Climate explained: the environmental footprint of electric versus fossil cars



The best way to compare emissions from electric cars is to assess all phases of a life cycle analysis.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Md Arif Hasan, Victoria University of Wellington and Ralph Brougham Chapman, Victoria University of Wellington


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

There is a lot of discussion on the benefits of electric cars versus fossil fuel cars in the context of lithium mining. Please can you tell me which one weighs in better on the environmental impact in terms of global warming and why?

Electric vehicles (EVs) seem very attractive at first sight. But when we look more closely, it becomes clear that they have a substantial carbon footprint and some downsides in terms of the extraction of lithium, cobalt and other metals. And they don’t relieve congestion in crowded cities.

In this response to the question, we touch briefly on the lithium issue, but focus mainly on the carbon footprint of electric cars.

The increasing use of lithium-ion batteries as a major power source in electronic devices, including mobile phones, laptops and electric cars has contributed to a 58% increase in lithium mining in the past decade worldwide. There seems little near-term risk of lithium being mined out, but there is an environmental downside.

The mining process requires extensive amounts of water, which can cause aquifer depletion and adversely affect ecosystems in the Atacama Salt Flat, in Chile, the world’s largest lithium extraction site. But researchers have developed methods to recover lithium from water.

Turning to climate change, it matters whether electric cars emit less carbon than conventional vehicles, and how much less.




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Emissions reduction potential of EVs

The best comparison is based on a life cycle analysis which tries to consider all the emissions of carbon dioxide during vehicle manufacturing, use and recycling. Life cycle estimates are never entirely comprehensive, and emission estimates vary by country, as circumstances differ.

In New Zealand, 82% of energy for electricity generation came from renewable sources in 2017. With these high renewable electricity levels for electric car recharging, compared with say Australia or China, EVs are better suited to New Zealand. But this is only one part of the story. One should not assume that, overall, electric cars in New Zealand have a close-to-zero carbon footprint or are wholly sustainable.

A life cycle analysis of emissions considers three phases: the manufacturing phase (also known as cradle-to-gate), the use phase (well-to-wheel) and the recycling phase (grave-to-cradle).

The manufacturing phase

In this phase, the main processes are ore mining, material transformation, manufacturing of vehicle components and vehicle assembly. A recent study of car emissions in China estimates emissions for cars with internal combustion engines in this phase to be about 10.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO₂) per car, compared to emissions for an electric car of about 13 tonnes (including the electric car battery manufacturing).

Emissions from the manufacturing of a lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt-oxide battery alone were estimated to be 3.2 tonnes. If the vehicle life is assumed to be 150,000 kilometres, emissions from the manufacturing phase of an electric car are higher than for fossil-fuelled cars. But for complete life cycle emissions, the study shows that EV emissions are 18% lower than fossil-fuelled cars.




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The use phase

In the use phase, emissions from an electric car are solely due to its upstream emissions, which depend on how much of the electricity comes from fossil or renewable sources. The emissions from a fossil-fuelled car are due to both upstream emissions and tailpipe emissions.

Upstream emissions of EVs essentially depend on the share of zero or low-carbon sources in the country’s electricity generation mix. To understand how the emissions of electric cars vary with a country’s renewable electricity share, consider Australia and New Zealand.

In 2018, Australia’s share of renewables in electricity generation was about 21% (similar to Greece’s at 22%). In contrast, the share of renewables in New Zealand’s electricity generation mix was about 84% (less than France’s at 90%). Using these data and estimates from a 2018 assessment, electric car upstream emissions (for a battery electric vehicle) in Australia can be estimated to be about 170g of CO₂ per km while upstream emissions in New Zealand are estimated at about 25g of CO₂ per km on average. This shows that using an electric car in New Zealand is likely to be about seven times better in terms of upstream carbon emissions than in Australia.

The above studies show that emissions during the use phase from a fossil-fuelled compact sedan car were about 251g of CO₂ per km. Therefore, the use phase emissions from such a car were about 81g of CO₂ per km higher than those from a grid-recharged EV in Australia, and much worse than the emissions from an electric car in New Zealand.

The recycling phase

The key processes in the recycling phase are vehicle dismantling, vehicle recycling, battery recycling and material recovery. The estimated emissions in this phase, based on a study in China, are about 1.8 tonnes for a fossil-fuelled car and 2.4 tonnes for an electric car (including battery recycling). This difference is mostly due to the emissions from battery recycling which is 0.7 tonnes.

