Eco-Logic: An Environmental Perspective for the 21st Century, A Presidential Lecture given by University of Iowa Foundation Distinguished Professor, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Jerald L. Schnoor Acknowledgements References About Jerald L. Schnoor

Thank you President Coleman, Professor Shapiro for the fine performance, distinguished colleagues and friends. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to stand before you today.

Humans have always been in tension with their environment as they seek out a better standard of living. Land has been cleared for agriculture or commerce, and animal populations have been exploited. What is different about the situation that we find ourselves in today is the magnitude of our impacts. We are more numerous. 5.75 billion people on earth seek out an existence, and we are multiplying. Every six months, there is another contingent of people equal in population to the country of France, almost 50 million. Imagine, every six months another France for whom to provide food, housing, shelter, and jobs. Every ten years, there is another population nearly the size of China. And coupled with population is the problem of an ever ­increasing per capita consumption, especially among developed countries. We are powerful. Twin juggernauts-burgeoning population and per capita consumption-are driving environmental change.

A projection of global population from 1750-2100 is shown in Figure 1.1 Following the industrial revolution, population in developed countries increased rapidly from 1850-1950. But more recently, developing countries in Asia, Africa, and South America have begun to increase their population much as the industrializing countries did 100 years ago. Global population is projected to rise rapidly until the end of the 21st century and then stabilize at 10-12 billion people. Population growth is the first driving force of global change.

The second driving force is per capita consumption. It has grown as fast as or faster than population. From 1950-1986, the population doubled from 2.5 billion to 5.0 billion, a rate of 2.0% per year. But during that same period, the annual growth in global primary energy consumption was almost 4% per year, about double that of population. The example shows that consumption, especially among developed countries, has contributed significantly to our energy and pollution (emission) problems. Primary energy consumption is an indicator of global emissions to water, soil, and atmosphere (Figure 2).


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Figure 1. Historical and projected world population (World Bank)1 Figure 2.Historical and projected global primary energy consumption (coal, natural gas, petroleum, wood, nuclear, hydro)

Environmental Problems at the Local Scale

As early as Biblical times, humans changed the face of their environment dramatically. The flag of Lebanon has a stately cedar tree in the middle of it. But in Lebanon today, one is hard pressed to find cedar forests, though they once flourished. Phoenicians cut the magnificent cedars for export and for ship-building in the period 2900 B.C. - 200 A.D., and the landscape has never recovered. In another example, over-grazing and deforestation accelerated the process of desertification in the northern Sahara, expanding what was once a small desert. There are no longer any native (pre-settlement) forests in Europe, and virtually no virgin forests remain in the United States east of the Mississippi River. But probably the biggest change to the landscape that humans have caused is due to fire, both the setting of fires in early days and, in developed nations, the prevention of fire, much to the detriment of species that depend on periodic, natural fires for their life cycle.

In more recent times, when pollution problems occurred in local areas, people just moved away to avoid them. If a stream became contaminated due to sewage or a waste discharge, people simply relocated upstream, above the contaminant source, for fresh drinking water. If the soil became exhausted from intensive agriculture, new prairie soil was plowed for planting. At the turn of the century, when loggers clear-cut all of the timber in the East, they moved to the Upper Midwest to harvest nearly everything, leaving a scar on the landscape. Native Americans held a different relationship with the land, but manifest destiny eventually ran its course, and citizens of the U.S. had to come to grips with a more limited resource base. Fortunately, many of these environmental insults were not irreversible. Trees have regenerated, the waters have self-purifying capacity, and even the land can be rehabilitated (although the recovery times can be long).


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Figure 3. ToxicsRelease Inventory (TRI) data on emissions from U.S. chemical industry and publicly-owned treatment works (POTW), to land, water, air, and underground deep well injections, 1987-1990. 2 Figure 4. Hydrocarbonemission regulations in California, 1982-1998 (some zero-emission vehicles, electric, are required by 1998)

As nations have become more highly developed, their peoples have insisted on a cleaner environment. In the United States, water pollution from point source sewage discharges has decreased dramatically since 1972 when the Water Pollution Control Act was initiated. With a goal of restoring the nation's waters to "fishable and swimmable" conditions, we have made great progress, and environmental doomsdayers should be reminded when they fail to acknowledge past successes. Economic "externalities" have become incorporated into the price of the product, to some extent, as the public has demanded a clean environment.

Emissions from the U.S. chemical industry to air, water, and soil have decreased by almost 50 percent since self-reporting began in 1987 (Figure 3), resulting in improved conditions in local areas. Hazardous wastes were indiscriminately disposed throughout the landscape until the Superfund Act of 1980. At a cost of billions, the problem is only now being remedied. We will spend billions more over the next 20 years cleaning up these groundwater and soil contamination problems that good "housekeeping" and modest foresight might have prevented. Evidence mounts that industry and government are being more responsible with waste treatment and disposal, and we should not have to deal with the same problems by the middle of the 21st century.

Air pollution in Los Angeles was notorious in 1960-1985, but there are signs now that the skies are beginning to clear. Again, improvements came at great cost. Remarkable reductions (10-40 fold) in vehicle emissions have been mandated since the early 1980s (Figure 4). 3 But they are necessary if we want clean air while population and the number of vehicle miles driven increase exponentially. Exponential increases in the driving forces of environmental change require exponentially increasing pollution control.
Figure 5. Historical progression of pollution control in the United States since 1950. The question remains whether pollution prevention and industrial ecology will continue improvements despite industrial and population growth.

There has been a natural evolution of environmental laws in developed countries since World War II. During post-World War 11 expansion, industry grew with very little pollution control until about 1970. But gradually, emissions were mandated for water, air, and soil pollution as depicted in Figure 5. These improvements were generally "end of pipe" pollution controls which are no longer practical due to the marginal cost of further emissions controls and the ever-increasing removal efficiencies that are required.

Industrial ecology is a new paradigm, where industry is the agent of change for environmental innovation and control. Many industries welcome the notion, believing that they know best how to design with the environment in mind. It may sound like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop, but I believe we need to try innovative approaches. Government would set the goals and monitoring for environmental improvement, and industry would innovate using life cycle analysis of their products, pollution prevention programs, changes in operations, materials substitutions, and the three R's (recycle, reuse, and remanufacturing) to achieve the goals. If this concept is to be effective, consumers must become involved also. No longer would it be acceptable to simply throw away our old Nike tennis shoes (regardless of how they smell)! We would take them back to the store where they would be shipped back to the manufacturer for incorporation into new tennis shoes (remanufacturing) or, less advantageously, asphalt roads (down-cycling). A simple rule would be: don't sell it if you're not willing to take it back¾responsibility continues from the embryo of a product idea to its final disposition in the environment. A schematic of the change that is taking place in industry is shown in Figure 6 from "conventional design" (once through processing with large energy inputs and waste outputs) to "green design" (designing the product with the environment in mind).

In the College of Engineering, we are charged with teaching this new paradigm to our students if they are to be competitive in the world market. "Environmental" engineering is increasingly becoming synonymous with "superior" engineering. And the environment is big business. Two percent of our Gross National Product is spent on environmental controls, or approximately $157 billion per year.4 Learning how to make products in a cost-effective, environmentally friendly manner will define successful companies in the world market place in the future.


Figure 6. Conventional design and "green" design where most materials are recycled and there is a minimum of waste with nontoxic products and safe disposal

 

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