Environment

Okay, so let’s pretend climate change isn’t real

I’m going to start with this: climate change is definitely real. We’re extremely sure it’s caused by humans and we are already seeing the effects all over the world.

But despite sound scientific evidence and huge numbers of scientists in agreement, there are still a surprising amount of people who think we’re making it all up.

Blame fossil fuel companies, political ideology, or something else entirely, but some people just don’t seem convinced.

So, today we’re going to take a step back. If climate change is just a huge hoax by the United Nations, intended to turn us all into communists, why should we bother lowering our carbon emissions and making life on our planet more sustainable? Well, there could be other benefits.

We’d finally be a type I civilisation

In 1964, Nikolai Kardashev came up with an idea – the way we measure a civilisation’s level of technological advancement should be based on the amount of energy the civilisation can utilise.

Fittingly, it’s called the Kardashev scale. It ranges from a type I civilisation, with the ability to use and store all energy available on the planet, to a type III civilisation, with the ability to control energy from the entire host galaxy.

Sadly, we’re not even at a type I civilisation yet. Type I civilisations can harness all of the energy that falls on a planet from its parent star; in our case… we’re not even close.

But advances in solar power would get us closer to this goal. Fossil fuels, in this case, are literally holding us back from our full potential – to shove our advancement in the faces of all the other civilisations in our galaxy.

Sustainability could help us explore space, too

Speaking of the cosmos, let’s face it – we’ve only checked out our backyard. The whole Solar System, galaxy, and Universe is still out there, just waiting for us to see it.

In short trips like the ones we’ve taken to the Moon, we can carry what we need with us, and don’t need to recycle everything over and over again.

But on longer space missions, being able to use, reuse and repurpose all of our waste is absolutely vital – that includes food, air, and fuel. If humans are ever going to go on longer trips to the stars, we’ll need resources that can be reused for generations of humans – and the process of respecting every resource as precious can start down here on Earth. 

As a bonus, building our lives around resources that we can renew, reuse and recycle indefinitely also means we’ll never run out of them on our little blue ball.

We could stop killing people in coal mines

On a more serious note, there are tangible benefits to divesting from fossil fuel industries. For example, you might imagine that black sooty faces and deaths in coal mines are issues long since taken care of, but that’s not actually the case.

In the US, around 30 deaths per year happen due to mining accidents; in less developed countries, thousands of coal miners die every single year.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t other types of mines causing damage, but the majority of mining deaths are caused by coal extraction industries.

Even when you add up all the processes to create the plants and then the energy, renewables, and even nuclear power, have a significantly lower risk of causing death than coal does.

Transitioning away from coal mines would literally save thousands of lives every year. 

Our cities would have much cleaner air

When we burn coal, along with releasing carbon dioxide, we also produce a number of toxins and pollutants which end up in the air, such as mercury, lead and other heavy metals.

This has huge implications for our health, including causing asthma, respiratory inflammation, decreased lung function and even cancer. A World Health Organisation report last year found that the vast majority of children around the world are breathing polluted air.

Plus, a 2017 study found that one in six deaths around the world are caused by pollution. That is more than deaths from HIV infections, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

Solar power, wind power and even hydro and nuclear don’t create such ubiquitous health problems. Once solar farms, turbines or hydro dams are installed, there is no air pollution at all.

Moving away from fossil fuels and focusing on sustainable renewables would increase our lifespans and make our world a nicer place to live. 

These are just a few examples of the good we could do for our planet and ourselves. Even if human caused climate change wasn’t real (which it is), there are plenty of other great reasons for why swapping to sustainable resources is the smart choice for the future of humanity.

This article is part of ScienceAlert’s special climate edition, published in support of the global #ClimateStrike on 20 September 2019.

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