Have you ever wondered the environmental impact of using the internet or mobile phone? Well, according to a new study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, data centers and smartphones will be the most polluting information and communication technologies in the year 2040.
The researchers, from the School of Engineering and Technology of the McMaster University (Canada), studied the carbon footprint of different devices: mobile phones, laptops and desktops, tablets, etc. In addition, they analyzed the impact of the data centers, those physical places that process all the information and on which we depend for the internet to work.
"Behind every text message we send, every phone call, every video that we download, there is a data center making this possible. The telecommunication networks consume a lot of energy, they are fed by electricity that is still generated by the burning of fossil fuels. It is an invisible energy consumption for us, "explains Lotfi Belkhir, lead author of the work.
Mobile phones, the most polluting
The result surprised them, because they found that the carbon emissions that come from the use and production of information technologies are much higher than previously thought. "If the trend continues, in 2014 these technologies will be responsible for 14% of the ecological footprint, which is almost half the impact of transport globally," warns Belkhir.
Among all devices, it seems that in 2020 the most harmful to the environment will be the smartphone. And, although it does not require much energy for daily use, it is well known that its production has high social and environmental costs. It takes a lot of energy to make a mobile phone, and also the use of scarce minerals and expensive extraction processes such as coltan, gold and tugnsteno.
Another problem lies in the obsolescence of these products: their short life forces the user to change mobile every two years at the most, so that more and more waste is generated and companies manufacture more and more telephones. As a result, "around 2020, the energy consumption of smartphones will be much greater than that of computers," the researcher points out.
Stop using technology? It is an unrealistic alternative. Although nothing is absolutely necessary and essential, of course, do without internet or mobile phone is quite complicated in our current work environment and staff. But you can look for ways to minimize the impact of telecommunications.
"Data centers could start to work with renewable energy," suggests Belkhir. "The good news is that large companies like Facebook or Google have already announced that they will make this transition in their data centers. But it is necessary that there is legislation that obliges everyone to do it ".
On the personal level, you can also take initiatives that minimize the impact on our use of communication networks: is it really necessary to download that viral video that you have been sent by WhatsApp and that you know you will never see? Do you need to change your mobile phone as soon as the battery starts to last less, or when it just works a little slower?
Another option is to look for devices that are manufactured with environmental criteria. In the world of mobile telephony, the available option is the Fairphone. Its developers try to control all steps in production, from the extraction of raw materials in the mines to the assembly of their parts. In addition, it is a modular telephone with replaceable parts: for example, when the battery deteriorates, it is not necessary to change mobile phones but simply replace them. In this way the useful life of the device is extended and its ecological footprint is reduced. A more than necessary step if we want to move towards a sustainable future.