The Negative and Positive Ecological Impacts of Technology
In today's society more people are working longer hours and utilizing more technology in their everyday life. As a result of these longer hours and increased use of technology, more energy is being consumed. (Hayden and Shandra 575) The impact that this is having on the environment is substantial in both negative and positive ways. It is hard to deny the benefits modern technology has produced for the world, in industry and in everyday life. With more and more technological breakthroughs, there have been many positive ecological impacts. However, it is also hard to deny that there are considerable negative impacts as well.
Supporters of a work reduction scheme maintain that the reduction in hours will have a positive effect on the environment and the raw materials that are used on a daily basis. (Hayden and Shandra 576) Though the argument that a reduction in hours will result in a better quality of life is largely agreed upon, the theory that a reduction in hours will reduce the negative impacts on the environment is still one of contention as there is no concrete evidence to back it up.
To counter this theory, there are those who argue that a reduction in hours will not result in a redution in damage to the environment. Each year, technology is making advances in producing low energy products that will reduce the damage to the environment. It is argued that with these advances there will be no need to reduce the work hours as a reduction in energy consumption will in fact enable employees to work longer hours. (Williams 41)
The Negative Ecological Impacts of Technology
One of the biggest problems the world faces today is the amount of energy that is consumed globally. With almost all of the world's businesses using computer technology to operate, the energy consumption of the industrial world is constantly on the increase. Countries such as the United States where the average employee works more than 40 hours a week, as a result, the energy consumption of a typical office in the United States is likely to be higher than that of an office in a country where the average work week does not exceed 40 hours. (Hayden and Shandra 576) Many offices run their computer systems on a mainframe server. This server is usually running 24 hours a day and is rarely shut down. To keep these servers from overheating, fans are installed within the hard drives. With the combined energy of the fans and the operation of the servers, the amount of energy being consumed is huge and results in a very high thermal count. (Courtney 48)
According to the International Energy Agency or, IEA, around 4% of the world's energy consumption in 2008 was due to the mass use of information communications technologies. (Courtney 48) This figure is predicted to rise to an incredible 40% by the time the year 2030 arrives. (Courtney 48) By this time, the demands on the world's electricity sources will have also doubled globally and companies will need to have a viable solution to prevent computer technologies from being a major drain on the world's energy resources. (Courtney 48)
As it currently stands, many of the world's organizations have not begun to actively look for greener more ecologically sound methods for producing the energy they need. (Courtney 48) Today, many of these companies are not thinking of ways to improve their carbon footprint, yet it is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
But it is not just information communications technologies that have affected the ecology of the planet. A number of the ecological and environmental problems that are occurring are due to the rapid growth of new industrialized countries such as South Korea and China. (Jorgenson and Jorgenson 365) With so many countries now outsourcing their manufacturing to these industrialized nations, more and more factories are being constructed as a result. To run these factories, a large amount of energy consumption is needed as many of the factories operate 24 hours a day. The emissions these factories produce are amongst some of the highest in the world and contribute significantly to the amount noxious gases that pollute the air. (Hayden and Shandra 582)
Industry aside, there are many other ways technology has had a negative, ecological impact on the world. In the modern home, there are numerous high technology gadgets designed to make our lives easier and more pleasant. These gadgets range from the microwave to the electric kettle to refrigeration. One of the largest contributors to gases in the atmosphere are the gases produced by the combustion process used to produce energy. (Williams 36)
In the United States alone, 83% of this energy comes from a combustion process. (Williams 36) The combustion process is an effective way to produce energy for a wide range sources. The negative aspect of the combustion process however, is the amount of harmful gases that it produces. These gases can have a devastating impact on the ozone layer and contribute to what is known as the "Greenhouse Effect". What this effect essentially does is add to the increase in the warm air that filters around the globe through air currents such as the Gulf Stream. (Kilian 366) Often referred to as a thermal balance, these warm air currents affect the climate and seasons. As a result, there can unseasonably warm winters or, cool summer periods. More devastatingly though, is the harmful effect the increased thermal balance has on the Poles. (Kilian 365) It is due to the increase in thermal balance that the Polar Icecaps are melting at an alarming rate, causing a significant rise in the world's oceans. This, as it is well known, has a ripple effect around the planet. The change in thermal balance can also be seen as contributing to the increased frequency of natural disasters as certain regions of the world experience more devastating floods, typhoons and a higher number of violent storms. (Kilian 365)
Although it can be argues these changes in our weather systems have just as much to do with Mother Nature as technology. It is hard to ignore the correlation between the rise in technology use and the increased frequency of environmental disasters.
