Saving Your PC

I was surprised to read on TechSoup about the environmental impact that PCs have :

According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, manufacturing one desktop computer and monitor requires 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water…  A report from United Nations University indicates that building a computer takes five times more energy than that computer will use throughout the rest of its life; therefore, extending the life of your PC by two years can make a huge difference in your organization’s overall environmental footprint.

Even if you’re not particularly concerned about the hole in the sky, I’m sure you will appreciate low-cost ways to get a little more life from your computers. 

Here’s a list of things you can do before you give up on it completely:

  • Software Fixes – Maintenance tools, Virus prevention, Open source
  • Role Change – Test machine, Spare parts, Thin client
  • Hardware Upgrades – More RAM, New hard drive, SSDs?
  • New OS – Less demanding open-source OS
  • Refurbishing / Recycling / Donating

TechSoup’s excellent writeup has all the details, with ample links to online resources that can help you today!

Save the PC…  Save the world…

350

Why is the number 350 so important?

According 350.org :

There are three numbers you need to really understand global warming, 275, 390, and 350.

For all of human history until about 200 years ago, our atmosphere contained 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Parts per million is simply a way of measuring the concentration of different gases, and means the ratio of the number of carbon dioxide molecules per million other molecules in the atmosphere. 275 ppm CO2 is a useful amount—without some CO2 and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in our atmosphere, our planet would be too cold for humans to inhabit.

Beginning in the 18th century, humans began to burn coal and gas and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise, at first slowly and now more quickly. Many of the activities we do every day like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating or cooling our homes rely on energy sources like coal and oil that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere.By now—and this is the second number—the planet has 390 parts per million CO2 – and this number is rising by about 2 parts per million every year.

Scientists are now saying that’s too much – that number is higher than any time seen in the recorded history of our planet – and we’re already beginning to see disastrous impacts on people and places all over the world…  Propelled by the news of these accelerating impacts, some of the world’s leading climate scientists have now revised the highest safe level of CO2 to 350 parts per million. That’s the last number you need to know, and the most important. It’s the safety zone for planet earth.

So what should you do?  How can you “fix” the problem of climate change or global warming single-handedly?  Can you really make a difference? 

Turns out, you can.

See Also : An Inconvenient Truth

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…