How smartphones are heating up the planet: Experts warn the devices will contribute to 125 MEGATONS of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020
- Smartphone users are contributing to global warming, too, a new report says
- PCs, monitors, laptops and tablets also contribute to the problem
- A McMaster University professor is arguing that the issue should be tackled now
- Professor Lotfi Belkhir suggests making data centers run on renewable energy
- His argument was published in an essay on The Conversation
When we think about climate change, the main sources of carbon emissions that come to mind for most of us are heavy industries like petroleum, mining and transportation.
Rarely do we point the finger at computer technologies.
In fact, many experts view the cyber-world of information and computer technologies (ICT) as our potential savior, replacing many of our physical activities with a lower-carbon virtual alternative.
That is not what our study, recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, suggests.
(McMaster University Professor Lotfi Belkhir has argued that smartphones, computers, tablets, PCs and monitors are heating up the earth. Among other suggestions, Professor Belkhir said that it is important to make all data centers run on renewable energy (file photo)
Having conducted a meticulous and fairly exhaustive inventory of the contribution of ICT – including devices like PCs, laptops, monitors, smartphones and tablets – and infrastructure like data centers and communication networks, we found that the relative contribution of ICT to the total global footprint is expected to grow from about one percent in 2007 to 3.5 percent by 2020 and reach 14 percent by 2040.
That’s more than half the relative contribution of the entire transportation sector worldwide.
Another disconcerting finding is that all this extraordinary growth is mostly incremental, essentially shattering the hope that ICT will help reduce the global carbon footprint by substituting physical activities with their virtual counterparts.
The impact of smartphones
Perhaps the most surprising result of our study was the disproportionate contribution of smartphones relative to the overall ICT footprint.
We found that the relative emissions share of smartphones is expected to grow from four percent in 2010 to 11 percent by 2020, dwarfing the individual contributions of PCs, laptops and computer displays.
In absolute values, emissions caused by smartphones will jump from 17 to 125 megatons of CO2 equivalent per year (Mt-CO2e/yr) in that time span, or a 730 percent growth.
The lion’s share of this footprint (85 to 95 percent) will be caused not by the use of the device, but rather by its production. That includes, in addition to the manufacturing energy, the energy for material mining for gold and the so-called rare-earth elements like yttrium, lanthanium and several others that today are almost exclusively available from China.
Another guilty participant in this excessive carbon footprint are the phone plans that encourage users to get a new smartphone every two years.
That accelerates the rate at which older models become obsolete and leads to an extraordinary and unnecessary amount of waste.
These findings pertain to the device side.
Every text, download, email uses server energy
On the infrastructure side, we predict the combined footprint of data centers and communications networks will grow from 215 megatons of C02 equivalent a year (Mt-CO2e/yr) in 2007 to 764 MtCO2-e/yr by 2020, with data centers accounting for about two-thirds of the total contribution.
Professor Belkhir also said that, on an individual level, it would help if people recycled their smartphones when purchasing a new one. He cited alarming research claiming that only one percent of smartphones are recycled (file photo)
For comparison purposes, the entire carbon footprint of Canada was about 730 MtCO2-e in 2016 and is expected to decrease by 2020.
The growth in smartphones and data centers aren’t unrelated.
Indeed, it’s the dizzying growth in mobile communications that’s largely driving the pace for data centers. For every text message, video download, photo exchange, email or chat, there’s a 24/7 power-hungry server in some data center that’s making it happen.
It’s the energy consumption that we don’t see.
Software companies spur growth
Finally, and perhaps the most ironic aspect of all this, is that it’s software that is driving the overall growth in ICT as a whole, devices and infrastructure included.
Software companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo boast some of the largest data centers in the world. The rise in dominance of the mobile operating systems, namely Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, along with the millions of mobile applications that are built on top of those platforms, has spawned the mobile communication age.
The incredible – as well as unsustainable – growth in the emission footprint of all this hardware is there for only one purpose: to support and serve the software universe.
ARE YOU ONE OF THE NEARLY 50% OF SMARTPHONE USERS ADDICTED TO THEIR HANDSET?
Worrying research published in December 2017 revealed we reach for our smartphones around 4,000 times a year for no apparent reason.
Each day we unlock our phone 28 times – and over a third of the time this is compulsive and unnecessary.
The apps we crave most are Facebook, followed by WhatsApp, Gmail and Instagram, the survey found.
Experts from Malta-based online casino Casumo.com looked at 2,000 UK smartphone users in order to find out whether checking their device was out of habit or necessity.
The average American clicks, taps or swipes on their smartphone screen more than 2,600 times a day, with some reaching an astonishing 5,400 times
They found more than 40 percent of the 10,000 times users check smartphones each year is ‘compulsive’.
The top ten percent of users check their phones more than 60 times a day.
More than one in three people think they are addicted to checking their phone with the average user spending nearly an hour each day on their phone.
The survey also found Google Maps is considered the most useful app while WhatsApp and Gmail come second and third.
Google Chrome is fourth and Facebook comes in fifth.
In other words, while it’s the hardware that does all the dirty work, it’s the software that’s calling all the shots.
The way out?
At the societal level, we must demand that all data centers run exclusively on renewable energy.
At the individual level: Hold on to your smartphone for as long as you can, and, when you do upgrade, make sure you recycle your old one. Sadly, only one percent of smartphones are being recycled today.
This article was originally published by The Conversation.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5547227/Experts-warn-smartphones-contribute-125-MEGATONS-emissions-2020.html#ixzz5AyfsHTCS
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