By Mark Halper
Posting in Design
Our addiction to electronic and digital devices that didn't exist 20 years is pumping out greenhouse gases at an alarming rate, a British study shows.
Yet tacitly, consumers are thumbing their collective noses at CO2 goals through the addictive use of home gadgets and gizmos that feeds their infotainment habit.
That’s what the UK-based Energy Saving Trust concludes in its freshly minted report, “The Elephant in the Living Room: How our appliances and gadgets are trampling the green dream.”
To paraphrase its findings: While most of us have at least thought about curtailing the fuel use of cars, we ignore global warming consequences when it comes to listening to Lady Gaga on an iPhone, watching Terminator 3 for the 25th time on our digital screen, or, pray tell, reading SmartPlanet online.
“Our love affair with domestic gadgets and gizmos has to change,” says the report author, Paula Owen. “Not only can people cut their carbon footprint, but they can also bring down their electricity bills considerably.”
EST concludes that rampant growth in consumers’ collection of flat-screen TVs, computers, mobile phones, digital music players and other devices has put British domestically-linked greenhouse gas emissions on pace to fall 20 percent short of the government’s 2020, 34 percent reduction target, assuming electric utilities continue to use the same mix of fossil fuel. Emissions would stand at 43.6 million tons of greenhouse gases, compared to a goal of 36 million tons.
Even if British utilities were to hit a 2020 goal of generating more electricity from renewable sources, consumers’ compulsion to view screens, click mice, tap keypads, swipe touch screens and cram plastic buds in their ears would still put domestic greenhouse gas emissions at 2 percent above the government’s target.
It all paints a grim scenario in the country’s broader CO2 and equivalent picture, considering that domestic use makes up nearly a third (29 percent) of the UK’s greenhouse emissions, and that doesn’t even include personal travel.
Although the study examines the UK, its general premise almost certainly describes a pattern in the rest of the world: Our obsession with devices that for the most part didn’t even exist 20 or 30 years ago is driving up electricity consumption and CO2 emissions through sheer volume, even if manufacturers are improving the energy efficiency of each gadget.
The number of computing and communication devices alone more than doubled between 2004 and 2009 in British homes, from 30 million to 65 million, the report states. British homes owned 3.5 times as many “consumer electronics” devices –TVs, DVD players, set top boxes and the like – in 2009 than they did in 1990, and 40 times more than in 1970. Consumer electronics became the largest electricity consumer in the household by 2005.
The report claims that in the UK, electricity consumption from consumer electronics surged from 12.1 terawatt hours (TWh) in 1990 to 19.9 TWh in 2005 and to 20.8 TWh in 2009. Efficiency improvements will lower the rate of increase, as consumption will increase by 5 percent through 2020 to 21.9 TWh, but CO2 reduction will still miss government targets, the report states.
Home computing consumed 1.3 TWh in 1990, shot to 5.4 TWh by 2005, hit 6.5 TWh in 2009 and will reach 6.9 TWh by 2020.
“Both the technology of home computing and how we use it are changing and developing at a dizzying pace, and looks set to keep doing so,” the report states. “The trend of convergence means more and more items – games consoles, tablet computers, mobile phones, printers, and even televisions – perform overlapping computing functions. New functionality within existing devices may mean they will need to consume more processing power per unit, and divergence in the form of netbooks, notebooks, tablets, smartphones, e-readers may mean more energy used by chargers.”
Not all sectors of domestic use are rising. Energy efficient replacements to the incandescent bulb have helped drive down domestic lighting consumption from 16.6 TWh in 1999 to 15.8 TWh in 2009, and will continue to lower it to 11.7 TWh in 2020. Likewise, improvements in refrigeration have pushed consumption down from 16.8 TWh in 1990 to 14.5 in 2009. Refrigeration will plunge to 10.5 TW in 2020.
But oh those computers, phones and TVs.
I’m certainly guilty. I live in Britain, where yesterday I listened to the Pittsburgh Steelers thump the New England Patriots via Internet connected radio all the way from the USA (I’d pay to view video except the National Football League wants too much money and would probably try to dictate what clothes I wear while watching). But you won’t catch me with an iPod - I ride the designated “quiet” cars on British trains because I can’t stand the tinny sound that leaks out of the ghastly things (go ahead and call me a grumpy old man).
The point is: there’s something in this CO2-ladened infotainment world for all of us. We’re all flouting greenhouse gas reduction goals. Tonight, as you lean forward towards your 17-inch Mac monitor, or as you lean back on the sofa to watch catch-up versions of Game 6 of the World Series, beware the knock on your front door. It could be the eco warriors.
Images: Top, Wikimedia/Linux insidev2; Bottom, Energy Saving Trust
More digital global warming:
Oct 31, 2011
www.smartplanet.com/blog/science-scope/changers-a-social-solar-powered-charger-for-iphone-android-phones-video/10813?tag=nl.e660 He sells a gadget that uses solar power to charge your cell phone, and then transmit your charging data into the cloud so that it can be shared via your social network to impress your friends at how much you're doing to reduce "global warming". I think I can say with a high degree of certainty that the IT infrastructure and servers running 24/7 to support this kind of nonsense uses far more power than his little phone charger will ever save, not even counting the carbon required to manufacture and deliver it. Such is a fine example of how far the silliness over anthropocentric "global warming" as gone.
My wife and I live in a 3,600 sqft house in an upscale neighborhood. We drive vehicles that barely get 13 mpg..I run several rack servers in my basement, along with about a dozen other computers and about half a dozen laptops and netbooks, plus smartphones, about a dozen external drives, I also have a classic muscle car that has a 7.7liter engine and gets 9 mpg... and you know what? No guilt...I make enough money that I don't need to worry about paying for this stuff! And heck...If I live another 50-60 years, I would be lucky...and since I don't have kids, what do I care about the environment...
Everything humans do generally create greenhouse gasses. Breathing creates greenhouse gasses. So the question is, are we generally increasing or decreasing our generation of GHGs, increasing or decreasing our energy consumption, through the use of various technologies. I live in rural Canada for health reasons (sulpher dioxide from diesel buses or trucks will send me into anaphalaxis). Using the internet means that I don't drive as much. The car sits in the driveway 4 days a week, and only gets taken on short drives on the other 3 days. If I had to drive into work every day, I'd still be sitting in front of a computer as part of my job. So for me, there is no gadget guilt. The gadgets have allowed me to decrease my energy consumption and carbon footprint. However, this is obviously not the case with everyone. Many people have increased their energy consumption, or simply swapped consumption from one form to a different form.
If you didn't write if first, we wouldn't be reading it, so if you???re writing this, you???re warming the planet.
My commute is 70 miles round trip. I used to make that trip 5 days a week. Now I usually only make it once a week for meetings and I don't always do that. Sometimes lowering the carbon footprint comes from using the gadgets