Green Computing

Is there such a thing?

If the benchmark for being green is reducing consumption and waste, then probably not. Or at least it isn’t if you use anything that could be loosely classified as modern technology.

The breakneck speed with which computers and computer programming has developed and the consumerist fervour this is attached to purchasing the latest technology, now results in a pandemic-like effect of outdated technological products ending up as waste.

Added to this is the obvious increase in energy use to load and use this technology or recharge their batteries.

But, the expansion of the internet and, more particularly, the use of the internet to store and provide access to information, to allow people to publish themselves and to draw attention to issues that might otherwise fail to be publicised (unless you’re fortunate enough to own a printing press and have a worldwide distribution team), has played an integral part in advancing social causes.

And thus the paradox of the use of technology (which has a greater positive impact on social issues than, say, handing out flyers but which has a greater subsequent creation of waste and use of energy) to advance environmental interests arises.

The paradox is usually termed hypocritical and used to discredit the likes of those involved in the Occupy protests or any environmental protests, such as when such a protester is seen using an iPhone or any type of similar technology.

Given the significant advantages that come with technology and the positive environmental effects that it can have, throwing away your computer may have a greater negative environmental effect rather than a positive one, depending on the use to which you put it.

Assuming that you use technology to gain or disseminate positive social and environmental information, the challenge is greening your computing.

Reducing your computing energy use relates more to your power source, so switching to green energy is a great way to reduce your technological footprint.

But how to do away with waste when the computing power of technology doubles every 18 months to 2 years (Moore’s Law)?

For those who are in the market for a computer, look for computers that are easier to upgrade, particularly in relation to memory.

When your computer slows down after a period of use, look to clear out programs and saved items that you no longer use. All operating systems have their own tools to delete unused programs, to clean up temporary files and defragment the hard drive. Creating free space on the computer allows programs to operate much more efficiently. Also look at how many programs begin running automatically when your computer starts, as this is the cause of many frustrated users staring at their computer while it slowly goes through its start-up processes. A simple google search will show you how to do this on any operating system.

If you are looking for hardware, start at a swap fair. These markets are on most weekends in Melbourne (see here) and contain almost everything you might need. Alternatively, there are a number of retail suppliers of used hardware. Buying an external hard drive to hold all your photos, music and movies will significantly reduce the use of your computer memory and increase computer speed.

And if you you’ve upgraded your computer to the best of your ability, but still have problems with slow running programs, there is the option of trying a new operating system – for free.

Linux systems are open source operating systems for your computer that can be downloaded for free and installed on your computer. What is great about these is that there are a number of different organisations developing their own Linux-based system, and most don’t require the latest computer hardware.

For example, my 7-year-old laptop has an OpenSUSE operating system, which I downloaded and installed for free. I chose this operating system after using a few distribution questionnaires which informs you which system would work best on the system you have.

I downloaded and burnt the operating system which automatically does all the things that need to be done to get the system running, including partitioning the hard drive. Although it might take a bit of playing about to learn the new system, choosing the right system means the learning curve isn’t too steep.

What I also like is that by supporting open source software, you are reducing the reliance placed on the traditional companies like Apple and Microsoft, which control increasingly large percentages of the personal technology market which, in a capitalist driven, free-trade world economy, can never be to the advantage of the average person. 

Doing this isn’t as scary as it first sounds, and there is great assistance provided by the operating system providers.

Finally, if all this still doesn’t help save your beloved battling box of bytes, think carefully of how you dispose of it. If your computer still works well albeit it slower than what you like, or can’t support specific software you need to use, consider donating the computer to charity. There are some charities that can refurbish computer to be provided cheaply to those who would otherwise struggle to gain access to the information you freely access.

And who knows, from this the next activist might be born.