I am primarily an ecogeek, but I can't deny that I'm also just a geek. And so I, of course, love the open source, free software and creative commons movements. Without those powerful forces EcoGeek would absolutely have never existed.
So, yeah, I hate digital rights management. I believe that it's contrary to the spirit of creation and should not exist. But I don't get to talk about it here, because its all geek and no eco.
Or so I thought! When recently reading about Wal-Mart's epic DRM fail at Read Write Web, I realized that DRM is indeed very bad for the environment. So bad, that it could possibly destroy one of the great environmental benefits of technology... digitization.
First, I should point out a less substantial environmental problem with DRM. IT EATS POWER! Devices using DRM have been shown to use up to 25% more power than when they're playing non-managed media...and that's not even counting all the resources consumed by the manger's server farms that keep track of it all.
But, comparatively, that's a tiny problem. The real problem here is that the easiest way to get an MP3 that isn't crippled by some kind of DRM is still to buy the physical CD. What's worse, when DRM systems go offline (as they are at Wal-Mart) people are going to be extremely hesitant to go digital again. Basically, Wal-Mart's servers going offline is like saying "Oh, that song you bought, well, you didn't actually own it because it wasn't really real...sorry."
Wal-Mart's suggestion? Burn it to a CD, that way you'll have it even if after we take your official ownership away. BURN IT TO A CD! I thought the whole point was that we weren't using those clunky petro-disks anymore!
What I'm afraid of is that DRM will effectively remove ownership from non-physical media. Either we will rent the right to access everything for a certain monthly price (already working well for Microsoft) or rent out our eyeballs for the right to watch it (working just fine at Hulu.com.)
But if we want to actually own a song or movie or television show, we will need to buy the real-life, made-of-petroleum, shipped-across-the-world, physical disk. Either that, or we'll have to break the law...our choice. And any way you look at it, when physical media consume up to ten times more resources than non-physical media, DRM isn't just bad for consumers, it's bad for the planet.
The University of Colorado and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers are teaming up to fly two unmanned airplanes over the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland with hopes to get a new look at Greenland’s ice sheet and its melting patterns – a canary in the climate change coal mine, which Gore often talks about.
The planes are called Mantas (no genetic association with the Manta Ray Blimp), and are less than six feet long and about eight feet wide, easily fitting into the bed of a pickup for transportation. They were provided by Advanced Ceramics Research Inc of Tucson, AZ, and are equipped with (deep breath…) digital cameras, atmospheric temperature and pressure sensors, ice-surface temperature sensors, laser range finders for high-res elevation models of the glacial region, (second deep breath…) and special cameras that gather information from the electromagnetic spectrum of light penetrating the water of lakes on top of the ice sheet, which can be used to calculate the depths of the lakes and thus how much water could drain from the lakes out to sea. In other words, they carry 15 pounds of expensive, beeping, flashing, data-collecting gizmos.
The Mantas can fly lower than manned aircrafts, going between 500 and 1,000 feet at about 45 miles per hour for six hour time frames. Using the Mantas eliminates work deemed too dangerous – or boring – for humans, and supplements what is gathered by satellites, like what we can see on Google Earth. Plus, it’s a blast to fly remote control planes so having a scientific reason makes it a little more legit to have fun at work. The flights will help scientists figure out how much the ice sheet is melting, by how much it is likely to melt in the future, and what the impact may be on Arctic life.
The same unmanned aircraft technology behind these Mantas is also helping out with California’s wildfires, examining pollution levels in the atmosphere, and studying up on Atlantic and Gulf hurricanes. So they’re handy little cool remote control airplanes.
Via Cleantechnica, U of Colorado; Photo via ACR Inc
Printing out pages – like, actual paper pages, that ultra un-geeky method of communication and data storage – is getting more and more pointless, expensive, and, thankfully, taboo. However, there are still people who like to print out info from websites and emails, and that often means a lot of time taken in reformatting and deleting data items to make the printout efficient. Or, more likely, it means a lot of wasted ink and pages because of junky formatting that is a time-consuming pain to fix.
If there is no “Printer Friendly Version” button to click, then GreenPrint’s free software might be the solution. The software does the reformatting for the user, so that efficient printing is fast, easy, and possible. Their goal is to save 100 million trees through extensive use of the program, hence why they've launched a free version.
The home edition available worldwide to users and nonprofits digitally reads and omits wasted pages that have useless text and images like URLs, banner ads, disclaimers, and the like – usually that last page that’s blank but for a URL and banner ad or redundant signatures from email strings. On top of saving trees, GreenPrint says the program can save as much as $90 and 1,400 wasted pages per year for the average user.
I’d rather people just stop using so much paper. But, if folks are going to print, then this is the greener way to do it, especially if it is combined with soy inks, recycled paper (including the clean side of already printed on paper), and some reservation about hitting the print button.
If you want to be depressed about the deforestation that is going on around the world, then Google's got the ticket for you.
If you happen to have Google Earth, you can take a look at the new layer, by David Tryse, showing the current status of forests around the world. Color coding shows how bad the state of these forests are in any given country. If you click on a country, a score card will pop up, giving you stats about the country, a counter of how many hectares have been lost so far this year (Brazil, arguably the worst country, has lost 1488590 hectares, and counting). It works similar to the pollution feature.
The charts also show if the country, even though cutting down trees, is replacing forest cover, whether through replanting initiatives or from growing natural forests. Unfortunately there's not a lot of great news, as most of the countries are losing forest much faster than they are being replenished, and even those new forest are weaker in biodiversity and can suffer from poorer soils resulting from erosion prior to replanting.
If being depressed about deforestation doesn't sound intriguing or you want to do something to counter it, Google Earth has other solutions, like buying a tree and watching it grow, sort of, on the website. And their reforestation feature is a little more optimistic.