PCs and Polar Bears

When we talk about the problems of global climate change, we tend to focus on cars and coal-burning power plants as major contributors. Yet there is another significant player – consumer electronics. The number of cell phones, MP3 players, laptops, and flat screen TVs is increasing rapidly, and not just in wealthier nations. It is estimated that one in nine people in Africa has a cell phone – and those numbers are expected to continue growing.

A report from the International Energy Agency estimates that new devices such as MP3 players, cell phones, and flat screen TVs will triple energy consumption. 200 new nuclear power plants would be needed just to power all the TVs, iPods, PCs, and other devices expected to be used by 2030.

For example, consider televisions. The IEA estimates that 2 billion TVs will soon be in use across the world (an average of 1.3 TVs for every household with electricity). TVs are also getting bigger and being left on for longer periods of time. IEA predicts a 5 percent annual increase in energy consumption between 1990 and 2030 from televisions alone.

While consumer electronics is the fastest growing area, it is also the area with the least amount of policies to control energy efficiency. Total greenhouse gas emissions for electronic gadgets is currently at about 500 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. If nothing is done, the IEA estimates that the figure will double to about 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. However, the agency says that existing technologies could reduce this figure by 30-50% at little cost. Allowing consumers to regulate energy consumption based on the features they actually use, minimum-performance standards, and easy-to-read energy labels can help consumers make smarter energy choices about their personal electronics.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright August 2011 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.