Computing Our Way to Paradise

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Globalization, quite likely a process that has been occurring for centuries, has bounced onto the world stage - indeed has become the world stage - in the last few decades. It is characterised by the shifting of time and space, enabling peoples of different cultures and geographies to understand, learn from and exploit the opportunities of distant practices. The Internet and communication technologies (ICTs) have performed and continue to perform, important roles in modern globalization.

Internet and communication technologies are quite simply any product or system that communicates, stores, and/or processes information (O'Meara 2000). ICTs have unique characteristics and were originally conceived as a virtual service. Partly attributed to this ‘weightless’ sector assumption, ICTs became very popular, especially in environmental circles. Their popularity has served to propel human activity around the globe, often with the vague assumption that perfect substitutability of less efficient processes with more efficient ones would enable a diminished ecological footprint of the service provided.

Evidence now indicates that the ideal of perfect substitutability is largely an illusion as many factors appear to militate against pure substitutability. Moreover, efficiency, as a primary method to reduce the ecological impact of an activity, has proven to be a double-edged sword. In fact, ICTs have often been applied as yet another layer of social innovation to advance the physical growth of economies and businesses, and their concomitant physical impacts.

ICTs are far from the benign service originally conceived. The buildings that house servers - the machines that store our text, videos, emails and other data - are very much physical in nature, and the energy demands of these servers have become a significant strain on energy grids around the world. The manufacture of ICT devices and components draw physical resources that place increasing demands on - even create conflicts over - water and non-renewable resources. The lifespans of ICTs are incredibly short, and once retired, old ICTs often find they serve little more purpose than toxic pollution, despite a proliferation of international trade agreements and local initiatives to prevent their inappropriate disposal, and to encourage more sustainable options.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Globalisation and Ecological Integrity in Science and International Law
    This volume returns to one of the major themes of the Global Ecological Integrity Group: the interface between integrity as a scientific concept and a number of important issues in ethics, international law and public health. The main scholars who have worked on these topics over the years return to re-examine these dimensions from the viewpoint of global governance.
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