Françoise Berthoud, Engineer at the CNRS in Grenoble and founder of EcoInfo, a group that defends digital sobriety, 24heures.ch, 25 January 2020
Can 5G reduce CO2 emissions in the long term?
|The use of 5G is likely to lead to an increase in energy|
consumption. Image: Cavan Images
It is precisely because it will support teleworking, e-banking, or connected agriculture that some telephone operators claim that 5G is good for the environment. Is that a preconception?
Yes. In reality, we don't know. But we do know, however, that so far there has been no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions linked to the use of digital technology. However, 4G already makes it possible to do teleworking and many other things compared to 3G. But it has not substantially reduced pollution from other sectors, although there has been a lot of belief in it. This can be explained by a number of phenomena such as indirect effects and rebound effects, and above all by the fact that our economic model has remained unchanged. Reasonably, it is not conceivable that 5G by itself would lead to a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions without further action.
Is 5G as a technology, the culprit, or the way in which we would use it?
It's a bit of both. The economy wants 5G to grow because it will bring new applications, new objects and concepts to the market and it will encourage growth. But it's not immaterial growth. Then there will be marketing and lobbying to push the use of these objects. But the citizen today, with a few exceptions, is not strongly demand 5G. There is resistance to its implementation among the population because people are not fooled.
Why is it polluting to watch a video in streaming or to send an e-mail?
It is polluting, because when you watch a streaming video you need equipment that is extremely complex to manufacture and produce. A phone like a computer contains dozens of different metals and components. These materials are extracted in different parts of the world and then assembled and compounded. This generates a lot of pollution and a lot of activity to build this object that you will throw away, on average, after two years. Then, most people imagine that their phone will be well recycled, but these objects are not designed to be optimally recycled. And then there's the energy part. It took energy to produce it, it takes energy to recycle it, and it takes energy to transport the data and store the video.
When we talk about global warming, we point the finger at airplanes, at consumption, but never at digital. Why do you think that is?
Because it's less visible and more complex. But recent estimates say that digital technology generates more greenhouse gases than civil aviation. Some people say that more people use digital technology, which is true. But it is also a sector that is growing faster than aviation: we are talking about 8 to 9% per year! And even though renewable energies are growing, metal extraction is not being done with solar panels!
Original article in French (side-bar):