e-Waste : Little Known Truths

I chanced upon a Guardian story of May 2008 entitled ‘Breeding toxins from dead PCs‘ that described how children are dying to clear up the developed world’s discarded computers:

Thousands of discarded computers from western Europe and the US arrive in the ports of west Africa every day, ending up in massive toxic dumps where children burn and pull them apart to extract metals for cash.

The dumping of the developed world’s electronic trash, or e-waste, is in direct contravention of international legislation and is causing serious health problems for inhabitants of the shanty towns that have sprung up amid the smouldering dumps in Lagos and Accra.

Campaigners believe unscrupulous scrap merchants are illegally dumping millions of tonnes of dangerous waste on the developing world under the guise of exporting it for use in schools and hospitals. They are calling for better policing of the ban on exports of e-waste, which can release lead, mercury and other dangerous chemicals.

Now, it’s not uncommon to read press articles of this nature, from time to time.  However, I was most concerned to uncover some little-known facts about Technology and its relation to the environment and to society at large:

The illegal trade in e-waste is highly lucrative. It is possible to extract more gold out of a tonne of electronic circuitry than from a tonne of gold-bearing rock. But illegal dumping is putting at risk charities and other organisations that donate second-hand equipment to the developing world.

… When you look at the whole product lifetime of a computer 75% of the environmental damage is done before the computer is switched on for the first time,” he pointed out. “It is the production, the mining, the factories producing the kit and the use of toxic materials – that is where the environmental damage is done. So if we do not make the producer responsible for dealing with these environmental issues we are never going to get a redesign of computers; we are never going to get computers that are produced in a more environmentally friendly way.

The Guardian article raises a number of questions for which there are no easy answers…

Know your World

Thanks to a link from one of Atanu’s posts, I discovered the amazingly powerful and insightful data graph of GapMinder on the state of the World and its evolution since the 1800s.

Whether it’s birth/death rates you need or cellphone usage per 100 people, CO2 emissions per tonne or air accident deaths, forest land in sq. km. or unemployment rates in women, this one visual has absolutely every thing on it!

It’s an extremely powerful and useful way to represent data, and you should consider spending some time clicking on the X-axis title and choosing various indicators, to see how they play out.  Mouse-over on the chart or map will also give you added info on any statistic.  Plus, there’s plenty of help to choose from, in case you feel overwhelmed.

GapMinder World’s site describes the tool as a “fact-based world view“.  It simply doesn’t get any better than this…

The Big Picture

I must confess, as someone who cares about the environment, when I first read about the concept of Earth Hour, my immediate reaction was not quite positive.  After all, could one hour of switching off non-essential lights really make a difference?!  But, when you think about it, doing so wouldn’t hurt either.  And, if the result of this effort was only a bit more awareness among earthlings, even that would be a step in the right direction.

Whichever way you feel about the event, you won’t be able to deny the beauty in these photographs taken from urban landmarks across the globe, showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effects of Earth Hour 2009… 

Here’s how The Boston Globe’s “Earth Hour 2009” page describes its effort:

Started in Sydney, Australia in 2007, Earth Hour quickly grew into a global observance. More than 1,000 cities in over 80 countries observed Earth Hour 2009 on Saturday March 28th, as homes, office towers and landmarks turned off their lights for an hour starting at 8.30 pm local time to raise awareness about climate change and the threat from rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Collected here are a series of before-and-after photographs – which (starting with the second one below) will fade between “on” and “off” when clicked.

Let me state that again, since I know not everyone reads the whole intro here – starting with image #2 below, click on the image to see an animated fade between “on” and “off”. (This effect requires javascript to be enabled.)

Have fun!

Two Earths

I was browsing through a local financial daily – LiveMint – when an interesting headline caught my eye: “Two Planets for Greed“, it read.  And, here’s what it had to say…

According to the latest World Wide Fund for Nature Living Planet Report, humanity’s current “ecological footprint”—or impact on the earth’s services—exceeds the planet’s regenerative capacity by about 30%. The report adds that if the present scenario prevails, “by the early 2030s we will need two planets to keep up with humanity’s demand for goods and services”.
 
India’s footprint, at 2.2 times its biocapacity—the potential of its living resources to supply the demands made by its population—is only marginally lower than China’s, at 2.3 times, but more than the US’, at 1.8 times. This, despite the fact that all three feature in the list of eight countries that account for 50% of the world’s total biocapacity.
Naturally, I headed to the WWF website to find out more.  And, the news was as disturbing as the original writeup had suggested:
 
The world is heading for an ecological credit crunch as human demands on the world’s natural capital far outstrips the Earth’s ability to sustain it.
Is there any thing you and I can do about this impending global crisis?  The good news is, Yes!
 
WWF has a detailed page on “How you can help the environment” by making small (but significant) changes in your daily life, whether at work, at home or even while travelling.  Get to that list, before it’s too late.  As the old line goes, “It’s not just a planet, it’s home!”
 
Read More:
Full text of the Living Planet Report 2008.

Better than Google?

What if I told you there was a search engine out there that was actually better than Google?! 

Well, okay, I’m cheating a little.  But, there really is a way to make things better, while you continue using Google for all your web-search needs.

It’s called Earthle and it’s the only “Energy Saving Google Custom Search Engine” you’ll need for a long time!  Here’s how its history page describes its origins:

In a January 2007 blog, Mark Ontkush, a leading expert in “green” computing calculated the following:

“Take at look at Google, who gets about 200 million queries a day. Let’s assume each query is displayed for about 10 seconds; that means Google is running for about 550,000 hours every day on some desktop. Assuming that users run Google in full screen mode, the shift to a black background will save a total of 15 (74-59) watts. That turns into a global savings of 8.3 Megawatt-hours per day, or about 3000 Megawatt-hours a year. Now take into account that about 25 percent of the are CRTs, and at 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, that’s $75,000, a goodly amount of energy and dollars for changing a few color codes.”

When I first encountered it a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but smile at the power and the sheer simplicity of the idea! 

What a wonderful way to save tens of thousands of dollars, and several hundred megawatt-hours of energy, while you’re at it?!  I already use it as the default search engine in my IE7 (see instructions).  But, you can read Earthle’s “About” page to find out other ways of adopting this green technology.

Switch off Google, and switch on Earthle, today.  As with all good things, the time to do it is now!

Update : August 2009
See Also : Blackle.com