Editor's comment: Electronics & climate change…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 June 2019

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

At a recent engineering press conference I attended, I was surprised to overhear a conversation between some of my editorial colleagues in which an editor was telling another that he was (in his own words) a “climate change denier”.

This editorial was originally featured in the June 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Of course, I’m aware that such beliefs exist – and indeed, the current inhabitant of the White House means that viewpoint has grown in visibility. But having spent most of the last 15 years working closely with engineers and scientists, I have rarely come across anyone who professed to hold such beliefs – and honestly wasn’t expecting to hear it among a group of engineering press industry editors…

As such, I found it grimly fascinating. I simply had to hear his reasoning for discounting the overwhelming majority of global peer-reviewed academic research – and was gripped as I joined the discussion to listen to him recount his thinking.

In the weeks running up to this incident, climate activist group, Extinction Rebellion caused widespread disruption across the capital with its occupation of four prominent central London sites: Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square – resulting in over a thousand arrests. A few weeks earlier, across the UK, large numbers of schoolchildren had staged climate strikes, skipping lessons to join protests and demonstrations.

And 16-year old autistic Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, who had begun her own climate activism only a little over six months earlier, with strikes and protests outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm (leading to a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and a Time Magazine cover), travelled to London to speak at the climate protests, meet with UK political party leaders (including all the main party leaders, except the Prime Minister, Theresa May) and address parliament. Support for these protests has been varied among politicians, the media and the public, with dismissive criticism of schoolchildren trying to find a voice and deliver a message from some quarters.

Meanwhile, technology and electronics appear to be part of the problem. Apart from the greenhouse gas, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), which is used as a cleaning agent in the manufacture of semiconductors, flat-panel LCDs and thin-film solar cells, the energy consumed globally by smart devices – and the infrastructure to power them – is substantial (and largely generated from non-renewable sources). Furthermore, the IoT, 5G and driverless cars are set to explode the number and usage of connected devices. Not to mention the mounting e-waste generated by a constant upgrade and obsolescence cycle.

The tsunami of data that fuels our digital world requires vast server farm data centres, that could consume up to 20% of the world’s electricity by 2025, producing around 5% of global carbon emissions – more than aviation, shipping – or any country other than the US, China or India. Cryptocurrency giant, Bitcoin alone already consumes more energy than 159 entire countries combined.

Rolling back from our increasingly connected, on demand digital lives seems unlikely – but surely technology needs to find a way to be part of the solution too?

EPDT June’s issue contains features on Embedded technologies & Communications applications, as well as EPDT's twice-yearly Electronics Distribution supplement. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...

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