Is it ethical to use a computer?

Computers generate nearly as many carbon emissions as flying - but our ethical columnist has the solution.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

Dear Ethan,

I don’t know if I should even be sending you this message! I read this week that the world’s computers generate nearly as many carbon emissions as the global airline industry. I find the internet and email very useful, but with such an impact on our environment, is it ethical to use a computer?

Owen Lyne,

Dear Owen,

That really was quite a frightening statistic produced by those hard-hitting eco-advisers at Global Action Plan. Their report says that even one medium-sized server has the same impact as a Death Wagon (more commonly known as a sports-utility vehicle – SUV – or a 4×4). People – unthinking, ignorant people – have been known to leave computers on when they’re not using them so they can burn up even more resources and heat up the planet in the process.

We need to do something now about this disastrous situation. Let’s not go over the top here – it’s a mistake anyone could make in these consume-the-planet-think-later times – so we should only impose a suspended sentence for first offenders. But serial recidivists should be set to hard labour. More of that in a moment.

Comparing computers to flights is a little unfair. Computers have been known to do useful things, like allowing the unenlightened to read a certain brilliant ethical columnist who’s name I won’t mention. (Okay, shucks, I’m referring to me! I try not to blow my own trumpet, but I do think this is the best column ever – and my inbox only confirms it!)

Flights on the other hand have no useful purpose whatsoever. Their main function is to allow morons to fly to far-flung places to meet strange people. Then they consume huge quantities of alcohol, vomit, urinate and defecate in the streets, then pass intimate diseases to one another. They screw the planet so they can screw each other.

Now, you may say I’m being a bit one-sided here. People say to me: ‘But Ethan, what if I want to go to my grandmother’s funeral in Australia?’ Well, there’s a basic problem there that your grandmother, or you, decided to travel halfway round the globe for no good reason, probably to ‘have a better life’ or ‘to see the world’. There really is no justification for people travelling in search of a better life. As for seeing the world – well, the planet is a greenish-blue with white bits at the top and bottom. What else do you need to know? Stay at home. Going to your granny’s funeral will only hasten the planet’s funeral.

Then there are all those people going to ‘climate change’ summits. Frankly, I strongly suspect that flying into resorts like Bali for a two-week conference on saving the planet is really an expenses-paid way for some suits to consume huge quantities of alcohol, vomit, urinate and all that in the safety of a conference centre and a posh hotel. If they keep that charade up, we should add them to the list of climate criminals, too. (And it’s all pointless – we just need firm action, as I’ve said in this column before. Allowing politicians to decide these things will end in tragedy, because they’re only as good as the idiots who elect them.)

The way round the computer problem is micro-generation: make your own, zero-carbon power! I’ve only ever considered it acceptable to use a computer if it didn’t screw up the planet in the process. At first, I only used solar power. This is brilliant, but does rather limit one to working during the hours of daylight. And with Britain’s weather as unpredictable as it is – and with more hurricanes and floods on the way due to our destructive activities – solar power wasn’t always an ideal solution.

That’s why I decided to build my own treadle pump. These fabulous devices are already a big hit in the developing world where poor farmers have been persuaded to abandon over-efficient diesel water pumps in favour of the healthy exercise and planet-friendly benefits of a treadle pump instead. And it’s something everyone can get involved in. As I type, my two young boys, Hansen and Fritz, are beavering away in the basement, getting a workout while I work out the planet’s problems.

It’s a great solution – powered by the sun during the day, powered by the sons at night! It can be a bit of a hassle for them if I get a sudden burst of inspiration in the wee small hours and I have to drag them out of bed to power the computer, but I remind them how important my work really is. You can’t afford to sleep when you’re guarding the planet.

So, if you want to keep surfing, Owen, get pedalling. And this brings me back to those climate criminals. You see, all those people flying around the world, driving huge cars or simply leaving computers on all night, are gonna kill us all in the end. They must be punished. But locking them up in prison would only use up even more resources. Meanwhile, there are lots of computers that aren’t in people’s houses that need to be powered, like servers for websites and email.

Why not put the two of them together? Every server room could have a gym next door with climate criminals pounding the cycles and treadles for hours every day to generate power so we can have a carbon-neutral internet. That’s what I call a ‘community-based alternative to imprisonment’! When I rule the world…

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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