This illustrates that electric cars are responsible for more emissions than their petrol counterparts in the recycling phase. But it’s important to note the recycled vehicle components can be used in the manufacturing of future vehicles, and batteries recycled through direct cathode recycling can be used in subsequent batteries. This could have significant emissions reduction benefits in the future.

So on the basis of recent studies, fossil-fuelled cars generally emit more than electric cars in all phases of a life cycle. The total life cycle emissions from a fossil-fuelled car and an electric car in Australia were 333g of CO₂ per km and 273g of CO₂ per km, respectively. That is, using average grid electricity, EVs come out about 18% better in terms of their carbon footprint.

Likewise, electric cars in New Zealand work out a lot better than fossil-fuelled cars in terms of emissions, with life-cycle emissions at about 333 g of CO₂ per km for fossil-fuelled cars and 128g of CO₂ per km for electric cars. In New Zealand, EVs perform about 62% better than fossil cars in carbon footprint terms.The Conversation

Md Arif Hasan, PhD candidate, Victoria University of Wellington and Ralph Brougham Chapman, Associate Professor , Director Environmental Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate explained: what each of us can do to reduce our carbon footprint



Eating less meat is one change many of us can make to reduce our contribution to climate change.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Nick Golledge, Victoria University of Wellington


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

As an individual, what is the single, most important thing I can do in the face of climate change?

The most important individual climate action will depend on each person’s particular circumstances, but each of us can make some changes to reduce our own carbon footprint and to support others to do the same.

Generally, there are four lifestyle choices that can make a major difference: eat less or no meat, forego air travel, go electric or ditch your car, and have fewer children.

In New Zealand, half of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. This is more than all transport, power generation and manufacturing industries combined. Clearly the single biggest change an individual can make is therefore to reduce meat and dairy consumption. A shift from animal to plant-sourced protein would give us a 37% better chance of keeping temperature rise under 2℃ and an almost 50% better chance of staying below 1.5℃ – the targets of the Paris agreement.

Best of all, this can be done right now, at whatever level you can manage, and there are many people taking this step.

One aspect that is often overlooked is that carnivorous pets (mainly dogs, cats) consume lots of meat, with all the associated impacts described above. A recent US study concluded that dog and cat ownership is responsible for nearly one third of the environmental impacts associated with animal production (land use, water, fossil fuels). So ideally, if you’re getting a new pet, go for something herbivorous.

Buy locally, eat seasonally

Buy local produce, whether it’s food grown locally or goods manufactured locally rather than imported from overseas. Goods that are transported around the world by sea account for 3.3% of global carbon dioxide emissions and 33% of all trade-related emissions from fossil fuel combustion, so reducing our dependence on imports makes a big difference to our overall carbon footprint.

Car use is a problem, because we all enjoy the personal mobility cars provide. But it comes with an excessively high carbon cost. Using public transport where possible is of course preferable, but for some the lack of personal freedom is a big disadvantage, as well as the sometimes less than perfect transit networks that exist in many parts of the country.

One alternative for many people looking to commute short distances might be an e-bike, but think of it as an alternative to your car rather than a replacement for your bike. For those looking to replace their car, buying a hybrid or full electric model would be the best thing from an emissions perspective, even if the production of the cars themselves isn’t entirely without environmental problems.

New Zealand’s network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers is growing rapidly, but generally speaking it is easiest to charge at home if you’re doing daily commutes. This becomes economical if you have an electricity supplier offering a special low rate for EV charging.

On the subject of electricity, an easy and quick way to reduce your carbon footprint is to switch to a supplier that generates electricity only from renewable sources. In New Zealand, we have an abundance of renewable options, from solar, wind and hydro.

Plant trees

Planting trees requires having some space, but if you have land available, planting trees is a great way to invest in longer-term carbon sequestration. There is a lot of variability between species, but as a rule of thumb, a tree that lives to 40 or 50 years will have taken up about a ton of carbon dioxide.




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Air travel is, for many of us, an essential part of our work. There is some progress in the field of aviation emissions reductions, but it is still a long way off. In the short term we have to find alternatives, whether that is in the form of teleconferencing or, if travel is essential, carbon offsetting schemes (although this is far from a perfect solution unfortunately).

