Richard Hawkins, Canada Research Chair in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, says there is no evidence that information technologies necessarily reduce our environmental footprint. His research will provide input into the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) initiative on IT and sustainability at the United Nations' Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark later this year.
"It was once assumed that there was little or no material dimension to information technology, thus, it should be clean with minimal environmental impact," says Hawkins who is also a professor in the U of C's Faculty of Communication and Culture. "However, we are finding that reality is much more complicated."
Firstly, Hawkins notes that 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.
Far from denying these environmental implications, Hawkins points out that 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."
Rebounds occur when the use of IT contributes to or reinforces an increase in other activities that already have environmental effects.
"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?"
Hawkins says the problem is not that IT is inherently more or less green than other technologies. The problem is that it has been applied so extensively that its environmental implications – positive as well as negative – are often overlooked. Hawkins and his research team are establishing a more reliable basis for identifying and assessing the contribution of IT to our environmental footprint. They will present their findings at the upcoming European Communications Policy Research Conference in Seville, Spain on March 29 and at the UN's COP 15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18, 2009.
Jennifer Myers | EurekAlert!
Upcycling of PET Bottles: New Ideas for Resource Cycles in Germany
25.06.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Betriebsfestigkeit und Systemzuverlässigkeit LBF
Dry landscapes can increase disease transmission
20.06.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences