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The Impact of ICT on the Environment

Introduction

The challenge of creating and maintaining a sustainable environment is becoming more embedded into the consciousness of humanity. Such a direction has emerged from the reality of the dangers that are currently posed to man’s existence by greenhouse emissions and the accumulation of poisonous substances in our environment. In a research paper titled “Powering Down: Remedies for Unsustainable ICT”, Simon Forge has presented his concerns about the current model of Information and Communications Technology; which he thinks is environmentally unsustainable. In his research paper, Simon Forge has also offered potential remedies that can be used to mitigate the adverse effects of ICT on our environment. Although Simon Forge has rightly brought to the fore some concerns in the ICT that need to be adequately addressed in order to enable the ICT to contribute to a greener and healthier environment, it is not true that the current model of ICT, by itself is presenting such a danger to our environment in a measure that should alarm us. Moreover, a host of inadequacies in the management of waste (arising mainly from an inability to implement a comprehensive system of waste management) have been driven by a non-unified approach in tackling environmental pollution.

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Main Body

An important issue that has been highlighted by Forge (2007) is the inherent nature of most ICT commodities whereby they are designed for short life spans with little consideration for their future use once their life span has expired. Forge (2007) has estimated the lifespan of desktops to be three years and that of mobile phones to be twelve months. It is therefore worrying that such products are fast accumulating in our environment with no comprehensive disposal mechanisms in place. Indeed, with no proper disposal mechanism in place, it is true that associated poisonous chemicals such as lead (that are used in the production of some ICT products) can easily find their way into the environment (Forge, 2007).

Some important considerations are however worth evaluating here. First, I do not think that a general survey on the global community would yield results that would reflect such a short lifespan for ICT products as it has been estimated by Forge. Most of the ICT products in the developed world have short life spans of usage mainly because of consumer cravings for the latest products and the high economic capacity of consumers in the developed world. However, it is positive that a good number of ICT products such as mobile phones are finding their way into the market of developing countries. People in the developing world are therefore able to enjoy the benefits of ICT products at a cheaper price as the lifespan of ICT products becomes considerably prolonged. However, with a limited capacity to effectively control pollution, it is even easier for imported second-hand ICT products to be disposed of inappropriately in the developing world; thus, polluting the environment (Forge, 2007).

In order to ensure that no dangerous substances from any source including the ICT find their way into our environment, it is necessary to develop a global framework of waste management. For example, it is possible to develop a mechanism that would ensure that while second-hand products find their way into the developing world, (positively prolonging their life span) they are properly disposed of in the long term. The challenge of preserving the environment, therefore, falls more on the table of the global leadership (that includes governments and policy developers) than it falls on the table of the manufacturers of ICT products. Even Forge (2007) has rightly acknowledged a host of laws (such as those that prohibit the usage of bromine in the manufacture of ICT products In the United States) that have been developed to mitigate environmental pollution from the ICT. However, since these laws do not apply uniformly across the globe, it would be better to develop a unified global framework for mitigating environmental pollution in order to make the desired impact.

Forge (2007) has also examined the effect of ICT products on greenhouse pollution. Server centers especially consume a lot of electrical energy with a considerable amount of it (energy) going into a system of cooling. For example, In the UK, data centers consume about 5% (4 Gig watts) of the total volume of energy that is generated in that country. With a projected increase of data processing services, and therefore data centers, the volume of energy that is fed into data centers can increase considerably. Although Forge (2007) has rightly argued that there is a need to redesign data centers for them to consume small volumes of energy, he has failed to recognize the core problem that is contributing to greenhouse pollution. In itself, electrical energy is a clean form of energy that does not emit carbon emissions into the environment. The problem, therefore, lies with the mode of electrical production. Obtaining electrical energy from clean sources such as nuclear, wind, geothermal and hydro-electrical would therefore eliminate the problem of carbon emissions.

The development of ICT products has mainly originated on the need of improving the quality of life for man. With a global community that has been rapidly multiplying on the planet with an increasing capacity to consume finished products, there has been significant pollution of the environment. It is important to appreciate the role that the ICT has been playing in the mitigation of environmental pollution. Indeed, the challenge of mitigating the pollution of the environment potentially lies in the ICT. For example, ICT tools such as computers have been used to create a model that can be analyzed to study how certain parameters affect our environment in order to know their impact. Even in the ICT itself, scientists have been developing products that consume less energy with increased efficiency. The contribution of ICT in resolving environmental challenges has even been acknowledged by Forge. It is therefore difficult to conclude that the ICT is environmentally unsustainable (as has been claimed by Forge) when its contributions to a better environment are obvious.

Although it is difficult to believe that the ICT is environmentally unsustainable in its current form, it is important to consider environmental challenges that have currently resulted from our increased usage of ICT products. Some of these challenges, including the common short lifespan of ICT products, have been evaluated by Forge However, as has been discussed, most of these challenges can be solved by the global leadership rather than from the ICT itself. A few of these challenges however lie more with the developers and producers of ICT products.

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For example, a trend that is emerging in the development of software programs is the development of bulk software that requires plenty of resources including increased energy requirements to function (Forge, 2007). A new range of software such as Windows Vista and mobile windows (that run on mobile telephones) are eating into the already scarce resource of energy. Moreover, such software demands larger expanded hard wares; therefore, polluting our environment in an increased proportion. It is therefore urgent to reverse the current direction of designing bulk software that requires more resources and concentrate on the development of software platforms that will require decreased resources. Even with this challenge, however, it is important to consider the effectiveness of the current range of software platforms that are coming into the market. Although it is arguable that a majority of these software platforms are unnecessarily bulk, they have been more effective in providing required services. For example, it is obvious that Windows XP is a more secure platform to use than say, the lighter windows 98. The development of software platforms is therefore emphasizing more on market needs at the moment.

Another challenge has been in the development of server centers. Most of the service centers that are currently coming into the market have been argued by Forge (2007) to consume large amounts of energy. It is important to note that most of these servers have been designed to be more effective and serve an increased volume of data. However, the challenge mainly lies with the ineffective use of data servers by consumers. A number of these consumers are not aware of the capacity of the new server products that are coming into the market; thus, they are unable to utilize servers effectively and save on energy costs. Still, I expect the manufacturers of data products to be more innovative and develop products that consume a decreased amount of energy as compared to those that are currently coming into the market. Forge (2007) has presented an array of opportunities in this direction of decreasing the energy needs of data centers. Some of the possibilities that can be explored to decrease the energy needs of data centers include developing virtual data centers as well as allowing data centers to operate on multiple applications. Still, concentrating on the production of green energy is still important as well. It is logical to believe that future data centers that will be released into the market will incorporate better energy-saving mechanisms in order to save on their energy requirements.

Conclusion

It is true that the ICT has contributed (at least to some measure) to environmental pollution. However, by weighing the benefits that have been accrued to our society and our environment from the ICT, and also by weighing the proportion that is contributed by the ICT to environmental pollution against other forms of environmental pollution, It is difficult to conclude that the current model of the ICT is environmentally unsustainable. Still, there is a need to improve the current ICT model so as to eliminate any form of environmental pollution that is generated by the ICT. Designing ICT products that have a long life span and server centers that consume low amounts of energy are some of the measures that can be precisely designed to reduce environmental pollution from the ICT. However, the problem of environmental pollution is less inherent in the ICT but more inherent in the global leadership. For example, the development of greener sources of energy and unifying the framework of waste management will automatically lead to a cleaner environment.

Reference List

Forge, S. 2007 Powering down: remedies for unsustainable ICT. Foresight, 9 (4), pp. 3-21. Web.

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