Monday, January 18

The ecological impact of digital traffic


The hidden face of new technologies.

The pandemic reduced road traffic and the emission of polluting gases into the atmosphere, but it triggered teleworking and video conferencing. They are actions with a significant environmental impact if one does not bet on renewable energies and for ending planned obsolescence.

Digital traffic also takes a toll on the health of the planet. Although the confinement meant a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions due to the decrease in road traffic, the truth is that new technologies are not exempt from a significant environmental impact.

Greenpeace already warned in 2017 that the energy footprint of the information technology sector was equivalent to a consumption of approximately 7% of the world’s electricity. It is a worrying situation “taking into account that in the last three years the variation on this matter is great because we are in a moment of global energy transition,” they now point out from the environmental group.

Greenpeace warns about a part of the unbridled consumption of all kinds of products, including digital ones, both hardware and software. “It is one of the main levers driving the climate and biodiversity crisis,” they argue.

Social sustainability criteria

Second, they emphasize the need to provide strict criteria for social and environmental sustainability due to the unstoppable growth of these products. And finally, that energy consumption has to be satisfied by a one hundred percent renewable, efficient and intelligent system.

One of the points of greatest concern to environmental groups is that of technological waste, which is increasing and is clearly linked to the phenomenon of programmed obsolescence. The life cycle of a mobile phone is too short, experts warn, who estimate that every two years 2.8 billion people change their phone. Laptops, routers, game consoles and televisions are among the products with the most frequent replacement rate on the market.

Fernando Tucho, professor of Communication at the Rey Juan Carlos University, pointed out a few months ago to the Efe agency that it is “a shouting truth” that in general companies do not recognize favoring the “planned death” of new devices to artificially reduce their shelf life and encourage the consumption of imported raw materials.

The short life of mobile phones multiplies waste

The Valencian Community wanted to put the brake on programmed obsolescence in a Law on Waste Prevention and Circular Economy that included several limitations in this regard. However, in the end it declined with the amendments approved by the early calling of regional elections in April 2019. A regulation that is now trying to boost the Valencian government again, which wants to prioritize reuse, as well as giving a second life to the electrical and electronic items.

Added to the high energy consumption required to produce these products is the fact that they end up very prematurely becoming technological waste. They are transported in containers labeled ‘second-hand goods’, as EU laws allow the export of reusable material, but it is estimated that between 25% and 75% are useless equipment. They contain very dangerous chemicals that are a threat to both people and the environment. And with the aggravation that they are transported to countries with little or no legislation on waste management. In many cases they end up outdoors or handled by children.

Videos pollute

According to Tucho, creator of the blog www.ecologiaymedia.info, the consumption of audiovisual products is more polluting than it appears. In 2018 alone, viewing videos on the internet generated more than 300 tons of carbon dioxide. His advice to the ordinary citizen is to download the files instead of continually downloading them, search in text rather than video, or use the Ecosia social entrepreneurship search engine to offset emissions.

Sending a photo on WhatsApp, updating your Facebook profile or watching videos on You Tube contribute more to global warming than the public may think. It is estimated that each email generates four grams of CO2 and sending 65 emails is equivalent to one kilometer traveled by car, according to data from Washington-based business advisory firm FTI Consulting. Hence, the European Union insists that data centers make the determined leap to clean and renewable energy.

Sending an email or uploading things to the cloud emits CO2

In addition, Tucho underlines the “environmental controversy” of 5G technology, more “efficient” but with an electricity consumption that in a base station triples that of 4G. Issue that also affects the Redigit Informática Circular. According to this specialized blog, the fifth generation of mobile phone technologies will increase the total energy consumption of the networks where it is implemented to averages of 150-170% by the year 2026. This will demand more energy generation from renewable sources or not, with its respective environmental impact.

Low temperature

Supercomputing deserves a separate chapter, that is, the use of supercomputers and huge data centers to be used in such important fields as the daily use of the Internet and communications, or medical, climatic, geological or business science. They require enormous energy consumption to maintain an adequate temperature of all their components and infrastructures that require full operation 24 hours a day all week.


“It takes an extraordinary amount of energy to make and power our electronic devices”

Greenpeace invited the largest global internet operators to boost their growth with renewables.

The ‘explosive’ growth in citizen digital consumption is driving large new investments in infrastructure, particularly in new, energy-intensive data centers to serve as factories for the digital economy. These host thousands of servers that store and exchange messages, photos and videos from tablets and phones. They can vary greatly in size, but the trend is towards larger and larger facilities.

Green light

The largest cloud data and web hosting are capable of consuming as much energy as a midsize city primarily for cooling.

The energy footprint of the information technology sector is increasing not only due to the growth of individual data consumption. We must also add the extension of the digital age to more of the world’s population, from the more than three billion people three years ago to more than four billion worldwide. «It takes an extraordinary amount of energy to make and power our devices, data centers and infrastructures that are needed for the internet ”, they point out from Greenpeace.

The environmental group began in 2009 to evaluate the energy performance of the information technology sector. Greenpeace challenged the largest global internet operators and architects to commit to driving its rapid growth through 100% renewable energy. “Ultimately, the big companies in this sector will decide whether our fingerprint will be powered entirely by renewable energy or otherwise by outdated and polluting fossil fuels», They point out.

Greenpeace is relatively optimistic about the significant increase in prioritization of renewable energy use among some of the largest internet companies. “The race to build a renewable grid started with digital platform leaders like Facebook, Apple and Google who made a commitment to 100% renewables in 2013 and have been joined by nearly twenty other companies, including global companies that manage systems of storage in the cloud and of colocation in data centers that were far behind, “they explain.


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