The internet is a major feature of reducing carbon emissions

Tomas Martin @ 30-11-2007

Will we all be connected and working through low power laptops like this one?A lot of the plans for sustainability try to provide the energy for what we already do using new sources of power. Whether you subscribe to the peak oil camp or you fear global warming or even if you want to prudent ahead of a possible recession caused by sub-prime mortgages, each problem has the same solution: use less. Buying less consumables, reducing food miles, rebuilding soils and producing electricity from renewables can only do so much.

Transport is a huge part of the energy (and money) we spend. A future coming to terms with the ‘Peak Century’ will need to travel much less distance for work, play and neccessity. The 50 mile commute seems illogical now at close to $100 dollar a barrel of oil. If oil gets harder to extract and prices rise, that commute won’t just be an annoying expense, it’ll mean bankruptcy. Fortunately new technology has arrived, seemingly perfect timed to coincide with reducing our carbon footprint and energy consumption.

A geologist recently said “My hopeful view is that we’ll be living like we did at the turn of the 20th century, but with computers.” I like the analogy. The internet and low-energy computers offer us a real potential of making a low carbon economy yet still providing jobs and a worldwide community. As Worldchanging puts it, the ‘High bandwidth, Low Carbon future’ could be both sustainable and more personally fulfilling. Google is investing $100Million in Green computing and the Asus EEE laptop uses 11 watts. All this talk of choose your own price music, online markets for fiction and e-readers is important because it’s a first step to creating an entertainment economy that could work in the low-energy world that’s coming, sooner or later.

[picture by jaaron]

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13 Responses to “The internet is a major feature of reducing carbon emissions”

  1. gmoke says:

    Low energy is indeed the future and, in some cases, the present. I have one room essentially off-grid with a couple of solar LED lights and a solar/dynamo radio that also charges AA batteries.

    Low energy, high efficiency devices lower the electrical load enough so that small scale renewables become enough for at least a bare minimum and maybe even a bare maximum.

  2. Reality Bytes says:

    Great post. I like this part especially: “each problem has the same solution: use less.”
    Needs to be stated more often. Still I think moving towards renewables and away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible will help a lot too.

  3. Richard says:

    I have an Eee – I’m on it right now, in fact – and one of the first things I went looking for as an accessory, a week or two after buying it, was a consumer solar charger which could power it. I live in a sunny, technically-tropical part of the world, and being able to run this thing off sunlight would make it an amazingly untethered device. It’s tiny, it’s light, it’s got nice reliable Wifi (or a bluetooth connection to my GRPS/EDGE phone, if need be) and if I could dump the power cable, at least some of the time, I would really consider it a sign of the future.

    Unfortunately, it looks like solar tech – at least consumer-level stuff – isn’t quite there yet. The way things are going, I’d be willing to put money down on a bet that by the end of 2008 it will be possible to use a cheap device, like the Eee, with free solar power. And that will be a day worth celebrating 🙂

  4. Reality Bytes says:

    Just a suggestion, but it might only add to battery life.
    Why not carry it around in this?
    http://www.voltaicsystems.com/bag_converter.shtml

  5. Tomas Martin says:

    Thanks for the comments – I’m very jealous you have an Eee Richard! i think it’ll become easier to power the Eee via solar when the next model comes out next year, as they’re cutting the power usage from 11 watts to 7. Of course, the OLPC uses only 2 watts so hopefully soon we’ll get commercial subnotebooks with that kind of efficiency. If they get that far, I don’t think it’d be too long before one came with a thin film PV charger. Promising times, indeed.

  6. JasperPants says:

    Revert back to the 20th, but with computers?

    No thanks, the average age at the turn of the century was 43. This was no accident.

    This post confirms that there will always be people who have too much time on their hands and will worry about just about anything.

    As long as individuals are free to pursue their own happiness, free from central planning and abrogation of their individual and property rights.

    This is the #1 reason why Kyoto and its offspring being created in Bali this week ust be defeated.

    I don’t expect this sentiment to be popular in this comment thread though.

