In this final column of GenderIT’s series on climate change, I apologise for the apocalyptic picture painted in the last four articles. American climate scientists have started documenting the effect of ‘pre-traumatic’ stress on their lives, while the mental health impacts are also seen in rising farmer suicides and clinical disorders. But research has shown that action is an antidote to hopelessness and despair, so this article focuses on steps you can take to combat climate change.
I apologise for the apocalyptic picture painted earlier. But research has shown that action is an antidote to hopelessness and despair, so this article focuses on steps you can take to combat climate change.
First, examine your personal IT carbon footprint. APC’s ‘A practical guide to sustainable IT’ (1) breaks this down into the carbon consumed per hour of ‘use’ within the ICT ecology.
The biggest share of the carbon footprint is the consumer themselves, and what we eat. An holistic approach to cutting down your IT carbon footprint, means taking a look at your own lifestyle habits, particularly the food you eat. Eating more locally grown, in-season food, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables rather than meat, particularly meat from factory farms, can cut your own carbon footprint substantially. Out-of-season asparagus has made the headlines, for having been flown round the world to markets in Europe and Asia, but it isn’t the only culprit – look at where your food comes from, and try to buy from markets where the food is grown and marketed by local farmers.
Also, check your transport. If you can commute to work by bike, walk or run, it’s a shift that helps more than just your carbon footprint. If you can conduct meetings over the internet, rather than travelling to see people, that can save time and cut down emissions, especially if the meeting other wise involves overseas travel. So cut down your IT carbon footprint by looking at the carbon you consume.
The second biggest factor is, as discussed in the second article in this series, is the embodied energy of the hardware. On a personal level, this is the facet of my IT carbon footprint I find hardest to address, because it isn’t part of the sales pitch of those selling computers. So part of the solution is to put pressure on those making and selling computers to make information more readily available. However, the other side of the coin is making sure that you make minimal purchases. Rather than trashing, can your old computer be upgraded to extend its life? This applies to printers and other IT hardware as well. Most computers are built to last around three years (2). The documentary The Lightbulb Conspiracy argues that while it is possible to extend product life, because long-lived products don’t generate as much profit, planned obsolescence is built in to products to ensure ongoing consumption. As consumers, making repairs to old computers, looking for fixes to our printing problems online (there are some great hacks available, like Ifixit for repair or help on just about anything) can help us reduce our carbon footprint by extending the life of the hardware.
On a personal level, this is the facet of my IT carbon footprint I find hardest to address, because it isn’t part of the sales pitch of those selling computers. So part of the solution is to put pressure on those making and selling computers to make information more readily available.
However, I’d like to reiterate that this isn’t just about individual action. We need to collectively put pressure on manufacturers to give us durable, upgradeable computers, phones and other hardware, and to make information on the carbon and social impact of our purchases readily available. Because without the options readily available, it becomes hard to know HOW to make the right choices.
Also, making good hardware choices doesn’t just impact the climate sustainability – by choosing manufacturers who take their environmental and social responsibilities seriously, and who are open about where they source materials, then we can more readily assess the impact upon workers across the industry as well.
The third factor is the user’s electricity consumption. Here there are several ways in which you can ensure your computer reduces its energy. Dimming the screen, turning off your hardware when it isn’t being used, and unplugging it, all help. If you have the resources and are able to, consider shifting to renewable energy, whether through rooftop solar, or by looking at the options for purchasing renewable energy from your electricity provider. However, other options for renewable are available. In remote communities in Sabah, activists are working with communities to provide low-cost renewable energy solutions, primarily harnessing micro-hydro, but looking at the local context and coming up with appropriate technology.
However, throughout this series we have been arguing that there are two sides to the climate emergency. The first, addressed in the steps above, is cutting down on carbon consumption. The second is the possibly even more intractable problem of climate justice. Neither of these problems can be solved by individual action alone.
Neither sides of the climate emergency, cutting down carbon consumption or ensuring climate justice can be solved by individual action alone.
As explored in the last article, ICTs can help community organising, but we need to advocate for greater community access and control of ICTs if they are to reach their potential, not just in tackling climate change but also in achieving greater social justice and equality on other fronts (including gender) as well.
For good or ill, climate change – and climate injustice – is a global issue. Those most likely to suffer most from the impacts of climate change are going to be those who have contributed least, such as the much-cited population of Bangladesh, expected to need ‘planned migration’ as part of an equitable solution to the dangers they face, as the country becomes increasingly uninhabitable. These problems need urgent advocacy.
Thus, rather than ending on a note of hopelessness or despair, I’d like to end this series on a note of action. We all need to be involved in finding solutions. On an individual level, we need to take action, reduce our individual carbon footprints. However, this is not enough. We need to get involved in the climate movement, we need to have a focus on climate justice. The climate emergency is with us now, and we need to mobilise to ensure that it forces a better world, rather than a continuation of injustice and reinforcing of inequality.
We need to get involved in the climate movement, we need to have a focus on climate justice. The climate emergency is with us now, and we need to mobilise to ensure that it forces a better world, rather than a continuation of injustice and reinforcing of inequality.
1. Paul Mobbs, A practical guide to sustainable IT, Association for Progressive Communication (Supported by IDRC, Canada), South Africa, 2012, p.70.
2. Ibid, p.30.