Concrete and Climate Change

Concrete and Climate Change

05th March 2019

Last week was dubbed “Concrete Week” by the Guardian as the paper ran a series of articles on the second most commonly used substance on the planet – water is the first.  Here at Safety Fabrications, we’ve reported on concrete in the past with a series of articles describing its history, its use, and some of the new developments in concrete that have resulted in it being the most practical choice for construction in so many cases.

However, like plastic, another substance that has brought us so many changes and offers so much convenience, concrete has its dark side!

In recent years we’ve watched in horror as the plastics we discarded over the years have come back to haunt us. It floats in our oceans, it’s present in our soils and it’s even showing up in the food we eat!  Concrete, it seems, is doing a similar level of damage to our planet, but it’s just not being talked about in the same way as plastic is.  To put this into some sort of perspective, all the plastic produced over the past 60 years amounts to 8 billion tonnes – yet we produce that much concrete every two years.  It’s time for that to change.

Concrete is the foundation (both literally and figuratively) of modern development the world over.  It puts roofs over our heads, is instrumental in providing our infrastructure for transport, energy, education and healthcare, we use it as a defence against the harsh ravages of nature.  It forms our walls, our homes, our sea defences, our highways, our public buildings, our transport hubs – concrete is everywhere. 

However, the environmental impact of concrete is not being discussed in the same way as the damage done by plastic is. Concrete is responsible for 4 – 8% of the world’s CO2 and the only larger sources of greenhouse gases are cola, oil and gas.  Half of the CO2 emissions produced by concrete occur during the manufacture of clinker.

When it comes to water, although concrete may not be polluting it in such a visible way as plastic, concrete does account for a massive 10% of the planet’s industrial water use.  Alarmingly, 75% of this water consumption happens in regions which experience drought and water-stress.  

We welcome the use of concrete as a building material because it’s flexibility and strength has resulted in impressive architectural progress, such as the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, 3D printed bridges and homes, and other cool, modern structures. 

Concrete, however, is giving with the one hand, and taking away with the other.  As we use it to cover more and more of our natural landscapes, it destroys the natural infrastructure without replacing the ecological functions that are so vital to our survival.  Our increasing use of concrete is destroying the natural functions on which we depend.

The politics of concrete are beginning to change as environmentalists challenge its use.  With so many warnings about climate change, concrete is going to become a hot news subject in the future as campaigners begin to target this as one of the most severe threats to life on our planet.

As always, here at Safety Fabrications, we’ll be keeping a close eye on any developments so that we can make sure our readers are well-informed about all aspects of the subjects that interest us.  Why not follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep up to speed at all times?