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Green technologies are often seen as solutions to save our environment. But have you ever heard of their rebound effects?
Imagine an entire country enacts a law that requires the use of a more energy-efficient LED lightbulbs. Sounds good right? But what if I told you that in every country this law has been passed energy consumption went up?
The reason why could be a bit of a mystery, but it's exactly why using green technology to solve problems can be incredibly difficult. It all boils down to two main reasons: The first is that a lot of what we consider to be the sustainable option, is only sustainable if a product is used in a certain way. The second is that people's behavioral changes that come from introducing new technology are hard to predict. That's what we call "rebound effects". But what does that mean?
Like many people today, you might feel guilty about going to your favorite café because every time you buy a coffee, it comes in a disposable plastic cup that you know will somehow, someway, end up in a landfill and slowly make its way into the ocean where it may sit for decades or even centuries. What do you do? The easy answer for many of us is to purchase a reusable coffee mug that we take with us every day to fill up our coffee. Voila! You've circumvented the need for a single-use paper cup with a plastic lid. The purchase feels good knowing that we've done our small part to help save the planet. Problem solved… right?
A Woman Holding A Takeout Coffee Getty Images
But is any of this really true- that a reusable mug is "greener" than a disposable cup? As it turns out, it depends on how you use your reusable coffee container. This is because, in part, it requires more CO2 emissions to produce than a disposable cup. Just to make up for emissions, it might need to be used up to 100 times in order to balance the emissions of a disposable cup. And it gets even trickier: "Sustainability" doesn't just mean reducing CO2 emissions, right?
All the materials that combined make up everything we buy come at an environmental cost. If we take into account the materials used in a reusable coffee mug, the water it takes to wash it after each use, the soap and more - it may take over a thousand uses compared to a disposable mug to balance the overall environmental impacts. If you're anything like me and you tend to lose reusable mugs every now and then, this really calls into question whether it's an environmentally friendly purchase.
Nowadays, this is why researchers are trying to understand the lifecycle of products - the environmental impacts starting from the extraction of materials from the Earth, through manufacturing, to the transportation to stores - all for increased understanding of the conditions under which a product might actually be considered "sustainable".
The second, even more tricky issue, is that day-to-day human behavior may change when we exposed people to a new piece of technology. Going back to the coffee mug, for example, a consumer may drink 50% more coffee, simply because the volume of the mug is larger compared to a single-use cup. At first, it may seem like a small change, but on a large scale, an increase in coffee demand, simply from using a bigger mug, could easily lead to a huge number of unintended consequences: Increased coffee demand, for example, has long been linked to deforestation and economic inequality. These types of changes are known as direct rebound effects.
On the other side of that same coin are indirect rebound effects. Indirect rebound effects are even more difficult to quantify, and there can be many of them associated with a single new product or technology. In our coffee cup scenario, it could be that with your new purchase you start drinking more milk with your coffee - another driver of deforestation. It might mean you make more frequent trips to a café and increase your time driving which increases your annual CO2 emissions. You might start purchasing more snacks alongside each new coffee, increasing your net consumption of goods that were likely imported from all over the world. As you can imagine, those indirect rebound effects are extremely hard to track and basically impossible to predict in advance.
It's amazing that even the example of the reusable coffee mug above can have so many unintended consequences on a global scale. It's also important to note that these may be particularly prevalent in technological products that are individually owned, rather than something that is publicly owned. This is exactly why the problem gets even more precarious with initiatives like promoting an entire rehaul of the transportation system by electric vehicles (EV). Other options like making public transit and biking more accessible is more likely to have a net positive effect since both are options that are less materially intensive than an EV.
Electric car charging. Getty Images
The lifecycle of electric vehicles already requires rare earth metals that are more environmentally destructive than a comparable fossil-fuel-powered vehicle when being mined. In many places, they also have thin margins in terms of how much they actually reduce emissions compared to fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. This gets tricky because when people buy an EV, their behavior may change. In their excitement of driving a new, "sustainable" vehicle, they may end up driving it more often and actually emitting more carbon dioxide than the average diesel-powered vehicle - a direct rebound effect commonly associated with electric cars. Electric vehicle owners may also make other decisions differently: to use less public transport, car share less with others, or to use the tax rebate issued to promote electric cars (such as in California) to buy other products that, in the end, all contribute to increased emissions and environmental destruction. Of course, none of this means we should keep using huge amounts of fossil fuels in the face of climate change- it just means that the solutions to these problems may be even more difficult than we initially expected.
