Initial thoughts on the environment

After a tough Scotland loss to Australia (Rugby World Cup 2015!), this crept back into my consciousness…

The news that an odd “megastructure”, which may the first sign of intelligent life, has been spotted far away got me thinking about long-term sustainability, and our approach to the environment. Chris Packham actually got me thinking along these lines first of all, with his view that climate change was less of a worry than loss of biodiversity.

We all have finite times on this planet, but we all like to think that humans may be able to live indefinitely, or perhaps for as long as the crocodile if we play our cards right. This is obviously fanciful (if crocodiles have been around as long as I suspect they have), not least because we know that humans will change over geological times because of evolution. That aside, there is the small issue of resources. The over-consumption of the Easter islanders should serve as a lesson to us all, but it appears to be ignored except when money speaks. Our over-reliance on the free market to tell us what we  need and what we don’t, and how scarce or available it is crazy short-termism, and massively retrogressive, but that is an aside.

If the alien megastructure really is a megastructure, does anyone believe that the life-forms may actually still exist? Of course, some people do, but with my limited knowledy of ET studies, I’m suspecting the probability points towards and extinct intelligent lifeform. Most people, naturally, think that they would be solar panels, providing energy.

This got me to my most pertinent thought. Will we ever be able to do photosynthesis as efficiently as plants? I can imagine we may get to a point where we could create as much energy from each photon of light, but does anyone seriously think we could create solar panels as cheaply, resource-wise, as plants can, and with the diversity that nature provides us? This is where biodiversity and the ability to adapt really come into their own – nature is much more creative at coming up with variations which work, and can work optimally in different conditions.

If we destroy our biodiversity, we destroy the chances for future human/”intelligent” civilizations to exist, let alone exist with the same abundance we currently enjoy. Anthropomorphic climate change is a worry, but losing the ability to create energy and matter from the sun almost for free is even more of a worry. We really need to focus on the real problems, both in the short term and the long term, and not get fixated on what doctors may call the symptoms rather than the root causes.

With climate change, which I still think is important as a symptom, we need to use it as a spur to reduce our overall consumption of energy and materials. I don’t mean increase efficiency, I mean reduce actual consumption. We also need to change our economic focus away from macro-growth, and onto microeconomic features of individual/community well-being. I am a big believer in the importance of reducing inequality down to reasonable amounts, and the idea that this cannot be done just by raising up the bottom – the top needs to be capped at the very least, because capital is essentially wasted once someone has “too much to spend”. Once they start percolating wealth down through luxury yachts etc… the beneficial arguments are as valid as supporting Trident because it creates jobs.

And when it comes to biodiversity, we MUST be much more careful and holistic in our approach. We need global agreements like are currently being achieved for CO2 emissions for biodiversity measurements, and should aim to achieve not just to reduce or even prevent declines in biodiviersity, but increase biodiviersity over decades.

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