Greening: what can e-learning do?

As an undergraduate at the University of Cape Town in 1952, I received a handout from William Talbot, Professor of Geography. It was a journal paper written in the 1940s by a person whose name I can’t remember. The topic was whether changes in the balance of the atmosphere’s gases, particularly CO2, would result in global heating or cooling. It could go either way, he suggested. And, on the evidence he gave, that’s what I thought for a very long time. 

More than half a century later my current views about climate change met up with Sahm’s blog about GECKO* and his heartfelt presentation at the EDEN Conference in Gdansk last week.** GECKO was a pilot project designed to draw attention to what a university like Leicester might do to make its activities greener. 

My wife and I live in a village in a corner of Bedfordshire. The village’s identity and a large area of countryside are threatened by proposals to build 4,400 houses nearby, over the next 20 years or so, within a regional strategy aimed at meeting a nationwide shortfall in housing identified 10 years ago when Gordon Brown was Chancellor. 

The proposals do not take into account the forthcoming impact of climate change, within the period up to 2031, let alone beyond. After a passing mention of ‘a significant challenge’, the issue is raised perfunctorily, reflecting the low priority given to it. Yet climate change will soon be the top priority for national and local government. 

The UK is third from the bottom of the EU league table for renewable energy, said The Guardian this week. What strategies should be borne in mind by my local authority for renewable energy and carbon emission reduction? Why do the proposals contain no requirements for eco-housing, only aspirations? Where are the estimates of additional car miles per commuting worker per year for those living in the proposed ‘urban extensions’? Why are there no earmarked sites for wind farms? Where are proposals aimed at ensuring carbon-neutral status for new developments and old? Whence will the water supplies come from? Where is the vision and leadership that will enable communities to meet the very considerable challenges posed by climate change in this century? Who will benefit from building houses on the countryside? 

The proposals are a recipe for more development as before, without jobs and without infrastructure, at the expense of our environment and, in due time, of our society and its economy. If implemented, they will be storing up trouble for our children and grandchildren. 

I wonder whether there is a mission for non-formal e-learning in all this. Attitudes must be changed. 41C in London, as predicted by the Met Office for later this century, will be hell, let alone much more serious consequences of climate change.


*GECKO (Greening of E-learning ChecK Out)

**Nikoi, Samuel and Wheeler, Matthew. How green is your learning? Pedagogical options for environmentally sustainable education. Paper presented at the EDEN Conference, 10-13 June, Gdansk.

Carbon Footprint of Spam

Some of you may be aware that for the last 9 months or so we have been doing some initial exploratory research into the environmental sustainability of teaching & learning through the GECKO project. The project report of our findings is in its final draft and will be made available soon, but I was interested to read about a new study recently carried out for the computer security company McAfee. According to their research team ICF, there are some 62 trillion spam emails sent each year, wasting 33 billion kilo watt-hours (KWh) of power. Most of the energy is wasted at our computer, as we sift and delete messages, searching for the genuine ones!

These are just some of the findings from the report:

  • Spam filtering can reduce the energy wasted by up to 75 percent
  • Spam filtering is the global equivalent of taking 3.1 million cars off the road
  • The environmental impact of the spam generated in a year is the equivalent to driving around the earth 1.6 million times
  • The annual energy used to transmit, process and filter spam is equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes

The study looked at the energy expended to create, store, view and filter spam across 11 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Mexico, Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom. The study calculated the average greenhouse gas emission associated with a single spam message at 0.3 grams of CO2.

“We’ve been talking about spam for a long while, and we wanted to bring a quantifiable environmental impact,” said David Marcus, Security Research and Communications Manager at McAfee. He then went on to say, “Spam is bad for the environment as well as for your productivity.”

The report is clearly aimed at providing another reason for adopting McAfee spam filtering products but could also provide more ammunition for those of us wanting to take action against spam and improve the environment at the same time. I understand how hard it is to calculate accurately the carbon emissions of various environmental parameters and the numerous variables within each one. However, if we put aside any doubts about the accuracy of the study for one moment and focus on the issue here, which is raising our awareness of our actions on the environment, then I do not think that is such a bad thing!

Matthew Wheeler

Keeper of the Media Zoo

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