There are no green solutions, there are only tough choices and big change projects.
That is the message from engineering and climate change specialist Prof Susan Krumdieck, who visited Dunedin this week to address at the New Zealand Minerals Forum, and to speak at a public meeting co-organised by Wise Response.
Prof Krumdieck, who teaches at the University of Canterbury, is co-leader of the Global Association for Transition Engineering, and director of the Material Systems Lab, has extensively researched energy transition engineering.
“I am very interested in the new methodologies and tools needed to change existing systems to rapidly shift away from fossil fuels,” she said.
Prof Krumdieck believes that reducing carbon emissions is going to involve changing major systems, and that urgent action must be taken.
“There is a lot of work to do”.
The current economic model left our society “future blind”, so instead Prof Krumdieck proposed a new perspective – energy return on energy invested (EREI).
“This relates directly to prosperity, which needs to be kept in a safe range for a prosperous society.
“It is much more important to keep EREI high and energy use low – that is the engineering challenge.”
Given the situation now, the oil, gas and coal companies were having to spend much more to develop the next source of energy than 30 years ago.
So, with governments moving too slowly on imposing carbon taxes, Prof Krumdieck also offers another new idea – that the oil, gas, and coal sector collaborate and impose a carbon price on their own products.
These funds could then be collected and invested in future projects.
“If this occurs, then materials will be treated as the valuable commodities that they are, and will be used sparingly.”
This would free up funds for the right kind of investment, rather than chasing continual growth and increased profitability, by producing more and more lower-cost goods.
“Investments could include electric trams for cities, redevelopment of parts of cities, and rail systems.”
“Why shouldn’t they make money saving the planet, rather than cooking it?”
Prof Krumdieck said there were many aspects of her proposals that would need to be figured out, and that there was a lot that could be done through public research.
Prof Krumdieck also felt that it would be possible to make a huge difference by moving to a “down shift” in the economy.
For example, with a large percentage of the cargo imported to New Zealand being “$2 shop rubbish”, it was also going to be important for there to be a “down shift” in this area.
More than half of council rates spending was on transport, and if that could be reduced, there would be money for other things.
“This is a sacrifice that we all can make – to cull out the waste and the unnecessary things.
In this “brave new world of down shift” and transition; recycling, re-using and up-cycling goods would become normal.
“We can do it, we can make the sacrifice.”