Here’s a question – what’s more ecologically sustainable… a physical telephone directory, or a phone book smartphone app?

At base level, the “death to paper” technologist will say the printed telephone directory claiming dead trees and non-biodegradable plastic packaging. In retort, the telephone directory publisher will respond that (somewhat incredulously) that a smart phone uses more energy than a fridge. At which point I lose the will to live, point out that everything is ultimately interconnected to everything and therefore the amount of energy needed to produce either a phone book or an iPhone is equal to the sum total of all energy in the universe.

I might be exaggerating a bit at the end there. But that’s a reworked version of a Twitter conversation I had yesterday.

What this highlights is that measurement around consumption is as much tied to current cultural values as it is to any objective science. Pro-tech zealots think the world will be saved by abandoning paper and using devices that are replaced every couple of years and are hugely costly to manufacture let alone recycle.

Our fixation with Carbon emissions means that huge resource (and no doubt carbon) is being spent producing electric cars that don’t produce carbon emissions at the time or place of use. The power (in the UK) is almost certainly being produced by burning fossil fuels (in France that well-known low carbon and completely green nuclear stuff).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a global warming apologist. It’s just that we’re getting hoodwinked by thinking that simple numbers can save the world when actually it’s all way more complex and interconnected than that.

One thought on “Infinitely measured

  1. I was reading an article in Cyclist magazine recently (dead tree edition – probably more ecologically sustainable than charging my iPad to read it by the poolside on holiday) that looked at the global availability of carbon fibre.

    Carbon fibre (the clue is in the name) is not the most environmentally-friendly of substances as it’s basically plastic and needs vast amounts of energy (and oil) to create. On the other hand, it’s very strong and lightweight, meaning that the things it’s used for (aircraft, cars, bikes) can go further and faster, using less energy along the way. Except that the industry looking to use huge quantities of carbon fibre now is the wind turbine industry.

    Yes, those spinning turbines of environmental goodness, standing 125m in the air, with massive metal and concrete bases also use a very environmentally unfriendly solution to creating strong, lightweight blades.

    How interconnected is that?!

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