There is rock, there is bottom and then there is another black hole hidden slyly beneath that bottom too.
That’s the state of our indifferent and reckless treatment of the planet.
Yes, humans are not only consciously spitting carbon and pooping harmful waste through activities and indulgences that they can see; but also doing the same (in equally or worse degrees) into many dark, but-equally-cavernous, corners that lurk under the shadows of our daily lives, business and progress.
And this latent damage ranges from a small Smartphone to a huge space-craft; from a virtual currency to an email; from the pizzas we order on apps to the Good-Morning-s we ferry to WhatsApp servers.
Let’s start with the big ones first.
Or what European Space Agency (ESA) explains as ‘ non-functional, human-made objects, including fragments and elements thereof, in Earth orbit or re-entering into Earth’s atmosphere..’
So how much of these fragments a.k.a. astro-garbage can be circling around us? How does 170 million pieces (and 670,000 larger than 1 centimeter) sound!
Yes, as of Jan 2017, the number of rocket launches since the start of the space age in 1957 were reckoned to be about 5250; the number of satellites these rocket launches have placed into Earth orbit were tallied to be around 7500; and some 4300 seem to be still in space – as the number spotted for debris objects regularly tracked by the US Space Surveillance Network.
Convert that into an estimated number of break-ups, explosions and collision events resulting in fragmentation and you get a figure appalling enough to pop you out of your hammock. More than 290. Wait, hold your step, there’s more – the total mass of all space objects in Earth orbit – About 7500 tonnes!
That’s not even a number frozen in time and space.
It is constantly growing, as more and more companies keep launching new feats and constellations of
(Low Earth Orbit) for ambitions ranging from fast Internet to space-tourism around the world.
This should make us walk away from that hammock and lovely glass of martini too. The calculations (simulations by ESA and NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration) that even if we put a brake on these launches, explosions and debris with no further objects added to the space environment; there would be no relief in number of debris objects which will continue to grow and translate into a collision rate of ‘once every 10 years’.
Don’t we have ESA’s internal studies telling us how continuous-removal actions starting in 2060 (cross our fingers that kind of work starts and picks speed) will only have 75 per cent of the beneficial effect compared to an immediate start!
That’s the state when we even don’t pause and look up in the star-lit sky (now littered with debris).
How about looking down then? At our favourite spot – our hands, laps and palms. Or to be precise- the creatures that grace them. Ever wondered how many dents our innocent thumbs make while we are busy being the tech-enslaved modern animal?
As much as 45 per cent of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) emissions by 2020– yes, that’s how much servers and data centers guzzle. Our unconscious and innocuous-looking email, tweet, WhatsApp and virtual currency; that was supposedly saving paper is, ironically, hogging a lot of energy in the backyards of human activity in the 21st century.
When someone says that ‘… if unchecked, ICT GHGE (Green House Gas Emissions) relative contribution could grow from roughly 1–1.6 per cent in 2007 to exceed 14 per cent of the 2016-level worldwide GHGE by 2040, accounting for more than half of the current relative contribution of the whole transportation sector.’ it sounds both a cruel joke and a brute slap of awakening.
Well, guess how much can those sleek devices, which we vainly wield in our hands 24/7, can gobble up when it comes to energy? To build a new Smartphone (yes, those disposable toys that the world has gotten obsessed with) that hardly has a two-three year lifecycle makes up for 85 per cent to 95 per cent of the device’s total CO2 emissions.
ICT is well on its way to exceed 14 per cent by 2040 in terms of carbon-impact. Yes, half as large as the transportation industry as a McMaster University research published in the Journal of Cleaner Production indicates. These researchers also noted that large-screen smart phones inflict more carbon footprint damage than small-ones.
They are not alone. There is another bunch that discovered the environmental-burden of not just the phone in a factory but of the baggage it hairballs into when we fire up the phone day and night for all those apps and Internet-gulps. This is also where we can reel in the parallel impact on the network we choose to use that phone on.
A study brings this shadow-effect out into the spotlight as it talks of how adding a server into the scope of a Smartphone can jack up use-phase impact from 8.5 to 18.0 kg CO2-eq, and how extending the network pumps the use-phase by another 24.7 kg CO2-eq. And we haven’t yet started to peel off the stand-by charger-energy consumption that our phones do at least a few hours a day (think of roughly 2 per cent of total use-impact that modern chargers contribute though).
That should explain why buying one new phone corresponds to almost as much energy as recharging or maintaining one for ten years would take.
If you thought that’s all we are guilty of, wait for the other shoe to drop.
Because we have still not started wondering about all those around-the-curve and nascent-stage technologies that we are marching towards. Internet of Things and Crypto-currencies.
Already the minimum current usage of the Bitcoin network is easily dancing at 2.55 gigawatts, (as good as electricity used in Ireland). We are sprinting well enough to touch 7.7 gigawatts—as much as Austria and half of a percent of the world’s total consumption by the end of this year, as Blockchain specialist Alex de Vries from the Experience Center of PwC has cautioned already.
Oh, you didn’t know that bitcoin-like stuff hogs hardware and computing power behind your backs, did you?
No sweat! We also did not know the wreckage we are causing to our environment when we are watching TV, talking on phone, getting curious about Aliens, fighting on emails, lol-ing on whatsapp and well, typing such rants as this article.
What the eye doesn’t see, the stomach doesn’t mind. Come along ostriches, the sand is calling.