Monday, September 03, 2007

Industrial Ecology

Another conservative climate change denier attempts to paint left wing ideas and environmentalism as reactionary.

The concept of "nature" is a romantic invention. It was spun by the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century as a confabulated utopian contrast to the dystopia of urbanization and materialism. The traces of this dewy-eyed conception of the "savage" and his unmolested, unadulterated surroundings can be found in the more malignant forms of fundamentalist environmentalism.

At the other extreme are religious literalists who regard Man as the crown of creation with complete dominion over nature and the right to exploit its resources unreservedly. Similar, veiled, sentiments can be found among scientists. The Anthropic Principle, for instance, promoted by many outstanding physicists, claims that the nature of the Universe is preordained to accommodate sentient beings - namely, us humans.

Industrialists, politicians and economists have only recently begun paying lip service to sustainable development and to the environmental costs of their policies. Thus, in a way, they bridge the abyss - at least verbally - between these two diametrically opposed forms of fundamentalism. Still, essential dissimilarities between the schools notwithstanding, the dualism of Man vs. Nature is universally acknowledged.

Quoted by The Economist, Daniel Esty of Yale, the leader of an environmental project sponsored by World Economic Forum, exclaimed:

"Why hasn't anyone done careful environmental measurement before? Businessmen always say, 'what matters gets measured'. Social scientists started quantitative measurement 30 years ago, and even political science turned to hard numbers 15 years ago. Yet look at environmental policy, and the data are lousy."

However we do know how to measure environmental impacts of capitalism, and we can reduce them through Industrial Ecology. In fact that was how industrial capitalism boomed during WWII, it reduced, reused and recycled. The fact is that capitalism needs to adapt, or die. Thus IE is a closed loop system based on biology and ecology. While technology continues to adapt itself in an organic fashion as well. But in order to overcome these contradictions we need to move beyond Green Industrialism to social ecology.

Industrial ecology is the shifting of industrial process from linear (open loop) systems, in which resource and capital investments move through the system to become waste, to a closed loop system where wastes become inputs for new processes.

Industrial ecology proposes not to see industrial systems (for example a factory, an ecoregion, or national or global economy) as being separate from the biosphere, but to consider it as a particular case of an ecosystem - but based on infrastructural capital rather than on natural capital. It is the idea that if natural systems do not have waste in them, we should model our systems after natural ones if we want them to be sustainable.

Along with more general energy conservation and material conservation goals, and redefining commodity markets and product stewardship relations strictly as a service economy, industrial ecology is one of the four objectives of Natural Capitalism. This strategy discourages forms of amoral purchasing arising from ignorance of what goes on at a distance and implies a political economy that values natural capital highly and relies on more instructional capital to design and maintain each unique industrial ecology.

How does an industrial facility measure its impact on the surrounding community?

And with a voluntary commitment to sustainable practices, can it improve its environmental, economic and social "footprint" over time?

These are the questions the Washington Department of Ecology and Simpson Tacoma Kraft Company, LLC will explore under a new partnership called the "Industrial Footprint Project." The Tacoma pulp and paper mill has volunteered, along with three other pulp and paper mills in the state, to provide baseline data to Ecology on a range of environmental, economic and social indicators.

Working with a consultant, stakeholders and the participating mills, Ecology will use the data to create a scoring system to establish a "footprint" measurement for each facility. The footprint will serve as a baseline to help companies set targets for improving over time.

Environmental data to be collected includes waste streams, recycling, emissions, water consumption and purchase of raw materials. One part of the project will be an energy challenge-asking each facility to voluntarily reduce their energy usage. On the economic side, some data analyzed will include jobs provided and the costs of good and services. Social indicators may include community involvement, health and safety records or good neighbor efforts.

Simpson Tacoma Kraft Company is an integrated pulp and paper manufacturing mill located on the Commencement Bay waterfront in Tacoma, Washington. It produces upwards of 1300 tons per day of bleached and unbleached packaging-grade paper and unbleached kraft pulp. About one-third of the fiber used comes from recycling old corrugated containers.


Capitalism Is Not Sustainable

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