Monday, March 22, 2010

Computers Enter the Age of the Hybrid

It's almost a bizarre scenario when you think about it. The automotive industry, the longstanding villain of the anti-global warming movement has gone into full ecological overdrive, producing hybrids as well as electric and more fuel efficient cars. While at the same time putting such icecap melting mega-brands as the Hummer to the sword. With other industries as many and varied as the moving and entertainment business also going green, it's odd that the tech world has been somewhat late to arrive to the party.

In the past, computers, like the one I'm writing this on and the one you are reading this on, have been blamed for causing as much global warming as the airline industry. Meanwhile, computer recycling, when it is practiced, is difficult at best and dangerous at worst. It is often conducted in third world countries by children who are then exposed to dangerous levels of lead and other toxic elements that go into the manufacture of today's computers.

As processor speed has increased, so has power consumption. To the point where many of today's computers are the digital equivalent of big, American gas guzzlers. A big, fast, portable laptop with eadded memory, wireless Internet that turns on a dime and increased processor speed can almost be compared to a GTO or Camaro that has been bored out and suped up for maximum velocity.

Similarly our big energy guzzling desk tops that cruise and turn smoothly on the web and through various other applications simultaneously are perhaps similar to driving giant 4-door Cadillacs or SUVs: big, comfortable, roomy and absolutely toxic for the environment.

Ironically the tech industry is widely considered to be quite progressive, liberal leaning and well informed on such matters as the environment. However only very recently have their been signs that industry is getting ready to put it's money where it's mouth is.

Last month IBM launched a new processor, the new Power 7 which is purported to perform twice as well as it's predecessor, the Power 6, while consuming less energy.

Elsewhere Dell Computer has announced a plan to become carbon neutral that includes everything from reducing emissions at Dell facilities to planting trees to offset the effects of business travel via car and airplane.

Elsewhere a group of industry goliaths that includes Yahoo, Google, Intel, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, announced a new partnership with the EPA and the World Wildlife Fund the stated purpose of which is to reduce computer energy consumption by 50%.

Babysteps, perhaps. But maybe the first signs that the tech world is getting ready to leave behind the era of muscle cars, luxury sedans and SUVs to enter the realm of the hybrid.


  1. Nice Alex!

    There was a Frontline piece on this very subject. We "recycle" are outdated electronics and they end up being shipped to third world countries. Where actually, there is a booming business of selling the info found on the harddrives...i.e. social security numbers, bank account #'s, etc. It is also damaging their eco system and is dangerous the workers' health who breakdown and burn the units. Are we doomed?

  2. *our* I loathe bad grammar and spelling!

  3. Interesting, I never thought of that fact. Why not just repair, that's what we used to do.
    Aunt Sally