“If one starts to think about all the energy and emissions that come along with every drop of oil, crust of bread or chicken breast, it becomes pretty clear as to why food waste matters” pointing to emissions stemming from agriculture, harvesting and processing, packaging, transportation, food preparation and ultimately the discarding of items.
The city of Amsterdam this week officially decided to embrace what has come to be known as “The Doughnut Model,” a framework for sustainable development created by Oxford University economist Kate Raworth. In adopting this model, which attempts to balance the needs of people without harming the environment, the city hopes to emerge from the cloud of Covid-19 elbows out, with new purpose. The Dutch capital is the first city in the world to commit to the model, making it an economic experiment of a sort.
At the simplest level, the model makes the controversial case that a growing economy and ever-expanding GDP aren’t necessarily signs of economic health. .
Zak Noyle/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Surfing through trash in Java, Indonesia.
It’s hard to deny that we’ve got an environmental crisis on our hands. For a long time, it’s been a talking point, though the moniker has changed a bit. At one time it was called “global warming”, but when the mercury plummeted in certain parts of the globe, instead of rising, global warming was brushed off by certain groups as a fad. Something not to be taken seriously.
Daniel Beltra/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Burning the Amazon in Brazil to make way for cattle grazing.
Keeping a wary eye on disconcerting figures all around the globe, scientists and activists knew even then that this discussion needed to continue. So “climate change” became the new umbrella term for all the extreme weather and harsh conditions, much of which can be attributed to the negligence of human beings. As climate change has given way to what we now call the “climate crisis”, we’re well past the point of being able to ignore the issues that humans are causing.
Peter Essick/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Locals break apart electronics from around the world for minerals or burn them in Accra, Ghana.
The idea of not owning a car is likely completely unfathomable to some people. Not only that, but it might be impossible. Distance from their home to work, or home to anywhere, might make living without a car a complete nightmare. This is the way their life is set up right now, dependent on a vehicle. In many ways, this is how we’ve always done it… it’s kind of the dream. You grow up, get a house in the suburbs with a nice sport utility vehicle and a couple of kiddos.
Daniel Dancer/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Discarded tires in Nevada.
But the reality is that our vehicles, and the roads we drive them on, are destroying our planet. By extension, they are destroying us. The green vehicle movement is a nice thought, but the tiniest minority of cars, estimated at 0.0005%, could be considered “green”. (1)
The idea of being without a vehicle might be scary, and indeed it might not be an option for you right now. But, will it be an option later? Can you move toward that as the ultimate goal? When Los Angeles is rumored to have more cars than people, we’ve really got to start examining our priorities.
Mike Hedge/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Aerial view of Los Angeles, CA.
Corporations own our politicians, no two ways about it. And all that corporations want is more money and more power. Corporations buy politicians because the politicians are the ones who pass the laws. If you’re Nestle and you want to keep manufacturing plastic bottles to the detriment of the environment, you’d better add a senator or two to your trophy case. But wait, don’t the senators work for us? How did we get thrown out of the loop here? Exactly.
M.R. Hasasn/Foundation for Deep Ecology – A large portion of clothing and goods are manufactured in Bangladesh.
The ones who need to be thrown out of the loop are the shady politicians who can be bought. We need to vote them out.
But first, do a little reading. Brush up on all the ways that corporations are destroying our planet, wholly unchecked, and get really angry. We’re too complacent right now. It’s time to find politicians who can’t be bought and understand the gravity of the environmental catastrophe we’re facing.
M.R. Hasasn/Foundation for Deep Ecology- Oil Fields in Kern River, CA
This one is a tough one, I know. But there are a lot of people on this planet, some might say too many. Between 1960 and 1999, our numbers doubled from three to six billion people. By 2050, it’s estimated that we could be at ten billion. (1) These are all people who the corporations will want to own, and who themselves will want to own cars, and all the rest of it. The average US supermarket offers more than 50,000 products. (1) What will they look like in 2050, and why do we need all this stuff?
