This is the final part in our series about the role of digital beings in a sustainable future. Click here to read part 1, here for part 2, here for part 3 and here for part 4.
First of all, a brief recap. From what we have seen it seems that the main guilty parties are the oil industry, the food industry, consumer goods industries, construction industries and domestic fires such as wood burning and cooking. Many of these causes are already in decline or are in the process of being replaced with cleaner technology. The most likely reductions to come regardless of digital beings are oil as electric vehicles become ever more sophisticated and cost-competitive, and the meat industry as more and more people in the western world reduce their meat consumption.
It is important to know that meat is currently still on the rise due to higher populations in the developing world, but once these places become developed meat will probably decrease. Whether or not this happens before digital immortality becomes possible and mainstream is another question but even assuming it is not possible people will eventually consume less and less meat. Sadly though, in many ways, it all does seem too little too late and climate change and pollution will continue to plague human health and development, making the environment far worse than it is now. Nonetheless, we will look at digital beings’ role in all this.
The reduction of pollution with digital beings:
As we have shown, the biggest reductions in pollution output come from a few key areas: the lack of food demand, reduced goods demand, reduced need for certain buildings or sewage/plumbing, and consequently less waste. Let’s take a look at each reduction:
- Food: This is a fairly obvious one, robots do not need to eat, so neither do digital beings. The real question is the effect this will have. As this is a complete reduction it is far easier to calculate and tools like the BBC’s climate change food calculator can show how much CO2e a person would be saving.
- Buildings, sewage and plumbing: This is also a fairly basic one, due to the fact that digital beings’ needs are very different, so too would be the building needs. The most major difference is the complete removal of the need to use the toilet. This is also true of any building or part of a building dedicated to food or drink. Another large reduction would come from any medical centre, which is not needed for a digital being, and probably most fitness centres. On top of this, every building dedicated to enabling these sectors would also not be needed. This includes many waste treatment plants, research sites, manufacturing and processing plants, sales outlets and transportation infrastructure.
- Goods demand: Many goods are tailored to human biology. Things like toiletries, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, hygiene products, many ergonomically made products, cooking and eating tools, food itself, smart technology (personal computers and mobile devices) and many many more would have no reason to be bought. All of these things combined have immense environmental impacts as seen in their life cycle assessments. Reducing this would have huge positive impacts on the trend of climate change and pollution.
- Waste: As a consequence of the above, waste would be drastically reduced. This means that things like litter, landfills, recycling plants and waste disposal systems would have far less material to deal with and whatever does get ‘sent to the dump’ could be managed far better due to having a lot less stress to keep up with demand.
The small increase in pollution output
Digital beings aren’t completely clean, however, with some aspects of the technology causing previously non-existent causes to arise. One large factor would be the materials needed to manufacture the artificial bodies. These would have their own impacts on the environment. Also, products exclusive to digital beings, like customised limbs, hardware and entire bodily form factors. There would also need to be a lot of energy to store digital beings’ data and for recharging, though this would probably have a minimal impact due to renewable energy sources likely being vastly cheaper by the time the technology is invented. Overall these small additions pale in comparison to the massive reductions from other sectors, making digital beings among the least impactful lifestyles, comparable to people before the discovery of fire.
The impacts on digital beings
One aspect we have yet to discuss is the impacts of climate change and pollution on digital beings. First of let’s start with air pollution. The main problem of air pollution is breathing it. Clearly, this is not a problem for digital beings, and all the negative health impacts would not apply in any capacity. Other things like acid rain will cause a problem, however. Acid rain would damage many buildings and potentially even digital beings themselves. This isn’t too much of a problem for digital beings as they could have maintenance quite easily but building damage would be hard to avoid. Problems like poor visibility in smogs would continue to be a problem but more of an annoyance than a serious health hazard.
Onto water and soil pollution. These already have less human impact than other forms and so are less well known about. Things like biodiversity and food chain health would become less of a concern to digital beings, but most other things like naval damage and poor wildlife growth would have the same impact. This is also true of the many other types of pollution we have not mentioned.
As for climate change, the impacts get a bit harder to predict. Whilst environmental impacts would be irrespective of the technology. The human impacts would be a little different though. Many of the agricultural damage would be irrelevant to digital beings, though much of the flooding and extreme weather damage would be as impactful to digital beings as to humans. Digital beings may also be less susceptible to high temperature related problems like headaches and overheating, though some risk would still be present.
Overall, digital beings would be vastly less damaging to the environment and at the same time vastly less damaged by it. Despite that, the planet doesn’t care about us and if we abuse our resources we will naturally suffer as a result of that. Though we could and should leave the planet with more ease, this does not mean we should give up on it. Earth remains our best place to live and it is important to keep it habitable or we would lose so many resources and so much knowledge. The best we can do is to try to reduce our impact and maybe one day begin to reverse it. This challenge is one that would likely cause another mass extinction and would devastate the majority of biological humans, yet this is one we must not lose and in my opinion, digital beings will play the largest role in that battle.