Smartphones, tablets and laptops are ubiquitous in the wealthy world, and the makers of these devices have their eyes set on selling to the next five billion consumers in emerging markets. And why not? Access to the internet is a good thing, and digital technologies can enable better resource productivity, smarter conservation, and lower waste. The fact that smart devices have been selling like hotcakes for the past decade might lead business executives to think more growth is practically inevitable. Read more
The case for carbon capture and storage (CCS) is increasingly confused. The IPCC suggests CCS makes quick, low cost decarbonisation much more feasible, and the prime minister recently declared the technology “absolutely crucial.” But a recent UCL study found that CCS makes little difference to the proportion of fossil reserves that cannot be burned. Less than a quarter of people support CCS in the UK, compared to the 80 per cent supporting renewables, and activists led anti-CCS protests at the recent Lima climate conference because they fear it will be used as a smokescreen for additional unabated fossil fuel use. Read more
This post first appeared on the Huffington Post.
Technological innovation is intoxicating. Digital technologies have evolved so quickly that technology prophets are predicting a ‘digital disruption’, in which vast material bounty is created at such low marginal costs that big business and government melt away to reveal a new, environmentally friendly collaborative commons. Read more
Earlier this month, the Treasury released its analysis of the costs of opposition policy, including the effect of a landfill ban for food waste on government expenditure. It’s important to understand the costs of green policy, but these Treasury calculations have missed the big picture. Read more
‘On time and on budget’ are five words any project promoter loves to be able to boast, especially for a first project. One year and five months after the Green Investment Bank (GIB) was set up, its first project has managed this feat, despite being full of potential risks which might have been enough to scare off ordinary investors: the TEG Biogas plant in Dagenham will process 50,000 tonnes per annum of biodegradable waste which would otherwise have increased methane emissions from landfill, and will sell its residual heat to Closed Loop London, a factory that recycles plastic bottles. Read more
Our latest infographic below shows the benefits to the UK economy of keeping resources out of landfill.
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I wrote recently about how resource extraction is like the Red Queen race in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, where rising environmental pressures mean we have to work much harder and pay more just to maintain production. What I didn’t touch on was what this is doing to our politics: persistently high prices appear to have come out of nowhere, leaving politicians reeling. Read more
This post originally appeared on The Guardian.
Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass contains a famous passage describing Alice’s attempts to run alongside the Red Queen in a topsy-turvy nonsense world, where cause and effect are reversed: Read more
Earlier this week, Global Witness, the organisation behind restrictions on blood diamonds, called for an EU law to restrict the use of conflict minerals. This would match a US law, called the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires companies to trace the origin of certain metal ores through their supply chain to ensure they don’t come from known conflict zones.
To be clear, conflict minerals are both horrible and, unfortunately, in most of our electronics. Few would defend them, but the call for a new law was immediately met by criticism. “There are times when the actions of do-gooders makes [sic] me want to kneel down and weep bitter tears of pain,” exclaimed Tim Worstall in Forbes, who wrote a riposte to the call for the new law. This isn’t because Worstall supports conflict minerals – he doesn’t – but because he thinks that we can prevent conflict minerals from being used for 300-400 times less money. Fundamentally, this is a debate about how best to create supply chain transparency, an essential component of resource resilience. Read more
Last week, I attended ‘Redesigning the future‘, an RSA Great Recovery debate on the role of design in a circular economy.
Redesign certainly makes circular systems cheaper and more effective. In the case of end-of-life vehicles, design for recycling will help to turn previously unrecycled plastic, glass, and electronics from old cars into nearly £40 million of recovered resources in the UK by 2015. Read more