Vote for climate-aware politicians and council representatives. These are the people who have the power to implement changes beyond the scope of individual actions. Make your voice heard through voting, and by contributing to discussion and consultation processes.

Community initiatives such as tree planting or shared gardens, or just maintaining wild spaces are ideal for carbon sequestration. This isn’t just because of the plants these spaces accommodate, but also because of the soil. Globally, soil holds two to three times more carbon than the atmosphere, but the ability of soil to retain this depends on it being managed well. Generally speaking, the longer and more densely planted an area of soil is, the better it will sequester carbon.

How to cope

One of the frustrations is the realisation that climate change is not something that can be left to politicians to deal with on our behalf. The urgency is simply too great. The responsibility has been implicitly devolved to the individual, without any prior consent.




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But individual actions are massively important in two ways. First, they have an immediate impact on our total carbon footprint, without any of the inertia of political machinations. Secondly, by adopting and advocating for low-carbon life choices, individuals are sending a clear message to political leaders that a growing proportion of the voting population will favour policies that are aligned with similar priorities.

It is of course hard to stand your ground and stick with new lifestyle choices when you feel surrounded by people who choose not to change, or worse, actively mock and criticise. This is normal human psychology. People subconsciously tend to feel attacked if they see someone else making a so-called ethical or moral choice, as if they themselves are being judged, or criticised.

In the context of climate change, the science is so overwhelmingly clear, and the current and future impacts so manifestly important, that not to acknowledge this in a meaningful manner either reflects a lack of understanding or awareness, or is simply selfish. Rather than taking issue with those members of society, a more positive approach that can help you cope with the feeling of marginalisation is to actively seek out like-minded people.The Conversation

Nick Golledge, Associate Professor of Glaciology, Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to neutralise your greenhouse gas footprint


Andrew Blakers, Australian National University

With time running out for us to make deep reductions in greenhouse emissions, you may well be wondering what you personally can do to minimise your own greenhouse footprint.

The average greenhouse emissions per Australian are the equivalent of 21 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. How can you offset or neutralise your personal share of these carbon emissions in the most cost-effective way?




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There are some places where the government is willing to take the necessary action on your behalf. The ACT government, for example, is on track to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions generated within Canberra by 2045, and indeed by 2020 will make its own electricity sector carbon-neutral.

The latter feat was achieved by contracting several new zero-emission solar and wind farms to produce renewable electricity equivalent to Canberra’s consumption. Canberra retail electricity prices continue to be among the lowest in Australia.

Take advantage of solar and wind

If you don’t live in Canberra, you need another way to neutralise your emissions. Fortunately, the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power have both fallen rapidly. Australia has long been in the midst of a boom in rooftop PV, and many Gigawatts of ground-mounted PV and wind farms are being built around the country. This has put Australia on track to reach 50% renewable electricity in 2024. Each Megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated by renewables reduces electricity from coal by a similar amount, and therefore avoids about 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/7Gd1z/2/

The above pie chart, based on federal government data, shows the various sources of Australian greenhouse emissions in 2017. Electricity production is the largest source and can be neutralised by substituting PV and wind for coal and gas. Emissions from electricity use in commerce and industry, the land sector, industrial processes and high temperature heat is largely beyond your control, however, so it’s perhaps best to focus your attention closer to home.

Cost-effective action

However, putting solar panels on your roof, switching to an electric car, and substituting electric heat pumps for gas water and space heating can (or soon will) be cost-effective steps that you can take to reduce your greenhouse footprint. And in the long term, these will either pay for themselves or even end up saving you money.




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A 10-kilowatt solar PV system installed on your roof will produce about 14 MWh of electricity per year. Since coal power stations produce 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per MWh this save about 12 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

To offset your 21 tonnes of CO2 per year, you would therefore need to install 15kW of solar PV capacity for each person who lives in your house. So if four people live in your house, you would need a 60kW solar system.

But a typical rooftop PV system now has a rating of 5-15kW, and many homes lack the roof space needed to install a larger system. Ways to address this are described below.

Road to success

A typical car produces about 190 grams of CO2 per kilometre of travel, and the average Australian car travels 15,500 km per year, thus producing 3 tonnes of CO2.