The Positive Ecological Impacts of Technology
Despite the claims that technology is to blame for many of the world's ecological problems, technology has also served to improve the shape of our planet. Since the rise of technology in the workplace, numerous ICT companies have been designing "greener technology" to combat the detrimental effect that computers and their accompanying technology have on the environment. One of the best known organizations is the Green Grid. (Courtney 49) The Green Grid is an organization that consists of IT companies and professionals from around the world. (Courtney, p. 49) The Green Grid is devising ways to improve the way energy is consumed by IT oriented businesses and their offices. (Courtney 49) One of the biggest achievements of the Green Grid is the Power Usage Effectiveness or, PUE, metric system. This system records data center energy consumption. How it works is by recording the energy consumption of a data center or mainframe server every 15 minutes. By recording in these 15 minute increments it helps those monitoring the data to notice if there are any energy fluctuations and if the data center systems are using an adequate amount of energy. (Courtney 49) The long term goal of the Green Grid is to introduce a standard system that allows business managers and IT operatives to compare the amount of the energy they are consuming and if necessary resolve ways to reduce it. (Courtney 49)
Another technology that is having positive impacts on the environment is low carbon technology. (Xie 1593) Low carbon technology is a form of technology that has been developed in China. Largely developed because of China's low carbon footprint in comparison to other developing countries, the low carbon technology aims to offset the amount of emissions polluting the air by using renewable fossil fuels. (Xie 1594)
China is a low carbon economy for two main reasons. First, the number of people that own a car is far lower than the national average of a country like the United States. Currently the majority of China's inhabitants use public transport or bicycles to get around. Second is the high amount of renewable fossil fuels that the country utilizes in its factory productions. (Xie 1594) Fossil fuels are used because of their high energy efficiency and their extremely low emissions. Carbon is not emitted when fossil fuels are used and therefore, many of the Chinese factories run on renewable energy that is created from fossil fuels. (Xie 1594)
For other countries to develop effective low carbon technologies, they will need to have a different approach to their resources than China. This is because many of the other countries will have different environments and different natural resources to hand. (Xie 1595) China's main resource is its extensive supply of coal which it readily burns as a source of renewable fossil fuel. China has a rich resource of renewable energy and is able to not only exploit its coal resources for the time being, but also its large amount of renewable hydroelectricity. (Xie 1595) These renewable resources, if managed properly will go a long way into creating a low carbon future for China. (Xie 1596)
Other countries can also diversify into new low carbon options, thanks to the advances in technology. Bio-fuels, solar power and wind power are no longer science fiction but science fact. They are more than capable of replacing some of the energy resources currently used that produce harmful gases. (Xie 1596) These new developments towards a low carbon future are only possible through our advancements in modern technology and are one way that technology is having a positive and beneficial effect on the environment.
One obvious way that technology is helping the ecology of the planet is by reducing the need for paper. With the ever increasing use of email and electronic communication, paperless offices are now a common occurrence in companies. (Jorgenson and Jorgenson 364) Reducing the need for paper in turn reduces the demand for logging and deforestation, allowing richer lands to create a smaller footprint. (Kilian 366) The development of green technologies such as PC power management systems and multi-function devices allows a business that relies heavily on technology to reduce the amount of energy it consumes. (Courtney 51)
An office can become more environmentally sound if it employs many of the new energy reducing technologies that are readily available and incorporates them with or eco-friendly practices such as turning off excess lights and using less paper. Jorgenson and Jorgenson 365) According to current statistics, putting energy management systems into practice can save a company a huge amount in energy consumption. (Courtney 50) For example, a company consolidates its 100 physical computer servers into less than 20 servers that operated virtual server software. It not only saves potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in server replacements and repairs, it also saves over 600,000 kilowatts of energy. (Courtney 51)
Another example is the replacement of laser printers with multi-function devices. Multi-function devices usually incorporate a printer, fax machine and photocopier all in one system. This not only saves space but saves the amount of electronic hardware that is permanently on standby in an office. (Courtney 51) Using five multi-function devices in an office instead of five printers, a photocopier and a fax machine are going to enable the office to be more productive and save the company even more in energy consumption. (Courtney 51) This is because instead of a minimum of 7 different machines being on permanent standby, the office will have a maximum of 5 on standby. This is enough to make a significant difference in the office power consumption and also enables more than one person at a time to fax or photocopy. (Courtney 51) Also the amount of repair costs will be reduced as only one product would necessarily need replacing or fixing instead of a potential of 3 different products.
As a result of the increase in the various forms of technology, there are many positive and negative ecological impacts on the planet. Through the rise in modern technology and increase in globalization, there is a high increase in energy consumption. This in turn has devastating effects on the planet's climate and air quality. However, without modern technology there would not be the capability to improve energy management systems or to develop environmentally friendly products such as bio-fuels. To make a progressive step towards reducing the amount of damage technology does to the environment, it is necessary to find ways to manage new technology responsibly so that it can continue to have positive ecological impacts.
Courtney, Martin. "Now green IT gets personal." Engineering & Technology (17509637) 5.17 (2010): 48-51.
Hayden, Anders, and John M. Shandra. "Hours of work and the ecological footprint of nations: an exploratory analysis." Local Environment 14.6 (2009): 575-600.
Jørgensen, Michael Søgaard, and Ulrik Jørgensen. "Green technology foresight of high technology: a social shaping of technology approach to the analysis of hopes and hypes." Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 21.3 (2009): 363-379.
Kilian, Imre. "Ecovillages: In Vitro Sustainability." World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution 65.5/6 (2009): 365-371.
Williams, Gerald J. "The Greenhouse-Gas Impact of Various Chiller Technologies." Heating/Piping/Air Conditioning Engineering 82.1 (2010): 36-44.
Xie, K. -C. "Low Carbon Economy and Energy Technologies for a Low Carbon Future." Energy Sources Part A: Recovery, Utilization & Environmental Effects 31.18 (2009): 1593-1597.