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 382.

    years ago things wereMade to last, there was no need to upgrade every few years to the latest model. However most people now days like to get new things every few years, and the constant demand for upgrades and new things is in part what drives our economy today. The solution has to be better provision 4 recycling. New products should be made to be easily recycled after there short life cycle

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    Resources are stretched and a good way of helping communities is for corporations to pay their tax responsibly not the 1% coroporation tax that Barclays pays yes that's right only 1%

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Changes are too drip drip, pretentious & minimal benefit at huge cost & waste

    For instance, changes to DRAX powerstation, going to burn waste wood, apparantly greener than getting coal/coke from Russia. Problem 90% is going to be imported, from Canada & other far off countrys & WILL also use full grown trees for MINOR benefit.

    Green policy seems to be pure wool, pulled over our eyes

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    Make manufacturers responsible for the environmentally friendly disposal of their goods and they might see sense that these goods need to last much longer.

    All said and done, my HDTV plasma TV bought 2 years ago is out of date, next big thing is '4K' then that will be out of date when '8K' comes out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    371 'Force people to have less kids' sounds a lot more humane to me than 'Kill one third of the population'

    How open-minded. Eco-fascism is such an admirable pursuit don't you think? Force all those who produce more than 1.9 kids to be sterilised. If they don't play ball take their kids away or send them to concentration camps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    Government has just announced HS2 plans - basically a plan/strategy to speed up use of resources
    Funny, but not so funny, is that we NEED to waste/destroy more at increasingly faster rate just to get us out of this economic/financial/debt situation

    Within all this economic destruction, we will no doubt be apeased by pretentious "green" policys which are endemically blood red with green veneer

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    @361 JPublic

    Oil, gas and coal are indeed limited, and very dirty to burn

    But we don’t need them, we use them because they are cheap

    energy we can get from: nuclear, almost limitless, or very expensive from renewables

    Metals are abundant still, but dirty to mine

    that's it really, with energy and metals everything else is easy

    look forward to a future of riches and plenty

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    369. Said in the true spirit of all good totalitarians. Welll done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    To 356 - go and read it again. You have attributed something I quoted, not wrote, to me.

    I was pointing out the inadequacy of "renewables".

    It was comment 336 that made the remark you wrongly attributed to me. I am fully aware of the need to conserve resources, thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    One other thought;

    currently the world economy is based on consumption, we can only consume so much before things start to run out

    yet there's no limit to much we can conserve but there's no 'profit' in conservation.

  • Comment number 372.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    There are sufficient resources, but not enough for everyone to live in the manner to which we are accustomed here. To do that we need to reduce the number of people on this planet.

    Now I don't know about you, but 'Force people to have less kids' sounds a lot more humane to me than 'Kill one third of the population' - yet until people realise that those ARE the two options, we won't act on it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    It will be very difficult to manage with existing resources while we allow the population to increase at its present pace.
    Demand for power, water etc is directly related to the the size of population.
    Forecast population of 70m by 2027 in the UK has not been planned for in terms of infrastructure despite the time it takes to deliver projects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    Come the day, one day, people will be told what they can and cannot have in a world of perpetual rationing.

    We have recently had an insight into extreme rationing because of unaffordability of cost, which resulted in Arab Spring, protests violence & death across middle east/Asia/Africa.

    I dont think mankind will volunteer itself to necessary existinal behaviours, so will be forced to conform

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    I run a 15year old 4.0ltr Petrol Jeep and yes it doesn't do much to the gallon, but when I bought it all those years ago fuel wasn't so expensive. I could replace it for a modern egg whisk that does loads to the gallon but has to be relaced every few years but what sort of carbon foot print would that create?

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    Right now it's difficult to say whether technology and the current Capitalist model will be our saviour or lead to the destruction of our current way of life;

    we don't recycle enough,
    we bury our waste with no thought,
    we don't repair anymore like we used to,
    we have built-in obsolescence
    we waste natural resources without thought for eg online

    & yet to learn that natural resources are finite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Dear government want a hint how to save resources, stop making the MOT harder every year to pass due to restrictive emission controls.
    My 13yr old car drives like a dream still,doesn't pollute but I have to undergo a yearly ritual to pass the test. When Chinese power plants spew toxins out by the ton, my old ford deserves a break!

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    360. Sure right there

    In 2008 Ofgem analysis showed 20 WF prod less than 1/5th of potential max output (that which is always hedlined). Blyth Harbour, Northumbria op at 7.9% of its max capacity. Chelker Res in Nth York op at 8.7%. Old & new sites performed poorly.

    All needed subst backup of course

    Dec 7 2010 when D for elec was at 4th highest ever, WFs prodn 0.4%.

    Good value huh

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    The ghost of Malthus still stalks the academic imagination.

    Apocalytpic warnings about the end of the world, over-population, declining resources, global warming etc etc are the stuff of hippy fantasies.

    Our tired civilizaiton is nearing the end of its only really important resource - a will to survive & prosper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    As long as we live in a society designed to promote ever more competition, consumerism and planned obsolescence, we will continue to deplete our planet’s finite resources as well as being a nation of losers. We need a complete rethink, but the wealthy who benefit from capitalism and control the media/politicians won’t let this happen.


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