• Exclusive
    Smarter living for sustainability
    By Dennis Pamlin | chinawatch.cn | Updated: 2019-03-14 16:56

    Pollution prevention and control is one of the most complex challenges facing humanity. Even the most advanced countries are struggling with different kinds of pollutants. Some of the sources of pollution tend to disappear with increased incomes and economic development, but many do not. The reasons for that need to be discussed.

    One of the main reasons for the complexity and continued problem with pollution is that the traditional approach to pollution results in either the pollution being moved or else the creation of other problems while reducing one kind of pollution. While what we need is an approach that eliminates pollution in a sustainable way.

    Historically, and too often still today, the main response to pollution is to move it with end-of-pipe technologies. The reason for this is that end-of-pipe solutions are the easiest solutions, as the existing system is kept and just another layer of technology is added.

    Smarter living for sustainability

    But with end-of-pipe technology the pollution moves in time and space. The classical images of industrialization, with high chimneys, are shaped by the initial responses to pollution. The dominating idea during this time was that "the solution to pollution is dilution". With higher smokestacks the pollutants could travel further and not directly affect those who polluted. A similar approach was often used for liquid waste where longer waste pipes were used to move the pollution further away from the factories.

    The result was that it not only took longer to see the problem, but also larger areas were affected.

    Instead of local problems we now see how pollution is spreading even to the deepest parts of the oceans, to Antarctica and the last untouched rain forests.

    Over time it has become more common to also move the source of the problem, the factory. Over the last 30 years we have seen an accelerated trend where dirty and polluting industries become banned in rich countries and later re-emerge in poor countries. Today many of the most polluting industries are in poor countries and waste is exported from rich countries to poor countries.

    We have also seen how measures to reduce pollution have resulted in the creation of other problems. An example is the response to pollution from fossil fuels. These responses often promote a simple shift to bioenergy. This shift removes some of the pollution related to extracting and burning fossil fuels, but adds other pollutants related to the burning of bio-fuel, as well as creating new problems with biodiversity loss.

    What is needed is an approach that eliminates pollution in a sustainable way. Often these solutions happen by chance when a radically more resource efficient solution emerges. Dematerialization and more resource efficient lifestyles are examples of situations in which pollution is reduced in sustainable ways.

    A reason that sustainable solutions to pollution are still scarce is that industrial societies often use a "power over nature" approach in which brute force is used to deliver what is needed. By using high temperatures, high speeds and excessive force to deliver what a society wants, pollution is generated in almost all parts of the society.

    Accepting that few of the current approaches to pollution prevention and control are truly sustainable require us to explore new options for the next phase of pollution prevention and control. To address pollution there is much to gain from addressing the root causes of the challenge rather than the symptoms.

    We know that industry, transport and energy are the three main sources of pollution. We also know that no one wants industry, transport and energy in the abstract sense. We want the tangible benefits. We want places to live, we want to meet and get access to different things, we want comfortable temperatures and light, and all the conveniences of modern life.

    But with the new industrial age providing fundamentally new ways of delivering what we need, our strategy should focus not on how the problems are created today. Instead a new approach with a focus on the future should be employed with the help of a three-pronged strategy: supporting the new, optimizing the old and bridging the old to the new.

    Instead of the current focus on mitigating the problems caused by the old-style industrial society we should ask how the needs in society can be provided in a sustainable way. How can we live, eat and move in harmony with nature? Instead of trying to improve old energy production, or substituting it with slightly better energy production, we should begin by asking how our needs can be met in smart sustainable ways.

    The need for heating, cooling and lighting are good examples. These needs are currently major drivers of pollution due to the high energy demand of the traditional solutions. Instead of making the current systems better, we can ask ourselves again how we can get the appropriate temperature and light. By using design inspiration from nature, combined with the latest digital technology, we can design buildings in smart ways where no external energy is required. We can even produce buildings that are net producers of sustainable and renewable energy. Instead of more energy for lights we can design buildings so they use daylight, for instance.

    There is still a need to mitigate the problems of the old industries and there are new opportunities to address these with increased transparency and new technologies for pollution control that can be added to the old industries.

    Instead of polarizing the old and the new, we should develop strategies so that the actions we need to take to mitigate the old system support the creation of new innovative solutions.

    There is a need, not just in China but also the rest of the world, to move from pollution control with the focus on incremental improvements of old systems, to a pollution control strategy that is an integral part of the creation of an ecological society where transformative system solutions are embraced.

    The author is a Senior Advisor at RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden), Senior Associate at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Fellow at the Research Center of Journalism and Social Development at Renmin University.

    The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.

    All rights reserved. Copying or sharing of any content for other than personal use is prohibited without prior written permission.

    Pollution prevention and control is one of the most complex challenges facing humanity. Even the most advanced countries are struggling with different kinds of pollutants. Some of the sources of pollution tend to disappear with increased incomes and economic development, but many do not. The reasons for that need to be discussed.

    One of the main reasons for the complexity and continued problem with pollution is that the traditional approach to pollution results in either the pollution being moved or else the creation of other problems while reducing one kind of pollution. While what we need is an approach that eliminates pollution in a sustainable way.

    Historically, and too often still today, the main response to pollution is to move it with end-of-pipe technologies. The reason for this is that end-of-pipe solutions are the easiest solutions, as the existing system is kept and just another layer of technology is added.

    Smarter living for sustainability

    But with end-of-pipe technology the pollution moves in time and space. The classical images of industrialization, with high chimneys, are shaped by the initial responses to pollution. The dominating idea during this time was that "the solution to pollution is dilution". With higher smokestacks the pollutants could travel further and not directly affect those who polluted. A similar approach was often used for liquid waste where longer waste pipes were used to move the pollution further away from the factories.

    The result was that it not only took longer to see the problem, but also larger areas were affected.

    Instead of local problems we now see how pollution is spreading even to the deepest parts of the oceans, to Antarctica and the last untouched rain forests.

    Over time it has become more common to also move the source of the problem, the factory. Over the last 30 years we have seen an accelerated trend where dirty and polluting industries become banned in rich countries and later re-emerge in poor countries. Today many of the most polluting industries are in poor countries and waste is exported from rich countries to poor countries.

    We have also seen how measures to reduce pollution have resulted in the creation of other problems. An example is the response to pollution from fossil fuels. These responses often promote a simple shift to bioenergy. This shift removes some of the pollution related to extracting and burning fossil fuels, but adds other pollutants related to the burning of bio-fuel, as well as creating new problems with biodiversity loss.

    What is needed is an approach that eliminates pollution in a sustainable way. Often these solutions happen by chance when a radically more resource efficient solution emerges. Dematerialization and more resource efficient lifestyles are examples of situations in which pollution is reduced in sustainable ways.

    A reason that sustainable solutions to pollution are still scarce is that industrial societies often use a "power over nature" approach in which brute force is used to deliver what is needed. By using high temperatures, high speeds and excessive force to deliver what a society wants, pollution is generated in almost all parts of the society.

    Accepting that few of the current approaches to pollution prevention and control are truly sustainable require us to explore new options for the next phase of pollution prevention and control. To address pollution there is much to gain from addressing the root causes of the challenge rather than the symptoms.

    We know that industry, transport and energy are the three main sources of pollution. We also know that no one wants industry, transport and energy in the abstract sense. We want the tangible benefits. We want places to live, we want to meet and get access to different things, we want comfortable temperatures and light, and all the conveniences of modern life.

    But with the new industrial age providing fundamentally new ways of delivering what we need, our strategy should focus not on how the problems are created today. Instead a new approach with a focus on the future should be employed with the help of a three-pronged strategy: supporting the new, optimizing the old and bridging the old to the new.

    Instead of the current focus on mitigating the problems caused by the old-style industrial society we should ask how the needs in society can be provided in a sustainable way. How can we live, eat and move in harmony with nature? Instead of trying to improve old energy production, or substituting it with slightly better energy production, we should begin by asking how our needs can be met in smart sustainable ways.

    The need for heating, cooling and lighting are good examples. These needs are currently major drivers of pollution due to the high energy demand of the traditional solutions. Instead of making the current systems better, we can ask ourselves again how we can get the appropriate temperature and light. By using design inspiration from nature, combined with the latest digital technology, we can design buildings in smart ways where no external energy is required. We can even produce buildings that are net producers of sustainable and renewable energy. Instead of more energy for lights we can design buildings so they use daylight, for instance.

    There is still a need to mitigate the problems of the old industries and there are new opportunities to address these with increased transparency and new technologies for pollution control that can be added to the old industries.

    Instead of polarizing the old and the new, we should develop strategies so that the actions we need to take to mitigate the old system support the creation of new innovative solutions.

    There is a need, not just in China but also the rest of the world, to move from pollution control with the focus on incremental improvements of old systems, to a pollution control strategy that is an integral part of the creation of an ecological society where transformative system solutions are embraced.

    The author is a Senior Advisor at RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden), Senior Associate at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Fellow at the Research Center of Journalism and Social Development at Renmin University.

    The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.

    All rights reserved. Copying or sharing of any content for other than personal use is prohibited without prior written permission.

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