Friday, November 14, 1997
EXPORTING CEMENT, A FINITE RESOURCE
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
A Reuters report dated November 8, 1997, said that Ciments Libanais (the
factory that produces Portland cement) had opened a new kiln to replace four
old ones, increasing production from 1.65 million tons to 2.2 million while
reducing costs. A company official said that the company planned to export
cement by the end of 1998. He said, "Our cement is of the quality that can be
exported to Europe and the United States." In Lebanon itself, cement
consumption fell, but a small percentage still had to be imported to meet
As most readers are aware from extensive news coverage, cement production in Lebanon has been a very environmentally destructive industry, polluting the air and damaging the landscape around Shikka with extensive quarrying. Although the report did not mention it, the new, more efficient kiln should reduce pollution. It will also satisfy Lebanon's demand for cement.
However, exporting cement out of the country is a bad idea. Because of the extensive destruction of land and air pollution, the cement industry should be regarded as a necessary evil needed to meet Lebanon's demands, but no more. There should be no obligation or desire on Lebanon's part to satisfy markets in Europe and (worse) the huge, gluttonous United States, the country where one city (Phoenix) is proposing to demolish and replace a perfect, huge concrete airport terminal finished only in 1980. In addition, the raw material that is quarried for the manufacture of concrete in Lebanon is a finite resource that will some day run out. Even if there is "plenty" of it, that does not mean we should be extracting it all, ripping apart half of North Lebanon in the process. We should be using only what's enough to meet demand, with an eye to stopping in the future. Even if all the raw material is removed, the cement factory will some day shut down when the material runs out, just like copper mines and other mines that extract finite resources.
Limiting the export of natural resources is not new. In the U.S., exporting raw logs cut on National Forests has long been illegal, although companies get around that restriction by exporting wood cut on private land. Logging has resulted in the devastation of thousands of square miles of virgin forests, and meeting the demand of wood-gobbling Japan and other Oriental countries has always been controversial. A coal mine proposed in the world-class scenery of southern Utah was defeated and replaced with a National Monument (similar to a National Park), partly because the coal would have gone to Japan and would not have served the needs of the U.S. In Alaska, where oil production has destroyed large areas of fragile Arctic tundra, no export was allowed until recently when a foolhardy Congress allowed it (again, to meet the needs of the Orient).
Instead of exporting cement, Lebanon should be working to reduce its own demand of cement. This can be done by using other material for interior walls, by recycling old concrete for use in non-load-bearing structures, and by refurbishing old high-rise apartment buildings instead of demolishing and replacing them, as has been done in Beirut lately. The war has destroyed a huge amount of concrete structures that will have to rebuilt. That's fine. Let's just not waste cement needlessly.
Finally, Lebanon is just too small to be able to afford to leave the ugly scars around Shikka as they are now. As certain areas become exhausted of raw material for concrete, they should be rehabilitated and put to good uses ranging from new housing to olive orchards to forests.