Don’t Blame IT for Carbon Emissions

It has been reported that both the airline and the IT industries are equally responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases—2% each of the total.

The volcanic eruption in Iceland grounded planes in most European airspace for six days. The "Information is Beautiful” website reported interesting statistics.

They calculated the saving of CO2 emissions resulting from flight cancellations during that period. The total is the saving realized by no flights minus the emissions caused by the eruption.

So this is the equation:

344,109 tons (saved) – 150,000 tons (added by the eruption) = 206,465 tons

This figure is only for European airlines. I know that many other flights between Europe and Asia and between Europe and the U.S. were cancelled. So the saving is much more.

This figure poses a few interesting questions. First, the cancellations caused many business activities and personal lives to be disturbed. But at the same time, we saved a lot of CO2 emissions. We need to ask ourselves which is more important: to reduce CO2 emissions or to preserve our business and personal activities. Of course, there should be some balance between the two. But how do you draw a line to decide the right balance? With the advent of the online world, we can communicate with people around the globe without leaving the comfort of our home. But that cannot replace physically being there with your business associates or loved ones.

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Buyer’s Guide: Web Conferencing
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Second, IT is equally to blame for the emission of CO2. What if we decide to curb the use of IT in order to curb the emissions from its use? We need to assess how much IT is saving CO2 emission by telecommuting, replacing business trips, and so on. In addition, IT saves power consumption (thus, less CO2 emission) by optimizing supply chains and fleet management. Of course, IT consumes power as it functions. IT is used not only for absolutely necessary functions but also for entertainment and enjoyment like online video sharing and SNS. Again, some people may think the latter functions are absolutely necessary, while others can do without them altogether. Again, it is hard to draw a line between the two.

On top of this, if you throw in developed countries vs. developing ones, the discussion becomes much more difficult to deal with. I wonder whether we will eventually come to some kind of agreement?

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.


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