Can we communicate our way to sustainability? / Columns / The Foreigner

Can we communicate our way to sustainability?. On today’s fast-moving, ever-changing globe of ours, advocates point to telecommuting, webinars, and Skype meetings as proof that communications technology will create a sustainable world. These reduce travel without sacrificing opportunities to share with and learn from others around the globe. Others go further. One example from many is a Spare Time University. University-level information on development and sustainability can be condensed into “nuggets”, formed as text messages or voice mails for mobile phones, tablets, iPods, or any other communications technology. With rural farmers and fishers increasingly relying on their mobile devices, the nuggets can reach those who need the information the most, but who were previously almost inaccessible. Many of them do not have “spare time” for accessing the nuggets, but it is ready and waiting whenever convenient: while in the fields, out at sea, or on public transit.

communicationstechnology, globalwarming



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Can we communicate our way to sustainability?

Published on Sunday, 8th April, 2012 at 11:44 under the columns category, by Ilan Kelman.
Last Updated on 9th April 2012 at 13:26.

On today’s fast-moving, ever-changing globe of ours, advocates point to telecommuting, webinars, and Skype meetings as proof that communications technology will create a sustainable world.

GSM base station with solar panel, Finland
GSM base station with solar panel, Finland
Photo: MattiPaavola/Wikimedia Commons


These reduce travel without sacrificing opportunities to share with and learn from others around the globe. Others go further. One example from many is a Spare Time University. University-level information on development and sustainability can be condensed into “nuggets”, formed as text messages or voice mails for mobile phones, tablets, iPods, or any other communications technology.

With rural farmers and fishers increasingly relying on their mobile devices, the nuggets can reach those who need the information the most, but who were previously almost inaccessible. Many of them do not have “spare time” for accessing the nuggets, but it is ready and waiting whenever convenient: while in the fields, out at sea, or on public transit.

That gives a wide variety of people interactive access to self-selected day-to-day sustainability information, such as weather forecasts or market prices, even if the people are a long way, in distance and time, from internet access.

With wind, solar, or wind-up charging, unreliable electricity is less of a concern. It sounds perfect. Unfortunately, nothing is a panacea.

Waste from electronic products is filling up landfills and releasing pollutants. Reusing and recycling are not always straightforward. Mobile devices require many rare elements, leading to environmentally harmful mines and market oligarchies.

We must also be cautious regarding the power relations amongst people in filtering and providing information. If corporations selling sugary drinks or tobacco were willing to sponsor information dissemination to have their name on each message, should we agree?

When farmers and fishers buy mobile devices and pay user fees, who benefits from that money? Do people without access to mobile technology get left even farther behind regarding livelihood options and opportunities?

These questions should not discourage using mobile devices for development and sustainability. They are one important option amongst many. We simply need to be honest about their advantages and disadvantages.

So do not phone home too quickly!

Dr. Ilan Kelman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo (CICERO).



Published on Sunday, 8th April, 2012 at 11:44 under the columns category, by Ilan Kelman.
Last updated on 9th April 2012 at 13:26.

This post has the following tags: communicationstechnology, globalwarming.





  
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