  7. JasperPants says:

    Sorry, should have added “we’ll be just fine to para 4 above.

  8. Paul Raven says:

    I’m not sure about how popular your sentiment will be, JasperPants, but I can assure you it’s not very comprehensible. I’m no fan of centralised planning either, but I think you’re making a bit of a desperate leap trying to knock climate change treaties on that basis. Our individual rights won’t keep us warm or well fed if the worst comes to the worst. That said, I’d be interested to hear your rationale behind your argument.

  9. Tomas Martin says:

    Come back and post again when your free from central planning happiness runs out of fuel, JasperPants. I’m sure we’d all love it if perpetual unchecked growth were possible and that the free market works perfectly well in a laissez faire environment. But that was proved wrong in 1930 and judging by the state of the US economy, it’s not far from being proved once more.

  10. JasperPants says:

    Paul,

    Sorry, I promise to proof my post this time.

    We have exchanged our ideas on this issue in the past, and during the last 3 or 4 months I seriously doubt either of us have changed our minds much.

    My firm belief is that there is still too much uncertainty in climate research to embark on a grand scheme that will surely see our individual rights diminished in the name of “saving the planet”.

    You disagree and I understand why.

    Tomas,

    First off, the economy is not in bad shape at all (US and up here in Canada), despite what you might be reading in the news. To suggest that in the winter of 2007, we are on the cusp of an economic downturn worse than the Geat Depression is ridiculous, bordering on insanity.

    Look, economic expansion can’t last forever. The longer this current expansion continues, the more likely a recession is around the corner.

    But the beauty is that I can vote with my money, as can you. Me? I’m buying, not selling.

    I admit to being heavily influenced by Adam Smith and Milton Friedman in my economic thinking. The reasons why are easy to understand The available evidence strongly favours that countries with prudent regulation, minimally restricted free markets and low trade barriers come out ahead of countries that choose a more collectivist approach to arranging their affairs.

  11. Tomas Martin says:

    Jasper, thanks again for posting with your opinion. I do think saying the US economy is in a good position is a little overoptimistic – with citibank in dire straits along with a lot of other banks for the sub-prime crisis, a major recession and correction is likely to occur in the US markets next year according to most financial analysis I’ve seen.

    The big problem with the ‘voting with money’ system is that while it does make huge profit for those in charge of those companies receiving those votes, it doesn’t make a huge amount of money for anyone else. Trickle down economics is dead in the water as far as I can see, with US wages stagnant at the same level as 2001 despite growth and many people resorting to credit to keep up their lifestyles. Now, with the credit crunch caused by bad debt, a lot of that liquidity has been removed by the system and most people can’t afford to consume. This is going to mean big losses as consumers move away from most purchases to stick with the essentials. Meanwhile, banks repossessing sub-prime mortgaged homes are finding the prices of the homes dropping, leaving them with even more losses to come.

    I admire your optimism but I think after years of unsustainability propped up by one new boom after another, we’re finally at the point where all that profit chasing is reaching its limit.

    A big chunk of economics is built around essentially limitless growth. In the real world, does that not strike you as a bit naive? The world is a closed system so that growth has to come off someone else’s back – whether it’s taking advantage of third world labor, the environment or stagnating wages of the middle and lower classes. Don’t get me wrong, it has worked, for a while. But if estimates on resource levels – oil, coal etc are accurate – which I believe them to be – then economic growth will be limited by these high prices of energy.

    I don’t think that we’ll definitely have a 6 degree rise in earth’s temperature or oil will run out in three years or the world will collapse into depression. But a lot of experts suggest that 2+ degrees, peak/plateaued oil production in 4 years time and a US recession are likely. Of course, it might turn out that you’re right and we get off some/all of those dangers. But I’m a prudent man, so if someone tells me there’s danger of something happening, I’m going to take steps to lessen its impact. If we do something about all of these things now, we can encourage more jobs in new technology whilst safeguarding ourselves against trouble.