Our reasons for having children are personal, and I understand that completely. But it’s getting to the point where we’re running out of room, and resources. We’re about to suffocate ourselves.
Digital Globe/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Landfills are reaching their breaking point to support around 25 million people in New Delhi, India.
It’s strange to think of the environmental impact of creating another human, but I think we need to start.
There are so many ways that we impact the environment, from big important decisions like buying a car, to smaller ones like whether to use a straw. Switching our mindset over to a more “present” state, paying attention to what we’re doing right now, will help to shift our habits. When we know better, we do better. One step at a time.
Yann Arthus Bertrand/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Industrial agriculture stretches on for miles in Almeria, Spain.
Daniel Dancer/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Leveled for reservoir development, a former old-growth forest now sits as stumps in Willamette National Forest, Oregon.
Garth Lentz/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Vancouver Island, Canada.
Jason Hawkes/Foundation for Deep Ecology – A coal power plant in the United Kingdom.
Garth Lentz/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Tar sands in Alberta, Canada.
Garth Lentz/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Open-pit mining so vast that it can be seen from space in Alberta, Canada.
Digital Globe/Foundation for Deep Ecology – The world’s largest diamond mine in Russia.
Lu Guang/Foundation for Deep Ecology – Putrid smell at the Yellow River in China.
An American architect has put his own money and years of struggle on the line to begin building a modern neighborhood that would generate its own power using a closed loop system that would also recycle all the waste and generate all the food.
Officials in the Netherlands have given James Ehrlich an initial green light to construct at least one eco-village 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam, and he hopes to break ground on the project sometime this year.
Ehrlich founded ReGen Villages in 2016 as a startup company intending to disrupt the way the world thinks about housing, development and transportation, and how these CO2-heavy sectors can be overhauled to create a green, self-sustaining lifestyle.
The master plan is for 200-300 homes in the town of Almere where infrastructure permits were approved in 2018.
The vision is a grand one: While incorporating entirely self-sustainable systems for waste management, water treatment, and food production, electricity would be generated through solar, biogas from food and animal waste, and geothermal sources.
Special aquaponic gardens would combine fish farming with aquatic agriculture that allow residents to cultivate a sustainable micro-ecosystem to produce fish and produce.
Human waste would be composted to feed the ecosystems, with the fish waste providing a critical source of fertilizer for the gardens.
But there are two bigger issues for ReGen Villages: “The two greatest challenges we face are financial support and political will,” the founder told the New York Times.
The company is trying to wrap up a funding round of €16 million in private equity investment for operating expenses needed for the first village and for “master planning the next couple of concurrent developments.”
The homes, to be situated on at least 61 acres of land in the Oosterwold District, would cost according to DutchReview magazine between €200,000 to €850,000 ($216,000–$918,000) depending on the size and luxury of the house.
Despite well-managed waste streams, the U.S. alone produces a whopping 275,000 tons of plastic litter each year, litter that can end up in rivers and oceans.
BY SAMANDA DORGER , FEB 26, 2019 8:08 PM EST
Humans have produced about 8 billion tons of plastic since 1950, and more than half of it went straight to landfills. Of all of the plastic that’s no longer in use, only about 9% was actually recycled.
Much of the plastic that isn’t recycled or sent to landfills is believed to end up in the ocean. Scientists estimate that 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons enter the ocean in a year.
The average American tossed out about 12 ounces of plastic each day in 2010, the equivalent of about 26 average-size water bottles.
If that seems like a lot, it is. High-income countries tend to generate more plastic waste per person, according to a report on plastic pollution by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser of Our World in Data. But while high-income countries usually have well-managed waste streams and therefore lower levels of plastic pollution to external environments, plastic waste still enters rivers and oceans, especially from coastal populations (defined as within 50 kilometers of a coastline.) As a result, the U.S. produces a whopping 275,000 tons of plastic litter each year with high risk of polluting surrounding rivers and the ocean, according to the report.
