No evidence to show IT is greener: Researcher

February 25th, 2009 - 3:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 25 (IANS) There is no evidence to show that information technology eases environmental burdens, according to an ecologist.
“It was once assumed that there was little or no material dimension to information technology, thus, it should be clean with minimal environmental impact,” said Richard Hawkins, professor at University of California’s Faculty of Communication and Culture. “However, we are finding that reality is much more complicated.”

Hawkins pointed out how digital technologies require a lot of energy to manufacture and eventually they create a huge pile of “electronic junk”, much of it highly toxic.

They also use a lot of energy to run. Some estimates are that they use up roughly the same amount of energy as the world’s air transport system.

Hawkins points out that far from denying these environmental implications, many IT producers are gearing up to produce “greener IT”, using the environmental footprint as a marketing tool.

“But probably most of the negative environmental impacts occur in the form of completely unintended, second and third order effects,” he says. “These ‘rebound’ effects may not be mitigated by inventing ‘greener’ IT products and, indeed, may be intensified by such changes.

“For example, technologies such as cell phones actually help us to become hyper-mobile,” he says. “We didn’t adopt the mobile phone so we could drive and talk on the phone, we adopted it because we were already driving so much. Creating a greener cell phone won’t reduce the impact of increased mobility. The real question is what amount of mobility is sustainable?”

The problem is that it has been applied so extensively that its environmental implications - positive as well as negative - are often overlooked, said Hawkins, according to a California release.

Hawkins and his research team will present their findings at the upcoming European Communications Policy Research Conference in Seville, Spain on March 29 and at the UN’s climate change conference in Copenhagen this December.

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