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Wednesday, 08 August 2012 17:11

The Problem is not with Waste, but with Climate… -how Perceptions Influence Behavior

Written by  Dr. Ulrich Wiegel & Martin Steiner

 table2On further reflection, if CO2 were solid, the disposal problem in the above example would never have occurred, as it would have already become a major issue some 80 – 100 years ago, with the rapid expansion of electricity production and industrialisation. Surrounded by rising CO2-ash heaps from these activities, the notion to transport a human body weighing around 100 kg using a vehicle weighing more than 1,000 kg, thus a payload of less than 10 % of the total mass, resulting in more than 90 % energy loss, which is clearly too high as a proportion of energy inherent in the system, would have been promptly rejected.

We have after all direct experience of the banning of forms of energy consumption that produced atmospheric pollution which is obvious, we could see smell, and even taste it, and in terms of fatalities: in most of Europe in the middle of the last century laws were introduced to limit particulate atmospheric pollution (‘smog’) through smoke control. Within a few years people willingly gave up burning coal to heat their houses and water, because they could see both the problem and the benefits of action.

But would we be ready to accept being deprived of the automobile in its energetically senseless, conventional, 45 million (number of passenger cars in Germany) form? Almost certainly not. Why? Because we have become accustomed to this highly convenient form of transport and because we do not suffer directly and immediately from the resulting CO2-waste.

And because of its friendly gaseous nature, at the end of each winter we also do not have to drag out from our homes 40 kg of CO2-waste for each square metre of living space, we don’t have to carry from the plane 5,000 kg of CO2-waste together with our luggage after each long-distance holiday. We belong just to the second generation in the history of mankind that has had the luxury to conveniently and cheaply move more than 500 m away from our places of residence. Let´s be honest: would we be willing – by way of climate protection rationale – to drastically reduce our air travel for the rest of our lives? No? That´s exactly what we mean. We – you and the authors – don´t feel like doing so (and moreover do not want

Smart waste management – sluggish climate protection

It is interesting to compare the speed and extent to which solutions for waste-related problems have historically been implemented with those for climate protection. Roughly speaking, in successive 10 year periods in e.g. Austria, all uncontrolled dumpsites have been closed, separate collections for glass, paper, biowaste etc. have been introduced nationwide, and facilities for environmentally friendly treatment of residual waste established – all measures which have solved the waste “problem” by nearly 100 %. Over similar timeframes the country was equipped with wastewater treatment plants with no single object left discharging untreated effluent to receiving waters. Based on such experience it is somewhat puzzling when acommitment is announced – example again from Austria – to reduce within 30 (!) years fossilbased greenhouse gas emission by 16 % (!), followed by the announcement that even this target might not achieved.

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