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After peak oil, peak steel?

Peter Marsh, Financial Times
You’ve heard of peak oil, but you may soon start hearing about “peak steel”.

Or you will if you listen to Eiji Hayashida, chief executive of JFE Steel of Japan. The head of the world’s fifth biggest steelmaker told the FT that from around 2015 world steel output will reach a plateau for at least 5-10 years, driven both by resource constraints and a weakening in demand.

It is hardly the consensus view – but the idea is gaining ground.

Among those who have bought into the notion is Sajjan Jindal, managing director of JSW, India’s third biggest private sector steel producer. Jindal thinks there is a good chance that in a few years steel output could peak at around 1.7bn tonnes a year, from the expected figure of 1.4bn tonnes in 2010.

He believes output will be constrained by efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions – the steel industry accounts for about 4 per cent of manmade production of the gas – together with the negative impact on the environment of digging up the iron ore that is the starting point for most types of steel.

Steel is the world’s most widely used industrial material, with emerging markets now the dominant producers: China alone will likely this year account for 45 per cent of output, and with India, Brazil and Russia together producing another 11 per cent.

… Over the past half a century, the industry has improved quality so the metal is tougher than it was, allowing steel users to utlise less for anything from cars to bridges. Throw in the enviromental question and the fact that Chinese steel production seems unlikely to climb at anything like the rate in the next decade as in the past – and the peak steel theory doesn’t look so ridiculous.
(13 October 2010)

How air-conditioning is baking our world

Dan Watson, Grist
When you think of the causes of global warming, you may picture an SUV before you picture a central AC unit. But almost 20 percent of electricity consumption in U.S. homes goes to AC — that’s as much electricity as the entire continent of Africa uses for all purposes. So says Stan Cox in his new book, “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer”).

Cox, a scientist and agricultural researcher who lives in Salina, Kansas, doesn’t paint AC as the bogeyman. Rather, he makes the point that our world has developed in many unsustainable directions overall, and air-conditioning has been a crucial part of that development. He also argues that making air-conditioners and other appliances more energy efficient isn’t going to get us out of this mess. He spoke to Grist last week about his new book. [Interview follows] (6 October 2010)

Planes Don’t Kill People — Plane Exhaust Does

Katie Drummond, AOL News
If you can’t fly the friendly skies without a stiff drink or a sedative, take note: The fumes from airplanes are to blame for more annual deaths than actual airplane crashes.

Maybe not the most reassuring of factoids, but one that offers a reminder of just how safe (relatively speaking) air travel really is.

What’s so deadly about airplane exhaust?

Much like the exhaust that pours out of your car, plane fuel emits pollutants (like sulfur dioxide, for example). The particles are tiny, and that’s what makes them so deadly: They can easily enter the human bloodstream and cause long-term health damage.

Researchers at MIT, whose work is reported by National Geographic, used a computer model to track plane emissions through the atmosphere. They noted where the emissions were likely to fall and then linked them to human deaths.

… Although the U.S. sends a vast swath of airplanes into the sky, much of the emissions produced by American planes actually fall to the planet’s surface in other areas — where more people are suffering ill health effects.

India, in particular, is suffering from the Western world’s jet plane affinity. The country incurs seven times the deaths that would be anticipated, relative to the number of flights over the country, because of atmospheric winds blowing our pollution into the country.
(11 October 2010)

Western Lifestyles Plundering Tropics at Record Rate, WWF Report Shows

Juliette Jowit, Guardian/UK
The Earth’s population is using the equivalent of 1.5 planets’ worth of natural resources, but the long-term decline of animal life appears to have been halted, a WWF report shows.

The latest Living Planet report, published today by the conservation group, also reveals the extent to which modern Western lifestyles are plundering natural resources from the tropics at record levels.

The report shows shows the impact of living off the planet’s “savings”: in the last 40 years human consumption has doubled, while the Living Planet index – measuring the decline and increase of thousands of species on land, in rivers and at sea – has declined by 30% overall, and by a massive 60% in the tropics.

… “There’s going to be global trade and that’s not always a bad thing,” said Colin Butfield, head of campaigns for WWF. “[But people] in many subsistence countries depend on their local water source and if upstream you have got a big industrial cotton or soy growing plant, we’re starting to affect in many many cases around the world the ability for poor people to develop, feed themselves, industrialise, to supply basic products we use every day: soy beans for cattle, cotton for clothing, and so on.

“We’re also taking away the natural capital of those countries, and only a small number of people in those countries benefit.”
(13 October 2010)