Debating the mobile “footprint”

In: Uncategorized

3 Oct 2007

I have written a short contribution to the spiked debate on the idea of a mobile “footprint”:

The idea of a mobile footprint is meaningless in practical terms. Just think about how much carbon dioxide it takes to produce a particular mobile phone. If the energy used is generated from nuclear or hydroelectric power it could be zero. If the energy is generated from fossil fuels it will be higher, but the precise amount will depend on the sophistication of the technology used.

A similar argument can be made in relation to the raw materials used in the phone and its manufacture. The processes used to make the same phone can be relatively efficient or inefficient. There is no fixed amount of material used.

Since the quantity can vary so widely the idea of a footprint has no validity as a practical measure. The use of a labelling scheme can only add a spurious air of objectivity to a dubious concept.

The real importance of the idea of an ecological footprint is moral. It is used by environmentalists as a metaphor to suggest that human beings should limit their impact on the environment. It is part of what could be called a morality of self-limitation.

Such a morality is particularly inappropriate to uphold in relation to mobile technology. Surely the appeal of such technology is that it enables people to extend their horizons. It makes it possible to communicate with people we know in new ways as well as broadening our range of contacts. As a result it helps us extend our control over nature still further.

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