The US has seen an increase in efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian traffic safety. There has been an increase in non-automobile local transportation, but much needs to be done to achieve safety and usage levels seen in Europe.
It is often assumed that industrial nations use natural resources at a lower rate than their economic growth and less developed nations at a higher rate. Perhaps it is more useful to look at consumption as production of "stuff" frequently occurs in a different country than its production. This PNAS paper looks at a material footprint of nations.
The material footprint of nations
Thomas O. Wiedmanna,b,c,1, Heinz Schandlb,d, Manfred Lenzenc, Daniel Moranc,e, Sangwon Suhf, James Westb, and Keiichiro Kanemotoc,g
aSchool of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia; bCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Ecosystem Sciences, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia; cIntegrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA), School of Physics A28, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; dAustralian National University, School of Sociology, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia; eProgramme for Industrial Ecology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 7013 Trondheim, Norway; fBren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-5131; and gGraduate School of Environmental Studies, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8579, Japan
Edited by Joan Martínez Alier, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, and accepted by the Editorial Board August 1, 2013 (received for review November 30, 2012)
Metrics on resource productivity currently used by governments suggest that some developed countries have increased the use of natural resources at a slower rate than economic growth (relative decoupling) or have even managed to use fewer resources over time (absolute decoupling). Using the material footprint (MF), a consumption-based indicator of resource use, we find the contrary: Achievements in decoupling in advanced economies are smaller than reported or even nonexistent. We present a time series analysis of the MF of 186 countries and identify material flows associated with global production and consumption networks in unprecedented specificity. By calculating raw material equivalents of international trade, we demonstrate that countries’ use of nondomestic resources is, on average, about threefold larger than the physical quantity of traded goods. As wealth grows, countries tend to reduce their domestic portion of materials extraction through international trade, whereas the overall mass of material consumption generally increases. With every 10% increase in gross domestic product, the average national MF increases by 6%. Our findings call into question the sole use of current resource productivity indicators in policy making and suggest the necessity of an additional focus on consumption-based accounting for natural resource use.
Much has been said of the environmental impact of the use of some of the more exotic materials. A study published in PLoS ONE looks at 63 metals. Several impacts are studies, but for global warming iron is the worst offender followed by aluminum. Processing metals takes about 10% of the world's energy. .. fascinating read.
Life Cycle Assessment of Metals: A Scientific Synthesis
Philip Nuss, Matthew J. Eckelman
We have assembled extensive information on the cradle-to-gate environmental burdens of 63 metals in their major use forms, and illustrated the interconnectedness of metal production systems. Related cumulative energy use, global warming potential, human health implications and ecosystem damage are estimated by metal life cycle stage (i.e., mining, purification, and refining). For some elements, these are the first life cycle estimates of environmental impacts reported in the literature. We show that, if compared on a per kilogram basis, the platinum group metals and gold display the highest environmental burdens, while many of the major industrial metals (e.g., iron, manganese, titanium) are found at the lower end of the environmental impacts scale. If compared on the basis of their global annual production in 2008, iron and aluminum display the largest impacts, and thallium and tellurium the lowest. With the exception of a few metals, environmental impacts of the majority of elements are dominated by the purification and refining stages in which metals are transformed from a concentrate into their metallic form. Out of the 63 metals investigated, 42 metals are obtained as co-products in multi output processes. We test the sensitivity of varying allocation rationales, in which the environmental burden are allocated to the various metal and mineral products, on the overall results. Monte-Carlo simulation is applied to further investigate the stability of our results. This analysis is the most comprehensive life cycle comparison of metals to date and allows for the first time a complete bottom-up estimate of life cycle impacts of the metals and mining sector globally. We estimate global direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 at 3.4 Gt CO2-eq per year and primary energy use at 49 EJ per year (9.5% of global use), and report the shares for all metals to both impact categories.
There are pressing needs in much of the developing world - clean water, sanitation, lighting, cooking, education, ... One that strikes many as low hanging fruit is cooking. In many areas fuel is scarce and people, usually women, spend a lot of time gathering it along with the process of cooking. The fires are often dirty and sometimes indoors making the process very unhealthy.
