Undoubtedly, Earth is in danger. One is constantly reminded of climate change and environmental degradation. With hardly any watertight solution, it seems that the planet is running out of time. The last option might be to turn to an unlikely source of help.
Nature and the digital revolution appear to be worlds apart, but there is a way to bridge this gap through the use of ICTs.
Traditional media has always been available to promote awareness about environmental issues, but now new media also wants to offer some valuable input.
Technology has the potential to contribute to environmental sustainability. ICTs offer means of environmental education, research, planning and action – on a global scale. This entails monitoring and protecting the environment, as well as adapting to climate change. Additionally, these tools have become the primary method of propagating environmental media.
Technology is able to collect and process immeasurable data, which no human can do. The International Telecommunication Union’s report details numerous ways that ICTs can promote sustainable development:
These practices have been demonstrated in real situations. In the rural agricultural communities of Uganda, climate change has affected food productivity. Consequently, drama, songs and radio broadcasts have been used to raise awareness about the causes and effects of climate change. In Mozambique, some communities rely on social networks to prepare for drought and storms. These are just two of many African countries that are adopting the use of technologies to supplement their livelihoods.
For those with ready access to digital media, there are technologies that enable them to 'do their bit' for the environment. Blackle is a search engine that claims to save energy by using a black screen. In Japan, QR code readers in cellphones enable consumers to track the origin of their food.
Of course, ICTs have their shortcomings. The report notes that “Producing, using and disposing of ICTs require materials and energy and generates waste, including some toxic waste in the form of heavy metals for example.” However if green technology could be effectively developed, this wouldn’t be a problem.
Curbing environmental racism
Climate change and environmental decline mainly affect the people who are the least accountable for these ecological ramifications. Poor and minority populations are the ones who suffer the most.
Environmental racism is when industrial operations and environmental policy-making have unfair implications for minority communities. These groups of people are excluded from any decision-making and have no chance to defend their livelihoods.
Nadja Drost’s documentary, Between Midnight and the Rooster’s Crow, describes the social and environmental effects of a Canadian corporation’s oil pipeline in Ecuador. The company received an environmental award by the government, even though they were contaminating the land using military coercion on local people. Scenes of police brutality, biodiversity deterioration, and sores on toddlers’ legs from health hazards are enough to make you sick.
This is where ICTs can step in and enable disadvantaged communities to have a more active role in implementing environmental action.
The ICTs and Climate Change strategy brief outlines the combined role and importance of rural agricultural communities and the use of ICTs to respond to environmental challenges.
Cellphones are an important tool for communication and information dissemination. The brief states that mobile phone penetration is increasing in rural communities, and these devices (in addition to radio, TV etc.) are crucial for media distribution among vulnerable populations.
As always, the digital divide is a major barrier in this potential solution. In developed populations ICT diffusion is incredibly high. But in rural areas, not only is there hardly any access to ICTs, there is also poor connectivity (limited telecommunications infrastructure) and lack of skills/knowledge pertaining to use of the technologies.
The report stresses that rural communities must have access to these facilities, whether through funding or government intervention. If this occurs then residents can be trained to use ICTs to monitor environmental changes in local surroundings, and implement measures such as sustainable farming practices.
Certainly, this has the knock-on effect of building knowledge and employment within these communities, which both sustains their own livelihoods and promotes environmental conservation.
A win-win situation.