Sure, and he’s the Brexit negotiator but this isn’t about that. Michel Barnier is telling us that we’ve all got to do something about a Green New Deal and all that. OK, maybe we do and maybe we don’t. A point up for discussion. His idiocy though is apparent when he confuses two rather major points. One, the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb CO2 – more accurately, CO2-e. OK, that’s climate change and we’ve all got our opinions on that. The second is this idea of a circular economy, recycling more stuff.
The idiocy is that the two are more often than not in conflict.
First, Europe must become a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. If we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C relative to the pre-industrial era, we have no other choice: EU net carbon-dioxide emissions must come down to zero by mid-century. That means investing massively in future mobility, energy-efficient buildings, and renewables, and in key technologies such as hydrogen batteries, new generations of solar panels, and green chemistry. It also means applying strict CO2 emission limits to new passenger cars, public transport, and commercial sea and air transport. And it means making Europe, together with our car industry, the first electric-vehicle continent by 2030.
Well, that’s idiocy in itself. We know the answer here, a carbon tax. Once we’ve imposed that we sit back and let markets take the strain. But the true fatuity here is this:
Second, Europe must take the lead in the responsible use of resources and become a truly circular economy that minimizes waste. Today, eight billion tons of materials are processed into energy or products annually in the EU. Only 0.6 billion tons – a mere 7.5% – originate from recycling. We must do much better. In addition to delivering on our plastics strategy, we should focus on four priorities: food waste and the bio-economy, textiles, construction, and fast-moving consumer goods. For example, we can begin with an EU initiative to fight the planned obsolescence of household appliances and electronic devices.
Take construction. What is really meant here is cement. Some 8% of global CO2-e emissions. Recycling concrete is insane. It’s possible, sure it is. We take down the old building, we can extract the cement from the concrete and make new cement from that. Which we then use to make more concrete. We would also be using truly vast amounts of energy to do this. Increasing CO2-e emissions by doing so.
What does make sense is to chop up the old concrete and then use it as the infill that we’re going to pour more cement over to make the new stuff. That’s fine, but that’s re-use, not recycling. And it still requires the production of new cement to feed the process.
The idiocy is in trying to have those two conflicting goals. Sure, recycle where it uses fewer resources to do so. Which is what we already do – because using fewer resources is cheaper and thus there’s a profit to be made by recycling. Often though the next bits – the stuff we’re now urged to recycle – costs more to recycle than to make from virgin material. That extra cost being all the proof we need that we’re using more resources to do the recycling than making anew from virgin.
But then, you know, French politicians and idiocy, we’re all so surprised, aren’t we?