It’s a bit like Apollo 13, only worse


The best way to explain the problem of how a mobile phone creates CO2.  Do you remember the film Apollo 13, where Tom Hanks and his crew are on route to the moon and astronaut Jack Swigert has to flick on the switch to stir the Oxygen tanks? Suddenly the ship suffers a critical failure and we hear Tom Hanks’ infamous words on the radio to NASA control:

‘Huston, we have a problem’…

Who hasn’t used these few words in jest; ‘Huston, we have a problem!’  The restaurant is closed, or a red light comes up on a dashboard.  My favourite bit is at 1 hour and 17 minutes into the film, when the 3 men are in the lunar module, and CO2 levels are building up and poisoning the atmosphere.
The gauges have risen to 8; once they reach 15 it’s all over for the men.  So what happens?  Well back on earth a bunch of NASA scientists with a roll of Gaffa tape and some bits and pieces, make a square peg fit in a round hole.  The rest of it you know; the astronauts make it back to earth safely! It is nail-biting stuff.

However, for me, it’s a scene that most parallels life now, here on Earth.  As the CO2 levels in the earth’s atmosphere increase, we are in danger of provoking potentially cataclysmic climatic changes, that may ultimately destroy us.  Examples of these changes are described every day in the media.  So how do we stop it? Is someone going to get out a roll of Gaffa tape and patch the ozone layer up, or is the problem bigger than all of us to fix?

Under the 2008 Climate Change Act, which serves as a framework for how to reduce emissions, the UK has committed to reducing 80% of its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2050.  Five-year carbon budgets have been set up until the 2050 target.  Each budget, throughout every sector, will see greater use made of improved or radical ideas, technology, and energy efficiencies.

So how are we doing?

Business and the public sector are both big generators of CO2.  Both have fought hard to reduce their levels of CO2.  Business has reduced its emissions by 38% since 1990.  The public sector followed reduced by approx. 37%.

In 2015 almost half of the UK’s electricity came from a clean energy source.  Low carbon sources such as wind, solar, biomass along with nuclear power, supplied a record 46% amount of power into the grid.  Renewables outperformed coal for the first time.  Coal supplied 22% of the energy, which was down 30% from the year before.  Coal power is on the way to being phased out entirely by 2050.

The transport industry is responsible for around 25% of UK domestic GHG.  The sector is looking to reduce its impact with improved driving techniques, electric lorries, bio-fuels, and other hybrids.  Vehicle fuel will have its greenhouse gas intensity cut by 10% in 2020.  Improved freight routing, scheduling, and increased vehicle capacity will also support its reduction.

Shipping, responsible for nearly 17% of the worlds (GHG) will look to reduce its soot and particulate generation.  Slow steaming as it is called has seen virtually all tankers cut their cruising speeds by up to 55%, thus drastically reducing fuel consumption along with lowering GHG emissions.  This is alongside revised propeller technology and improved engine performance.  The use of hydrodynamics in ship design – Introducing new technology systems that blow bubbles under the ship’s hull to cut down friction between hull and water – could cut a further 35% of CO2.

A mobile phone creates Co2 about 2 tonnes per year on average

The construction industry accounts for nearly half of the UK’s GHG emissions.  But reductions can be made using improved building design, better insulation, increased use of solar panels on buildings, the use of better sustainable materials and alternative low-carbon types of cement that are less energy-intensive to produce.  Improved transport logistics along with the correct ordering of material amounts would cut down on waste.  The Directive for Energy Performance of Buildings requires that all new buildings be nearly zero energy by December 2020.

The agriculture and fishing industry generates about 9% of the total CO2, as well as significant amounts of methane and nitrous oxide.  The industry is at the forefront of the effects of climate change as it needs to feed more people, yet at the same time create less impact.  With increased demand and competition for resources, the food industry is looking to revise and adapt to how food is produced, stored, processed, packaged, transported.

The aviation industry could use up a quarter of the worlds carbon budget in the next few years.  Carbon offsetting is a small start, but international aviation is not helping the problem.  Change is urgent.

Even in my sector, the mobile phone industry is concerned.  Yes, communication via mobile phones leaves a carbon footprint; each time you make a phone call, text or use your mobile, each time you charge the device or download something from a server – you create CO2.  The systems that power the mobile phone create a tremendous amount of carbon-emitting gases 365 days of the year.

With over 83 million mobiles in the UK now, analysts predict this number of phones could double in the next 10 years.  Longer battery life, better masts, improved mobile software, handsets with eco-ratings are all being developed to this end.  But perhaps most important of all, research shows that consumers are keen to adopt CO2 reducing behaviours.

Come 2050, we have to have made the changes, our lives and the world we share depends on it.  It’s a situation that reminds me of a quote by Dr. Askhari Johnson Hodari

‘If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired’.