Global plastic waste disposal haschanged over time: there was virtually no recycling of plastics prior to 1980, while in 2015, an estimated 20% was recycled. Even so, the trend indicates that recycling would increase to only 44% by 2050, the report states.
Based on the September 2018 report “Plastic Pollution,” these are the countries that produce the most plastic waste, plastic that is not recycled or incinerated. The figures represent total plastic waste generation prior to management, not necessarily the amount polluting the environment. The report also provides data on per-capita plastic waste as well as the amount of plastic litter from coastal populations at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Data are from 2010.
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 59.8 million tons
Despite being the No. 1 producer of plastic waste in the world, the daily plastic waste per person per day in China is one of the lowest at .12 kilograms a day – that’s about 4 ounces of plastic a day per person.
However, China produces more than 231,000 tons of plastic litter each year – plastics with a high risk of polluting surrounding rivers and the ocean. It’s still less than the U.S., but more than almost all other countries.
Above, a man transports recyclable materials in Beijing in 2017.
Photo: testing / Shutterstock
2. United States
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 37.83 million tons
In the U.S., the daily plastic waste per person per day is .34 kilograms, about 12 ounces a day. As for litter, the U.S. produces more than 275,000 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually. The U.S. is the third largest country in the world. Above, a man searches through trash in a waterway in Las Vegas near the strip.
Photo: John Dvorak/Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 14.48 million tons
Germany’s daily plastic waste per person, per day is one of the highest in the world, at .46 kilograms (that’s a little over a pound a day.) Germany produces about 31,239 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually. Above, plastic cups litter the street during the Berlin Marathon in September 2018.
Photo: Soeren Schulz / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 11.85 million tons
Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world, produces about 90,000 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually. Above, workers sort plastic packaging in Sao Paulo.
Photo: Alf Ribeiro / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 7.99 million tons
Japan, which has than 18,000 miles of coastline, produces more than 143,000 tons of plastic litter annually. Above, trash cans at the Anpanman children’s museum and mall in Kobe, Japan.
Photo: t0zz / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 6.41 million tons
Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world. Above, a market in Karachi.
Photo: Leif Stenberg / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.96 million tons
Nigeria is the seventh largest country in the world. Above, an illegal refuse dump in the middle of a busy road slows down traffic in Lagos, Nigeria.
Photo: ariyo olasunkanmi / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.84 million tons
Above, trucks unload garbage to a landfill near the city of Yekaterinburg, Russia.
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.6 million tons
Above, a sculpture made from trash collected from the sea in Bodrum, Turkey.
Photo: OZMedia / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.46 million tons
Above, a child runs along a beach littered with used plastic bottles on the Red Sea.
Photo: Juliya Shangarey / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 5.05 million tons
Indonesia generates just under 78,000 tons of plastic litter each year, litter at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Above, a monkey licks a plastic bag found at Baluran National Park, in East Java, Indonesia.
12. United Kingdom
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.93 million tons
The U.K. produces more than 68,000 tons of plastic litter each year, litter at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Pictured is the beach at Birling Gap near Eastbourne, site of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs.
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.71 million tons
Spain generates 49,000 tons of plastic litter each year, litter at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Above, a seagull sculpture made from plastic trash in Los Silos, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.
Photo: Guillermo Enrique Menze / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.56 million tons
Above, bales of plastic bottles are stacked at a recycling facility in Toulouse. The plastic is gathered by color and type.
Photo: Huguette Roe / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.49 million tons
Of 186 countries in the report, India is at the bottom of the list for per-capita plastic waste, the least amount of plastic per person. The second largest country in the world with a population of 1.34 billion people, India’s daily plastic waste per person per day is .01 kilograms, about a third of an ounce. Above, a man searches for recyclable material in the dump in Amravati, India.
Photo: Dipak Shelare / Shutterstock
16. South Africa
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 4.47 million tons
Workers clean up trash on a beach in Durban, South Africa.
Photo: lcswart / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 3.92 million tons
Above, a truck in Fars Province, Shiraz, Iran carries a load of trash and recyclables.
