This is part 3 in our series about the role of digital beings in a sustainable future. Click here to read part 1, and here for part 2.
Unlike climate change and air pollution, water pollution does not directly affect people, but instead indirectly effects them in the future through the food chain. in simple terms, pollution kills the smallest creatures, which the bigger creatures can no longer eat. These creatures die of starvation, which means the bigger creatures can no longer eat and so on until there are far fewer creatures in the oceans. For humans, this would mean an almost complete loss in marine biology. This could, in turn, devastate the climate with the loss of oxygen-producing species such as phytoplankton. Already oceanic oxygen production is declining, partially caused by water pollution.
The causes of water pollution are relatively less well known by the general public and indeed the scientific community. This is because oceans are a lot harder to explore, especially at significant depths. Also, there is perhaps less interest in studying water pollution due to the lack of direct impact. Despite that, studies have been done and causes have been quantified.
From the chart (all numbers are rough estimates) we can see that sewage is the largest contributor at 30% due to the dumping of treated and untreated sewage, especially from poorer countries. Surprisingly, air pollution accounts for 20% of the cause, with pollutants being dissolved in the water. Farm runoff accounts for 20%, due to fertilisers, pesticides and some waste. Shipping accounts for around 10% of the cause, due largely to the almost complete lack of maritime regulations, with ships using the worst fuel sources and being allowed to dump waste directly into the ocean. Wastewater accounted for 10%, offshore oil, largely from spills and leaks, is at 5% and litter is also at 5%.
The role of digital beings in water pollution
- Sewage: Sewage has two main types: clean and dirty sewage. Dirty sewage is comprised of human excrement and anything else flushed down the toilet. Obviously, for a digital being, this doesn’t apply at all. Clean sewage, on the other hand, is for used water and things that go down the sink or shower. Given that those with artificial bodies would not need to shower or drink it is likely that sewage output would be very low if anything, already reducing over a quarter of the cause of water pollution.
- Farm runoff: This is another somewhat obvious one. If you don’t need food, you won’t need food farming. Also, other animal products like leather and wool could be imitated with faux materials. Some plants that produce things for industrial purposes like rubber would probably still need to be farmed, but farming would probably be reduced by multiple orders of magnitude.
- Air pollutants: As we have discussed, air pollution would also be highly reduced, meaning absorption by the ocean would slow down gradually.
- Maritime transportation (ships): Due to the reduced demand for goods, shipping would also decrease substantially. Ignoring the incoming electrification of shipping fleets, water pollution would be reduced for those with digital immortality.
- Industrial wastewater: Industrial wastewater is from chemicals dumped by manufacturers and other industrial processes into a river or sea. In many cases, it is untreated and often poorly regulated. This would happen less for those with digital immortality due in part to not needing any pharmaceuticals. Also, many goods which result in waste chemical products would no longer be needed and neither would they contribute to waste chemicals via litter processing.
- Offshore oil: As discussed previously, the demand for oil will reduce for those with digital immortality. This would mean offshore drilling would have less demand and spillages would happen less often.
- Litter: Litter is another thing that would reduce significantly. Because digital beings don’t need to eat or drink, that major source of litter would be gone. Also, many other goods would become unneeded or unwanted so neither the product nor its packaging would be there to pollute.
The future of water pollution with digital beings
As we have shown, the future does indeed seem brighter for water pollution. The main causes for this are the complete removal of any biological sewage needs, the reduced demand for some goods and the complete lack of demand for other goods. Though undoubtedly some processes necessary to sustain a person’s digital existence could cause pollution, it would be far less than that of biological humans.
Disappointingly, there have been relatively few efforts to electrify shipping fleets, with stories like the electrification of Norwegian fjord ferries being very infrequent. Also, whilst regulations around dumping waste are gradually improving, they are still few and far between. Seemingly, the future will improve much more gradually for water pollution, but improve it most certainly will.