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The Effect of Software Industry on Climate Change

The Tech industry is the biggest innovation sector of the 21st century. Our everyday life one way or another depends on technology. One of the key sectors of technology is software which powers the computer. My career major is computer systems. As a computer system student, I have a responsibility to help protect and create awareness for climate change and its effects. The technology sector has contributed to climate change, and it is one of the growing threats to global warming. The technology sector’s carbon footprint is 1.4% of global greenhouse emissions (“The Future Carbon Footprint of the ICT and E&M Sectors”).  This massive amount of infrastructure runs on electricity, in 2012 technology consumed 5% of world electricity and by 2025 it is predicted to be increased by 25% (ICTworks).

Technology innovation and development has both good and bad sides. Technology is improving our daily life and helps us to better understand nature. Satellite technology and the use of drones helps us gather data about how climate is changing over time helps to predict for future. The data we gather for research and development are stored in data centers or the “cloud” and with the help of computational models we are sorting through complex data which helps find possible solutions for certain issues. Artificial intelligence and machine learning help scientists go through massive amount of data and to easily analyze. All of these have been possible because of today’s software technology.

The bad side of using technology is sustainability and consumption. A few examples are today’s tech industry business model which is based on attracting consumers to buy new technology instead of reusing the product. Every year new mobile devices, new gadgets are introduced. Instead of having a system where products can be used for a long time, tech industry encourages consumers to buy new products and within a few years new products becomes legacy products. According to a report in 2020, there were 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were produced and by 2030 it is predicted to grow by 74 million metric tons (Danigelis). Technology is exploiting the environment and taking natural resources from the earth such as oil and coal,  contributing to CO2 which is then contributing to the greenhouse gases. Overall, human activities increased the atmospheric CO2 level from 280 parts per million to 414 parts per million in the last 150 years (“The Causes of Climate Change”).

Even though it is impossible to stop climate change we can at least help reduce the impacts. It is not possible to shift our problems to a certain place and think we have solved the issue, wherever we shift our issues it will affect our overall environment. The tech industry can help and become a role model to influence others to make them aware and policy changes can become an example to others. For example, Facebook has operated on 100% renewable energy since 2020 and has committed to become net zero greenhouse gas emission by 2030 (“Home – Facebook Sustainability”). In 2007 Google became carbon neutral and by 2030 they aim to operate on complete carbon-free energy (Environmental Report 2020 Designing Efficient Data Centers 21). Also, a company like Microsoft and Tesla are working to research and invest in technology that is renewable and reduces their carbon footprint. Gates is investing in a technology that captures CO2 and sells them back to companies that use that energy as fuel. Tesla produces solar roofs and has a subsidiary named “Solarcity” which produces and sells solar panels and where they are working to make solar panels more sustainable and cheaper.

There are so many ways we can help reduce our carbon footprint from the earth. We on an individual level can help stop wasting and polluting, we can use reusable and sustainable technology products. We can ask and raise awareness about the mass production of unnecessary digital devices and ask tech companies to create and invest in sustainable products. We can ask tech companies to develop software that is sustainable and reusable.

Image link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/23/technology/big-tech-climate-change.html

Reference

  1. “The Future Carbon Footprint of the ICT and E&M Sectors.” Ericsson.com, 25 Aug. 2018, www.ericsson.com/en/reports-and-papers/research-papers/the-future-carbon-footprint-of-the-ict-and-em-sectors.
  2. ICTworks. “Digital Technologies Are Part of the Climate Change Problem.” ICTworks, 20 Feb. 2020, www.ictworks.org/digital-technologies-climate-change-problem/#_edn12.
  3. Danigelis, Alyssa. “International Report: Global E-Waste Generation Hits Record High.” Environment + Energy Leader, 6 July 2020, www.environmentalleader.com/2020/07/e-waste-generation-record-high/#:~:text=The%20Global%20E%2Dwaste%20Monitor.
  4. NASA. “The Causes of Climate Change.” Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, NASA, 8 Aug. 2018, climate.nasa.gov/causes/.
  5. “Facebook Sustainability.” Facebook Sustainability, 2021, sustainability.fb.com/.
  6. Environmental Report 2020 Designing Efficient Data Centers 21. , www.gstatic.com/gumdrop/sustainability/google-2020-environmental-report.pdf.

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