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Sci Tech    H1'ed 9/1/16

Priorities: Mobility or Survival?

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Posted by Katie Singer

Priorities: Mobility or Survival?

Election season and starting a new school year have us clarifying priorities. In public and private discourse, we need to include that using technology has long-term consequences. We need to ask, what infrastructure does this device require? What natural resources go into manufacturing, operating and discarding this device? Does building this infrastructure or using this device endanger human health or abilities that we want to cultivate? As we introduce ourselves and our children to new devices, what activities balance tech use?

Say that our priorities include survival, biodiversity, democratic process and health. Each of these depends on reducing our use of natural resources. And yet, as consumers, we've (perhaps unconsciously) prioritized mobile telecommunications.

As technologies continue to implode, please join me in questioning our priorities, educating ourselves about the health and environmental effects of our choices, and creating policies by household and community that respect our goals.

Here, I'll focus on questions about wireless tech's electricity demands. While a household's electricity bill may not show it, wireless tech requires much more energy than wired (DSL, cable, fiber optics) tech. Like emissions of electromagnetic energy (EMR), energy use is invisible.

What elements of the Internet require electricity?

* Data centers, which host the computers (aka "servers") that store online information.

* Cloud-based services.

* End-use devices such as desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, pads.

* Network infrastructure that transmits digital information between servers and end-use devices.

* Manufacturing and shipping of microprocessors, servers, end-use devices and networking infrastructure.

What percentage of global electricity production does the global communications network consume?

In 2012, it consumed 8%, or 22,740 TeraWatt hours. By 2030, researchers predict that communications and information networks will consume between 20 and 50% of global electricity production.

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Katie Singer works on public policy with the Electromagnetic Radiation Policy Institute. A medical journalist, her books include The Garden of Fertility; Honoring Our Cycles, and An Electronic Silent Spring: Facing the Dangers and Creating Safe Limits. 

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