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Contents contributed and discussions participated by Taylor Grandchamp
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Greening Through IT: Information Technology for Environmental Sustainability
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on 02 May 12
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on 02 May 12
Tomlinson, Bill. 2010. Greening Through IT: Information Technology for Environmental Sustainability. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Tomlinson's argument lies in the undisputed fact that human and environmental processes operate with fundamentally different horizons in time, space, and complexity. Human's being a piece of the environment think, organize and act on scales drastically smaller that the environmental process with which we are beginning to concern ourselves. Climate Change, over fishing, and the destruction of tropical rainforests are prime examples of the disparity between human and environmental horizons. Tomlinson and myself as well believe that IT technology can serve as a multiplying factor in human thought, organization, and action such that it can align our horizons more harmoniously with those broader horizons that surround us. Tomlinson believes that the most promising opportunities for green IT lie in education, personal change, and collective action. In education Tomlinson sees IT as being able to engage individuals in the understanding of environmentally complex phenomena at a young age by using games, simulations, and models that reward maintenance of a healthy ecosystem, scold degrading acts and inform learners as to the nuances of the simulated environmental system. IT can usher in personal change in Tomlinson's view by providing near instant access to consumer information such as production practices and the carbon footprint of a good, thereby allowing consumers to properly vote with their dollar and request environmentally ethically consumables. IT can also network these individuals pursuing personal change into a concerted effort for collective action and community change. Also embedded in the collective action argument is the role of networking and information diffusion where by IT allows environmental knowledge to be collected locally and the applied and acted on at larger scales of human infrastructure.
While I agree strongly with the author's main argument that IT systems have the ability to expand the horizons in time space and complexity that humans can think, organize and act. I disagree with the modes through which this technological bridge between horizons will come to fruition. While tracking the origins of the consumer goods and networking individuals together can definitely foster an environmental ethic and may even spur larger scale change, I think there is also an embedded danger of satisficing that is embodied by the 'like' feature on Facebook. By using IT to allow people to simply associate themselves with an environmental cause and use little effort the environmental movement may appear large when it is weak in dedication and substance. In addition, while IT simulations of ecosystems in the classroom may foster stewardship in the students, I think there is an equal danger of embedding an instant gratification attitude towards environmental issues. While in the game ecosystem may change instantly, the real world has longer time horizons and when children realize this is may disenchant the environmental efforts.
I would recommend the introduction of this book to ENVS 160 students I think it is a quick, easy and educated description of how human and environmental horizons differ and the role IT has in bridging these gaps. I think it is particularly useful here at L&C because of how much IT is used in our ENVS program and having a simply stated rational from an outsider may ease the freshman dislike for moodle ect. The end of the book could also be useful for first year ENVS student to exercise critical thinking skills in accessing the strengths and weaknesses of the case studies Tomlinson presents.
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