Computing is hardly a sustainable field, with the IT “ecosystem ” representing approximately 10 per cent of the world’s electricity generation. That’s 10%. We are at the point now where out foray into the future is helping the climate to change, and as this recent article in The Guardian suggests, endangering the planet. Apparently data centres are soon to have a larger carbon footprint than the entire aviation industry. We have become too addicted to technology, and it seems to be getting worse all the time, not better. Gains made by low-wattage LED lightbulbs in our houses, are wiped out by devices that need feeding everyday. This is largely a factor of replacing mechanical things with things that use energy. Cars are a good example – they are filled with differing forms of technology, some good, but some quiet mediocre. We have to ask ourselves “do we need all this technology”?
A recent study predicted that the global footprint of information and computer technologies (ICT), would reach 14% by 2040, which will be more than half the relative contribution of the entire worldwide transportation sector. How “green” autonomous vehicles will be is yet to be seen… they are loaded with sensors and computers which all use power, and all have to be manufactured. We won’t even talk about the lifecycle costs of the car batteries. Never mind that electric cars are all good and well, but the electricity has to come from somewhere right? Some of this could be offset by requiring greater use of renewable energy, but it’s not only the energy used by ICT, it’s also the environmental cost of their lifecycles – how they are manufactured, and ultimately how they are recycled. The carbon footprint of the iPhone X is 79kg over the course of its life (better than the iPhone 6+ at 110kg, but not as good as the 45kg of the iPhone SE).
Partially it’s our own fault because we don’t really teach anyone about sustainable computing. But maybe we should also spend less of our lives focused on the screen. The world might be a better place if we were actually doing non-technology related things as well. Do we need AI to make our lives easier? No, what we need to make our lives easier is *less* technology, and maybe taking the time to do some forest bathing. Plant more trees – that will ultimately help curb climate change, not AI, unless someone is planning to develop some form of autonomous tree planting robot, or maybe something to clean the oceans of all that stupid plastic.