Tempted to obsess over how another personal habit helps or hurts the Earth? Keep surfing with cable or DSL and you might save carbons in the process, according to the American Consumer Institute.
The world would be spared 1 billion tons of greenhouse gases within a decade if broadband Internet access were pervasive, the group's report (PDF) concluded in October.
Broadband is available to 95 percent of U.S. households but active in only half of them, the study said, noting that near-universal adoption of high-speed Internet would cut the equivalent of 11 percent of oil imports to the United States each year.
How would faster downloads and Web page loads curb the annual flow of globe-warming gases, and by how much? According to the report:
- Telecommuting, a "zero emission" practice, eliminates office space and car commutes: 588 million tons.
- E-commerce cuts the need for warehouses and long-distance shipping: 206 million tons.
- Widespread teleconferencing could bring one-tenth of all flights to a halt: 200 million tons.
- Downloading music, movies, newspapers, and books saves packaging, paper, and shipping: 67 million tons.
The Department of Energy estimates that the nation's emissions of carbon dioxide alone total 8 billion tons each year.
A study released and funded by a major Australian telecom company in October also suggested that broader use of broadband could cut that country's carbons by 5 percent by 2015.
All it would take is for more people to use software to monitor shipping schedules, cut the flow of power to dormant gadgets and so forth, the study said.
The broad forecasts of both reports may appear to be common sense on the one hand, but they also feel incomplete, a reminder of the greenwashing "Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off" described last month by a "green" marketing firm.
For instance, neither report touches on the impact of electronics waste on the planet's health. It is the fastest-growing type of garbage. What of the carbons spent to manufacture the gadgets that get people online? And does heating and cooling an office of many people really expend more pollution than if the staff telecommuted and powered their home offices instead? These and other possibilities remain largely unexplored.
Behind many bold, green claims, there often lurks a vested interest. Contrary to what its name may suggest, for example, the American Consumer Institute speaks for business interests, according to the online community Broadband Reports. With that fact hidden within the institute's title, its study tends to read like a case of the broadband industry patting itself on the back.