Digital Beings in a Sustainable Future (Part 4)

Digital Beings in a Sustainable Future (Part 4)

This is part 4 in our series about the role of digital beings in a sustainable future. Click here to read part 1, here for part 2 and here for part 3.

Soil contamination and quality:

Soil pollution, despite being little talked about, is still a considerably important type of pollution. Maintaining good soil quality is essential for crop yields, water quality and biodiversity. A reduction in any of these could result in catastrophe for humanity and many living species, potentially causing economic ruin at an extreme. Thankfully, this is less likely to impact digital beings due to a lack of need for food or water, though impacts would nonetheless be devastating.

Causes

The causes of changing soil quality vary largely by region. One such example is overgrazing being responsible for 80% of soil degradation in Oceania compared to practically 0% in Central America. This type of soil quality decline is not the only type and is more down to land misuse and loss of soil fertility. We will look in-depth at the causes of soil contamination, a process where harmful foreign substances are added to the soil.

Causes of Soil Degradation
Regional causes of soil degradation. Credit: World Resources Institute
Soil pollution causes
Overview of economic activities causing soil contamination. Credit: European Environment Agency

As suggested by the chart, general industry is the largest culprit here at over a third of the cause. The oil industry is responsible for over a sixth of the problem. Waste treatment and disposal are responsible for about a quarter of the contamination. Power plants and storage account for 4% each, spills are at 3%, mining is at 2%, military is at 1% and other causes amount to 9%.

The role of digital beings in soil pollution

Major causes
  • Industrial production and commercial services (36%): As we have explained, many industries would decline or simply vanish. Major product sectors like food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, sporting equipment, toiletries and so many more will be completely unneeded. Other areas will experience a massive decline, whilst some sectors will grow or new sectors be created entirely, such as those catered to digital beings. Overall it is likely that industrial and commercial output will decline, meaning pollution caused by those sectors will also decline. Given that this is the biggest cause of soil contamination, this would have very large benefits for soil quality.
  • Oil industry (17%): The oil industry is unlikely to be changed drastically by the existence of digital beings, though some products like plastics would decline as they become unneeded. Combine this with the inevitable replacement of fossil fuels with clean technology and it’s not unreasonable to see the death of the oil industry entirely.
  • Municipal waste treatment and disposal (15%): Municipal (urban) waste treatment and disposal mainly consists of things like rubbish collection, recycling and dumps. Ignoring the potential for improvements in these areas, this type of waste treatment and disposal is likely to reduce due entirely to reduced need for goods. Fewer products purchased will mean less waste and less waste processing.
  • Industrial waste treatment and disposal (9%): Much like municipal waste treatment and disposal, industrial waste will also likely decline due to reduced goods need. Together these reductions would account for massive decreases in soil contamination.
  • Others (9%): Other causes such as agrochemicals (farming chemicals), heavy metals and solvents would also likely decline, but at varying rates. There may also be new contributors but an overall decline is most likely. Indeed, farming chemicals would be very likely to decline as the only necessary farming products would be for non-consumables like rubber and potentially cotton.
Minor causes
  • Power plants (4%): Power plants are one area unlikely to change significantly with the advent of digital immortality. Digital beings would require a lot more electrical energy than a person. This will mean an increase in energy demand and potentially higher demand for polluting power plants such as nuclear and fossil fuel plants. Despite this, due to decreased cost, it is more likely that renewable energy generation will meet this increased demand and more likely replace older, more expensive generation sources.
  • Storage (4%): Storage is yet another thing to have a partial decline for those with artificial bodies, also due to decreased goods demand.
  • Transport spills on land (3%): This is also less likely to happen for digital beings. This is largely due to reduced goods demand but also specific demand reductions such as those for certain chemicals or chemical-based products will have a large effect.
  • Mining (2%): Mining is very hard to tell. Whilst some products that have first materials sourced from mines would reduce in demand, other products would counter-act that. For example, cobalt (a component in lithium-ion batteries) would lose demand as electronics are replaced by in-brain software enhancements but would increase in demand due to components in the artificial body’s hardware.
  • Military (1%): Military is another unknown. Whilst many weapons would become ineffective against digital beings, other weapons that are potentially more contaminating could be used instead. Ideally, the need for the military would dissipate as increased intelligence causes people to move past tribalism, but this is a sociological factor and not guaranteed by digital immortality.

The future of soil pollution with digital beings

Much like all types of pollution we have covered, the transition to digital immortality will benefit the environment and soil pollution is no exception to this. Once again this is almost entirely due to reduced goods demand, which is in turn due to the removal of biological needs and the addition of augmented and virtual reality.

In many developed countries, soil contamination is already well regulated and this is also becoming true of developing countries. Places where companies are free to dump their waste wherever they feel like it are shrinking and the trend is looking positive. It is very likely that digital immortality and artificial bodies would be a last huge jump in the transition towards cleaner economies.

This is part 4 in our series about the role of digital beings in a sustainable future. Read part 5 here for our conclusion of the role of digital beings in a sustainable future.

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Loui Coleman

Author of Generation Byte

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