Do we, as individuals, think enough about digital devices and the environment?

How many of us really think about our impact on the planet when we use our digital devices? Few, especially youngsters. The burning of hydrocarbon fuels, heavy industry, plastics and deforestation tend to be higher in our awareness than the impact of tech and ICT.

The Badger’s young nephews neatly illustrated this in a chat over a meal at which their smart devices were banished to their coat pockets by their parents. The youngsters were serious and passionate about recycling, saving the planet from plastic, ‘green’ vehicles, and preserving nature, but they were stumped when asked about the environmental impact of using their digital devices. Their faces were a picture as it was explained that in addition to the manufacturing process, every interaction with their devices involved a communication network, a data centre, and thus a small impact on the environment.

The largest tech and ICT enterprises have long focused on ‘Green ICT’, but did you know that ICT could account for 25% of electricity demand and 5.5% of global carbon emissions by 2025? Did you know that a 2018 paper from Canada’s McMasters University suggests ICT could account for 14% of global emissions (equivalent to ~50% of global transportation emissions) by 2040? Did you know that by 2020 the energy consumption related to smartphones may surpass that of PCs and laptops, and that smartphones are likely to be the most environmentally damaging devices due to manufacturing emissions and the use of precious metals mined at high cost? The Badger suspects you didn’t.
So, what’s the answer to the question in the blog’s title? Simple. The answer’s ‘No’. But we should. Children are online from an ever earlier age – see here for example – so it’s important they , and indeed we all, think about digital device environmental matters as a matter of routine. There’s an impact on our planet with every use of a smartphone, every piece of streamed music or video, every email, every new connected tech gadget bought, and every robot or autonomous vehicle you might encounter in the future.

The Badger’s motives are just to raise awareness and make you think! Health professionals tell us that if we eat a balanced diet, exercise, and enjoy our indulgences in moderation and with common sense then – as Star Trek’s Mr Spock might say – we’ll live long and prosper. If we throw into the mix more thinking about how we as individuals interact with the world through our digital devices, then the planet will ‘live long and prosper’ too…

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