Several stove and oven designs have emerged - probably starting with solar ovens and grills in the late 1940s - and focusing on improved combustion (rocket stoves) a few decades later. Most of these efforts have failed as the real problem is much deeper. Does the cooker conform with traditional cooking techniques and dishes, how much does it cost, does it require new behaviors which may not mesh with current social and cultural practices, how do you make, distribute, market, finance and repair them?
Most of the projects are the result of well-meaning work by Western engineers and aid groups that lack a deep understanding of the other issues - any one of which can be a deal breaker. There has been a lot of failure - here is an example.
Crop yields per unit area of floor can be very high. It would be nice to see some energy numbers - LEDs are efficient as lights go, but are waste a lot of energy. A benefit of LEDs is the ability to tune output wavelengths to photosynthesis requirements - the reason plants are green is they reflect it .. wasted energy. Photosynthesis uses red and blue wavelengths. (plants are both incredibly inefficient and incredibly important)
Key issue: The uptake and use of network-enabled devices such as set-top boxes, games consoles and computers is growing at a rapid rate. Network connectivity is quickly spreading to devices and appliances that were previously not network connected, such as TVs and even washing machines, refrigerators and lights. Network-enabled devices provide new functionalities for users but have a hidden energy cost, as they must be fully on to maintain network connection. The quantity of electricity used by each device is small but the anticipated massive deployment and widespread use makes the cumulative consumption considerable.
Growing uptake of devices connected to communication networks: The uptake and use in homes and offices of network-enabled devices such as set-top boxes, game consoles and computers is growing at rapid rate. There were already more than 14 billion network-enabled devices deployed globally in 2013 (equal to roughly two network-enabled devices for every person on the planet). Projections indicate that there will be 50 billion network-enabled devices deployed globally by 2020 and 100 billion network-enabled devices by 2030.
Growing electricity demand: The energy demand of network-enabled devices in homes and offices is growing at an alarming rate; it reached 616 TWh in 2013, surpassing the current electricity consumption of Canada. Based on a compound annual growth rate of 6% between 2014 and 2025, demand is expected to double in the next decade. Without concerted measures to improve energy efficiency, network-enabled devices used in homes and offices will use 1 140 TWh/year by 2025 (more than the current electricity demand of Russia).
Significant energy efficiency opportunity: Most of this electricity is used when these devices are not actually doing anything – merely maintaining network connectivity and waiting for network signals. Up to 80% of the electricity that some products use goes to maintaining network connectivity. The main reason is that current network communication protocols require that devices be on and responsive to remain part of the network. Also, energy consumption is not scaled to the communication work that devices perform, i.e. volumes of traffic transmitted.
Technical solutions exist to improve energy efficiency in network-enabled devices by allowing devices to power down, scale power demand to the activity that is performed, and maintain network connectivity with very low power consumption. IEA assessments indicate that the demand of network-enabled devices could be slashed by 65% by using best available technologies and solutions. Mobile devices are becoming increasingly energy efficient due to consumer demands for small size and long battery life. For example, there are smart phones that can maintain connectivity for as little as 0.5 mW. Meanwhile, some Internet-connected TVs draw in the region of 30 W when actively used and 25 W when not actively used, and set-top boxes (variations depending on type) draw around 16 W when actively used and 15 W when they power down.
Not implementing these solutions is a missed opportunity to reduce energy demand and consumer electricity bills. Globally, in 2013, 400 TWh could have been saved (corresponding to the annual electricity generated by 133 mid-size 500 MW coal-fired power plants) and consumer bills could have been reduced by USD 80 billion (assuming an average electricity price of USD 0.2 per KWh). Without implementation of comprehensive energy saving solutions, the amount of wasted electricity is projected to reach 739 TWh per year by 2025 -- more than the current total final electricity consumption of Canada, Denmark, Finland and Norway combined.
Need for policy interventions: Market drivers for reducing standby electricity consumption of most network- enabled devices are weak because this is an issue that consumers are not aware of and because the quantity of electricity used by each device is relatively small. Policies are needed to drive the uptake of energy efficient solutions. There are a number of policy options available to stimulate energy efficiency in this area including minimum energy performance requirements, labelling schemes, voluntary agreements, incentives and awards, consumer awareness campaigns. Some policy efforts are already underway (primarily in the Republic of Korea and the European Union, with some measures underway in the United States and Switzerland), but in most countries – this is still an area that has received no policy attention.