Moderately priced electric cars are expected to be widely available in the early 2020s, which can travel about 6,000 km for each MWh of electricity consumed.

Once the premium for an electric vehicle drops below about A$10,000, the lifetime cost of an electric car (including buying, maintaining and charging it) will be competitive with conventional cars.

A 2kW PV panel on your house roof will produce enough electricity for 16,000km of electric car driving per year, thus offsetting your entire emissions from motoring (3 tonnes of CO2), assuming you drive an average amount each year and previously drove a conventional model.

Off the gas

Most natural gas use within a home is for water and space heating. Gas can readily be replaced by electric heat pumps, which move heat from the air outside the home into your hot water tank or reverse cycle air conditioning system. Heat pumps typically move four units of heat for each unit of electricity consumed and can be readily powered by rooftop solar panels, supplemented by electricity from the grid.

For the average household, replacement gas with heat pumps can readily reduce household greenhouse gas emissions by up to 5 tonnes per year, at lower lifecycle cost than using gas. Replacement of gas cookers with electric induction cookers allows elimination of gas altogether from the home.

Fly less

Limiting air travel is one of the most effective tactics to cut your personal emissions. Short-haul flights or flights with few passengers increase the emissions intensity per passenger. A mostly full return trip from Australia to London (34,000km) will typically generate about 4 tonnes of CO₂ per passenger.

When you do decide to fly, think about how you can offset the emissions directly. Adding 1kW to your rooftop PV system can offset one return trip to London for one person every 3 years.




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Will it pay for itself?

Now that we’ve looked at these various strategies, let’s now consider a family home with three occupants and one car. A 10kW PV system on the roof can make a substantial reduction in their greenhouse footprint by offsetting 14 tonnes of CO2 per year. Switching to an electric car saves 3 tonnes per year and substituting electric heat pumps for gas saves a further 1- 5 tonnes per year.

An additional 5 kW of rooftop PV is needed to neutralise an average amount of air travel, and to power the electric car and heat pumps. This 15kW system would cost about A$20,000 up front and would last 25 years. However, rooftop PV systems are now so cheap compared with the retail electricity tariff that the money invested is generally recovered within 10 years.

The total emissions savings estimated above are about 25 tonnes per year, per household, which is still significantly short of the 63 tonnes (on average) that this family emits. To be fully carbon-neutral, one option is for the family to invest in a wind or solar farm.

The required share of a wind farm or solar farm is about 10 kW or 20 kW respectively per three-person family, noting that a 3MW wind turbine produces nearly double the amount of electricity per year of a 3MW PV farm (single axis tracking), which in turn produces 40% more electricity per year than an equivalent amount of roof-mounted solar panels.

The up-front cost of this investment would be about A$25,000 per family, and it would return a steady income sufficient to repay the initial outlay (with interest) over the 25-year lifetime of the system.

So in summary, assuming that you have the means to meet the (not insubstantial) upfront costs, doing your part to preserve a living and vibrant planet for our children ultimately has a low or even negative net cost.The Conversation

Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

For the first time, we can measure the human footprint on Antarctica



File 20190304 110110 1o2c5ev.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Casey Station is part of Australia’s permanent outpost in Antarctica.
Shaun Brooks, Author provided

Shaun Brooks, University of Tasmania and Julia Jabour, University of Tasmania

Most people picture Antarctica as a frozen continent of wilderness, but people have been living – and building – there for decades. Now, for the first time, we can reveal the human footprint across the entire continent.

Our research, published today in the journal Nature Sustainability, found that while buildings and disturbance cover a small portion of the whole continent, it has an outsized impact on Antartica’s ecosystem.




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Our data show 76% of buildings in Antarctica are within just 0.06% of the continent: the ice-free areas within 5km of the coast. This coastal fringe is particularly important as it provides access to the Southern Ocean for penguins and seals, as well as providing a typically wetter climate suitable for plant life.

A hard question to answer

How much land we collectively impact with infrastructure in Antarctica has been a question raised for decades, but until now has been difficult to answer. The good news is it’s a relatively small area. The bigger issue is where it is. Together with our colleagues Dana Bergstrom and John van den Hoff, we have made the first measurement of the “footprint” of buildings and disturbed ice-free ground across Antarctica.

