Environmental Dissonance

At the moment the people of earth are involved in an attempt to save the earth from what they consider mankind’s pollution, mainly concentrating on carbon dioxide levels. This is the intention. Some are saying that there is no problem, others saying that it is all basically down to carbon dioxide levels, and others that it is unlikely we can do anything about it. The signs are that very little effective action is in fact being done and we are continuing on our course with little deviation. All eyes and projects are concentrating on superficial methods for reducing CO2 levels with the consideration that ‘it isn’t possible,’ or it being a more natural occurrence that we cannot stop, unacceptable to even discuss. The idea that we can’t stop it is never mentioned, and anybody who says that what we are doing is having little effect is taken as a climate denier and can be safely discounted just by being considered a ‘bad person.’

So how is the planet doing? There is an almost certain problem that we are using up resources at an increasing rate, which can be seen by the requirement for increased levels of energy to obtain those resources. At one time it was thought of as uneconomic to use shale fields to provide oil as too much energy would be needed to do it. We are now heavily into obtaining oil from those fields. But not all oil fields are equal, some being richer and easier to extract than others. The ones at the moment the oil is being extracted from the richer and more saturated fields, the blanket idea that all shale oil fields are equal and there being an almost unlimited supply of those, certainly enough for a thousand years. But the fact is that we are using up the richer fields and will need to move onto lesser fields are the unabated demand for oil products continues. This mean we will need more energy to do this and basically every resource comes down to the energy required for its production. The more energy the more pollution and the higher cost.

But how does this equate to environmental dissonance? Mainly due to the level of resources that are required to maintain a state. More resources means more energy and more pollution, much of the pollution produced by a process concealed from the equation. ‘The pollution starts or is only calculated from here,’ is the mantra. Everything else is irrelevant to the solution, but the pollution outside those parameters will increase as the resources increase.

A new item produced from a process may be cleaner than the old item if that item is no longer required or used. There may be a cost of disposing of that item that is higher than disposing of the new item, but a new item is always an addition to the resource requirement. If you have a closed system that uses 100 units a year and polluting 100 units, making things cleaner but using 110 units to do so will always use more energy and create more pollution than 100 whatever way you look at it. The world is such a closed system. You might claim that the 110 is cleaner than the 100, but somewhere along the line that extra 10 units needs to be constantly provided, maybe not in directly showable forms, but behind the scenes where the cost isn’t calulated. The calculation for the pollution may look as 90, but because of clever accounting the extra 20 is just lost to the conversions.

An example is an electric car. Electricity is cleaner that the petrol or diesel replacement, but the additional costs of creating one are much higher at the moment. An electric car costs twice as much as a petrol or diesel to produce. This means twice the resources and twice the energy is required to sell and buy one. Generally, half the pollution that a petrol or diesel car produces is in its manufacture, with electric or hybrid cars about 2/3rds. If you take a worn-out car that could not be used anymore, that would be a good replacement, even given the extra pollution that results from the process, but what is changed are perfectly viable vehicles that are scrapped before their time. So, a car that would have its production pollution averaged over a 15-20 year life now has the pollution averaged over a much shorter period, of 7-10 years, effectively increasing its relative pollution by about 33% over that premature timing.  If the car’s life had been extended to 30 years, then it would have produced 50% more pollution overall compared to 15 years, so the relative pollution for it would have reduced by 25%.

But how effective is the electric car for reducing pollution, not just the image or hearsay of their effectiveness? The problem comes because we now live in a consumer society with a discardable culture. It’s not modern or new, so its value is considered less and is easily discardable. This will probably be true for electric cars, where the easiest option is to scrap them when they go wrong and no further spare parts are available as they haven’t been manufactured for years. Similar to the recent route taken by computers and phone that are still workable, designed so they have a limited shelf life and won’t run the latest operating system or programs. The operating systems and programs are designed not to run on computers or phones deliberately with changed routine calls and superficial and worthless security modifications that serve no purpose in changing them, except to build in obsolescence and lock the user into an upgrade path. ‘Built in obsolescence,’ an old term with new technical opportunities and advantages for large companies, little or none for the users or buyers.

This is true of all new and old items. Producing a new item that is a replacement before an item becomes uneconomic to repair or maintain, or not really required, or superfluous, being unnecessary or conspicuous pollution swept under the carpet and forgotten or ignored.

So, asking again, ‘how is the world doing?’ We can see that production and CO2 levels are still increasing in the world, many ‘clean’ processes not including their pollution in their calculations, most of them being transfers and pollution in other countries. “We’re clean and carbon neutral,’ but most of what the country uses being neither clean, or not carbon neutral. This applies to all the new goods entering a country, the power in terms of electricity and oil that’s imported, and even the means to produce that energy in terms of imported solar panels and wind turbines.

Energy and resources equals cost and pollution, there being no such thing as a free lunch, only efficiency or lack of it.

Many countries are doing all the ‘right things’ to clean up their act, except that their power and resource requirements still are increasing rather than decreasing, so overall, their act is getting dirtier but sounding cleaner, consumption increasing rather than decreasing. ‘We’re not saving the planet, but it looks good on paper, so theoretically we are doing well.’ Sadly, practically they aren’t.

One of the biggest problems we have is the disposable society, thinking that quick replacement of more inefficient items is good, not considering the overall or effect on the total, or including anything that went on before the final finished product was supplied. Economists see lack of increasing GNP as a sign that things are going wrong. A 5% increase a year is seen as good, but 100 year of this means that the GNP would be 130 times the original figure, 130 times the resources and 130 times the pollution. 300 years; that’s 2 million times. A couple of thousand years and it needs the resources of the universe. 10 thousand of that and the universe is not enough.

It’s similar to the dieting idea that ‘you don’t count calories if you eat from somebody elses plate.’