Newsletter: The hard truth about clean concrete

Plus, the limits of moderation in the climate context.
By Julian Spector

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I don’t spend much time thinking about concrete. But I do spend time walking on it, entering buildings made of it and strolling on tectonically active hillsides retained by it. Concrete is everywhere, and it accounts for 7 to 8 percent of global carbon emissions. 

Efforts to change concrete production are quite nascent, but there is some good news: We already know several steps that would make a big difference. And several states are passing laws to put those ideas into practice, Canary Media freelancer Ingrid Lobet reports.

Today, drawing from Ingrid’s story, I give you a new feature called…

Quick facts about clean concrete for people who don’t work with concrete

  • Cement is the most carbon-intensive component in concrete. One easy way to lower carbon impact is to stop the common industrial practice of chucking extra cement in the mix. Apparently, this is widespread and results in more cement in the finished product than what the engineers actually asked for. 
  • Governments are the biggest purchasers of concrete (think highways, roads, bridges). If they start demanding carbon accounting or giving preference to lower-carbon concrete suppliers, it would have an outsize influence on the industry. A bill now up before California’s legislature would do just that.
  • Another bill in California would cut carbon from concrete by 40 percent by the end of 2035. This one has support from Democrats, Republicans, industry and environmental groups. Crucially, it includes a border adjustment mechanism,” which means the carbon limits apply to imported concrete. That ensures a level playing field for concrete suppliers if the law goes into effect.

No moderate proposal

Canary Media’s David Roberts is back with an analysis of the latest maneuverings around a climate bill in Washington, D.C.

David contends that the fundamental science of climate change defies the notion of political moderation. Not acting on climate may appear to conserve the status quo, but in practice, it promises massive disruption to that way of life a few years down the road.

There is no nonradical future available for the U.S. in decades to come. Our only choice is the proportions of the mix: action vs. impacts. The less action we and other countries take to address the threat, the more impacts we will all suffer.

Then David breaks down how Republicans and Democrats are positioning their climate policies relative to the supposed moderate ideal.

How big tech feels about climate moderation

Setting moderation as the ideal in climate discussions leads to some bizarre outcomes. Indeed, Facebook and Twitter have taken this principle so far as to ban promotion for journalistic content that grapples with the reality of climate change.

Here’s what happened to Oakland-based venture investor Emily Kirsch when she went on Facebook to promote Watt It Takes, a series of interviews with founders of clean energy companies.

And my former boss, clean-energy podcast maven Stephen Lacey, ran into similar trouble on Twitter when he tried to spread the word about a show he produced with Columbia University. The offending content: discussing the practical ways to create a net-zero energy economy.”

Reaching audiences through social media is a primary way to convey information. But the platforms are blocking the spread of frank discussions of climate change and how to deal with it, based on the idea that such discussions are too sensitive” and political.”

Meanwhile, oil companies are able to get around the policies and promote their message. Journalists Amy Westervelt and Emily Atkin have documented how that works.

Throwing up obstacles to conversations about adopting clean energy encourages stasis. To David’s point, stasis now means more climate impacts down the road. Categorizing a looming threat as political” doesn’t make it disappear.

(Lead photo: Guilherme Cunha)

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.