This equates to more than 390,000 square metres of buildings on the icy continent, with a further 5,200,000m² of disturbance just to ice-free land. To put it another way, there is more than 1,100m² of disturbed ground per person in Antarctica at its most populated in summer. This is caused primarily by the 30 nations with infrastructure in Antarctica, along with some presence from the tourism industry.

Figure Building footprint density.
Nature Sustainability

It has taken until now to find the extent of our impact because of difficulty in gathering the data. Because so many countries are active in Antarctica, getting them to provide data on their infrastructure has been very slow. As two-thirds of research stations were built before the adoption of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, they did not require environmental impact assessments or monitoring, so it is quite likely many of the operators do not have accessible data on their footprints. In addition, due to the inherent difficulty in accessing Antarctica, and the vast distances between each station, it is not possible to conduct field measurements on a continental scale.

To address these problems, our team took an established approach to measuring a single station’s footprint, and applied it to 158 locations across the continent using satellite imagery. The majority of images used were freely sourced from Google Earth, enabled by continually increasing improvements in resolution and coverage.

This process took hours of painstaking “digitisation” – where the spatially accurate images of buildings and disturbed ground were manually mapped within a computer program to create the data.

Davis Station, one of Australia’s three permanent research outposts in Antartica. Researchers used Google Earth images to map the footprint of human infrastructure across the continent.
Shaun Brooks, Author provided

Interestingly, one of the most difficult sites was the United States’ Amundsen-Scott Station. As this station is located on the geographic South Pole, very few satellites pass overhead. This problem was eventually solved by trawling through thousands of aerial images produced by NASA’s Operation IceBridge, where we found their aircraft had flown over the station in 2010. After capturing these data, we then compared our measurements against existing known building sizes and found our accuracy was within 2%.

Unlike buildings, we didn’t have measurements to compare for disturbed ground such as roadways, airstrips, quarries and the like. We believe we have produced a significant underestimate, due to factors including snow cover and insufficient image resolution obscuring smaller features such as walking tracks.




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Location, location, location

After mapping the footprint of buildings and ground disturbance our data has yielded some interesting results. For practical reasons, most stations in Antarctica are located within the small ice-free areas spread across the continent, particularly around the coast. In addition to being attractive to us, these areas are essential for much of Antarctica’s biodiversity by providing nesting sites for seabirds and penguins, substrate for mosses, lichens, and two vascular plants, and habitat for the continent’s invertebrate species.

Adelie penguins need ice-free areas to access the ocean.
Shaun Brooks, Author provided

Another interesting finding from these data is what they tell us about wilderness on the continent. Although the current footprint covers a very small fraction of the more than 12 million square kilometres of Antarctica, we found disturbance is present in more than half of all large ice-free areas along the coast. Furthermore, by using the building data we captured, along with existing work by Rupert Summerson, we were also able to estimate the visual footprint, which amounts to an area similar in size to the total ice-free land across the whole continent.

The release of this research is timely, with significant increases in infrastructure proposed for Antarctica. Currently there are new stations proposed by several nations, major rebuilding projects of existing stations underway (including the US’s McMurdo and New Zealand’s Scott Base), and Italy is building a new runway in ice-free areas.

Australia has proposed Antarctica’s first concrete runway, which if built would be the continent’s largest.




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Until now, decisions on expanding infrastructure have been without the context of how much is already present. We hope informed decisions can now be made by the international community about how much building in Antarctica is appropriate, where it should occur, and how to manage the future of the last great wilderness.The Conversation

Shaun Brooks, PhD Candidate, University of Tasmania and Julia Jabour, Leader, Ocean and Antarctic Governance Research Program, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You’ve heard of a carbon footprint – now it’s time to take steps to cut your nitrogen footprint



File 20180712 27042 agmksa.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Transport and livestock are both significant contributors to nitrogen pollution.
Annalucia/Shutterstock.com

Ee Ling Ng, University of Melbourne; Deli Chen, University of Melbourne, and Xia Liang, University of Melbourne

Nitrogen pollution has significant environmental and human health costs. Yet it is often conflated with other environmental problems, such as climate change, which is exacerbated by nitrous oxide (N₂O) and nitrogen oxides (NOₓ), or particulate smog, to which ammonia (NH₃) also contributes.

One way to understand our nitrogen use is to look at our nitrogen footprint. This is the amount of reactive nitrogen, which is all forms of nitrogen other than inert nitrogen gas, released into the environment from our daily activities that consume resources including food and energy.




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Our earlier research showed that Australia has a large nitrogen footprint. At up to 47kg of nitrogen per person each year, Australia is far ahead of the US (28kg per person), the second on the leaderboard of per capita reactive nitrogen emissions. Australians’ large nitrogen footprints are created largely by a diet rich in animal protein and high levels of coal use for energy.

The nitrogen footprint

Our new research, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, takes this concept further by measuring the nitrogen footprint of an entire institution, in this case the University of Melbourne.

The institutional nitrogen footprint is the sum of individual activities at the workplace and institutional activities, such as powering laboratories and lecture theatres in the case of a university.

We calculated that the university’s annual nitrogen footprint is 139 tonnes of nitrogen. It is mainly attributable to three factors: food (37%), energy use (32%) and transport (28%).

The University of Melbourne’s nitrogen footprint in 2015 and projections for 2020.

At the university, food plays a dominant role through the meat and dairy consumed. Nitrogen emissions from food occur mainly during its production, whereas emissions from energy use come mainly from coal-powered electricity use and from fuel used during business travel.

Cutting nitrogen

We also modelled the steps that the university could take to reduce its nitrogen footprint. We found that it could be reduced by 60% by taking action to cut emissions from the three main contributing factors: food, energy use, and travel.

The good news is if the university implements all the changes to energy use detailed in its Sustainability Plan – which includes strategies such as adopting clean energy (solar and wind), optimising energy use and buying carbon credits – this would also reduce nitrogen pollution by as much as 29%.

Changing habits of air travel and food choices would be a challenge, as this requires altering the behaviour of people from a culture that places tremendous value on travelling and a love for coffee and meat.

Generally, Australians fly a lot compared to the rest of the world, at significant cost to the environment. We could offset the travel, and we do take that possibility into account, but as others have written before us, we should not make the mistake of assuming that emissions offsets make air travel “sustainable”.

The question that perhaps need to be asked, for work travel, is “to travel or not to travel?” Let’s face it, why are so many academic conferences set in idyllic locations, if not to entice us to attend?

Animal products are major contributors to nitrogen emissions, given the inefficiency of conversion from the feed to milk or meat. Would people be willing to change their latte, flat white or cappuccino to a long black, espresso or macchiato? Or a soy latte?




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As 96% of the nitrogen emissions occur outside the university’s boundaries, their detrimental effects are invisible to the person on the ground, while the burden of the pollution is often borne far away, both in time and space.

The ConversationBut, as our study shows for the first time, large institutions with lots of staff are well placed to take steps to cut their large nitrogen footprint.

Ee Ling Ng, Research fellow, University of Melbourne; Deli Chen, Professor, University of Melbourne, and Xia Liang, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five ways hospitals can reduce their environmental footprint



File 20180510 5968 4raap5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
So many hospital items are used once and then thrown away.
from shutterstock.com

Forbes McGain, University of Sydney

Picture the environmental life cycle of many disposable surgical instruments. Iron ore from Western Australia is shipped to China and smelted, fashioned into stainless steel surgical instruments in Pakistan and exported as single-use instruments. In Australia, clinicians use these instruments once, then discard them.

So much that comes into patient contact is routinely used only once. This includes gowns, surgical drapes and covers for patients, anaesthetic breathing equipment, face masks and bed mats.

On top of this, energy is wasted in hospitals because heating, cooling and devices are left on when not in use. It’s not surprising then to learn that health care produces 7% of Australia’s carbon emissions; hospitals produce about half of this.

Here are five ways Australian hospitals can reduce their environmental footprint and improve their financial bottom line.

1. Employ a sustainability officer and get staff involved

A hospital sustainability officer examines ways to reduce energy use and waste, and encourages staff to participate actively in environmental projects. Although an “upfront cost”, in the absence of a sustainability officer activities known to save money and reduce our environmental footprint won’t occur.

At Melbourne’s Western Health, installing LED lights saved around 1,200 megawatt hours (Mwh) per year. This is similar to disconnecting around 165 Victorian houses from the electricity grid. The installation cost was paid back within two years.

