When you think about global warming, the first image that pops into your mind is usually that of a tractor-trailer belching exhaust or a factory sending great plumes of smoke up into the sky. You probably didn’t even consider that your cell phone, that tiny device you’re probably reading this on, might be part of the problem. In fact, you might be surprised at some of the ways that cell phones contribute to global warming.
Do cell phones contribute to global warming?
According to the results of a study by the Journal of Cleaner Production, the world of information and computer technology (ICT) has an exponentially increasing contribution to the global environmental impact. In this case, ICT includes all electronic computing devices: laptops, PCs, monitors, tablets, and yes, smartphones and cell phones.
This also includes the data centers and communications networks that are intrinsically linked to their usage. According to The Conversation, that global footprint is said to reach a whopping 14 percent by 2040, which is more than half the contribution of the entire worldwide transportation sector.
How do cell phones impact global warming directly?
Cell phone production certainly impacts global warming. Many cell phone manufacturing plants are powered by fossil fuels, which release excess CO₂ as well as other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Also, like many modern technological devices built for planned obsolescence, cell phones do contribute highly to plastic pollution.
Sadly, the problem is getting worse by the day. According to Zmergen, there are 5.15 billion mobile phone users on the planet and that number has only increased with each passing year. GSMA Intelligence indicates that smartphone usage is growing at a rate of eight percent per year. And with each new smartphone innovation, more old model phones get thrown away, creating more waste. Plastic isn't the only problematic piece of the puzzle, either.
Cobalt and lithium are both necessary for creating the powerful lithium-ion batteries that run our fantastic little smartphones. It will come as no surprise that the mining of both of these materials is terrible for the environment. According to ScienceDirect, cobalt mining uses incredible amounts of electricity and contributes greatly to global CO₂ and nitrogen emissions. Lithium mining doesn't have such greenhouse gas emissions, though it does use incredible amounts of water.
What can we do to minimize our phones' impact on global warming?
There are several ways we can minimize our cell phones’ effect on global warming. The first step would be transitioning all data centers to renewable sources of energy rather than conventional electricity. Also, it’s important that everyone makes every effort to recycle their old cell phones. According to Zmergen, only one percent of smartphones are actually recycled today. That said, properly recycling your old phones is vital.
The only way to fight this thing is to take charge of our own smartphone usage. As individuals, we can also stop adhering to the absurd notion that every smartphone needs to be replaced after two years. If your phone starts crapping out, recycle it and buy a or refurbished phone, or a new one secondhand. In the end, getting the new models and software upgrades really doesn't matter at all.