A smaller carbon footprint for the digital citizen

Alice He


October 7th, 2012

Having retrospectively decided to write a series on climate change, four weeks after part one of my supposed ‘series’ appeared, here is the third installment.

Having retrospectively decided to write a series on climate change, four weeks after part one of my supposed ‘series’ appeared, here is the third installment exploring the interplay between climate and economics – more specifically, all of my articles look at how to change climate change without really changing climate change.

In my first article, I wrote on how demographics can reduce climate change – an ageing population and declining household size can contribute a significant reduction in emissions. In my second article, I looked particularly at one (often unpopularly regarded) demographic solution of climate change – influencing population growth rates by giving women the right and education to choose other options besides starting a family. Since slowing population growth rates, ageing populations and equal economic opportunities for women are considered characteristics of a developing society, is it a legitimate conclusion to say that development can be good for climate change?

Without disputing the idea that development has been the main culprit of today’s warming temperatures, it is possible to envision aspects of development which can have a positive impact on climate change, even if it may have a net negative effect on environment.

In the Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), one of the future emission scenarios considered was one in which the world transitioned into a service and information economy. Information economy can be considered as a stage of development; throughout history, we have transitioned from an agricultural economy (focusing on the agrarian sector), to industrialization (focusing on the manufacturing sector) to now, an information economy (focusing on the service sector, particularly ICT services, and an emphasis on nurturing human capital). The next or concurrent stage is a network economy, whereby the abundance of knowledge can be shared, and where comparative advantage gives way to competitive advantage. While currently, the global economy operates on the notion that certain countries specialise in certain types of production, in the future when information becomes widely accessible, and where the ‘price’ or value of knowledge is measured by how many people use it, producers will be on an equal footing. In order to remain competitive, they must innovate; such pressures create the optimal environment for the advancement of knowledge.

As society moves towards an emphasis on research and information services where mathematicians, engineers, biologists, psychologists and sociologists to name a few, become key figures, economic activity is no longer driven by manufacturing. What we have instead is the production of ideas, resulting in less usage of emissions-intensive capital, and thereby reducing society’s carbon footprint, and that of every digital citizen’s in the information society.

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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