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The Environmental Impact of Our Connected Life

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Laptop Environmental Impact Considered
Laptop Environmental Impact Considered

Have you ever thought about the environmental impact of our adoption of modern technology, such as smartphones, tablets, or laptops?

It has been said that the world is getting smaller and, in a sense, it is. Thanks to modern technology, we can now communicate, in real time, with people halfway around the globe. Internet-connected devices have become nearly ubiquitous, and portable electronic devices are all around us, including laptops, smartphones, tablets, all of them connected to the internet via WiFi or cellular data networks, yet we rarely think of their environmental impact. For example, right now, writing from the highlands of Peru on an HP ProBook 4540s and WiFi connection, I can get news about events in Ukraine just as easily as I can listen to Chomanova chillout radio from Germany, at the same time that I am writing this article. Eventually, this article will be uploaded to a server in Romania, after which I’ll probably do a local search for a restaurant for lunch.

At the moment, I’m running off the battery, but I’ll have to recharge it in a few hours. If I could afford a couple solar panels or a wind turbine, I could charge it via emissions-free renewable energy. Until that day comes, however, we have to consider how much emissions my laptop will generate once I plug it back into the wall. What’s the environmental impact of running a laptop? Here’s a great infographic I found that breaks it down.

Impact of Running a Laptop!

Now, keep in mind that these are only averages, but the environmental impact is considerable. For example, my laptop is currently discharging at just 11.5 W, averaging some 21.5 kWh/yr, while the study considered a 50 W machine being used 8 hrs/day 5 days/wk, averaging 104 kWh/yr. Considering that many of us, such as freelance writers, business travelers, and tablet-hogging kids, may have our devices running for hours daily, is there anything we can do to offset it? Aside from looking for a personal renewable energy source or moving to Vermont (lowest power grid emissions in the US), we could look into some other emissions-offsetting options. Can we substitute a bike for 258 miles, just 2.2% of the average American’s yearly drive cycle, in an automobile? Could we plant three trees this year to sequester those carbon emissions? Could we cut out some meat from our diet?

Photo credit: Simon Lieschke

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