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greening through IT

Greening Through IT: Information Technology for Environmental Sustainability

by Bill Tomlinson
The MIT Press, Cambridge, London, USA, UK, 2010
216 pp., illus. 19 b/w. $24.95
ISBN: 978-0-262-01393-2.

Reviewed by Rob Harle (Australia)

harle@dodo.com.au

Greening through IT is well written, incredibly well researched, and most timely. There is no doubt now that the planet is in trouble, and that our present energy consumption levels, waste (both personal and industrial) and pollution levels are far too high to allow life to continue as we know it. How long it will take before catastrophic changes occur is a matter of speculation, some say 10 years some say 100! Whichever, these time spans are minuscule compared to the time it has taken earth, and all the various species (including humans) to evolve to the present. One of Tomlinson's main arguments throughout this book is the inability of humans to understand long time spans. As he points out we are going to have to improve this faculty and implement long-term changes that consider future generations.

This book is almost like a workbook for the development of a truly sustainable future. There are “... numerous opportunities for people to make the way we live more sustainable. Helping people and institutions discover, understand, and act on these and other environmental possibilities is the primary goal of Green IT,” and of course this book (p. 10). The book is suitable for all levels of readership, including older school children. The arguments presented are based on scientific facts and sound statistics but presented in such a way as to be easily understood by non scientists and non academics. Tomlinson and associates developed a virtual ecosystem in 2006 called EcoRaft which enabled children to work together to restore damaged ecosystems (p.118).

There are nine chapters, followed by an excellent Reference section and an Index.

Chapter 1- Introduction to Green IT introduces the whole concept of using information technology and devices to help achieve sustainability. A really fascinating example of how IT can work, relates how the fishers in Kerala (Southern India) started using mobile phones to communicate with each other and their commercial buyers. This resulted in a complete streamlining of the fishing industry, no more wasted fish, more profits for the fishers and lower prices for the consumer (p. 1). This chapter is a little long winded, tending to repeat information which is then repeated again further through the book.
Chapter 2 – Environmental Horizons describes most of the main challenges facing humanity. This chapter deals with facts such as the extinction of species, world population explosion figures and so on.
Chapter 3 – Human Horizons looks at how we approach, understand and act on the various challenges facing us.
Chapter 4 – The Role of Technology discusses the role of technology, especially computing and communication technologies, and the way this knowledge and its associated devices can help or hinder sustainability.
Chapter 5 – Survey of Green IT Systems. As the title suggests this chapter looks at the various ways in which IT, green and otherwise, currently impact on global sustainability. Such devices as smart electronics that control engines to maximise fuel efficiency are discussed. How can IT help deforestation, manage food production more efficiently and many other similar areas are discussed in this chapter?
Chapter 6 – Green IT and Education. Perhaps Tomlinson's greatest contribution to sustainability is through his efforts in education. He is Associate Professor of Informatics at the University of California and as previously mentioned has developed IT education systems for children and also for adults. This chapter discusses these tools and many other facets of educating all individuals in the importance of moving towards sustainability.
Chapter 7 – Green IT and Personal Change looks at how all of us have to change the way we live to bring about sustainability. Trackulous, a web-based application can help in this regard.
Chapter 8 – Green IT and Collective Action discusses how we can get together with others to share ideas, to work in groups, and establish networks to increase the overall awareness of the enormity of the problems facing us so they can no longer be ignored. GreenScanner, another Tomlinson IT tool, is very useful for providing such group information.
Chapter 9 – Ways Forward suggest where we are going, where we need to go and generally takes a philosophical approach. “This book has sought to propose tools that can enable people to work together to turn the ideas of researchers into positive environmental change, thereby becoming collectively, a kind of distributed Alexander the Great for the environmental movement” (p. 178).

Many individuals care about the state of the planet but are somewhat at a loss to know how to help the situation in a real, rather than token way. This book will help individuals, institutions and educational organisations take positive action, in both small and larger ways towards achieving a sustainable future for our “Children's, children's children”.


Last Updated 7 July, 2010

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