Environment Future Building Society

Re-doing the Industrial Revolution

Replied to The industrial re-revolution by Ed ConwayEd Conway (Ed Conway)

But here’s the thing. Every one of the discoveries I’ve mentioned above has a dark side. Because each of these revolutions entails the creation of greenhouse gases. There is carbon dioxide created in the manufacture of Portland cement, of steel, of glass, in the making of most chemicals, in the production of nitrogen-based fertilisers, in the electrolytic reaction at the heart of the Hall–Héroult process that creates aluminium, in the refining of most metals, in the minting of silicon chips and solar panels and the making of lithium ion batteries. I could go on.

The point here is that if we want a truly zero carbon world we don’t just have to replace power stations. We have to re-imagine how to do all of those processes above that comprise centuries of innovation. We have to re-do the industrial revolution all over again. And, as you can see above, that means far more than just working out a way of making green steel.

I would also add, reinventing what we do along with how we do it. The electric car, for example, has lower emissions (after production) (assuming electricity is from a green source), but roads and sprawl are part of our challenge. Simply updating our cars and the concrete we use to build roads won’t fix the stupid way we’ve designed communities and work that forces lots of time traveling to and from distant job centers, which requires us all to have cars that take a lot of energy and materials to produce in the first place. We have to change, which is perhaps even harder than reinventing green forms of existing technology, because everyone wants things to stay just as they are, simply greener.

That’s a big hurdle in my professional work: people want to recycle more, not buy less. To keep doing what they’re doing instead of adopting new ways. (I get it, change is hard, and when you’re barely keeping your head above water you can’t even think about doing things differently, especially when it might be just the little bit harder to drag you under the waves.) Convenience produces lots of waste, and we can’t always have it both ways. I’m not going to argue against convenience products given the lack of support structure for caregivers (usually women) – I’m not going to fault anyone for doing what they need to make their lives manageable.

Again, we must rethink how we do things to stop climate change from getting any worse than it is already going to be. The more I see how all pieces of society fit together, the more I realize that environmental justice and feminism and racial equity underpin our success in reducing emissions, because those shape how our society runs. The nuclear family, often run and fed and cared for by mom, isn’t working. We need to support caregivers. We probably should rethink single generation / single family households and embrace cohousing and broader concepts of family groups. We need a technological re-revolution on one side, and a social revolution on the other.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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