The effects of computers on the environment

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***note - bibliography and citations included!!!*** Identifying the Need ====================== Although computers can be used as a tool to spread awareness about problems in the environment, they cause a lot of environmental problems themselves. Pollution caused by the production of computer hardware, as well as from the cleaning agents used to clean computers, is a great hazard to the environment and the people that live in it. People leave their computers on non stop resulting in a lot of energy consumption and enormous amounts of paper are being used daily to print out electronically stored data. () It causes health problems as well as economic problems and is in urgent need of treatment. IT Background of the Issue ======================== When examining the problem of pollution caused by computers and their production, it is evident that all computer hardware is responsible for the problem, for it is the hardware's production that causes the pollution. Pieces of hardware such as keyboards, monitors, mice etc are all made out of plastic which is usually not recyclable. Other chemicals found in these tools are also often bad for the environment and cause damage. As a result of the assembly of pieces inside the computer such as wafers and computer chips a lot of toxic materials are given off causing further harm to the environment. The evolution of computers causes harm because old computers are often thrown out only to be replaced by larger computers, which consume more energy and therefore cause even more pollution. They too, will eventually be thrown out and replaced. As the demand for larger monitors and more memory chips grows due to developments in multimedia, so does the level of toxins and fumes released into the environment contributing even more to the problem. These are given off when the monitors and chips are being produced and manufactured. Analyzing the Impact of the Issue ============================== The pollution caused by computers has a large effect on society. It has effects on the environment due to paper consumption, energy consumption and harm caused by toxins. This harm affects people's health and results in large economic expenses. Contrary to former beliefs that computers will lower the amount of paper used around the world, computers just contribute to making this use larger. In addition to making it easier to print out several copies of the same document, surveys show that most people would rather read something off a piece of paper than off a screen. According to the World Watch Paper survey of 1993, the paper consumption of PCs reached 115 billion sheets of paper, a number that has since grown. () All this use of paper costs business owners a lot of money for they need to provide their offices with paper, and costs the government money because it needs to build recycling sites. Further environmental problems caused by computers include a large amount of energy consumption during the production of computers as well as by the use of computers. "For the manufacturing of a normal PC approx. 30'000 megajoule in energy are used." (uns.umnw.ethz.ch) Computer upgrading is also harmful because the more new computer models produced, the more old models get thrown out. This computer waste is rarely recycled for it costs too much money. Collecting all this waste and discarding it safely costs a lot of money too, resulting in further expenses. Perhaps the most alarming problem however, is the release of toxic chemicals that are used in the production of computer hardware and in the disposal of computers. In the manufacturing of just one 8 inch wafer 4,267 cubic feet of bulk gases, 27 pounds of chemicals, 29 cubic feet of hazardous gases and 9 pounds of hazardous waste are given off. In addition over 3787 gallons of water are wasted. All the chemicals and toxins that are released often end up polluting ground water and harming peoples health. A woman in San Jose gave birth to a child with serious heart defects caused by this pollution. () Even cleaning agents for computer equipment (such as chloroflourocarbons) are bad for the environment - they are extremely harmful to the ozone layer. All these cause great economic difficulties for cleaning all the pollution up costs a lot of money. Often governments cannot afford to spend money on building recycling plants for computer hardware and therefore the problem is not dealt with. Computer manufacturing companies are at times sued because of the harm their wastes cause by individuals as well as by environment-protection groups like Green Peace. Overall, computer pollution is a great problem that most people do not acknowledge even exists. It is in urgent need of being solved. Solutions to Problems arising from the issue ======================================= There are several methods to dealing with computer pollution. One is stopping computer use and production around the world and another is making computer manufactures pay a percentage of their annual profits to the government, in order to fund the building of recycling sites and to clean up polluted areas such as water reservoirs. Both have advantages and disadvantages Banning the use of computers and their production around the world would stop the pollution problem they cause. Since they will no longer be produced, the pollution given off during the process of their assembly will be stopped. Additional harm such as the cutting down of trees to make paper for printing documents and for the packaging of computers would also be stopped for there would no longer be a need for these. By banning the use of computers by people, the pollution caused by the energy consumption used to run the computers would be no longer be an issue for it would not exist. Although computer pollution would cease to exist, this solution would have many social, ethical, economic and even psychological results. Socially, it could be both good and bad. People in close environments would meet in person rather then email one another. People would also go out more rather than spend time in front of their computers playing computer games and browsing the Internet. The negative social implications this would have is that systems all over the world would no longer function for a lot of systems such as phone systems, postal services, hospitals etc work run on computers, would not longer be able to function efficiently. Also, people who live far away from one another and communicate via email or IRC would no longer be able to do this. In addition, people would lose all the comfort and advantages that computers and computer systems provide such as the ability to retrieve information easily. The ethical implication of this ban on computers would be that millions of people all over the world would lose their jobs. Anyone working in a computer-related job such as computer technicians, web designers etc would loose their jobs as well as others who deliver and package computers and computer parts. In the economic aspect many companies would go through a crisis. Not being able to use computers would mean that production rates would be much lower and much less efficient. Governments would loose a lot of money for trade would be low and individuals would loose money for many would loose their jobs, and product prices would rise for supply will be low. In addition, a black market for computers would probably evolve creating legal problems. As the unemployment rate would be huge, many people would develop psychological fears and problems. Children will live in fear over their parents loosing their jobs and parents will live in fear of not being able to provide to their children everything that they need. A big part of the computer pollution problem is the lack of money to produce recycling plants. If every company producing computers and computer parts was forced to pay a certain percentage of their annual profits (i.e. 1%) to the government, then enough money would be collected to produce recycling centers for all the computers produced. Left over money could be used to help clean up polluted areas. By doing so, the damage already made by computers - for example the toxins found in drinking water in Silicon Valley ( could be reversed via purification. Computer parts thrown away in garbage dumps could too, be recycled. Enforcing this tax has social, economic and ethical issues attached to it. The social impact of this solution is both positive and negative. As a result of the collection and then use of this money, clean neighborhoods with a clean environment would evolve. Also, people would

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