5G, the Internet of Things, and a dystopian ecological footprint

“We have sleepwalked our way into a 10% increase in electricity consumption.”

– David Hughes, quoted in the Guardian article ”Tsunami of data’ could consume one fifth of global electricity by 2025′
[available here: https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/11/tsunami-of-data-could-consume-fifth-global-electricity-by-2025 ]

~

I’ve been discussing with a lot of people recently about the oncoming of 5G (fifth generation mobile technology). I’ve researched it a fair bit, and, like most that I’ve talked with about it, I’ve felt a little unsure about the benefits of the technology given its hypothetical hazards and implications.

It has all been hypothetical, so far. It has all been based around arguments such as that the frequencies of the radio waves will be distinctively harmful to our health (let alone the health of nature, and of the birds and wildlife, who have all but been disregarded in all communications upto this point), because they will run at such a frequency that our skin and sweat glands become like antennas [see this article by the manager of one of the first mobile phone shops in USA, who speaks of many such implications of next generation, untested technology: https://www.thefoghornexpress.com/single-post/The-5G-Network-What-You-Dont-Know-Can-Kill-You%5D.

But it’s hard to grasp onto these seemingly hypothetical arguments as being solid, and deeply researched. Sure, the bees might have receptors on their hairs that are sensitive to EMFs that causes them to swarm, etc etc. It’s just hard to fathom such doomsday-like scenarios – and believe me, the arguments against 5G technology are going all-out with the scariest of all doomsday scenarios.

What grips me is the ecological scope that, well, 5G technology is based on the idea that we have infinite resources to power it all. At no point in any of the corporate guides to the technology is it explained how, on Earth, we will be tackling the rising energy demands of such a substantial technological development. In the 2010 Greenpeace ‘Make IT Green’ report, it’s indicated that Cloud Computing in 2007 consumed 623 billion kWh, over 50 billion kWh more energy than consumed by the whole of India. In this report it was projected, referring to the anticipated increases as indicated in the Smart 2020 Report, that energy consumption of Cloud Computing would increase to 1,963.74 billion kWh by 2020. This report was before the reality of the ‘Internet of Things’ and 5G emerged. There are reports that suggest that data centres have become much more energy efficient, but there are other reports that suggest that they’re still consuming unfathomable amounts of electricity and haven’t actually become so much more energy efficient. It’s a bit of a puzzle regarding the information that’s available, and tricky to attain a clear idea of exactly what’s going on.

The most significant. situation is that, if the Internet of Things becomes mainstream, there will be an unparalleled, huge increase in energy consumption from the data centres that will need to be developed as a result. This is not contraindicated in any studies – all have agreed that, no matter how efficient things are getting, there will be huge developments, and as such, very significant increases in energy consumption. The ecological argument seems to be based around ensuring that all such data centres must switch over to green energies, and that somehow the problem will be solved. But a huge facet is missing. Embodied Energy.

Embodied Energy refers to ‘energy consumed in the production of goods.This includes the mining, manufacturing, transporting, and delivery of a product’. A handful of microchips ‘can have as much embodied energy as a car’. I indicated the energy usage associated with the technological revolution above with the Cloud Computing consumption statistics from the Greenpeace report. This does not, however, take into account Embodied Energy consumption, which is potentially much, much more drastic. No study has been found that shows the Embodied Energy consumption of Cloud Computing – but clearly, with the vast anticipated distribution of new technologies, the Embodied Energy footprint will magnify.
[See this article for more about this: http://whatis5g.info/energy-consumption/%5D

We are living in an exciting time, where we are being pushed more than perhaps ever before to make the right choices in our lives. Be it reducing the amount of plastics we’re using, to growing our foods in order to get the right nutrition and avoid ecological impacts, this is an age in which we are seeing, breathing, and living the differences that we are personally making.
I cannot argue that we should all be taking a certain direction in life. That must come from inside, we all have our own inner-found truths, and it’s so important to follow whatever you find to be true to you. For me, though, I feel so strongly that technology is going in a fatal direction. I feel so strongly that we need to be consuming ever-less, rather than any more. This Internet of Things and 5G development is going to have a tremendous impact on the natural environment, and on the resources of the planet, no matter which way you look at it. Every time I think about it, I always feel very uneasy, and that we should be devoting more of our energies AWAY from technology, and into nature and the communities we live around instead. Sure, here on the Isle of Wight the main arguments in favour of the introduction of 5G technology is that it may help people living in rural parts by enabling them, for instance, to have GP appointments over a video feed. But that’s not the solution in my opinion. Where people are unable to see their GP, that is a problem in the community that either there isn’t a GP near enough to the person to do a home visit, or that the community isn’t resilient enough to be offering to transport such isolated people to the doctor. We should be looking at what doesn’t require any energy resources, and putting our focus on that. 5G and the Internet of Things is a major crisis of the planet, for which we need solutions as soon as possible.

A quick solution that we can all contribute towards is in using less data. Stream less videos. Netflix, YouTube, and any other video streaming site use a lot of data, which all has a trickle-down ecological footprint. Once we have less entertainment in our lives, we will feel naturally more drawn towards spending time outdoors, with nature, or with our families, friends, and communities. This may seem to be boring at first, because we won’t get the same type of stimulation as from technology, but it will have a wonderfully positive effect on our feelings of happiness (as even just being around other people has been shown in plenty of studies to stimulate endorphin, and especially if smiling, laughing, walking barefoot, etc etc). Once it’s shown that, in fact, we don’t need to or want to be more immersed in technology, such data centres and constant developments will decrease, as the demand becomes less. I think that we can do it. We need to just be brave, and embrace all of what this shall involve. It’s never been more important to make a personal difference.

Published on my personal Facebook page and in the ‘Stop 5G’ Facebook group on Saturday 7th April 2018.

[This article didn’t quite make it into my post, but is the bees knees of research into the Embodied Energy of technology (though, the writer, like myself, found it very challenging to find any data on the Embodied Energy): http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/06/embodied-energy-of-digital-technology.html ]

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