Photo: Grigvovan / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 3.73 million tons
Above, men clean up trash in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Photo: Vic Hinterlang / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 3.53 million tons
Pictured is plastic for recycling in Ban Dung, Thailand.
Photo: Muellek Josef / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 3.27 million tons
Above, an illegal trash dump in a national park in Vietnam.
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.9 million tons
Photo: MZeta / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.75 million tons
Above, a South American coati picks at a scrap of plastic wrap.
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.67 million tons
In Vargas, Venezuela, volunteers pick up trash during an international coastal cleanup day.
Photo: Edgloris Marys / Shutterstock
24. Sri Lanka
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.62 million tons
Above, a dolphin is entangled in fishing line and plastic bags in the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka.
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.57 million tons
The Netherlands has one of the highest daily plastic waste per person, almost as much as Germany at .42 kilos per day (about 15 ounces.) Above, a dead northern gannet trapped in plastic fishing net is washed ashore on Kijkduin beach in The Hague, Netherlands.
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.57 million tons
The Philippines generates about 46,000 tons of plastic litter each year, litter at high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Above, workers sort plastic for recycling at a facility in Angono, Rizal, Philippines.
Photo: junpinzon / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.41 million tons
Above, donkeys transport garbage out of Tayrona National Park, Colombia.
Photo: Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.03 million tons
Above, plastic products for sale at a market in Malaysia.
Photo: SUNIN SAIDI / Shutterstock
29. South Korea
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 2.03 million tons
Another sculpture made of recycled plastic bottles, this one in Seoul depicts the Korean mythical creature Kirin.
Photo: meunierd / Shutterstock
Plastic Waste Generation Per Year: 1.9 million tons
The biggest waste producers worldwide: Sensonseo Global Waste Index 2019
In September 2018, the World Bankannounced that our global waste production is predicted to rise by 70 per cent by 2050unless we take urgent action. Humankind currently produces two billion tonnes of waste per year between 7.6 billion people.Population increase may be part of the problem, but it’s levels of consumption within a handful of developed nations, and their gross mismanagement of waste, that have led to this environmental catastrophe. The United Statesis the biggest generator of waste per capita worldwide, with each citizen producing an average of 808 kilograms per year – almost a tonne – and more than double that of citizens of Japan. However, as the Global Waste Index highlights, it’s not just the generation of waste that will threaten our planet in the upcoming decades – but the way we choose to manage it.
The Global Waste Index offers a comprehensive breakdown of the most environmentally-friendly methods of waste management. It ranks the 36 countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) according to how effectively they manage their waste per capita.
Two pioneers believe we can feed the world with trees
Most of the world’s 7.7 billion people rely on annual plants for food. By definition, these crops perform their entire life cycle in a single growing season. In under 12 months, they sprout, flower, go to seed, and die.
Currently, just three annual plants—rice, wheat, and corn—provide 60 percent of the world’s calories. To plant them, we destroy complex perennial ecosystems, cutting down forests and plowing prairies to create an ever-growing number of agricultural fields. To date, we’ve cleared an estimated third of the world’s ice-free land. Greenhouse gas emissions from land use, mainly agriculture, forestry, and land clearing, currently make up 23 percent of the world’s total. In short, our eating habits are wreaking havoc on the planet.
What if we tapped into nut-producing trees and shrubs as staple crops instead?
Mark Shepard started thinking about this as a kid in the 1970s in western Massachusetts. The oil embargo pushed his parents to get a wood stove, and every day after working in the garden, he was sent into the forest to collect firewood. He snacked on berries and experimented with eating acorns, and he noticed how much food the woods produced, without all the dirt and sweat of the garden. After college, he started envisioning a new kind of agriculture: one that combined permaculture and habitat restoration with the goal of using nut trees and animals to produce staple foods. He dubbed it “restoration agriculture.” In 1994, he bought 100 acres of spent cornfields in Wisconsin and initiated a project he called New Forest Farm.