    If we do nothing and you’re right, we lose nothing. If we do something and you’re right, we lose a little. If we do something and I’m right, we lose a little or gain a little. If we do nothing and you’re wrong, however, we’re in big trouble.

    The chances of you being robbed or your house burning down this year are nowhere near 100%. But I bet you still have home insurance, right?

  12. JasperPants says:

    Tomas,

    Thanks for your reply. It was a long one, so I will add my thoughts in point form below:

    – Citibank has problems all its own, unique from other major banks. The banking system in the US is on solid ground and will weather the sub-prime mess. Citibank in particular will come out just fine as they are well diversified outside of the US, in my view.

    – I disagree with your reading of the near future of the economy, most pundist I read are saying a slowdown in Q4 2007 and Q1 2008, but no recession.

    – Trickle-down economics or Supply Side Economics in fact has substantial empirical support. Think of the Federal tax cuts in 2001. There is wide agreement that these cuts generated significantly more economic activity than expected resulting in a much lower budget deficit than projected. This is one example.

    -Credit crunch has not materialzed yet, in fact interest rates are being cut, resulting in increased liquidity, a lower US dollar, which will help stimulate manufacturing activity in the US. Watch our for inflation though.

    – I am troubled by your use of the term “unsustainability”. Are you using this in the sense
    that continued (ie forever) economic growth is unsustainable? If so, I agree. But sometimes this term is used in a broader context as a judgement against the market, consumer based economy that is unsustainable with respect to the impact on our environment. If you are using this term in this context, well, I think that’s a naive use of the term.

    – Getting back to the AGM issue, how much reading have you done on the UNPCC and how their reports are written? Specifically what kind of research is used and disseminated? I have been doing more of this kind of reading lately and I have to tell you, its not a pretty picture of objective science at work.

    Scientists are complaining that their research is being cherry picked, or are requesting their names being taken contributor lists after their writing has been edited in a way that misreprents their research. Damning stuff, and we will see how this plays out.

    Based on recent revelations that UN scientists significantly exaggerated the AIDS epidemic in Africa the Oil for Food scandel, child sex scandels in various peacekeeping missions, inaction on Darfur, the Rwanda genocide…really, how can we trust the UN’s judgement on any serious issue? It is a rotten organization, all the evidence is there to see.

    -You maintain that the cost of reducing our CO2 emissions is small, but how does that square with statements that our CO2 emissions must be cut 50% by 2050? The cost of achieving what is being pushed in Bali will be incalculable, both in economic terms and persopnal freedom. Also, I don’t trust the UN on this because of their record.

    – Sorry to harp on the science of AGM, but I want to illustrate a point with you because you seem to understand economics better that the average person. I want to emphasize the limitations of computer models, upon which the bulk of the AGM argument is based.

    Economic modeling, like climate modeling is fiendishly difficult, and the further out a model is trying to forecast, the more tricky it becomes. No ecomomic model can accurately predict the future in 50 or 100 years. Nor can they accurately simulate economic performance of the past 50 or 100 years.

    The modelers will tell you this has to do with the fact that an economy is a non-linear chaotic system. The variables you plug into the model are not just interdependant, they are dynamically interdependant. We do not have the capability to accurately model this kind thing right now, and its not just a matter of computational horsepower, its because we do not fully understand what variables should be included and how much of an effect they have on each other.

    The challenges facing climate modelers are even more daunting. Not only do the modelers not fully understand the impact of cloud formation, thunderstorms, aerosols on temperature, they do not model their impact on temperature, pressure and humidity in vertical dimensions. This is a major limitation.

    Reading this material, its clear that the modelers are just guessing the further out they simulate. Coupled with the fact that the Summary for Policymakers in the UNPCC reports choose the scariest scenarios to highlight and the fact that the UN is on many levels a discredited organization, I cannot buy what is being sold to us.

    Sorry for the long post.

  13. Tomas Martin says:

    Thanks for the reply Jasper, you raise some interesting points.