Other sustainable activities included alternatively turning off one of the three hospital gas boilers during lull periods and installing large-scale (300kW) solar panels. These produce around 440 Mwh per year.

Since 2007, institutions that have similar daily energy requirements to 3,000 Australian homes or more have been required to annually report their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to the federal government’s Clean Energy Regulator. Many medium to large hospitals fall into this range.

There aren’t any mandated requirements to reduce energy use or greenhouse gas emissions, but the reporting allows hospitals to gauge changes over time and strive to improve. In the absence of a hospital sustainability officer, hospitals hire expensive contractors to ensure the reporting requirements are met.

Hospital equipment should be switched off when not in use.
from shutterstock.com

Although some hospital staff are interested in workplace sustainability and want to make a difference, there are many barriers to doing so – both physical and psychological. Local sustainability action plans can be put in place to help staff work together to improve hospital sustainability. Activities can include staff in operating rooms being involved in lighting “switch-offs”, recycling different items and sending unused, out-of-date equipment to less advantaged countries.

2. Reuse surgical equipment where possible

Single-use medical equipment often costs more money than reusable equipment. Studies conducted at Western Health and Yale-New Haven Medical Center in
the US found reusable anaesthetic equipment in operating theatres saved around A$5,000 a year per operating theatre.

The environmental footprint will vary according to the source of electricity. In the above studies, cleaning reusable anaesthetic equipment in Australia resulted in a slightly higher carbon footprint. This is because sterilisers and washers use a lot of electricity, which is derived mainly from coal in Australia. In the US, electricity is sourced from a less carbon-polluting energy mix (more natural gas in particular).

Research in Australia and Germany has shown reusing the standard breathing circuits used by anaesthetists to deliver oxygen and gases to anaesthetised patients does not increase the risk of microbiological contamination. Also, reusing these yearly for a six-theatre operating suite saved around A$5,500 and the equivalent electricity and water savings of one entire Australian household.

3. Recycle better

It is feasible to increase the amount of total recyclable hospital waste from very little to 35%, which saves money even in operating theatres. The most obvious first step to increase recycling rates begins with cardboard and paper products, which surprisingly even now may not be recycled.

It is also important to separate expensive hospital infectious waste from other less expensive, non-infectious waste.

Plastic from IV bags and oxygen tubes could be recycled.
from shutterstock.com

Several plastic types from hospitals can be recycled relatively easily, including PVC plastic. Some manufacturers in Melbourne are working with hospitals to convert PVC plastic from IV bags, face masks and oxygen tubes into agricultural pipes and children’s play equipment. More than 130 hospitals in Australia and New Zealand are involved.

All recycling efforts require collaboration between clinical staff, infection prevention, environmental services and recyclers.

4. Avoid potent anaesthetic greenhouse gases

Anaesthetic gases are hundreds to thousands of times more potent greenhouse gases than CO₂. Desflurane and nitrous oxide are the most problematic, but can be substituted without altering patient care.

These gases do have more rapid anaesthetic onset and offset durations, but other, less environmentally harmful gases can be used just as effectively. Due to familiarity and perhaps drug marketing, desflurane and nitrous oxide remain in common use by anaesthetists.

Several Australian hospitals have saved A$30,000 and hundreds of tonnes of CO₂ annually by substituting desflurane with other anaesthetic gases. Victoria’s health system alone could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by such substitution.

5. Advocate and collaborate towards a low-carbon, low-waste system

It’s important to minimise patients’ need for care in a hospital as much as possible. This will involve increasing the role of general practitioners, public health care and disease prevention. We should also avoid unnecessary and potentially harmful tests, such as performing a variety of common blood tests on all pre-operative patients (even those who don’t need them).

The health-care system can’t become low carbon and low waste without leadership, incentives and direction. In 2008 the UK Climate Change Act legislated for an 80% reduction in CO₂ emissions by 2050 and formed the Sustainable Development Unit – a national body charged with reducing health care’s CO₂ emissions. By 2017 there was an 18% increase in UK health-care activity, yet an 11% reduction in CO₂ emissions. Nothing like this exists in Australia.

Australia’s current ad hoc, piecemeal approach by engaged clinicians to improve hospital sustainability and translate this to all hospitals is not working. The federal government, which funds around half of all health care, could promote environmental sustainability by:

The ConversationIt’s time for more sustainable use of health care’s financial, environmental and social resources. Our health depends on it.