Shepard began by researching biomes — the large, naturally occurring communities of distinctive flora and fauna that cover Earth. He discovered that the biome with the widest distribution across North America is the savanna, a grassy area scattered with shrubs and trees. And he discovered that the most common type is the oak savanna. The overstory was composed of tall, nut-bearing trees in the family Fagaceae: oaks, chestnuts, and beeches. Beneath that were Malus (apples), Corylus (hazelnuts), Prunus (cherries, plums, peaches), Rubus (raspberries and blackberries), Ribes (gooseberries and currants), Vitis (grapes), Poaceae
(grasses), and fungi (mushrooms). Other plants populated the oak savannas, too, of course. But Shepard zeroed in on the edible ones. Instead of growing annual grains, he decided, he would design a farm that mimicked the oak savanna, with nuts and meats as staple foods.
Shepard planted thousands of shrubs and trees. He converted the former row-crop grain fields into a wild yet organized landscape: curving lines of mixed chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, apples, and elderberries alternating with alleys of grass grazed by cows, pigs, turkeys, sheep, pigs, and chickens. “It’s in rows, using machinery,” he said. But it’s not a field or an orchard, with all one kind of plant. And it’s not annual. It’s a complex perennial ecosystem that’s also a productive commercial farm.
The idea that trees and shrubs are the keys to more sustainable farms isn’t new. Nature writer William Bryant Logan posited that the widespread global availability of acorns was the scaffold on which humanity as we know it was built — that the nuts of the oak tree offered early hominids the chance to live a life we recognize as human—with houses, clothing, and a reliable staple food. The people of northern Italy have relied on chestnuts as “the bread tree” for thousands of years. Distribution of tree crops like honey locusts in North America has been linked to former indigenous village sites, and the botanist William Bartram recorded extensive cultivation of tree crops, in particular, hickory nuts, by Native American tribes in what is now the southeastern U.S.
During the Dust Bowl years, the U.S. government leaned heavily on trees for relief, planting some 220 million trees on the Great Plains between Canada and Texas in an effort to curb erosion. As part of the New Deal, FDR started programs in agricultural areas like Tennessee — degraded by decades of cotton, corn, and tobacco — to restore the land with millions of tree crop seedlings. Pennsylvania author and Columbia University professor J. Russell Smith, born in 1874, studied agriculture at home and around the world. “As plants, the cereals are weaklings,” he advised in the introduction of his 1929 treatise, “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture.” “They must build themselves anew for each harvest […] Trees living from year to year are a permanent institution.”
In 1997, 5,000 miles from Mark Shepard’s farm in Wisconsin, Marcie Mayer arrived on the remote Kea Island in Greece. She’d dropped out of an art history program a decade earlier and started a restaurant in Athens, but now she had a young daughter, and she needed a break. “It was autumn,” she said, “one of those years, like this year, with a lot of acorns. And the acorns from the oak forest on Kea Island were four to five times bigger than what you see in the United States.” Mayer was from northern California, and she remembered doing a unit on traditional foods in fourth grade. “You can eat acorns,” she remembered. “It sparked a memory.” Mayer moved to Kea Island and started researching acorns. She learned that the nuts are indeed edible, but like olives, they require processing. They have to be dried, then cracked, then leached in cold water to remove bitter tannins, and finally dried again and ground to make flour. She discovered that although no one was eating the nuts on Kea, the large acorn caps had historically been used in traditional leather tanning and until the 1960s had been the mainstay of the island’s agricultural economy. Then the caps were replaced with chemicals. Islanders no longer had a use for the oaks, and huge, 200-year-old trees were being cut to make charcoal and create space for vacation homes. To save the Kea oaks, Mayer started experimenting with making acorn flour. She helped local farmers begin exporting acorn caps again, and with a market secured, islanders saw a future for their trees for the first time in 50 years. Mayer began buying the nuts and learned to process acorns into flour on a large scale. She also began cooking with acorn flour. “I started making treats out of acorns, trying to help the farmers understand how many great things could be made from them,” she said. Mayer developed a recipe for an acorn flour cookie — a cookie people told her