Pollution Getty Images
While the idea of rebound effects applies most commonly to topics related to energy use, it's conceptual framework can apply to almost any new integrated technology or product. As of now, all that researchers and policy-makers can do is monitor the impacts in the aftermath of introducing new "green" technology. In the face of these rebound effects, more and more people have been asking themselves whether or not the current technological solutions to climate change are the way to go, especially for individually owned products. Given the urgency of climate change mitigation, the environmental destruction many types of green technology causes because of their lifecycle is precarious. Added is the uncertainty of how rebound effects might actually reduce emissions benefits of EVs in the real world compared to theory. And, in the end, it's why we can mysteriously advocate for energy-efficient lightbulbs and see energy consumption go up. Sometimes, "green" energy may be anything but.
Ultra-fast gaming and the sports of tomorrow, with Break the Record's Fredrik Lidholt
Completing a game more quickly than opponents is the goal of the esport of speedrunning. It could be Super Mario, Doom or any other game. This week we'll see which elite players can break the speed record playing Minecraft.
Speed is the name of the game
The Break the Record Live Series is a live-streamed event where elite gamers compete to be the fastest ever player. Next week, they'll try to break the Minecraft speed-playing record. The brains behind Break the Record, Fredrik Lidholt (aka Edenal) chats about the future of esports with Marco Preuss and Rainer Bock in the latest episode of Unlocked.
Find out more about next week's Minecraft event here!
Intro to cryptoart and non-fungible tokens (NFTS)
A non-fungible token (NFT) of digital kitten art sold for 170,000 US dollars. These tokens could change how we buy, sell and own digital media. What are they, and could they build a new creative economy? To start, check out the video above from CNBC!
Is this the art of true ownership in the digital age?
Most of us can make a GIF, take a picture or record a clip, but what if you could sell those and other digital media for hundreds of thousands of dollars? With the rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), pictures, short clips of comedians, GIFs and every other form of digital art is now being tokenized and sold just like a physical painting.
What is an NFT?
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are a digital certificate of ownership of a piece of digital information that can be bought and sold. It works the same way as cryptocurrency: Secure transactions made between two parties recorded permanently through blockchain. The difference is, with bitcoin – a popular cryptocurrency using blockchain – you can trade one coin for the other and it has the same value, but NFTs are one-of-a-kind. Each NFT is unique and can have a different value.
You can make NFTs of almost anything digital, but the big news is they're starting to be used to buy and sell digital art, known as cryptoart.
Why NFTs can benefit digital artists and art buyers
Uniqueness has always been central to the art market. Digital art is hard to sell, and for buyers, hard to 'own' because of the potential for an infinite number of copies. NFTs could solve that problem.
For creators, NFTs are super trendy and therefore add to your enigmatic status, and they have a handy sell-on feature. If you sell a GIF using NFTs, you get a percentage every time the NFT is sold to a new buyer. Imagine Van Gogh selling a painting, then getting a slice of every resale, forever.
And if you're a buyer, you have a concrete claim of owning a piece of digital art. And speaking of buying, you might want to see this.
A world gone mad for NFTs
The best way to understand the NFT market explosion is to see some pieces that have fetched crazy sums. Brace yourself.
This Nyan Cat GIF sold for almost $600,000 US dollars.
Grimes - The NFT goldrush continues
This 50-second video by Grimes sold for almost $390,000.
Watch the video here.
Beeple - Authenticated by blockchain
This video by Beeple sold for $6.6 million.
Watch the video here.
Crypto financial and environmental impacts
Many financial experts have warned that this could be an investment bubble that, if it bursts, could mean big losses.And while NFTs are making the digital art world fairer, they come with a warning. The sale of a crypto art piece can use the same amount of energy in one transaction as an art studio uses in two years.
How artists can benefit
If you're an aspiring or established artist or content creator, no promises, but this could be big for you. First, prepare your work ready, whether it's a GIF, picture or video. Then, when you're happy with it, start on NIfty Gateway. On Nifty Gateway, you can apply to create a project for them to sell.