Fight Climate Change: Fight Wireless Technology

I am not sure whether man-made climate change is occurring, or whether the earth just undergoes natural climate cycles that we don’t understand yet because we haven’t been keeping accurate records for very long. What I am sure about is that all the ways in which we produce energy cause pollution in one way or another, and that it would be a very good thing for this little blue-green planet of ours if we used a lot less energy.

One of the main consumers of energy these days is wireless technology, and with 5G coming, we’re going to need a great deal more. Dr. Timothy Schoechle, in his superb paper, “Reinventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks” says that at our current 4G, wireless technologies use between 5 and 10 percent of the world’s electricity, and that demand for energy for these technologies is growing at 7 percent a year.

That’s a huge amount of energy, yet it’s nothing compared to what 5G will use.  According to Dr. Devra Davis in her article, “Australia Fires And Technology’s Climate Vampire: Why The Environmental Impact Of 5G Expansion Could Be Massive,” the wireless industry itself reports that 5G will consume three to four times more energy than 4G, or between a conservative 15 percent and a huge 40 percent of the world’s current electricity supply, according to Dr. Schoechle’s figures. That means we’ll need to make a lot more electricity. Dr. Davis says, “…the massive energy needed to support 5G might approach that of the yogabyte,” which is 10 followed by 24 zeroes.

According to a recent Bloomberg article, “Eco-Friendly Phone Companies Brace for 5G’s Energy Bill,” it cost $80 billion to power the world’s antennas in 2018, with electricity accounting for a third of telecom companies’ average operational costs. 5G cell towers will allegedly be a lot more energy efficient than current 4G cell towers, but a 5G cell tower will carry up to 16 times more antennas, all of which need to be powered. Also, there will be many thousands of transmitters and receivers. 5G will be a real energy hog.

How is electricity produced? In 2010, Greenpeace published an article called “The Cloud Begins with Coal: Big Data, Big Networks, Big Infrastructure and Big Power”. The fact is, most of our global supply of electricity comes from burning coal, some of it lignite (brown coal) which is even more polluting than anthracite (black coal).

To get an idea how much coal is being used worldwide to produce electricity, watch the graphic in the article, “Visualizing Every Coal Power Plant in the World 1927-2019” ( Watch the pollution spread over the world as the coal plants grow and grow. In the past few years, Europe has shut down some coal-fired power plants, but the rest of the world, notably South Asia, is using more than ever.

How much coal will be burned to power 5G, and how much pollution will that cause? How much will that affect climate? Ask yourselves, is mobile technology worth the cost? And don’t forget, you’re going to pay for it. You will pay for it by breathing polluted air, and in the extermination of species worldwide, and you will pay in cash, because the telecoms companies will pass the costs along to you.

Somehow, people have got the idea that because you can’t see the energy being used in wireless technology, it’s “green.” In the same way, they think electric vehicles are “green” because they don’t have petrol engines. But everything uses power, and that power must be produced somehow.

How does wireless technology use power? It’s not just a question of the electricity used to recharge the battery. That’s the energy use you’re aware of. What you don’t see is the huge amount of energy used to power the data centers that form “the cloud” where air-conditioning runs and banks of computers whir 24 hours a day. That’s only 9% of the unseen energy use, according to Dr. Schoechle.  The other 91% of unseen energy use is access to the cloud, with all the energy-powered infrastructure that is needed to do so. Streaming or downloading video consumes vast amounts of energy, and photos are very data-heavy compared to text.  Then there are automatic updates and backup of application data, which go on all the time and generate huge amounts of Internet traffic. Finally, there are advertising bot nets, which by 2016 made up a third to half of all Internet traffic. All this activity uses electricity, and it’s nothing compared to the energy that will be needed for 5G and the IoT.

What are the alternatives to coal?  Nuclear energy? It’s cheap to produce, but is it safe? Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukishima say no. Would you want to live near a nuclear power plant?  If we keep using electricity at the current rate, chances are that one day you will. Think of all the nuclear waste to dispose of. Consider how many countries may develop nuclear weapons once they acquire nuclear reactors.

What about renewable energy?  Many telecoms companies have promised to switch to renewable energy supplies, according to Bloomberg, but that’s not easy.  The supply isn’t always reliable (the sun needs to shine and the wind needs to blow), and renewable energy can end up costing a lot more. Solar and wind farms also produce significant electromagnetic fields because transformers are needed to convert the energy into electricity. Also, wind turbines kill a lot of birds.

There are no good ways to produce enough energy for wireless technology, or to feed our demand for all things electric. Any way you cut it, if we care about this planet—and ourselves—we must cut back our energy consumption. Using wired telephones and wired computers would drastically reduce global demand for electricity, drastically reduce pollution, fight climate change, save species from going extinct, make our world a more beautiful place to live and be a lot healthier. Also, we might survive long enough to invent better ways to communicate without killing ourselves and our world.

Read more: “Reinventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks”

“Australia Fires And Technology’s Climate Vampire: Why The Environmental Impact Of 5G Expansion Could Be Massive”

“Eco-Friendly Phone Companies Brace for 5G’s Energy Bill”



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