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Enough: A Counter Argument

A few months ago I wrote about not upgrading to the iPhone 4, regardless of its new features or the fact I’m eligible for a free upgrade.

This turned out to be something of a radical position yet I enjoyed the discussions with some of my friends that followed. Kris emailed me a number of well-considered counter points, so I promised to publish them here.

Kris’ points were as follows:

  • The ratio of energy consumed in producing one new handset is comparable with the energy wasted charging an inefficient battery every day for the next 12 months.

  • There are economic benefits to be had from investing in new technology. Jobs are created for the people producing newer devices and the components found within them, most of which are manufactured in poorly developed countries who I’d be supporting by upgrading.

  • Investment in new technology encourages innovation, innovation increases efficiency, increased efficiency reduces wastage — consider the business contracts once emergency couriered that are now emailed instead. Technological advancement is good, but it needs people to invest in new technology to keep competitive innovation going.

  • Whilst my current device still works so I would be aggrieved to throw it away, there are plenty of options available to ensure it doesn’t become needless waste. I could submit my handset to a mobile phone recycling website where it would be reconditioned and placed back into circulation. I could get in excess of £70 for my old handset through Envirophone — perhaps I could donate those proceeds to charity?

  • The person who ends up buying my current handset is likely to be someone who simply can’t afford to purchase a new iPhone, thus making technology available to someone less fortunate than myself.

These are reasonable points, but I’d suggest they are no less valid if I delayed my upgrade by another year.

Indeed, this debate reminded me of The Story of Stuff and the cyclical nature of our consumer driven society, where profit is valued over the longterm sustainability of our planet. I’ve embedded the video below, and I encourage you to watch it too.

Kris did make one suggestion that I hadn’t considered however. He reminded me that I was paying a tariff that included the price of the phone, even though my original 18 month contract had expired. I’ve now moved to a cheaper SIM-only plan, saving me at least £10 a month — yet another benefit to be had from not upgrading.

  • Aegir

    Admittedly I’m using figures found online, but…

    I was thinking of the energy used in making a phone vs. the energy to charge it, regardless of any efficiency losses.

    To make an iPhone takes 388 million joules.

    To charge it from nil takes 7 watt hours, roughly 25 thousand joules. That’s about 9 million joules a year, assuming you do that every day (unlikely, but let’s be generous).

    So to consume 388 million joules would take 42 years. That’s assuming 100% useful energy.

    If the battery was at 80% efficiency and it consumed 8.75 watt hours per charge (6250 extra joules), it would take 62000 years of charging it every day for the waste to add up to a new phone.

    I was using the embodied energy figures from here:

  • Aaron

    Argh. I completely agree that consumerism is aggressive and pervasive but videos like that make me angry in the way Michael Moore’s do.

    Being deceptive and evasive with the truth, like the worst corporations do, is not the way to make your point.

    Saying that Tetra-Paks are “designed not be recyclable” makes it sound like some insidious plot to create waste so that … wait, what’s in it for Tetra Pak again? Is it enough for bad corporations to be doing evil; there doesn’t have to be a profit motive?

    I would love a more environmentally friendly option than foil packs, but they reduce food waste (which is a big problem) by allowing food to keep for longer. Here, the external cost of using more degradable packaging is wasting more food.

    And the fact that US national happiness decreased since the 50’s, “around the time” that planned obsolescence became in vogue! Are we expected to not know the difference between correlation and causation? grumble

    If you’re going to pick corporations all call them the enemy then acting like them to win favour in the short term is a long term loss. (If I may get political: see Labour in the 90’s).

    Progress is good; when things are genuinely better than older things it makes sense to replace them, especially when they have naturally died out: Non-CFC fridges are better for the environment than freon containing ones. “A rated” appliances have far lower running costs and therefore use less energy.

    And that’s without looking at other externalities: poor quality CRT screens harm your eyesight. Flicker, which is eliminated by LCD, causes headaches, discomfort, even lost working hours. That woman’s 5-year-old CRT may not be the pious correct choice she thinks, and portraying anyone who upgrades as doing so “because she looks like she’s on a space ship” is reductive and insulting.

    (I know you’ve just posted the video not wrote it, but this is where I found it so I thought I would comment here).