M. Névant (FR), Editorial CommitteeM. Névant (FR), Editorial Committee

“Our house is burning and we are looking elsewhere”

Former French President Jacques Chirac started his speech with these words during the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg. Already fifteen years earlier, the Australian band “Midnight Oil” released a song called “Beds are burning”, the chorus of which says “How can we dance when our earth is turning, How do we sleep while our beds are burning?”.

At a time when the pandemic has fostered digitalization and changed in many ways how we organize our daily life – including work – is it so clear cut that the "new normal" that is promised to us will have a beneficial impact on the environment? Nothing is less certain.

According to the think tank “The Shift Project”, the energy consumption of digital technologies represented 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions before the pandemic and was increasing at a rate of 9% a year. It is now expected that said energy consumption will have doubled by 2025.

The reduction in business travel will of course lead to a decrease in the overall carbon footprint, but this decrease will be at least partially offset by the increased use of digital tools. If remote working and meetings via videoconference become the new standard of life, the organization of work will have to be change substantially and state of the art equipment will have to be provided to meet the requirements of this new standard. In this respect it is interesting to note that the manufacture of a single laptop generates about 100 kg CO2 (i.e., about half the carbon footprint of a roundtrip flight from Paris to Munich), notwithstanding the fact that the components of computers are essentially manufactured and assembled in Asia using fossil fuel-sourced energy. It is generally recognized that the combustion of fossil fuels, especially coal, is a major source of CO2 emissions, and has repercussions on global warming and health. It is also worth bearing in mind that the increased use of digitalized tools implies using more and more servers to store data, each server consisting of thousands of computers which require a large amount of power to run and to keep cool.

The (seemingly unavoidable) forced march toward a quasi-fully digitalized world and its alleged beneficial impact on the environment (which is currently a good selling argument towards stakeholders or shareholders) must not however distract us from other, more important steps, that we, as a society, need to take to meet the objectives agreed upon during the COP21 by the 196 attending parties to the conference, i.e.:

  • zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century;
  • limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C by the end of the 21st century.

On these wishful thoughts, I hope that you will enjoy reading this issue of epi Information and wish you, on behalf of the Editorial Committee, a nice and relaxing summer.