Left-leaning Liberal Democrats are concerned that their ideas on education, Trident and Europe may not survive an alliance with the Tories – and so they should be. There is a track record of conservative values co-opting and defusing more altruistic attitudes.
The green movement is a classic example. Its roots go back decades to the 1960s when books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring were more than just flower power. Over the last ten years, green has been taken up – or hijacked – by politicians and corporate marketing departments, and has become a different animal altogether. Instead of saving Pandas, green means hoarding pounds.
More Is Now Less
Right-leaning capitalist theory has encroached on lefty green-thinking very heavily in the realm of IT. It might seem obvious that we need less production, less consumption, and less technology, to conserve natural resources and protect the planet. Instead, tech companies and governments argue that what we need is more.
Clean and sustainable technologies should replace their polluting predecessors but it should occur at the natural rate of attrition. The car scrappage scheme is a clear example of how the green message has been muddied to serve economic needs. Yes an old clunker might be more polluting but crucially the environmental cost of keeping it on the road is significantly less than the total cost of its shiny new replacement, which comes with a huge carbon debt thanks to the raw materials needed to make it.
The same carbon and materials debt theory applies to computing. According to a 2003 academic study, Computers and the Environment: Understanding and Managing Their Impacts, 75 percent of the environmental harm caused by PC use occurs in the extraction and manufacture phases of the life-cycle – before a PC is used for the first time. So it makes sense to hang onto old kit longer rather than rushing out to replace it with a supposedly more efficient machine.
The marketing departments of tech companies have seized on the efficiency message and quietly stifled the issue of material consumption and carbon debt. There have been moves to remove some toxic compounds from PCs, and even some push towards the use of lower impact materials for packaging and casings, but the fundamental message of consumption and upgrading remains. Just as the Tories have chosen to embrace elements of the Liberal Democrats’ policies which they find conducive, tech companies have coopted the parts of the green movement which serve their purposes.
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