“We live in a material world, and I’m a material girl,” Madonna sang in the 1980s. Even though her materials of choice were mostly gold and diamonds, there was no doubt that there was some truth in his words – that we live in a world oversaturated with materials.
Likewise, the climate crisis is largely a story of materials – materials from which we produce energy for transport, air conditioning and industry, such as coal, oil and gas; the materials we use for construction, such as cement, concrete and steel, or factories, such as plastic and wood; and the ingredients we eat, such as animal products, especially beef. While various materials can contribute to the worsening climate crisis, there are others that can provide solutions.
In the context of material substances harmful to the environment, we are already certain that the use of coal, oil and natural gas considerably aggravates the climate crisis, thus underlining the urgency of replacing them with renewable energy sources. . We have also realized the link between the climate crisis and the resource-intensive foods we put on our plates – and the revolution in this regard has already begun as animal protein substitutes begin to enter mass production in a near future.
However, there are a number of key areas where greater efforts are needed to reduce the harmful impact of certain materials on the environment and, in doing so, limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C, as indicated in the Paris Agreement.
Two key materials in this context are cement and steel. According to Bill Gates’ latest book, How to Avoid Climate Catastrophe, the production of cement and steel is currently responsible for a significant portion of total global greenhouse gas emissions, and production of these materials is expected to increase by several tens of percentage points over the coming decades.
Fortunately, the impact of these two substances on our climate is beginning to be better recognized around the world. For example, the need to switch to low-carbon steel was reflected at the international climate conference held last November in Glasgow, where dozens of countries, including Israel, committed to producing steel with “near-zero emissions”.
Even on the private market, there are already companies today that are developing cements whose production process emits less greenhouse gases – even allowing incorporation of carbon dioxide into cement – and in this way secures it in a safe place for many decades to come. With the development of carbon capture technologies capable of directly sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it will be possible to sequester substantial amounts of carbon and significantly mitigate the worsening impacts of the climate crisis.
Reflect and absorb
Beyond reducing the damage caused by some materials, there are others that have the potential to directly help us build our resilience to projected extremes of the climate crisis in the years to come.
For example, certain dyes can help reflect the sunlight that often overheats buildings and streets, keeping the space relatively cool in the face of rising global temperatures. Today, many pigments are being developed around the world that have the power to reflect around 90% of solar radiation, and there are even some that reflect up to around 98%.
These paints can significantly reduce the need to cool buildings with conventional air conditioning, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions (and financial costs, of course). In Los Angeles, the streets and sidewalks were painted with such dyes, generating an impressive cooling of 5.5-8.3°C. Other solar reflective paints, when applied to asphaltreduce heat absorption and lower the ambient temperature while increasing the material’s resistance to heat.
Other materials needed to mitigate the climate crisis in Israel are those designed to reduce the intensity of urban flooding, something a country like Israel is very sensitive to due to the overwhelming presence of concrete, cement and asphalt. in its city centers. These materials that exist today include permeable flooring, water absorbing concretepermeable asphalt and a host of others, which when applied to roads, sidewalks or parking lots can reduce the volume of water that floods the streets after rain.
In addition to flood mitigation, greater commitment of these materials will also help recharge underground aquifers, reducing the need for such incredible desalination output (which will not only reduce costs to the state, but also reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the process by producing enough energy for desalination).
It’s time to reprioritize
If we want to leverage the world’s materials to our advantage and not to our detriment, we must recognize their importance and the roles they can play in society. We need to use regulatory tools to prioritize materials that help us fight the climate crisis. We must give the green light to appropriate standardization procedures to pave the way for their safe and widespread use.
As the consequences of the global climate crisis worsen, so will international regulations, agreements and restrictions that prioritize environmentally friendly materials. It is in Israel’s interest to initiate the necessary internal processes that will allow it to adapt to this inevitability.
Beyond that, adapting the material world in response to the growing climate crisis creates exciting and lucrative economic opportunities for Israeli innovation. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we systematically advance on this issue as part of Israeli climate diplomacy, and we work to present practical Israeli solutions to the climate crisis.
If there is a factory in Israel producing cement from carbon dioxide sequestered in the atmosphere, for example, it will have priority over other competing factories in international trade, and it can also sell or trade the carbon that it has captured in world markets. Following the agreement on a global carbon emissions trading mechanism, adopted at the Glasgow conference, these markets are now developing even more rapidly.
It is time for Israel to turn our attention to the world of materials in the face of a changing climate reality so that we are not left behind and can be world leaders in the field.
This article is provided via ZAVITthe Israel Association of Ecology and Environmental Sciences news agency.