With the world stepping into 2020, the sharp increase in usage of digital technologies can be experienced in almost all the sectors including mobility or transport. This is further catalyzed by lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed in most part of the world followed by the COVID-19 outbreak as global pandemic. Amidst this situation, mobility has been adopted in a way to overcome the restricted activities facilitated by the advancement in information and communication technologies like e-working, e-schooling, e-shopping etc.Moreover, the inherent fear of getting infected and ensuring social distance, the ridership is expected to shift from public transport to individual modes like car or cycles based on modal choices of people.
During the lockdown period, there is sharp decline in usage of this so-called sustainable mass transport rider ship as published in various news and reports . For instance, the road travel has decreased by as much as 73%, to levels not seen since 1955 in Britain, while walking, cycling and car and van journeys are all down by about three-quarters, with down falling of bus numbers by 60%1. Similarly, the preliminary analysis of the mobility patterns all around the world for the first weeks of this global pandemic showed the strong decline in the use of public transports2. The reduced traffic on all the modes from road to air have certainly reduced the transport emissions which can be considered as the positive side effect of COVID 193,4. However, one should be aware of the internet traffic, increased energy consumption and potential emission from it too.
It is obvious that our reliance on information and communication technologies (ICTs) and services have rapidly increased the need for energy to manufacture and electricity to power these devices. The so called fourth industrial revolution also termed as industry 4.0 is generating much-needed energy to make and operate all the ICT devices in the market today. This makes a significant contributing towards the creation of carbon dioxide, a leading Green House Gas (GHG), as well as other global warming pollutants5,6. Moreover, ICTs are employed not only for the work purpose but also for entertainment like watching movies and excessively on social media, playing games etc inhibiting other physical activities like sports and outdoor games. The study by Website Builder Expert suggested that the global lockdown has resulted in an 85% increase in online streaming, raising concerns of digital carbon footprints increasing globally 7. Hence, it is time for mobility to adapt not only with climate change but also to the new situations of pandemic now and then.
Logically, the lockdown period could have significantly increased the level of availing ICTs in entertaining and passing the time. It is critical to think whether one is using this facility wisely and as required. Various studies show that the simple steps on using the virtual mobility or communication could help to minimize the emission. For instance, simply reducing unnecessary niceties such as “thank you” emails, swapping email attachments for links to documents, avoiding messages to multiple recipients, unsubscribing from unwanted mailing lists could save a lot of carbon emissions. Similarly, reducing the text numbers in sending an SMS text message is another eco-friendly alternative as each text generates just 0.014g of CO2e 8. Also, as estimated by Freitag, ending a message through messaging app like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger is slightly less carbon intensive than sending an email. However, this depends on sending – gifs, emojis and images which could have a greater footprint than plain text 9.
The usages of internet in long distance activities seems reasonable in reducing direct emissions. In contrast, if it is used for short distance activities which are easily reached on foot or moving our body a bit could induce more emission. Thus, replacing digital communication for conditions where possible by walking and cycling with the easing lockdown could also reduce the excessive use of ICTs. This could also uphold the decreased ridership in public transport and increase usage of electronics and internet as a means of mobility. Thus, the evolving form of mobility should be pursued by prioritizing our actions in a sustainable way
In a nutshell, the saying “Too much of everything is very bad” implies for the excessive use of digital technologies too. It is high time to think about its side effects not only on the environment but also in human health and so on. The moving electrons should not replace the actual meaning of mobility given other possibilities like walking and cycling. While we are thankful to the digital advancement, we should wisely utilize it from local to global level.
- Medimorec, N., Enriquez, A., Hosek, E., & Peet, K. (2020). Impacts of COVID-19 on Mobility on urban mobility. (May), 1–23.
- Belkhir, L., & Elmeligi, A. (2018). Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations. Journal of Cleaner Production, 177, 448–463. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.12.239
- Patsavellas, J., & Salonitis, K. (2019). The carbon footprint of manufacturing digitalization: Critical literature review and future research agenda. Procedia CIRP, 81, 1354–1359. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procir.2019.04.026
- Lee, M.J., 2010. How Bad Are Bananas?: The carbon footprint of everything