Welcome to Ecotech: where ecology and technology meet.
Current issues (November 2016):
Fracking – an Ecotech review of the controversial practice of fracking.
Technotrash – a look into one of the biggest, yet little known, negative technological impacts on the environment.
Green Computing – an overview of the promising field of green computing.
Ecotech is an independent source for information regarding technology and its impact on the environment. Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it effects the natural world as much as it effects our lives and society. These issues are explored without bias so our readers can learn and decide for themselves what they think. The purpose of this is to impartially inform the public about the facts regarding the terrible damage technology can do as well as the unimaginable possibilities for positive change on the environment. We strive to view all angles of the field of technology so as to educate the reader on unconventional and new ideas. We hope that every person that views the site leaves informed and with a better grasp of the positive and negative aspects of technology on the environment. This is the core principle of Ecotech, to shed light on new topics and have a different perspective on old ones to inspire individual research and understanding. We hope you enjoy our site.
Fracking - a review
Pros: Fracking has many positive benefits. The natural gas produced by fracking is better for the environment than regular crude or coal. This is because the shale oil produces more energy per unit than crude derived gasoline and is less resource intensive to produce compared to coal. Preliminary research also shows that the natural gas is not as harmful a greenhouse gas when utilized as fuel. Fracking allows America to be energy independent. This reduces the political and economic pressures foreign governments can apply to our government and saves the average American money. It also creates jobs which is always a boon to the economy. The fracking process also opens up new oil fields that previously could not be developed by traditional means. This means that in the future if the price of oil was to rise drastically again that there would be untapped oil reserves that were physically located in the United States.
Cons: Fracking uses an immense amount of water. This is bad because as the world population increases, so does the agricultural water used to sustain it. The increased demand for water combined with the recent severe droughts throughout the world, will make even more important. Fracking also brings industry into previously untouched wild places because the technology is sufficient to exploit it now. This is bad for the ecosystem the industry damages and the landowners near the shale. Fracking is also the most expensive form of oil production. It is only truly financially viable if the price of oil is high, unlike now.
Mixed bag: Fracking was the main cause of the flash crash in oil prices in the first quarter of 2016. This occurred because one of the main selling points of fracking is that it can extract previously unreachable natural gas. A cottage industry popped up in the last few years of companies buying up what was thought to be tapped oil fields for pennies on the dollar and fracking the remaining oil. This created a glut of oil so large new oil storage complexes had to be built in major port cities on the Gulf Coast because they couldn’t store it all. This explosion in supply led to dire effects on the world economy as most oil producing countries and companies require high oil prices to stay profitable. On the flip side, fracking keeps the price of oil low. This is great for the average person because low oil prices mean low prices at the pump and lower costs of goods due to lowered transportation costs.
Verdict: Fracking is a viable technology for energy production. Its cost and backlash against it make it seem that it will be more utilized down the road when oil is more valuable. Most of the criticism against it is overblown fear mongering. The fact is, wherever shale oil is the ground is already contaminated with unhealthy chemicals and radiation naturally. The majority of fracking opponents really just don’t want oil boomtowns popping up near them or in undisturbed nature. This is understandable but energy still needs to be produced.
Zuckerman, Wendy. “Fracking.” Audio blog post. Science Vs. Gimlet Media, 27 July 2016. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.
McGraw, Seamus and John Wenz. "The 10 Most Controversial Claims About Fracking." Popular Mechanics. Cameron Conners, 1 May 2016. Web. 08 Oct. 2016.
Plumer, Brad. "Why Crude Oil Prices Keep Falling and Falling, in One Simple Chart." Vox. Vox Media, 8 Feb. 2016. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.
One of the main problems of overabundance is waste, this holds true for technology as well. First world nations produce an obscene amount of technological garbage or “technotrash” per year. The United States alone throws away an estimated 50 million tons of cellphones, tablets, computers and TVs every year(Ramasubbu). This is extremely harmful to the environment because electronics are made of very toxic material. Professor Ravi Naidu, the director of the Co-operative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment says the average electronic device has “toxic chemicals and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, mercury and zinc” (O'Brien). This means whenever electronics are not properly discarded these toxins are free to bleed into the soil and contaminate water. Professor Naidu’s research shows that this is a serious problem. His research found that worldwide “In the past decade about 84 percent of e-waste was dumped in landfill sites, many of which were not lined to prevent leaching”(O'Brien). The cause of this is the regulations dealing with the safe and environmental handling of waste products, the increased safety and handling requirements make it prohibitively expensive to recycle technotrash. American company’s and city’s solution was to start shipping technotrash to poorer countries, where lax laws make it cheaper to dispose and recycle the waste. The countries they ship too allow this to happen because it can be an economic boon for them, a budding black market has grown for the valuable metal and recycled components that can be salvaged from the waste.
Technotrash poses such a large threat to the environment because few people are even aware it is a problem. Ecotech conducted a survey of 67 respondents to gauge the general public’s understanding and knowledge of the issue. Only 31 respondents knew you are supposed to recycle old electronics. Even worse is that of those 31, only 4 had ever properly recycled their old electronics. On a positive note, 11 of the 31 respondents had donated old electronics to charity, keeping them out of the landfill. More troubling however, is that 23 of the 67 respondents admitted to just throwing away their old electronics. This is an extremely troubling result. The survey also produced an unexpected result. 29 of the respondents claim they have an old electronics drawer or store old electronics in the garage. This appears to be some strange technotrash purgatory that simply delays the inevitable. The results of this survey show that most this forgotten technotrash will eventually be thrown away. If the consumer doesn’t even know that their old electronics are toxic and need to be properly recycled they will keep creating technotrash out of ignorance. The worst part however is the 17 of 27 respondents that knew you had to recycle electronics yet threw them away anyway. I believe this is because even though they knew the electronics had to be recycled, they didn’t fully understand why. The results of this survey show a clear and dire need to inform the public about the full and increasing danger of technotrash. Electronics manufacturers have a duty to inform people of the potential dangers of not disposing of technotrash in the right way. This is a small step that would be one of the biggest steps to reducing the impact of technotrash.