    My problem on the economic side is that this last five or six years, a lot of the economic strength of the west has been based on money that isn’t really there. Consumers were encouraged to keep spending using loans that they are now struggling to keep up with, causing the credit problem we have now. Of course, it’s hazy to predict exactly how bad that will get but a lot of foreclosures and huge losses by many banks are never a good thing.

    I watched a very interesting analysis on bbc’s newsnight yesterday of whether the UK MPC should lower interest rates or keep them constant. The trick here is balancing which is worse – rapidly rising inflation due to chinese imports, or the threat of a recession due to the housing slowdown. Most of the analysts, including former chancellor Ken Clarke, hedged their bets and went for marginally lower interest rates to head off any possible inflation.

    Currently, Americans spend around 10% more than they earn, and many Britons are worse. Because wages have been stagnating for such a long time, and the markets were built around consuming, more and more risky loans were made to those who wanted to buy but couldn’t afford it as their wages grew slowly. This was all based around the homes growing in price. With that factor knocked out of the system, it’s all in a very dangerous point for a lot of middle and low income homeowners.

    I think part of the problems with free trade is that it has a very different definition now than it did in previous financial eras. In Friedman’s time, free trade worked. It made money for companies in both countries of the transaction, and benefited the economies of both those countries. Now, with globalisation many companies aren’t tied to a particular country, so a deal using free trade doesn’t have as much benefit to the country. Outsourcing of work is the most obvious effect of this – jobs move to where it’s cheapest for the company, so corporate profits are large but the trickledown effect isn’t trickling down to the country you’d expect – just look at China and India’s huge growth for evidence of this, whilst American wages have been locked at a similar place for much of the decade.

    European Tribune is a good site for some of this economic analysis combining energy efficiency and economic theory. http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2007/12/3/10259/3615

    is a good example of financial analysis of the current economic inequality.

    bonddad and several others are good analysts at DailyKos. gjohnsit has a good article on the benefits and dangers of free trade here:http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/11/19/154514/27

    On the subject of climate change, I’m pragmatic. I think based on much of the evidence, that at least some warming is occurring. I’m a physicist by trade, so I’m prepared to accept if evidence comes out of aerosol effects, etc that change the diagnosis. In the meantime, a problem is being predicted and even if it ends up less dangerous than predicted, it’s still prudent to make changes to limit those effects.

    I’m far more interested in sustainability as a method of changing the business model of economics. I feel previous economic models worked because there were areas of the world to exploit, resources untapped and even some unexplored regions. This means an agressive growth model works – you want to encourage business to grow to take advantage of these opportunities.

    Now, however, we’re running into limits. More countries than ever are developing to 2nd and 1st world levels, populations are at capacity and resources such as oil, uranium and precious metals are in danger of declining in production. Even if this doesn’t occur overnight, it’s foolish to suggest it won’t happen. It’s my strong opinion that we need to shift the economy to more of a steady state.

    This doesn’t mean I want everything to revert to the stone age – I get annoyed when I hear environmentalists talking about such drastic measures. I do however feel it’s ridiculous not to increase efficiencies wherever possible, to manufacture goods that are designed to last and can be easily repaired – creating jobs here repairing many objects. It used to be earlier in the century things were built for long lifetimes. Now that’s not so true. By encouraging high quality goods over large quantity selling of cheaper material (such as much of what is imported from the far east), greater investment in high-technology solutions to reduce energy, we can create more jobs, boosting the economy.

    Even if global warming doesn’t have as great an effect as some predict, or oil takes longer to peak than is suggested by a number of oil executives recently, it makes sense to reduce the miles a product travels to market, increase energy efficiency and quality of products. These will stimulate job growth as well as producing less waste, making a more efficient economy.

    Inevitably this will lead to a wider, shallower spread of money. Companies will make less at the top, with those involved in energy research, quality manufacturing and repair being paid more than they would in a service economy. CEO bonuses and shareholder dividends would be less but overall wages and job prospects would increase. Seeing as much of that huge chunk of profits that is given to the top few percent and is often spent in other economies (tax-free holiday homes, offshore bank accounts, etc) that can only be a good thing for the economy as a whole.