Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > November 2019

Environment Rescue

This is a "challenge question" posted in November, 2019:

What can you do personally to reduce your use of non-renewable resources, as your part of curing the problems of pollution and global warming?

Answers that were submitted by readers are down below.

More about this month's topic

An ethical choice is one that helps rather than harming other people, and this also applies to the people of the future. There is much concern around the world that we are burning fossil fuels at a high rate, which will affect the wellbeing of future generations in a couple of ways:

  1. It is increasing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, resulting in a gradual rise in temperatures around the world. If this trend continues, polar ice caps will melt, destroying the habitat for arctic life as well as affecting coral reefs and other habitat. Ocean water levels will rise, affecting people on seashore areas. In agriculture there will be some "losers" (farmers in near-arid areas that become arid) and some "winners" (farmers in cold areas that gain a longer growing season). This will displace many people in poor nations who cannot afford to move.
  2. Non-renewable resources will be depleted. Most of the easy-to-extract sources of fossil fuels have already been depleted in many nations, but ingenuity about improving extraction methods and locating other sources (tar sands, undersea oil) has extended the supply. If we continue using it unabaited, however, it will eventually run out. Perhaps the people of the future will use electric cars and have renewable sources of electricity, so their need for fossil fuels will not be so great. But likely fossil fuels will still be needed for some things (lubricants, jet fuel...), so it is not being kind to future generations when we squander it.

Because these effects progress slowly, nations have traditionally procrastinated doing much about it. Technologies for renewable, sustainable energy have existed since long ago. Consider, for example, that the solar cell was invented in the 1800s and first produced commercially in 1955.

Adoption of this and other sustainable energy sources has occurred gradually, but they still make up only a small fraction of the worldwide power supply.

Progress has been too slow. Projections of only a few decades out show significant undesirable consequences. If we procrastinate to next year, and next year we procrastinate to the year after that, and of course next year again (because any given year is negligible overall), what will be the result? Logically, the solution to procrastination is to do something about it now.

It's easy to blame the big corporations, but it is people who buy the products, and our own homes and cars that use much of the fossil fuels. So, we are looking for ideas from individuals about actions you can take, that you know about, or you have taken, that are practical steps that can be done immediately.

Ideas submitted by readers:

Posted: 2 Nov 2019

I replaced most of the incandescent lights in my home with LED lights. Incandescent lights give off both heat and light, which is a waste of energy when I want only light. In winter, adding heat into my house doesn't matter, but in summer or for outdoor lights, LED lighting is definately better!

Posted: 5 Nov 2019

Don't leave your car idling when stopping to pick someone up at a school or workplace! There is a temptation to do that in cold weather, to keep the car warm, but it wastes fuel and adds unnecessarily to global warming. Your car will stay warm enough if you turn it off for a few minutes while you wait.

Posted: 7 Nov 2019

Solar panels are a great idea for reducing environmental impact. Now, of course, it takes energy in many forms, to produce the panels, from mining for the minerals, to manufacture of the plastics that make up the panels. How do we know that the energy produced by the panels will exceed that taken to produce them? One way to think of this is that the price of the inputs tells us. If you can install solar panels and save money, then it must be that solar panels are energy plus in that they cost less than alternate forms of energy generation. Since that is the case, solar panels are a good thing.

Another issue is how much C02 is being produced? Do solar panels lower the entire C02 budget of the atmosphere compared to other forms of generating that energy. If C02 is taxed with carbon tax, then calculation reduces again to what is economically better. Since the bulk of energy production is still fossil fuel, even without C02 tax, simply economics suggests that solar panels help reduce carbon emissions. All this suggests that the process can bootstrap. At some point, renewal energy will dominate, and carbon emissions could potentially go to zero for the production of solar panels.

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