Ultimately there are two groups to point the finger at, the tech industry itself and the consumer. The industry is to blame because this entire problem is an indictment of their business model. Standard operating procedure is to release as many new models of whatever they are selling as fast as possible, to maintain the illusion of the sector growth of the computing boom of the 80s and 90s. The consumer is to blame because they facilitate this. As technology has advanced, the hip new gadget has evolved from a tool to increase quality of life, to a flashy status symbol. To “fit in” you need the newest phone or the biggest TV, the cutting edge a few months ago is now obsolete, destined to be picked clean and left to breakdown then seep into the ground in some far-off land. There are only two ways to combat this, go after the producers to encourage them to use less toxins in the creation of the products and/or convince consumers to vote with their wallets and not reward the companies for increasing the volume of technotrash. The latter is far easier in the long run, skipping a generation of iPhones or waiting until your TV dies to get a new one isn’t a herculean effort. It will be up to the average person as well as the tech industry to combat technotrash. Hopefully the push to go green in recent years will help the process of spreading the word and increase the chance of action to solve this crisis.
Ioffee, Karina. "Frustrations Mount as City Consumers Struggle to Get Rid of Their Techno-trash." NY Daily News. Mortimer Zuckerman, 15 Nov. 2009. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.
O'Brien, Natalie. "Techno-trash Poses Dire Threat to Human Health." The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media, 02 Oct. 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.
Joiner, James. "Merry Christmas! Here's To Another 50 Million Tons Of Techno-Trash." Esquire. Hearst Magazines, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.
Ramasubbu, Suren. "Why We Should Worry About 'Technotrash'" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.
Computers are now omnipresent in the day to day lives of most Americans. Just about every conceivable human interaction can and usually will, involve a computer. Finance, agriculture, manufacturing, science, medicine and communication are just some examples. This level of interconnectedness and convenience requires a tremendous amount of resources and energy. Because of this computing is one of the best and easiest ways to make a dent in human environmental impact. Green computing is the IT industry’s answer to the challenges created by the global increase of computing and the effect it has on the environment. The industry is so proactive because the business consumers- the companies that buy the majority of computers produced per year- demanded more energy efficient computers to decrease overhead in the late 90s. The concept gained further ground in the last decade as state, federal and foreign governments started promoting it for the public relations benefit as well as an effort to save money.
Green computing focuses on limiting the damage from the four most resource- and energy-intensive aspects of computing: use, disposal, design and manufacturing. Use focuses on minimizing electricity consumption on individual computers and teaching basic strategies to users to help decrease energy waste. The best way to decrease personal electricity consumption is to activate sleep mode so your computer uses less energy when you are not actively using it and to shut it down at the end of the day. Disposal is about how to tackle the growing problem of computers becoming waste. The personal computer is made of highly toxic metals and chemicals that require special recycling and treatment to not harm the environment after they are discarded. If improperly discarded a computer can pose serious risk to human health as well as the environment. Some of the ideas that have been proposed for disposal include repurposing old computers and research into more environmentally friendly materials to manufacture the usually more toxic components. Efficient hardware and software development is the purview of design. Hardware is the traditional aspect of computer design that green computing practitioners try to improve. Some hardware improvements that have been introduced are better heat sinks that decrease the running temperature of the computer increasing its energy efficiency, water based passive cooling systems that don’t require electricity and lower power hardware like solid state drives to replace inefficient spinning disc hard drives. Software efficiency has been gaining ground recently as a clever way to lower electricity usage. Using simpler, easier to process, code the computer has to work less to do the same things. Manufacturing reform is the most important aspect of green computing. The United Nations University has discovered that “Eighty-one percent of the energy a computer necessitates is expended during production”(Soltan). That means even with the greatest energy saving discipline and the most efficient hardware you are only having an effect on 19% of the computers life-time energy use. The manufacturing process of computers is also incredibly costly in natural resources. UN research has shown that the production of an average computer and monitor requires “530 pounds of fossil fuels, 48 pounds of chemicals and 1.5 tons of water”(Soltan). This is the tricky part for green computing because it has the largest effect on the manufacturers. To drastically change the manufacturing process would be very expensive and would make it cost more to produce a computer. This is a major hurdle for the industry to jump as they have no real incentive to. Green computing is the future of computing. The savings to the business user is also savings for the environment. The real game changer will be when the manufacturers start to police themselves. I can see this happening down the road as the public relations and marketing benefits to the large institutional consumers makes them want greener computers. Just as in the beginning of green computing, it will take the pressure of losing large sales to force change.
Soltan, Liz. "Technology Depleting Resources and Pollution." Digital Responsibility. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
Barnatt, Christopher. "GREEN COMPUTING: AN INTRODUCTION." Green Computing. ExplainingComputers.com, 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
"What Is Green Computing?" Techopedia.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.