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Smartphones drive more carbon emissions than other devices

A team of researchers has found that information and computer technologies (ICT) are making a surprisingly large contribution to carbon dioxide emissions. Professor Lotfi Belkhir of McMaster University is urging for the issue to be addressed right away.

The researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis of tech devices and the infrastructure associated with them such as data centers. Professor Belkhir published an article in The Conversation to share the study findings and create awareness of this growing problem.

“We found that the relative contribution of ICT to the total global footprint is expected to grow from about one percent in 2007 to 3.5 percent by 2020 and reach 14 percent by 2040,” wrote Professor Belkhir.

The investigation revealed that smartphones have a much more significant impact than that of of PCs, laptops, and computer monitors. Between 2010 and 2020, the emissions generated by smartphones will jump from 4 to 11 percent.

“In absolute values, emissions caused by smartphones will jump from 17 to 125 megatons of CO2 equivalent per year (Mt-CO2e/yr) in that time span, or a 730 percent growth,” explained Professor Belkhir.

The rise in harmful emissions from smartphones will primarily come from their production and not their use, according to the study. The infrastructure used to provide data services, however, will also make a substantial contribution to carbon dioxide emissions.

“For every text message, video download, photo exchange, email or chat, there’s a 24/7 power-hungry server in some data center that’s making it happen,” wrote Professor Belkhir.

He pointed out that software companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo are ultimately driving the growth of ICT and related infrastructure.

“At the societal level, we must demand that all data centers run exclusively on renewable energy,” Belkhir concluded in the article.

“At the individual level: Hold on to your smartphone for as long as you can, and, when you do upgrade, make sure you recycle your old one. Sadly, only one percent of smartphones are being recycled today.”

The study is published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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