Coal – safe cigarettes for the built environment?


isite Friday comment:

Coal has certainly been in the news, in comment columns and across the blogosphere just lately, upsetting environmentalists, campaigners and activitists. Here is a round up of coal – built environment related news and comments:

The recently commenced open cast site Ffos-y-fran in South Wales has received a scathing comment from George Monbiot in his Guardian column. As Zero Champion pointed out on the SustainabilityBlog, at the coal face, the organisations behind this project, Miller Argent, appear to be acting at odds to their environmental and or CSR visions and claims:

“We are trying to deliver lower energy, greener buildings in the right locations,” says Argent on its carbon dating page. And Miller released a CSR report this Spring which stressed its attempts to reduce the environmental impacts of its projects. “Corporate social responsibility, whether in terms of staff development… sustainable development or environmental management is at the core of our thinking,” says Keith Miller, group chief executive, at the back of the report.

The Myrthyr project is hardly sustainable, and as Monbiot states in his column, damaging to the good work in reducing carbons elsewhere.

This means that the coal in Ffos-y-fran will be responsible for almost 30 million tonnes of CO2: equivalent to the annual sustainable emissions of 25 million people (sustainable emissions are the quantity the planet’s living systems can absorb).

So in other words 25 million people need to reduce their carbon footprint to a sustainable level to balance the effects of the one coal project. How, MillerArgent, is this sustainable development.? How is this in the context of the Brundtland definition going to help future generations?

Greenpeace brought the proposed new coal power station at Kingsnorth into the news by protesting at the site. The Greenpeace film Convenient Solution, receiving warm praise at political fringe events recently, demonstrates the harm of coal power, and the wasted heat from the production:

The single biggest use of fossil fuels in the UK isn’t for electricity or for transport, but for creating heat to warm our buildings and power our industrial processes. So any solution to climate change needs to contribute to heating, as well as to electricity generation.

Only a week or so ago the American Acrtitetcure 2030 group placed a full page advert in the New York Times warning against the impact coal fired power stations will have on environmnetal, sustainability and carbon reducing actions, making the connection between coal and the built environment:

Buildings use 76% of all the electrical energy produced at coal plants. Buildings are the single largest contributor to global warming, accounting for almost half (48%) of total annual US energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

Wal-Mart is investing a half billion dollars to reduce the energy consumption and CO2 emissions of their existing buildings by 20% over the next seven years. The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized coal-fired power plant, in just one month of operation each year, would negate this entire effort.

Over in Australia, the increasingly influential Australian Institute – ‘Clean coal’ and other greenhouse myths paper, availble from the UK Government policy hub website, busts the myths of coal:

Myth: Coal can be part of the solution.Busted: In reality, coal is the main problem, and curtailing its use is essential. There is no such thing as ‘clean coal’ at present, and there is a chance there will never be. There is no such thing as ‘clean coal’ for climate change. The description is a marketing triumph for the coal industry, like ‘safe cigarettes’ for the tobacco industry.

As many seek to achieve carbon reduction to neutral or zero through carbon offsetting, it appears the coal industry is pining hopes on the concept of carbon capture and storage, or carbon sequestration. This gives enough confidence for npower, as reported in the Guardian “coal continues to be an important source of energy for the UK and whilst this is the case, we believe CO2 capture and storage offers significant potential.”

The balancing, myth busting response from Oz?

Myth:Carbon sequestration can be the centerpiece of policy.Busted: This technology is unproven and expensive. There are several demonstration projects under way, but there is no immediate prospect of commercialisation.

So why is this important to everyday life in the built environment?

Well, coal illustrates just how very complex sustainability and carbon issue is, being personal, local, regional, national and global. The built environment demands the greater proportion of power from coal fired power stations.

The cement industry manufacturing process depends on burning vast amounts of cheap coal and contributes 5% of all global emmissions (It also relies on the decomposition of limestone, a chemical change which frees carbon dioxide as a byproduct.) So as demand for cement grows, for sewers, schools and hospitals as well as for luxury hotels and car parks, so will greenhouse gas emissions. Cement plants and factories across the world are projected to churn out almost 5bn tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by 2050 – 20 times as much as the government has pledged the entire UK will produce by that time. And like aviation the expected rapid growth in cement production is at severe odds with calls to cut carbon emissions to tackle global warming. (source, Guardian today Cement Industry comes clean)

Real reductions (not off-set reductions) in the design, construction and use of buildings will greatly reduce this demand. (This is one of the more important reasons why off-setting is bad for the built environment)

Whilst the everyday efforts on sites, in design, during construction and in existing facilities to reduce carbon and ecological impacts are so very vital, so is the awareness of the inter connections between so many of the wider social political, industrial and technological activities.

And of course there is something about the built environments claims and sustainability policies being watched by the media, pressure groups and bloggers, and all the publicity that may generate. Increasingly there are calls for some kind of watch dog to verify green claims, along the lines of the advertising standards commission, preventing misleading greenwash (a term that is used to describe the actions of a company, government, or other organisation which advertises positive environmental practices while acting in the opposite way (wikipedia)). At least no giraffes have been harmed so far…

isite Friday comment – would you like to write a Friday comment for isite. All contributions very welcome.

4 thoughts on “Coal – safe cigarettes for the built environment?

  1. Pingback: Society for the Environment Trial » Blog Archive » Coal - a roundup of recent news

  2. Pingback: online cigarette » Coal - safe <b>cigarettes</b> for the built environment?

  3. Pingback: poor building performance fuels coal demand « isite

  4. Pingback: …on coal, blue and earth day 2008 « isite

Please add your comments:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s