A prominent Canadian academic in the tech-policy field has said that "Green IT" initiatives don't work.
"Most of the negative environmental impacts [of IT] occur in the form of completely unintended, second and third order effects," says Professor Richard Hawkins of Calgary Uni. "These 'rebound' effects may not be mitigated by inventing 'greener' IT products and, indeed, may be intensified by such changes."
As an example, the prof cites mobile phones, saying that even if the phone itself has no environmental consequences its existence will still encourage people to move about more - in cars, planes, whatever - than they otherwise would, so contributing to carbon emissions and climate change.
"We didn't adopt the mobile phone so we could drive and talk on the phone, we adopted it because we were already driving so much. Creating a greener cell phone won't reduce the impact of increased mobility. The real question is what amount of mobility is sustainable?"
This line of argument would also no doubt apply to such technologies as mobile push email, voip, video calling, netbooks etc. If you didn't have that smartphone or UMPC you'd stay in the office and burn less transport fuel, sort of thing.
This isn't just your ordinary academic pondering - Hawkins' research may influence global policymakers. He and his team will be presenting their thoughts at a Euro comms-policy conference in Spain next month, and to the UN Earth Summit at the end of the year. This will inform the OECD IT'n'sustainability initiative, among other things.
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