Greening your tech

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By Daniel O. Escasa Take a close look at your electricity bill, specifically your consumption in kilowatt-hours (kwh). Multiply that by 0.68, and you get the amount, in kilograms, of carbon dioxide (CO2) you have just helped release into the atmosphere that month. As an aside, and to satisfy the mathematical purists, 0.68 is actually 0.68 kg/kwh in order to obtain the result in kilograms. And that’s just part of your carbon footprint. To put it in more formal terms: ?A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).? Let’s just clarify that greenhouse gases are not necessarily bad, and in fact serve to keep our planet’s temperature at a level that can sustain life. Plants live to absorb CO2, but the exponential increase in CO2 emissions over the past century, coupled with massive deforestation, have resulted in excess CO2 in the atmosphere. This excess in turn has increased overall planetary temperatures, although on a day-to-day level, the climate varies widely and wildly, from floods and hurricanes to heat waves and droughts. Moreover, we fear for the quality of the air we breathe. CO2 emissions result from, among others, the burning of fossil fuels such as gas, oil, or coal. The most obvious source are motor vehicles, although lately, manufacturers have been producing vehicles that use electricity at least part-time ? but that’s yet another source of CO2 emissions, since most of our power plants burn oil or coal. Speaking of manufacturers, they also consume megawatts of electricity to produce their goods; and this is true not just of motor vehicle manufacturers but of any company that produces anything ? even software or services. Just as humans breathe oxygen, so the latter part of the Industrial Age and the dawning Information Age breathe electricity. Without electrical power, we revert to the pre-industrial age. As another aside, one night’s worth of candles could be worth P200, or P6,000/month ? surely your electrical bill wouldn’t be that high just for lighting? Are we then doomed to a choice between clean air on the one hand and a primitive life on the other? Not necessarily. For better or for worse, we’re using up fossil fuels faster than we can discover new sources, and scientists estimate that they’ll all be gone about the middle of the century. In the meantime, we see improvements in alternate sources of energy ? solar, wind, tide, geothermal ? which all have serious drawbacks at the moment, mainly their economies of scale. We don’t have to wait till 2050 to reduce our individual carbon footprints, especially when it comes to our gadgets. Most electronic equipment today have the Energy Star seal, which is a joint program of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. The EPA introduced the seal in 1992 as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products. If you want to go beyond the EPA seal, refer to GreenPeace’s ratings of computer manufacturers ? the ratings cover the entire manufacturing process that’s within the control of the manufacturer, and includes the toxicity of the materials used. GreenPeace works with the manufacturers to improve their green ratings so this isn’t a unilateral rating system. Back to EPA: While CRT monitors may be Energy Star-certified, you can do better, with Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) monitors ? this refers not just to computer monitors, but also to TV displays. LCD monitors typically consume 50 to 70-percent less energy than a CRT of the same size. So, if you’re still using a CRT, toss it ? responsibly, see below ? and buy an LCD as soon as you can. While you’re at it, take a look also at how you use that monster of a desktop computer. Do you mainly surf the Web, read and write emails, and maybe compose a few documents? You don’t need the latest-greatest Intel i7 processor, 4 gigabytes of RAM, and a 500 GB hard drive. Maybe an Atom with half as much RAM and hard drive storage will do. Your energy consumption could drop in half. On the other hand, you may need that much processing power, especially if your work involves creating and manipulating elaborate graphic images or audio/video clips. Don’t feel too guilty about creating a larger carbon footprint, since it’s for a good cause anyway ? it is, isn’t it? As to your cell phones and other portable electronic equipment: the key is to maximize battery life. One of the things you can do is fairly obvious: shut down the radios that you don’t always use ? Bluetooth and WiFi, to name two ? and switch them back on when you need them. The other tip: keep the battery as cool as possible to extend its charge ? which means keeping the device away from warm objects, such as your body. Yes, your body is warm enough to dissipate a few minutes of the battery’s charge. Keep your cell phone, MP3 player, whatever you have, out of your pockets, and enjoy a few more minutes of battery power per charge. The ultimate tip: switch it off. Pull out a good paperback from your bookshelf and take it outdoors to enjoy it. Need to write a document or sketch a drawing? Pen and paper are always cheap, readily available, and always powered up, and don’t crash, at least not in the same way that electronic devices do. So what do you do when your device finally gives up its electronic ghost? You have to dispose of it properly ? the garbage bin is a really bad idea, because your device ends up in a landfill, where it can leak dangerous chemicals that will contaminate the soil and water. Rather, take your dead devices to a recycling fair. The Ayala Foundation and SM Malls both run recycling fairs. See the resources below for more. You may not have it in your power to change the way utility companies produce electrical power. Sure, you may write letters to your congressperson, organize rallies, set up lobbies, but in the end, economics rules ? and the current (no pun intended) rule about electricity is that alternate energy still costs too much to be economical. And that’s also true of anything that burns fossil fuels. Take a deep breath and swallow a chill pill or two, and do what you can to reduce your own carbon footprint. Some of those acts may be expensive at the start but cheap in the long run (e.g., swapping your CRT for an LCD display), some may stay expensive, at least in terms of cash out. But think also in terms of what you’re doing to clean up the air. And if you want to multiply your efforts, convince your family, neighbors, and friends to do the same. You’ll find that more effective, and hence more rewarding, than tilting at windmills. Resources: Ayala Recyclables Fair: SM Cash for Trash:

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