the future, say scientists

He says these already use energy more efficiently than other sectors because their energy costs are high - so there is a finite amount they can improve.

The answer is for society to demand less of the materials in the first place, he says.

“We can use much less cement in buildings than we do at the moment,” he told BBC News.

“The thing is that it takes more time to design buildings with less cement, and it takes more effort for builders. Labour is expensive and cement – relatively – is cheap, so there’s little incentive to change."

Dr Allwood added that the same thing could be said of car manufacturing.

“Engineers are constantly improving engine efficiency but these improvements are being swallowed up because people want to drive bigger cars with more acceleration.

"That is something that governments could do something about if they wanted to.”

One idea would be to set standards so cars could not accelerate so fast, or that the mass of cars didn't increase.

One tenth of the world’s carbon emissions are produced by the steel industry.

Dr Allwood says that in order to meet CO2 targets, demand for new steel in the UK alone must be reduced to 30% of current levels.

The trick, he says, is to harness material efficiency so people can enjoy goods that are equivalent or almost equivalent.

A paper by Walter Stahel at the Product-Life Institute, Geneva, calls for "sustainable taxation" on resource-hungry goods to help the shift towards a "circular" economy where goods are-used and recycled.

He says this will create regional jobs, increase resource security, reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, increase material efficiency and prevent carbon emissions and industrial waste - all on a big scale.

Several papers have recently warned of the coming resource crunch. The UK independent think tank Chatham House said economies would be increasingly disrupted by often faraway disruptions in supply chains, and a report for the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries warned that some pensions might be wiped out by shortages of resources, water and energy.

The papers also examine the use of energy and emissions from heavy industry.

The studies warn that even if radical solutions are found to reduce emissions from this sector, governments will still need to tackle housing and transport if they are to make the cuts deemed necessary by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to have a good chance of staving off serious climate change.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Re:restricting max speed in cars.What about a maximum R.PM?This would automatically not only make engines less costly to build and more long-lasting,but also decrease fuel consumption, and improve road safety.I rarely go over 2000 rpm and get 60 mph in my 10 year old Focus,but still do the full 70 mph on motorways.For those who love roaring engines,put suitable sound effects into the sound system

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I bough my last washing machine from I guy who refurbishes them[1]. He'll recycle my old one, if he can, else cannibalise it for spares. This also supports my local economy, which I think is a good idea. Perhaps machines should be graded as to how easy it is to get spares, and recycle them, that'd up the second hand price.

    [1] Says his record is to have recycled one machine five times, so far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    "four-fold increase in nuclear power or a 40-fold increase in wind power to meet its target of a 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050" - We need to build 4 times more nuclear power plants. A mixture of energy supply is sensible; wind, wave and solar play a part but this ridiculous idea it can power the UK, perpetuated by the subsidy addicted "green" vested interests, seems unsupportable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Simple cut the population-less demand-less waste problem solved. cut immigration

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    What's really needed, somewhat urgently, is a serious global program to curb human population growth and bring it down to a sustainable level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Reduce emissions to pre-industry levels?(!) Go back to the stone age? I can't see many people voting for that! People wanting bigger cars and more acceleration? Not even in Texas! Much though these people want to live on a different plant it ain't gonna happen. Advances in technology and eniightened tax regimes will make this stuff happen anyway and increasing urbanisation stabilises populations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    162.Tamarin - ".....At some stage there will be more wars and/or illness. The planet cannot cope witht the numbers...."

    And your evidence for too many humans is what exactly? Gut instinct..???

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Demand for resources is proportional to population and the world's population is doubling every forty years.

    Governments urgently need to be addressing over-population directly, rather than tinkering with its many individual symptoms.

    Another often mentioned symptom is man's effect on the climate. However large or small this effect may be, it is also proportional to population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Well maybe somebody should tell the Tories that the HS2 would use a huge amount of resources and destroy the countryside at the same time just to save a few minutes on a journey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    #166 Agriculture is a bit of a gray area. While I agree about nations becomming more self sufficent I don't think that shipping food is nessescarily too bad. Almost all the energy expended in food production is during the growth of the food, so it is a lot more efficent to ship it quite long distances than to attempt to grow food somewhere it doesn't take as well

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    If population in our small island was kept down to say 55 million,only people who had paid into welfare received relevant renumeration when in NEED,then we would be able to afford what we need/want when it comes to goods and infrastructure.We carry on with this obscene social experiment of "free for all" Britain then tax payers money is spent on every one bar them and theirs,we have to cut back.

  • Comment number 171.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    @165. Graphis

    I currently work in the resource and recycling sector and get paid quite enough for my efforts

    As you might note - the theory was for all the people who live around me that don't have a job and are therefore sitting at home all day doing nothing.

    But you're right why would we do anything like this - we should just push all new ideas and suggestions to the side, what's the point!

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Here's an idea - how about a traffic-lights on products to say how recyclable they are and we can make an informed decision on the products we buy. I don't mean just the wiggly circle thing either which doesn't tally with my recycle bin instructions.

    Or we could all agree buying tat is not good for the environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Tackling climate change is an extremely difficult issue because it is almost impossible to overcome human greed. Convincing people to put social well-being (being less wasteful and using more renewable resources) before making money (the needs of big business) or having children (to help alleviate overpopulation) is a challenge that most governments simply don't have the courage to confront.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Savings needed to meet future demand for resources.

    Lets hope the BBC leads the way and reduces the amount of Radio stations.
    TV stations.
    New Broadcasting House London {1bn}
    BBC Salford {1bn}
    Chauffeured limousines.
    TV trucks.
    Satellite trucks.
    Company cars.
    Overseas trips on aircraft.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    There is also another big area not touched , agriculture , food should be more sourced locally ,and not shipped unnecessarily worldwide. Countries should be come more self sufficient in food .
    Another area never talked about by politicians is excessive populations , countries should restrcit populations to their possible resources

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    159. Yaldy

    If I lived in an area like yours, I would be out picking it up, and making myself £1000 a month, according to your figures, instead of wasting time whinging about it on here. If it's such a good idea, why aren't you £12,000 a year better off?

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    It's amazing how much you can save in hard cash by not endlessly "upgrading". My car is 18 years old and still runs fine, my TV (CRT style) is 12 years old and still works fine, my stereo is 23 years old and still works like the day I bought it. Money saved over those years by not endlessly upgrading - tens of thousands of pounds. Surprisingly I don't have a mortgage any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.


    More has to be done to make new recycling industries , to create new jobs

    To some extent yes, but we also should be (as individuals) working less and spreading the work around much better. We don't need some people working 40+ hours per week and others doing nothing.

    Everyone could work, but less than many currently do, thus leaving some time to have some life.


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