Climate change vs. sustainability

So this post is more than a little off-topic, as it’s not at all related to Physics. However, this is something that bothers me, and I needed to write it down in order to clarify my feelings and get it off my chest – so here we are!

Warning: this is another rant of mine, feel free to ignore it completely.

Warning 2: These are my opinions and I’m unlikely to change them, so please don’t try and argue with me over them. Constructive criticism is welcome, pointless arguments are not.

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Don’t get me wrong. I believe strongly in ‘being green’ – recycling, renewable energy, all that jazz. I also believe that carbon dioxide is contributing to the global temperature rise. How much, I don’t know; whether or not it’s more than the normal temperature fluctuations of the Earth, I don’t know; but I’d rather be prepared and cut carbon emissions than wait to find out if we’ve doomed the Earth, thank you very much.

What bothers me is that ‘being green’ has become intertwined with the climate change debate, so much so that they’re forever associated. I get it – one of the reasons to want renewable energy is to want to cut carbon emissions. But that’s not all there is to it. There’s a lot more reasons to go green than for the sake of preventing climate change, and what I really don’t like is people using climate scepticism – or climate indifference – as justification for not even considering these other reasons.

Let me explain.

Renewable energy (and nuclear power). Forever linked to cutting carbon emissions, it’s still in the development stages and, particularly with large wind farms or arrays of solar panels, it’s still controversial. I don’t know of anyone who’s opposed to it in theory – but no-one wants it near them/disturbing the landscape etc. Fair enough. But expensive, noisy or unsightly as it may be, renewable energy is the only way we’ll be able to sustain our current way of life. Coal, oil and gas are running out, fast, and if we don’t have these new technologies up, running and ready by the time the fossil fuels have gone, you won’t have to worry about which lights are on in your house any more – none of them will be. Electricity will become a valuable, extremely sought-after, expensive commodity, and I can’t imagine anyone will benefit from that scenario except the few electricity companies that use renewable sources.

Recycling. Yes, it’s a pain when you just want to throw something out: instead you’re supposed to remember what your particular council recycles, and in most cases, rinse out whatever can/bottle you want to throw out. But is a couple of minutes out of your day and an extra bin collection day really worse than having landfills grow at something close to twice the rate, completely unnecessarily? We’re already shipping our rubbish off to other countries because our landfill sites are filling up too fast (which, by the way, costs the government extra money). Plus, there are bins now that have separate compartments, so you don’t even have to remember to put recycling in the tray outside until the bin’s full.

Saving electricity (and gas). I confess that I am one of those people who leaves things on standby. I know it’s one of the things we’re supposed to do, but it uses such a tiny amount of electricity that I’m prepared to accept it. However, I do turn off lights/electrical stuff that I’m not using. And yes, it is partly because I believe in being green. The other part? I also believe in lowering my electricity bills. Saving electricity, or turning down the gas heating when you’re not using it, saves money. Surely (and particularly at the moment) this is a good thing?

So yes, ‘greenies’ are trying to cut carbon emissions. And yes, climate science might not have all the answers yet. But that is not the only reason to cut down on electricity, or to recycle, or to want renewable energy. Taking a common-sense approach, I can’t think of any reason why people wouldn’t want any of these things, and I can’t understand why the government, or the green movements, don’t make more of an effort to emphasise this side of the debate.

Anyway, rant over. If you made it all this way, thank you – I promise to try not to rant too often!

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