What exactly is the climate cost of producing steel and concrete. We all will do well to remember that there are cleaner ways to produce the building blocks of the world for a greater future.

Schools, Colleges, Universities, roads and sidewalks, apartments and office buildings, overpasses and embankments, cars and buses, street lights and even statues - they're all made of concrete and steel.

And there's even more of it out of sight, in sewer mains, electricity transmission lines, foundations, ducts, and girders.

It's the stuff of modern life, and we use it in astonishing quantities. Last year, around the world, nearly  two billion tons of steel was produced - more than 500 pounds for every person on Earth.

And at least 30 billion tons of concrete, or at least 9,000 pounds for each of us. The scale can be hard to believe, until you look at a runway of a suspension bridge and contemplate what was required to build it.

But all the comfort, security and convenience provided by things made of steel comes at a cost. Making steel and cement - the main ingredients of concrete - generates about 15 percent of all global emissions of carbon dioxide, the gas most responsible for the climate crisis.

In the United States, industrial sources like steel mills and cement kilns are also the leading source of some of the most damaging types of air pollution. We can't solve climate or pollution problems if we don't clean up these industries.

This is particularly urgent. In the coming years and decades, the World, as the world will need a lot more steel and concrete.

To illustrate, take the example of the benchmark, United States : The. Roads are crumbling, mass transit is unavailable, many communities still don't have access to high speed Internet, drinking water is contaminated, and a nasty winter storm left millions of Texans without power.

Climate change is only going to increase the need for infrastructure, from wind turbines to flood control systems.

There are things we can do to reduce emissions immediately. Concrete mixes are available that are just as strong but have less of the ingredients that emit the most carbon dioxide.

Multiple studies have found that this could reduce the carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent or more. 

These recipes are already in wide use in Europe and elsewhere. We could use energy from renewable resources to make recycled steel. 

Meet the world's climate goals doesn't have to be a burden on the world's manufacturing- it can make  products and technology more competitive. Smart climate standards can create new manufacturing and construction jobs and with them new ladders to the middle class.

Infrastructure investment is one of the few things that all political parties will agree on. But how we build affects how we breathe and what kind of climate we have to live in.

Most people don't notice the steel and concrete around them, and they don't see how it's changing the climate. We need to recognize the problem and then recognize our power to fix it.

The World Students Society thanks author Rebecca Dell.


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