was good. Really good. She started attending food fairs and winning prizes, and began marketing the cookies under the brand “Oakmeal.” Currently, buying commercially produced acorn flour is next to impossible. But flours from hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts are increasingly cropping up in mainstream grocery stores — and talking to Mayer and Shepard, it’s easy to understand why. For farmers, nuts make an excellent staple crop. They grow year after year, sequestering carbon, building soil, and offering resilience in the face of erratic weather. Average yields are competitive — a mature walnut orchard, for example, can produce as much as 6,000 pounds per acre, compared with a world average of roughly 2,700 pounds from an acre of grain. Nuts store well — acorns, for instance, can keep for over a decade. And for eaters, nuts are what nutritionists call “nutrient-dense” — they have high vitamin and mineral content relative to their weight. They offer a balanced ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. And perhaps most importantly for human tastes, they can be made into oils and flours. Today, Shepard and Mayer are both more than 20 years into their experiments. Their work has gone largely unnoticed by large commercial farmers and food processors. But in the past five years, there’s been a sudden uptick of interest in the idea of “restoration agriculture” from the general public. Shepard’s farm has expanded to include ventures into education and design; he’s written two books; he gives talks and workshops all over the world. Mayer’s written a field guide and a cookbook on acorns; travels widely for talks, tastings, and cooking workshops; and hosts people from all over the world on her farm in Greece, where she teaches them about acorn harvesting and processing. And in the policy realm, influential groups like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change increasingly acknowledge agroforestry as an important component of climate-smart farms. Shepard and Mayer know of and admire each other’s work — Shepard traveled to Kea Island several years ago to learn about Mayer’s acorn processing operation, and Mayer said Shepard’s farm “is one of the best examples of restoration agriculture in actual practice.” “For a long time”, says Mayer, “forests were felled for our agriculture.” Mayer and Shepard believe the future can look different. “Let’s go to the clear cuts, the abandoned farms, and let’s plant it all with food,” Shepard said. “Let’s transform this world using its own playbook, using the species and processes it’s used forever.” Will acorns and other forest fruits be the future of staple foods? Mayer said, “I think it would be folly if they weren’t.”
Canadian start-up CarbonCure developed a system that injects CO2 into the concrete when it’s being mixed, sequestering it when it hardens while also reducing the need for cement.
Concrete is the most abundant artificial material on earth, but the production of its main ingredient, cement, has a huge carbon footprint. Cement functions as a glue to hold the other ingredients of concrete together. To make cement, calcium carbonate, also known as limestone, is heated, which releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Cement is responsible for 7 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, the second largest industrial source.
CarbonCure came up with a method to trap CO2 emission forever, while also reducing the need for cement to make strong concrete. The system takes captured CO2 and injects it into concrete during the mixing phase. The carbon dioxide reacts with the concrete, turning into a mineral. When the concrete hardens, the carbon is sequestered forever, even if the building is torn down.
The main advantage of this method is of course that since the CO2 is trapped, it can’t be released into the atmosphere, adding to global warming. In addition, the carbon makes the concrete stronger, reducing the need for cement.
CO2, when released, can be captured. Companies that use the CarbonCure system can buy it from, for instance, fertiliser plants, but because the concrete needs less cement, the costs even out
The method is currently being used its largest project as of yet, to construct a building in Atlanta, US, which will be opened in 2019. The 33,500 sq metre (360,000 sq ft) office building will save 0.6 million kilograms (1.5 million pound) of CO2 from being released into the air, the same amount 800 acres of forest would sequester in a year.
Other companies that use CO2 to make greener concrete include Carbicrete, which doesn’t use cement at all, and Carbon Upcycling with their CO2NCRETE, about which you can read more here.
In July, a landmark trial will take place in a Sydney courtroom that could potentially change the way superannuation funds invest Australians’ almost $3 trillion in retirement savings.
