It’s becoming increasingly hard to balance my love of tech with my increased awareness of environmental issues that are directly impacted by the consumer electronics industry.
Our world is burning, and the human race is turning a blind eye to what is happening. We keep eating copious amounts of meat, we take regular flights, and we buy stuff that is designed to be disposable, including electronics.
Phones are a great example of the environmental impact our gadgets have on the world. Up until recently, they were designed to last a year (two years tops). Batteries deteriorate, it’s something that can’t be helped, but phone companies expect you to buy a new phone rather than getting the battery replaced. Even if you did elect to replace the battery, it is no easy task as most batteries are encased and glued in. It’s not just hardware limitation either, as products age software developers are less likely to support a product. For instance, the majority of Android phones come with three years of updates, and some don’t even make it that long.
Making a phone is an intensive process. The manufacturing and fabrication of a phone can release 16kg of CO2 equivalent emissions into the air. When compared, to say, the 50kg a washing machine makes in a year, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but times that by 1.46 billion-the number of phones made in 2018-and the scale of the problem becomes evident. And it’s not just phones, TVs, Computers, Smart Devices, Games Consoles; all products with have become commodities in our society. And then there’s the hidden footprint, the servers running websites, streaming content, and serving memes on a social network.
And yet here I am, writing this blog on a computer, hosting it on a website, as I have my phone which is less than a year old streaming music from Spotify, with an Amazon Echo listening out for the Alexa wake word. I’m part of the problem. I can’t draw my eyes from the content that beams halfway across the globe just to entertain me. I can’t not get excited about the latest iPhone, Pixel phone, laptop or TV. It’s a drug and one which has made my life intrinsically easier. Even my work as a technical specialist in esports broadcasting at a University burdens the world’s resources. It’s amazing when you receive a room full of equipment how many foreign power leads pile up. Leads which will never be used, but we’re manufactured and shipped anyway. I do feel guilty. I really do.
But this isn’t just an individualistic problem, we’ve created a system in which we reward companies that make our lives easier. This has made life easier for sure and has benefited the human race. But the need to buy, buy, buy, hurts our planet more than most people realise. It’s up to the industry to try and create better, more sustainable ways of making products (even having easily replaceable batteries in phones would help). I also realise that we can’t go backwards, we can’t regress to before phones, and TVs, and Netflix and all the other creature comforts. It’s about limiting the impact of the products we buy, choosing which companies we give our money to wisely, and when we do buy a product, we use it as long as it functions.
I started this post why saying that it’s becoming increasingly hard to love tech. Technology is a passion of mine, and I will always love how technology progresses humanity, but just because I like something, doesn’t mean I have to purchase it. Sometimes, knowing that progress is being made is enough.