ICT industry poses potential threat to environment, contributes about 3.7 percent global GHGs


Information Communications Technology Industry causes about 3 per cent of the worldwide CO2 emissions.

Jaipur: Today, the world of telecommunications and information communities is facing a big challenge, namely, the transmitted multimedia-rich data are exploding at a confound speed, and secondly, the total energy consumption by the communication and networking devices and the global CO2 emission is rapidly increasing. It has been noted that ―presently 4 per cent of the worldwide energy is consumed by the ICT (Information & Communications Technology) infrastructure causes about 3 per cent of the worldwide CO2 emissions.

According to recent research, more than half the global population is mobile subscribers. Approximately 4.1 billion people, or 53.6 per cent of the global population, now use the internet. The carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet, and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, according to some estimates. It is similar to the amount produced by the airline industry globally, explains Mike Hazas, a researcher at Lancaster University. And these emissions are predicted to double by 2025. As per the French think tank, The Shift Project, watching online videos accounts for the biggest chunk of the world’s internet traffic – 60 per cent – and generates 300m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, which is roughly 1 per cent of global emissions. This is because, as well as the power used by devices, energy is consumed by the servers and networks that distribute the content. In order to beat boredom, if someone engages in binge-watching Pornography, then it is an astonishing fact that “Pornography accounts for a third of video streaming traffic, generating as much carbon dioxide as Belgium in a year”. Although the energy needed for a single internet search or email is small. Those scraps of energy, and the associated greenhouse gases emitted with each online activity, can add up- one should not lose sight of this. The internet allows us to send messages, share pictures, download music, and stream videos at a touch of a button, but our online habits have a surprising impact on the environment.

The digital technology industry is one of the least sustainable and most environmentally damaging industrial sectors in the modern world, therefore, it is argued that digital technologies are part of climate change that negatively impact the environment. Digital technology, almost by definition, must have electricity to function, and as industry and society become increasingly dependent on electricity for production, exchange and consumption, the demand for electricity continues to rise. Moreover, most electricity production globally is currently generated by coal-fired power stations, which has led authors such as Lozano to claim that “The Internet is the largest coal-fired machine on the planet”. The overall demand for electricity from the digital technology sector is growing rapidly. Vaclav Smil goes on to note that ICT networks used about 5 percent of the world’s electricity in 2012, and this is predicted to rise to 10 per cent by 2020, and to 20 per cent by 2025. Smil is a distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Not only does existing digital technology consume a lot of electricity, but future technologies which are being developed, are also going to contribute largely to the rise of energy consumption. For Instance, in 2017 the World Economic Forum (WEF) even posted an article that suggested that “by 2020, Bitcoin mining could be consuming the same amount of electricity every year as is currently used by the entire world”. Currently, at the start of 2020, Bitcoin alone has a carbon footprint of 34.73 Mt CO2 (equivalent to the carbon footprint of Denmark), it consumes 73.12 TWh of electrical energy (comparable to the power consumption of Austria), and it produces 10.95 kt of e-waste (equivalent to that of Luxembourg).
The digital technology sector is based on the fundamental concept of replacement rather than repair. Now, many people replace their mobile phones at least every two years. New models come out; new fashions are promoted. To be sure there is a growing mobile phone, laptops, tabs, etc and digital repair sector emerging in many poorer countries, but the fundamental business model across the sector is based on innovation to attract people to buy the latest new technology, rather than to build technology that can be re-used, this, in turn, leads to the problem of e-waste. As per Glabalewaste.org, in 2014, 41.8 million tonnes of discarded electricity and electronic waste was produced and the world now discards approximately 50 million tonnes of e-waste per year of which only about 20 percent is formally recycled. Gobalewaste.org is a web portal that is a result of a partnership between the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) among others.

To sum up, the entire gamut of ICT, Digital technology, and Communication network architecture around the world are an inseparable part of environment degradation, thus contributing to the rise in Global Warming. Therefore, the subject of energy consumption, the material used in information and communication technology that relates to carbon emissions needs to be considered well with renewed vigor and vision. It is in this context, the international community acknowledges the alarming need to develop innovative Green Communication strategies for better prospects in the future.

Contribution: Gulshan Kumar, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Mass
Communication, Banasthali Vidyapith.


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