The Problem is an Opportunity for Green IT

Residents of planet Earth filled the room for the BCTIA Techforum: “Opportunities in Green IT”. Where does IT fit in to solving the problems of climate change? How does IT survive in a future of growing energy costs? 

First up was Chris Sullivan, Vice President of IDC Canada. He opened by affirmatively stating that climate change is changing daily life. There are differing opinions on the science of it, but the change itself is observable. Within this big problem is opportunity in solutions. Both government regulation and consumer demand for green technology are driving venture capital investment. Industry wide, capital investments in servers have seen modest growth while the costs to run datacenters increase quickly. While many green IT businesses are focusing or energy reduction or recycling, there are other oppourtunities – “Tech can contribute, not just be a cost”.

Second was Peter Robinson, Member of the BC Climate Action Team and President of the David Suzuki Foundation. He spoke of a “new environmentalism” that’s focused not on stopping all things that harm the environment, but on moving forward to find solutions to problems that are emerging quickly. Europe is often thought of as “way ahead” on green technology, and it’s true. Sweden was able to achieve 40% economic growth while reducing their emissions; it is possible. But before governments or companies dive into large, ambitious projects, Peter emphasized the need to consider long term unintended consequences. Example, a hydroelectric dam on the Pitt River; future reductions in mountain runoff could make the dam useless. Another example, there are proposals to convert dead, pine-beetle destroyed wood into biofuels. While this idea is valid, it has to be considered that even a dead forest is still “living”, and the consequences of clearing out mass amounts of dead tree need to be examined. “Put a value on the functions of nature” Peter noted that there is often public distrust of technological solutions to ecological problems, along with the hurdles of consultation and frequently changing legislation. However, when approached from the perspective of the bottom line, the green solutions will be most cost effective in the long term.