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Fri Feb 28, 2020, 04:17 AM

Demographics and Climate Impacts on Embodied and Materially Retained Household Carbon

The paper I'll discuss briefly in this post is this one: Clarifying Demographic Impacts on Embodied and Materially Retained Carbon toward Climate Change Mitigation (Shigetomi, et al., Environ. Sci. Technol. 2019, 53, 24, 14123-14133).

This paper is part of the ACS Author Choice system, and thus is open sourced. Anyone can read it, and therefore there is no need for me to excerpt it extensively or reproduce graphics as I do in most of my other posts.

The point of the paper is to discuss embodied carbon in households in developed nations, in this case, Japan.

In various places, here and elsewhere around the internet, I have argued that we are well beyond the carrying capacity of the planet as a whole. In general, in most biological systems, populations can, and do, exceed the levels that can sustain such a population. In fact, an ecosystem can produce so much waste as a result of an overextended population as to eliminate the species in a particular closed system. This is most commonly observed in fermentation. The accumulation of alcohol, the waste product of yeast metabolism, in a wine cask or in a fermentation tank digesting grain ultimately kills all the yeast, and the population collapses.

It is the case of the nominally cognizant biological species, that is human beings, us, that we are not all that much different than yeasts. Yeasts don't know anything at all about population dynamics and do not know or care that they are biological species, whereas some human beings might be able to intellectually recognize that they are biological species as well - although many assume that we are somehow special, "higher" forms of life - but otherwise behave rather like yeasts. As a species, we are choking on wastes.

It seems fairly obvious to me and many other people that the planet's population is not sustainable, but as a cognizant species, it is conceivable, but not apparently practical, that population reduction might take place outside of a yeast like catastrophe. Elsewhere I wrote:

At the same time as I am arguing for saving lives, I am arguing that the population must be reduced for decent human life to remain or in too many cases to become sustainable. It would seem that these ethical arguments are at cross purposes. However, with some exceptions, it is now understood by observation that those places where the fertility rate is at or below replacement level are most often the same places where people are secure in their homes, the places where they are well provided for, where they are educated and safe. Maybe, just maybe, the key to yet saving what might be saved of the planetary environment would be involved with honoring in practice, rather than broach, the 25th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.[36]


Current Energy Demand; Ethical Energy Demand; Depleted Uranium and the Centuries to Come

Japan is a country with a declining birth rate; if I recall correctly the replacement rate is lower than the death rate and therefore the population of native Japanese is falling, not rising. Of course, Japan is a first world country, and the per capita consumption rate is relatively high - not as high as the per capita consumption rate of Americans - but higher than that of most citizens of this planet.

When I was born, the concentration of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere was probably less than 310 ppm. The rate of increase was apparently less than 1.0 ppm per year. As measured last week at the Mauna Loa observatory, it was over 414 ppm. The rate of increase over the last decades is roughly 2.4 ppm per year.

My generation consumed most of the world's resources, is still consuming most of the world's resources, and will continue to consume until we die. We are killing the future of our species, and apparently couldn't care less.

History will not forgive us, nor should it.

The interesting point about this paper is that we won't be done destroying the environment when we die off leaving all future generations to deal with the consequences of our stupidity: The embodied carbon we leave behind will be damaging the environment when we have either rotted or been incinerated.

From the introductory text to the paper:

Modern lifestyles depend on petroleum-derived products such as plastics and synthetic rubbers for containers, clothes, and appliances, mainly because of advantages in terms of their lightweight and highly moldable nature. Global plastic production currently accounts for more than 320 million tons (Mt), resulting in global waste issues for the marine environment in addition to human exposure.(1−3) Another environmental concern is that global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) related to plastic production will almost quadruple by 2050 compared with 2015 levels unless mitigation strategies including renewable energy, recycling, and demand-management are implemented.(4) On the other hand, from a carbon metabolism point of view, these petroleum-derived products that are in use or remain fixed in a landfill can be seen as a form of carbon reservoir, alongside forests, wood products, and carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage (CCS). Therefore, although mechanical and chemical recycling approaches for material recovery could reduce the dependency of production on raw material extraction, most current waste treatment approaches lead to the release of embedded CO2 to the atmosphere during incineration, regardless of the energy recovery process employed.(5) Reducing CO2 in line with national targets is another crucial issue in order to prevent serious climate change.(6−9)

The carbon physically contained in products at the global and local scale has been analyzed in previous studies.(10−14) Lauk et al.(11) found wood products and plastic, respectively, accounted for 61% and 17% of total carbon stored in socioeconomic stocks around the globe in 2008, highlighting that per-capita plastic usage has shown high growth since 1900. Further, Ohno et al.(5) first addressed the linkage between the amount of carbon contained in products and final consumption. This research elucidated the structure of physical carbon retention for both wooden and petroleum-derived products, namely, materially retained carbon (MRC) induced by Japanese final consumption in 2011, finding that 14.2 Mt of carbon was newly added in Japan, corresponding to 4.1% of total annual CO2 emissions in the same year if it were all incinerated. Passenger motor cars are the largest contributor, followed by plastic products, cosmetic products, and apparel goods...


The authors argue for a closed carbon loop as a policy initiative, particularly with respect to the carbon reserve represented by polymers. Of course, people have been arguing this with increasing vehemence for most of my lifetime; the reality is that these are not working, and in any case, the driver of a closed carbon loop cycle is energy. Unless you have energy, this cannot be done.

I have also argued, on thermodynamic grounds, that the ultimate and highest efficiency forms of energy are found in high temperature reforming of carbon based products. If anyone thinks that this type of energy will come from solar or wind energy, or even more dangerous fossil fuel use - the use of fossil fuels is increasing rapidly, not declining - they are lying to themselves.

I think the article is an interesting read. It's not overly technical, not as technical as many of the other papers I discuss in this forum.

If interested, check it out. It's free, a gift from the American Chemical Society to public discourse.

Have a happy Friday.

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