Forbes McGain, Associate Professor, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The carbon footprint of tourism revealed (it’s bigger than we thought)


File 20180507 166903 gu93ux.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Travel is getting cheaper, but more carbon-intensive.
Renato Podestá Castilho/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Dr Arunima Malik, University of Sydney and Dr Ya-Yen Sun, The University of Queensland

The carbon footprint of tourism is about four times larger than previously thought, according to a world-first study published today in Nature Climate Change.

Researchers from the University of Sydney, University of Queensland and National Cheng Kung University – including ourselves – worked together to assess the entire supply chain of tourism. This includes transportation, accommodation, food and beverages, souvenirs, clothing, cosmetics and other goods.

Put together, global tourism produces about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, much more than previous estimates.

Adding it all up

Tourism is a trillion-dollar industry, and is growing faster than international trade.

To determine the true emissions produced by tourism, we scanned over a billion supply chains of a range of commodities consumed by tourists. By combining a detailed international trade database with accounts tracking what goods and services tourists bought, we identified carbon flows between 160 countries from 2009 to 2013.

Our results show that tourism-related emissions increased by around 15% over that period, from 3.9 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO₂-e) to 4.5Gt. This rise primarily came from tourist spending on transport, shopping and food.

World map showing bilateral embodied carbon movements. In 2013, international travel was responsible for 23% of the global carbon footprint of tourism.
[The carbon footprint of global tourism] (http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0141-x)

We estimate that our growing appetite for travel and a business-as-usual scenario would increase carbon emissions from global tourism to about 6.5Gt by 2025. This increase is largely driven by rising incomes, making tourism highly income-elastic and carbon-intensive.

Whose responsibility is it?

In the study, we compared two perspectives for allocating responsibility for these emissions: residence-based accounting and destination-based accounting. The former perspective allocates emissions to the country of residence of tourists, the latter to the country of destination. Put simply, are tourism-related carbon emissions the responsibility of travellers or tourist destinations?

If responsibility lies with the travellers, then we should identify the countries that send the most tourists out into the world, and find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their travel.




Read more:
Can you be a sustainable tourist without giving up flying?


On the other hand, destination-based accounting can offer insights into tourism spots (like popular islands) that would benefit most from technology improvements and regulations for reducing the carbon footprint of tourism.

Tracking emissions under destination-based accounting over a specific period could help researchers and policymakers to answer questions about the success of incentive schemes and regulations, and to assess the speed of decarbonisation of tourism-related sectors.




Read more:
Sustainable shopping: is it possible to fly sustainably?


So how do countries rank under the two accounting perspectives? The United States is responsible for the majority of tourism-related emissions under both perspectives – many people travel both from and to the US – followed by China, Germany and India.

But on a per-capita basis, the situation looks rather different. Small island destinations have the highest per-capita destination-based footprints. Maldives tops the list – 95% of the island’s tourism-related emissions come from international visitors.

Tourists are responsible for 30-80% of the national emissions of island economies. These findings bring up the question of the impact of tourism on small island states.

Islands as tourist destinations

Small islands depend on income from tourists. At the same time, these very tourists threaten the native biodiversity of the islands.

Small island states typically do not have the capacity to embrace technology improvements due to their small economies of scale and isolated locations.

Sustainable tourism on islands.
Author provided

Can we lend a helping hand? Directing financial and technical support to these islands could potentially help with efforts to decarbonise their infrastructure. This support would be a reflection of the share of consumer responsibility, especially from developed nations that are “net travellers”.

Maldives, Mauritius and other small islands are actively exploring ways of building their renewable energy capacity to reduce the carbon intensity of local hotels, transport and recreational spots.

Creating awareness at multiple levels

We hope that our study provides a starting point for conversations between the public, companies and policymakers about sustainable tourism.




Read more:
‘Sustainable tourism’ is not working – here’s how we can change that


The ConversationUltimately real change will come from implementing regulations and incentives together to encourage low-carbon operations. At a personal level, though, it’s worth looking at the carbon-cost of your flights, choosing to offset your emissions where possible and supporting tourism companies that aim to operate sustainably.

Dr Arunima Malik, Lecturer in Sustainability, University of Sydney and Dr Ya-Yen Sun, Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.