The McVeigh v REST case could set a precedent for the way global pension funds manage climate change
Experts warn litigation against listed companies relating to climate change will rise in Australia this year
The private sector may be forced to lead action on climate change ahead of governments
The case, which could set a worldwide legal precedent as to how pension funds manage climate-change-related financial risks, is thanks to a 24-year-old Brisbane-based council worker with an ecology degree.
Mark McVeigh can’t access his super money until 2055 but says climate change impacts are already materialising and, therefore, investors should be acting.
Mr McVeigh has alleged that REST has failed to protect his retirement savings from the financial devastation that will flow from climate change.
The case, first brought in 2017, followed Mr McVeigh asking his super fund to provide him with disclosure about what it was doing to mitigate climate-change-related risks.
“Since we launched the case, it’s really snowballed and changed,” Mr McVeigh told ABC News.
“It got way bigger than I ever imagined in 2017.
“Originally the case was about disclosure … but then it brought up further questions about are [REST] taking into account any climate change risks in their assessments?”
The Federal Court will now also have to determine whether the super fund is in breach of its fiduciary duties — that is, its duty to act in the best interests of its members — by not taking enough action to mitigate climate-change-related risks.
“It’s not just the experts who are interested,” Mr McVeigh said.
“Everyone around the world that has retirement savings is interested in how their money is invested, and the way their fund is managing the [climate-change-related] risk.”
If the court agrees that REST has breached its fiduciary duties, it will not only change the way super funds invest people’s retirement savings.
Experts warn it could pave the way for further litigation.
‘World first’ test case for climate risks
Jonathan Steffanoni, partner at superannuation law firm QMV Legal, thinks the case could have ramifications for global pension funds but believes it is unlikely to set a precedent for similar action against company directors.
“It is an important case for super fund trustees as it will focus on their responsibilities when managing investments,” he said.
But Jacqueline Peel, a professor and environmental law expert from Melbourne University, said the case will influence how companies broadly think about how they address climate change risks.
“It’s really the first test case on this issue in the world,” she said.
“If these funds are not thinking about climate change, the assets they are investing in — for example, fossil fuels — could become stranded assets and could put at risk the investment returns of superannuation fund members.”
Professor Peel said since the conclusion of the Paris climate agreement in 2015, litigation had steadily ramped up.
“2020 could be a big year for climate-change-related litigation,” she said, adding that philanthropic groups in Europe were now also backing such litigation globally.
The McVeigh case also comes in the context of greater shareholder action against company directors at AGMs on climate change, and the giants of the financial sector themselves highlighting that climate change is a financial risk.
This week the CEO of the world’s largest funds manager, BlackRock’s Larry Fink, announced the $US1.8 trillion ($2.6 trillion) in assets the fund actively manages will no longer be invested in companies that generate more than 25 per cent of their revenue from thermal coal production.
Mr Fink, who has faced much pressure from climate change activists over the years, told US media that he made the decision not because he was an “environmentalist” but because he was a “capitalist”.
“And my job is, as a capitalist, to help prepare our clients for the redistribution of capital,” Mr Fink said.
McVeigh case could have global implications
Elisa de Wit, a partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright specialising in environmental law, believes the legal precedent set in the McVeigh case will potentially have relevance for pension funds, and possibly companies, worldwide.
“Even if McVeigh wasn’t to be successful, there may be commentary [from judges] in the case that could be used by other judges in Australia as well as other jurisdictions overseas,” she said.
Emma Herd is the chief executive of Investor Group on Climate Change, which represents institutional investors with total funds under management of more than $2 trillion.
“When climate change became a financial risk, it became a legal risk,” Ms Herd said.
She thinks the McVeigh case will at least establish the parameters for how others pursue litigation against the private sector.
“I think quite a few people didn’t think that case would get as far as it has,” she said.
The parties in the case are required to attend mediation by April 10 and the case is set for a three-day trial starting on July 20.
Mr McVeigh’s lawyer, Equity Generation Lawyers’ David Barnden, said if McVeigh wins, it may change the way super funds manage Australians’ $3 trillion worth of assets.
