A 15-year old girl set on the steps of the Swedish parliament with a school strike for climate last summer. A little less than a year later it is a global movement and Great Thunberg is a name instantly recognised and listened to. This little girl cared enough about the environment and climate change to go out and speak up. So what can we do to help and actually make a difference? This month we are talking about CO2 emissions, pollution and climate change that our industry still contributes to.

Alternative Fuels Already Exist

For years now we have been able to separate oxygen and hydrogen. It’s a pretty basic process. The Sullom Voe Terminal has done it for years. When the wind is plentiful they make electricity. The surplus power it generates is then used to make hydrogen, which is stored for when there’s no wind. It’s not exactly rocket science, except actually, sometimes it is! Soon we will have spacecraft using water as a fuel source.

We can already produce steel using alternative fuels that reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions. There are now dozens of alternatives to concrete, some of which will use CO2 in significant volumes. We are able to manage nuclear materials more safely and we can absorb vast quantities of pollutants, such as plastic for example. So why aren’t we?

CO2 Trading is Huge

The market for CO2 emissions is vast and companies and countries regularly sell and buy extra permits to emit more carbon. By doing this someone makes a profit but the rest of us still lose. If we ceased old technology which affects climate change, it would be a far cleaner planet altogether and steel production would not stop overnight or bring the world to a halt. For every tonne of steel, there are over two tonnes of carbon. Most of that is in blast furnace operations, the rest – in onward processing. How many politicians do you think understand quarrying, mining, ore production and processing? So if they can’t show interest in something like that, what chance does Greta have? Einstein never went to the world leaders to convert them to his theory of relativity. What we need is a Darwinian revelation.

These are the real questions. If we were at war, these solutions would be up and running in 6 months so why are we wasting Greta’s valuable schooling as she talks to all the wrong people about the things that worry her the most.

Where Does the UK Environmental Tax Revenue Go?

The total government revenue under the heading of environmental is stated at about £50 BN for this year alone, according to the Office for National Statistics. Even if we leave the EU today we will still collect revenue as we are tied into the agreements that impose the levy. That is just here in the UK. Guess what we do with it? That’s right, nothing at all. It all goes into the treasury. The biggest spenders are health, defence and education, with climate change being nowhere near. It’s all about money. Since carbon permits are worth the thick end of £20.00 a tonne and there is a healthy trade in it, I don’t see the system changing any time soon. Nor does anyone have an overwhelming urge to spend trillions on taring down our steel plants and clearing up oceans. But hey, it’s a great business if you can get it! Russia and China are making an effort to sort their acts out and they are doing really well at it too. They don’t like pollution or nuclear desserts any more than the rest of us.

environmental tax

The by-product of burning hydrogen is water. Last time I looked there was no shortage of it. Drinking water perhaps, however that is no more complicated than the problems we face with CO2 emissions now.

It amazes me that the world has mobile phones coming out of its ears. That’s scientifically far more complex. We are prepared to pay hundreds of pounds for a device, which costs comparatively washers at the factory door. By the time it gets into to your pocket with a size 15 carbon footprint nobody cares. But we refuse to invest in the much lower cost technology of getting to grips with CO2 emissions. Why? In the name of £1 trillion in environmental taxes over the next 20 years in the UK alone, why?

Why is There no Change with Attitude Towards Climate Change?

The answer is very simple. We are asking the wrong people. People are better briefed on operating computers, cars and ATM machines than understanding how steel is made, materials are quarried and mined and the level of investment that goes into it. And that is the problem. It’s left to the knowledge of the few because it pays the many. Besides, it is really boring. It’s boring enough to make you collapse in a state of total apathy on the steps of your local council offices on election day or stay in bed on Facebook.  No one asks what’s wrong when they don’t perceive something is broken, they just keep running it. That is the very thing that stifles the solution. There is no hurry to change it from an investment point of view when it is the cash cow of tax and profit is plentiful. It looks great on your election mandate too, just in case anyone asks.

The answer is not electric vehicles either. The answer is simply cleaner technology and it is quite literally in our faces. Every time you turn on the tap you are looking at the greatest fuel source for the majority of everything we do. Outside you have the sun and the wind. The rest is down to engineering and investment. The science has already been done. Sullom Voe is the only proof you need and it’s been around much longer than iPhones! The project pre-dates 1975 and has proved that all we require is a bit of wind to provide all we need for transport and other energy completely cleanly. One would have thought that our own MPs, who also seem to thrive on wind, would have seen the common sense and light in this logic. The rest is down to investment. With all the taxes revenue we are now into trillions in the UK alone.

So we know we have alternative building materials, we also know beyond doubt that Ferrock, for example, could be the way forward in place of concrete. As for hydrogen generation, all you need to make it is a glass of water, one 9v battery and two paper clips. If it is this simple, then why aren’t we doing it enough in the industry?

Investment doesn’t get any cheaper than that but talking to the MPs and civil servants doesn’t seem to help. It’s time for the old school to move over and for those engaged in the old ways to invest in the new ones. In 1850 nobody had a problem with wiping out big populations. Now there is a new elephant in the room. And it already had 150 years to wake up, it’s time to act. I don’t understand why we need to raise billions for the treasury which is never going to see the light of day for the purpose it was extracted for in the first place. But then I am an engineer, so what would I know.

Great Expectations

Let me leave you with this thought. Next time you buy a car or book a holiday you might reasonably expect to receive a car or go on holiday. If you are of voting age remember road fund tax is not spent on new roads. If it was we would have the best roads in the world, so how come we don’t?  Is that the answer to the problems we have? It’s not what we’ve got that is the problem, it’s what we are doing with it and how we are getting it. The tax money being extracted from society would pay for a lot of 9v batteries, paper clips, and child’s Pinwheel turbines to power hydrogen production. If you want to solve these problems it’s time to start asking engineers for help.

Cover Image © Matthew T Rader

Written by the Material Handling Hub Correspondent Paul Casebourne.