Capturing the Internet Revolution for a Healthy Planet

Innovation built on a wireless connection may well prove to be a turning point in humanity's successful shift to a sustainable future
December 15, 2014 Updated: December 14, 2014

As a systems ecologist, I’m always thinking about the cumulative effects of the combined activities of humanity and the natural world. I think broadly about the outcomes linked to our daily decisions and choices for society, the environment, and our economy. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that the adoption of innovative and novel ideas by the masses will be the key to a resilient future for humans on this planet.

Arguably one of the greatest innovations to sweep the world in the last decade or so is the evolution of widespread access to wireless broadband internet service, especially through wireless super-phones connected 24/7. In turn this is leading to an emerging dominance of social media in our social structures.

But the implications of feeding a global hunger for metals and hydrocarbons to manufacture and deliver all these technology devices to our doorstep or mailbox are a serious consideration when we think about global land use. Cradle to grave, how many greenhouse gasses will be emitted in order to extract the necessary raw resources, manufacture, and deliver your next iPhone, Android, or Blackberry? How many open pit mines will be needed for this micro-circuitry that envelopes our lives?

And I’ve wondered if personal digital technology is eroding the art of socializing in-person. I’m sure all of us have noticed two people sitting together in a coffee house communicating on a device with everyone but each other—unless of course they are texting each other. I admit it; I have been guilty of this too.

On the other hand, if I stand back and look at the big picture, I can see how all this innovative Internet technology is becoming a powerful instrument that could increase connectedness, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and increase our connection to our community. For example, I use a number of online applications to videoconference and share screens for business with clients scattered all over the country. I use it too to keep close to my daughter in Alberta, my mom and dad in Arizona, and friends who live across North America and overseas.

And I am not an anomaly. The use of digital technology for connection by people is increasing at an astounding rate. According to emarketer.com, “By 2017, the global social network audience will total 2.55 billion”—that’s nearly one in four people around the world.

According to Industry Canada, transportation (road transportation, rail, marine transportation, and aviation) accounts for 26.7 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. How many car trips, jet flights, ferry rides, and train rides can and will be eliminated by connecting us wirelessly?

And ultimately, will this increased connectivity keep us home more? I think we’ll be working more from our homes and spending time with family that would otherwise have been spent in isolation commuting to the office. It’s probable that we will become more in tune within our family units across generational and geographic boundaries with the advent of texting, FaceTime, and Snapchat.

I also see this new connectivity and access bringing huge benefits for those who can’t get out and about for medical or health reasons and to enable wide public discussion about significant issues, challenges, and opportunities. I’ve read that a person’s wealth is measured by how many friends they have, not by how much stuff they have. In a roundabout way, we could be increasing our relationship wealth.

Of course there is no full substitute for in-person “face time,” but innovation and technology are going to be a big part of our ability to stay sustainable on this planet. At the end of the day, weighing the benefits and liabilities, innovation built on a wireless connection to us all may well prove to be a significant turning point in humanity’s successful shift to a sustainable future.

Barry Wilson is a systems ecologist with ce analytic. This article previously published on TroyMedia.com.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.