Net Zero Needs a Greater Focus on Cutting Pollution
By: Jane Marsh
Amid the switch toward renewable energy, people seem to have lost focus on the other element of net zero — reducing pollution. Changing to solar or hydropower is significant, but the transition to eco-friendliness only creates more issues when people stop assessing how much waste they produce. The world must emphasize cutting pollution and creating clean power to become truly sustainable. These two initiatives go hand in hand, and one should not be stressed over the other.
When Renewable Resources Have a Cost
Unfortunately, not all renewables are created equal. For example, while solar panels help many buildings use less fossil-fuel-produced electricity, their production has significant issues. Mining the metal necessary for panel production is not clean, creating water, air and ground pollution. Plus, it destroys habitats and scares off local animals.
The actual process of manufacturing is also quite dirty. Factories need a lot of electricity, and most aren’t using renewable energy. Silicon is a significant part of the problem, as workers must melt it and then use water to cool it. Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient but require a lot of silicon, producing the most emissions during creation.
Green power is the way forward, but manufacturing methods still cause harm. Emphasizing the switch to renewables without addressing the pollution they cause only exacerbates the problem rather than solving it. Plus, as sources like solar panels become more efficient, solar waste will likely worsen as people race to upgrade their current systems. Right now, it is far cheaper to put old panels in landfills rather than recycle them.
Unclear Goals Ignore the Problem
Areas with large communities and factory complexes naturally have higher air pollution, so governments should find ways to curb those emissions. However, they can sometimes create odd goals that do little to fix their issues.
New Zealand has one of the highest emission rates per capita and has turned to planting trees to offset that pollution. However, they take much time to grow, and a forest fire or severe storm could destroy them in seconds. They also cannot store the carbon dioxide necessary to stop climate change. New Zealand’s Climate Commission chair says this focus stunts the country’s ability to hit its net-zero target.
While the country has excellent aims for net zero, the lack of specificity clouds the best path forward. Planting trees to replace the ones lumber workers chop down is good, but focusing only on this does not cut pollution. Trees alone cannot compensate for the amount of greenhouse gases New Zealand’s businesses and citizens release. Concentrating on them ignores the actual work the country could do to reduce emissions.
Sustainability Is the Target, but It Is Expensive
Remember that the goal of net zero is to become carbon neutral. While it would be nice if people could cut their carbon emissions entirely, certain areas will still need fossil fuels until green energy becomes more affordable.
Rural countries will likely need fossil fuels for longer than some would like. These people still need and deserve electricity despite it coming from polluting sources. Depriving them only expands inequity and prevents many from making the money they need to switch to renewables. Plus, large corporations are typically releasing the most pollution, not citizens.
Rather than enforce regulations on people who cannot afford them, those citizens should rally for those with money to make the switch. Doing so could encourage businesses to change to satisfy their customers. While this does not eliminate pollution, it will cut a significant portion. Until renewable energy becomes much more affordable, encouraging producers in poorer countries to become sustainable will help offset the emissions locals produce.
Net Zero Will Not Happen Overnight
Everyone must do their part in the fight against climate change. However, blindly reducing carbon emissions without considering how those resources pollute will further the issue. Additionally, it can make those who cannot afford to switch feel hopeless, dissuading them from learning more about how they can help.
Creating cleaner renewables, establishing concrete goals and pushing companies to lower their emissions will return global focus to cutting pollution. It just might take more time than many want.
Marsh is Editor-in-Chief at Environment. co
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