2.3 Environment

This chapter of the book covers the environmental impacts of information technology, including questions about the environmental impact of IT manufacture, increased concerns over high levels of power consumption, and an examination of issues related to the safe disposal of old IT equipment (electronic waste or e-waste). The use of IT in monitoring our environment, including satellite monitoring and imaging, are also covered in detail. In addition to ITGS syllabus section 2.3 Environment, there are strong links to 1.6 Equality of Access and the Digital Divide. The following resources support the textbook content:

  • Modelling and Simulations
  • Data logging
  • Satellite Imaging and Remote Sensing
  • Online mapping
  • Geographical Information Systems
  • GPS networks
  • Environmental impacts
  • Electronic waste
  • Power consumption of IT
  • Computer donations and the digital divide
Climate and weather models

Climate and weather models


Models 'key to climate forecasts' (BBC) underlines the importance of climate models to modern science, while Supercomputing the Climate (video) that is a good introduction to the weather models and climate models. Hurricane Forecast Computer Models is another useful resource for understanding why models have inaccuracies.

How climate models work

Two articles by National Earth Science Teachers Association and How do climate models work? all explain how computer climate models work, with clear text and diagrams.

Development of climate models

In Pictures: Climate Models (BBC) shows graphically how climate models have developed over the past five decades, from relatively basic models of a spherical Earth to modern advanced models with many more variables and processes. New Supercomputer Enhances Reliability of Weather Predictions (PhysOrg) describes how new technological developments are driving better models.

Problems with climate models

Despite these advances in model development, the ARS Technica article Climate Models get Smarter, but uncertainly won't go away explains why model's results will always differ from reality.

Example models

The Greenhouse Effect model and Carbon cycle model from Gizmos are great examples to use in lessons. NetLogo Models Library: Climate Change is another useful example.

Updated: 2018-01-15
Remote sensing

Satellite Communication - Remote Sensing

Remote sensing uses satellites to image the earth using technologies other than traditional photography (such as RADAR, LIDAR, or acoustic imaging). Remote sensing has many applications, including monitoring Earth's environment. For example, the Aquarius satellite monitors the salinity of the world's oceans. In these cases the data received is highly useful for developing and improving computer climate models.

Satellites can also find hidden archaeological sites by remote sensing (Wired) - for example, when ruins are buried in the jungle and invisible to the naked eye, building outlines may still be visible to other sensing methods.

The excellent GISGeography site also has links to dozens of real life examples of remote sensing applications.

Updated: 2015-02-01

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) lesson plans

Google Earth Pro, once a $399 licence, has been made available for free. The Pro version includes several new abilities, including the capability to import and export GIS data. This is very useful for ITGS lessons.

Once installed, GIS data can be found on many sites:

GIS Lesson plans

These two practical lesson plans use Google Earth to help students understand Geographical Information Systems. Students will:

  • Investigate the types of GIS available
  • Learn how to add data layers to a GIS
  • Learn how a GIS can be used to support decision making
Lesson one introduces GIS using online examples: Students then use Google Earth data layers to make a decision about the best place to build a new hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area. (This idea is based on Noel Jenkin's idea on his excellent JuicyGeography web site).

Lesson two involves downloading crime data from the Police.uk web site, processing the CSV file, converting the data, and importing it into Google Earth to make a decision about the best place to stay during the 2012 London Olympics.
Updated: 2016-07-07
Wild fire GIS

Wild Fire Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

These great resources from the United States Forest Service (USFS) deal with how IT is used in wild fire prevention, prediction, and management.

The USFS main page contains links to the following resources:

The Role of GIS in the Aftermath of a Wildfire explains how these systems can be used to quickly assess the scale of damage.

Updated: 2018-03-28
GPS systems

Global Positioning Systems (GPS)

Two diagrams showing how GPS networks function, from page 243 of the book. Click for larger versions of diagram 1 and diagram 2.

How GPS Works is a great video that clearly explains concepts like trilaterion, and the importance of timing. It also reveals some modern uses of GPS that might not be obvious (such as in the financial markets).

Updated: 2017-10-23
E-waste impacts

Impacts of e-waste

E-Waste introduction
There are many resources available to teach electronic waste. A good lesson starter is National Geographic's  Test Your E-Waste IQ quiz. Also useful is the video The Story of Electronics (pictured left) which introduces students to product life cycles and the 'designed for the dump' concept (planned obsolescence).

Social impacts of e-waste

To study the social, health, and environmental impacts of e-waste, Greenpeace have two useful photo essays: Poisoning the Poor: E-waste in Ghana and Scraplife: E-waste in Pakistan.

TIME magazine has a similar photo essay about Guiyu in China, one of the world's most notorious electronic waste dumping sites, while the Guardian covers Ghana.

The article High-Tech Trash (National Geographic) is longer and gives more detail, and although quite old now is still an essential read for ITGS students.

Other lesson resources include this e-waste poster / infographic from WellHome (above) which is ideal for classroom displays, and the infographic (left) covering the chemicals found in e-waste and their harmful effects on the human body.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Chemicals in electronic waste

What's in electronic waste?

Toxic chemicals in e-waste

The toxic chemicals in e-waste are covered in several high quality resources including National Geographic's interactive toxic computer page and Greenpeace's What's in Electronic Devices?

GreenPeace's Guide to Greener Electronics compares and rates equipment and environmental policies from different manufacturers, is regularly updated.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Electronic waste solutions

Electronic waste: Environmental Policies and Solutions

Many computer manufacturers, including Microsoft, Sony, Dell, Apple, and Samsung now have environmental policies that address the chemicals they use in their hardware manufacturing processes. Several manufacturers also offer equipment recycling schemes or takeback schemes. Gazelle is another recycling programme operated by Costco.

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is an organisation that assesses the environmental impact of different IT companies and is a useful resource that has links to many policies and takeback schemes.

Updated: 2015-02-27
Environmental and health impacts

IT Manufacturing: Health and environmental impacts

During the manufacture of IT equipment, large amounts of toxic chemicals are used and produced. These can have significant effects on the surrounding environment and the workers who operate in so-called 'clean rooms'. Use resources include:
Updated: 2014-11-07
Power consumption

Electrical consumption of IT devices

Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and other cloud providers use vast data centres to maintain the wealth of user data their systems store. As more and more computing services are moved to the cloud, concern is increasing over the hidden environmental costs of these energy-hungry centres. The news articles below discuss the energy requirements of data centres and the steps technology companies are taking.
Updated: 2016-02-27
ITGS revision flashcards

Lesson resources: Revision Flashcards

Environment revision flashcards to test students on the key terms. The 'Learn' and 'Test' modes of Quizlet work best.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Google Earth Pro

Google Earth Pro (free)

In early 2015 Google released Google Earth Pro for free, giving everybody the ability to import standard GIS data formats into the software. This is great news for ITGS students and teachers because many organisations and governments host such data online, for free.

This blog post explains how to free GIS data and the key for the software, and links to some ideas about using it in ITGS lessons. GISGeography is another excellent site with links to a wide range of data sets.

Updated: 2015-02-01