“The implications will be felt by pension funds worldwide as investors jostle to sell-down holdings in companies that aggravate climate change or are prone to physical impacts caused by a warming planet,” he said.
REST was also limited in comments it could make but a company spokesman said that as the custodian of almost $60 billion in retirement savings, “managing climate change risks is an important part of REST’s focus on delivering long-term investment returns for our 1.7 million members”.
He said climate change risks are factored into REST’s investment strategy and decision-making process.
“The specific climate-related issues we engage with our investment managers on include carbon foot-printing (in equities), stranded assets, climate-related scenario analysis and exposure to lower-carbon assets,” he explained.
REST also worked with its investment managers and the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors “to engage with the companies and entities we invest in, and to improve disclosure of climate change risks and opportunities”, he added.
Australia is moving towards US-style class actions
To date, climate-change-related litigation in Australia has been focused on the planning and environment space: for example, whether a coal mine should be allowed.
Now it could shift to actions specifically against companies.
Ms de Wit said Australia was at a “tipping point” in the debate about climate change.
“Obviously, the bushfires are going to mobilise peoples’ thinking on this issue and whether the Australian government is doing enough to address climate change,” she said.
“There’s also the potential for community groups and others to take the view that the Australian government isn’t doing enough and look at how they can litigate off the back of that.”
The New York Attorney-General’s office recently tried to sue ExxonMobil, which it accused of defrauding investors by misleading them about the financial risks the company faced from climate change regulations.
While it lost that case, Ms de Wit said there would be more litigation coming from others and this time the claimants may be able to pinpoint exactly who is to blame, with the help of climate attribution science.
“Proving that link has been tricky to date,” she said.
Mills Oakley financial services partner Mark Bland said if McVeigh succeeds, it will set a new benchmark and could see the tide of funds managers dipping out of fossil fuel investments ramping up.
“This could have a shocking impact on ASX companies that have not managed climate change risks and/or have material exposures to the risks,” Mr Bland said.
“It could impact on company share prices and see shareholders exit from those investments.”
Regulators could increase pressure on companies to act
A judicial determination in McVeigh could also give regulators a stronger platform to enforce standards on industry.
Both Australia’s superannuation fund regulator, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), and the corporate watchdog, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), have repeatedly spoken out about the threats of climate change and the risks to companies.
APRA executive Geoff Summerhayes told ABC News this year there would be further scrutiny of how APRA-regulated entities manage climate change risks.
“It’s nearly three years since APRA first publicly stated that climate change presented financial risks that were foreseeable, material and actionable now, and that banks, insurers and superannuation funds needed to consider and respond to climate change as a financial risk,” Mr Summerhayes said.
“Since then, the weight of money has only tilted further in the direction of the low-carbon economy, as evidenced by Blackrock’s decision [on Monday].”
“The major economic transition underway presents substantial risks to businesses that are not adequately prepared but it also offers opportunities for forward-thinking economies and businesses.”
ASIC meanwhile has been conducting surveillance on how companies manage climate change risks, but as yet has not released those findings.
If governments don’t act, the private sector may have to
If McVeigh succeeds in the courts, the private sector may have to leap ahead of government action on climate change.
MinterEllison’s special counsel Sarah Barker, an expert in corporate law and climate change, said companies could no longer wait for the Federal Government to introduce a carbon tax.
“We need to look at the issue holistically, and not just the absence of a carbon tax, which is often pointed to as the determinative risk factor,” she said
For Mr McVeigh, this case is not about getting compensated for any losses (and regardless of which side wins, both parties have privately agreed to cap costs against the other).
It is about ensuring super funds think about how they invest their members’ funds in the long-term.
“I really want to see a full comprehensive disclosure of information; something along the lines of the [G20] Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations,” he said.
“Super funds sustainably investing people’s money will make everyone better off,” Mr McVeigh said.
He said any changes beyond that “would be a bonus”.