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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Green mobiles

Definitely flavour of the month at the moment is introducing environmental responsibility to the mobile industry.

Ericsson has been loudly telling me about their base stations' lower power requirements over the last couple of days - more efficient electronics, heat-resistant kit that doesn't need air-conditioning, better network planning so operators need fewer sites.

Now I see that Nokia is providing alerts to tell people to switch off their phones' power supplies - most people just leave them plugged into the wall & switched on, wasting huge amounts of electricity. Highly laudable, this - I only started thinking about this a few months' back, and realised that I had a whole bunch of transformers constantly warming my house. Can't see why they can't just switch off automatically, though.....

Both of these actions fit into my preferred way of combating global warming - don't try & make people feel guilty about their lifestyles. Use technology to fix the problem and let consumers and businesses get on with normal existence without trying to foist misanthropic principles of "sustainability" upon them. Congrats to the IPCC for backing nuclear energy & carbon sequestration last week too.


Lee Wilkinson said...

Dean, look at the sustainability move a little more positively, a slight change in people's behaviour that leads to lower energy consumption is hardly misanthropic.

The trouble with "normal existence" is that according to the IPCC it got us into this environmental mess.

Hoping that technology can solve every evironmental problem is risky at best, and disasterous at worst.

Time for a rethink?

Dean Bubley said...

Definitely not time for a rethink, Lee.

"Sustainability" is the second most wrong-headed policy instrument, after the utterly inane and hypocritical "precautionary principle". Both are utterly, completely misanthropic and run counter to everything it means to be human.

Your phrase "risky at best" exemplifies this - risks are good; risks are what has got humanity to where it is today, starting with a caveman banging two rocks together to make fire. Risk is essential, despite the actions of the miserablists & nanny-statists who think risk should be minimised, rather than managed.

Ideally, people shouldn't have to think explicitly about energy consumption, any more than they should have to think explicitly about bandwidth consumption (to bring this back to mobile/tech issues - I have a separate blog on environmental topics). All the optimisation/efficiency stuff should take place in the background, and people should just be able to get on with doing what they want, perhaps with the energy equivalent of a "bandwidth cap" at the 99th percentile, and with the option of paying a premium for "truly unlimited" usage.

Energy consumption per se isn't bad anyway, as energy is never really "consumed" but just changes form. The key thing is to stop it changing into atmospheric heat quite so much, especially through multipliers like CO2 emissions.

Imagine how much greater human achievements could be, if we had the resources & technology to enable us to (safely) use 1000x the energy we have today.

Lee Wilkinson said...

So if I read your argument right its summarised by "Lets keep doing what we're doing, and even more of it, and hope that technology can save the planet somehow"? Is that risk management? Insurance companies are already increasing premiums (increased risk) due to the effects of global warming. Having mitigating strategies, sustainability, taking preemptive action and investing in technology solutions - aren't three mitigation strategies a better management plan than just one?

People think about consumption all the time, its the effect of living on a planet with limited resources, energy, bandwidth, food, consumer goods. To suggest that people shouldn't have to think about their consumption is irrational. There is no 'truely unlimited' anything.

To clear you up on the environmental side, it isn't the heat due to the comsumption of energy, but the trapping of the suns energy through the increase of carbon (from energy generation)in the atmosphere that actually causes the warming.

Right now I am imagining the great achievement of actually feeding most of the people on the planet before getting too carried away with what technological marvels we might invent for ourselves.

Dean Bubley said...

Fair point about CO2 trapping solar radiation - I'd meant to encapsulate that in my comment but didn't articulate it well. Although now I think about it, I now wonder if humanity's hugely-growing heat dissipation is a contributor to atmospheric warming

It's not either/or, "shouldn't we feed the planet first". If everyone on the planet had access to plentiful nonpolluting energy, one consequence would be the ability to produce more food - for example by better irrigation systems. We should always advocate technological advances as far possible, whether in energy technology, semiconductors, food science, healthcare etc, as they all have beneficial effects that outweigh any negatives.

Energy is unlimited. The universe is made of it. (OK there's some dark energy, but let's leave that to the cosmologists). It's a question of how you extract, store, use & dispose of it.

Examples of the "right" type of tech-based advances, as opposed to climate change, are things like Tesla Motors' work on desirable electric cars, or the prefab wood-based houses that are developed in Scandinavia (anyone living in brick/concrete houses should be ashamed of their carbon footprint). These are the type of innovations that will enable us to perpetuate and improve our current lifestyles & continue global economic development at the same time. Hence my original posts about Nokia & Ericsson - people use mobile comms as they do already, but the efficiency happens in the background.

One thing that should definitely be encouraged is tactical subsidisation / incentives for students in certain key areas. There should be a governmental or international funds to sponsor plasma & superconducting materials scientists, for example. We need nuclear fusion in 30 years, not 50.

These guys have it right: