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GOTHENBURG: Peter Pierrou is head of Communications at Chemsec, a non-profit organisation that enables the work of chemists, political scientists, business experts and communicators to develop the use of sustainable chemicals. He says despite the dire warning from the latest IPCC report, oil companies have just shifted their focus from fossil fuels to producing toxic chemicals:


The extreme weather events we have seen this summer are just the beginning, according to the UN’s latest climate report. Rising temperatures will keep resulting in droughts, floodings, storms, thawing permafrost and melting glaciers. No part of the world will be left unaffected. And while the emissions debate remains largely centered around travel, oil companies have shifted their focus from fuels to chemicals.

The recent report from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leaves no room for doubt: Human activities do cause the global warming and its catastrophic effects. The report bluntly states that: ‘Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.’

So how do we achieve these reductions? For most people, the first thing that comes to mind is the need to reduce travel – especially flying – which is exactly what we have been doing during the pandemic. The [IPCC] report does look into this, and while the air quality was temporarily improved in some areas, greenhouse gas emissions kept increasing during 2020. So, it surely cannot be all about travel?

In fact, this illustrates an important but less known trend; while the transport sector has put much effort into becoming less oil dependent, the oil industry has switched from production of fuels to production of chemicals. The show must go on – right?

Of course, fossil-based production is nothing new; plastics have been made from crude oil for decades. But the soaring volumes and variations of oil-based products that we have seen over the last couple of years are new – and alarming.

The chemical industry is already the most energy consuming production sector, and the petrochemical industry is rapidly becoming the main driver of global oil demand. The growing volumes of chemicals produced are reflected in increased sales of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as surging production of stuff – all and any kinds of stuff with the main purpose of keeping oil in business.

So what do we do? The answer is simple, really: We need to reduce the amount of stuff produced. Production must shift from high volumes to high quality that fulfills true – not invented – needs. It must be based on renewable resources and a circular economy perspective.

To all of us individuals who desperately want to do something: keep reducing travel, push policymakers and buy less stuff. Yes, oil is a major component when manufacturing clothes, home electronics, toys, and all the other stuff us humans go shopping for in order to get a quick dopamine rush.

Limit food waste, buy organic food, choose second-hand, repair things, and share things you don’t need every day with other people.

And when you do buy things: be picky about which companies you buy from, find out about their environmental strategies, and buy things that you will value for a long time. It’s a start.

Of course, there is only so much the individual can do. Policymakers and companies need to roll up their sleeves and be prepared to sacrifice business interests. It’s going to hurt. But it would hurt infinitely more to maintain this status quo.
 
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Founded in 2002, ChemSec’s latest report notes 84 percent of Europeans are worried about the impact chemicals in everyday products have on their health, and even more are worried about their impact on the environment. The report is endorsed by its business members including adidas, apple, Boots UK, Coop (Denmark), Dell, Eureau, H&M, IKEA, Kingfisher, Lego, Shaw Industries, Skanska, Sony Mobile and the Swedish Construction Federation.
 
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