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Friday, 29 October 2010
The two most immediate dangers the Earth faces are anthropogenic climate change and the ongoing current mass-extinction event, also anthropogenic. There are bigger dangers, of course, but those two are the most close at hand. They are also two that we can do something about.
For climate change, how should we set about reducing atmospheric CO2? It seems to me that if we are going to save the planet, we should harness the single most powerful force that we know and set it to tackling the problem.
The single most powerful force that we know is human greed and stupidity.
World yearly plastic production is currently about 300 Mt. That plastic contains about 250 Mt of carbon. World CO2 production is about 30,000 Mt. That CO2 contains about 8,800 Mt of carbon (oxygen is a lot heavier than hydrogen). So the world's consumption of plastics uses up about 3% of the carbon that we emit into the air - a useful dent. Except it doesn't use it up, of course, because most of those plastics are made from oil that came from underground.
But there are plenty of plant-sourced plastics available. They do use up atmospheric carbon - that's how plants grow. The trouble is that the plastics industry tries as hard as it can to make those bio-sourced plastics also biodegradable, to enhance their green credentials. But every plant-sourced plastic item that biodegrades returns the carbon that was locked up in it to the carbon cycle.
What we should be doing is to make non-bio-degradable plastics from plants, and then to encourage people to consume them and waste them, throwing them into landfill. The economic churn would throw positive feedback into the mix, people would be getting more and more of the consumer goods that they crave, and the carbon would be being locked up in the ground far more securely than with any current carbon-capture scheme.
Greed is good, as Gordon Gekko said. Consume, and don't recycle. Throw stuff away to save the world.