Tech Tools for Activism

Green Computing

This chapter will cover;

  • Why should I worry about Green & Low Power computing?
  • Ways of reducing power use and prolonging the life of your computer

Background Information

If you are concerned about the environment you may ask yourself. 'Where does my computer come from and where does it ends up?" The answers to these questions are unsettling. The issues of resource wars over Coltan [] and other heavy minerals and associated pollution caused by the production, energy use and disposal of computers [] lead many of us to worry about our increasing use fo computers, mobile phones and other gadgets. At the same time no-one really wants to be struggling with an old computer that takes forever to do simple tasks.

There are different ways to reduce the inpact of your computing;

  • prolonging the life of your computer and reducing power use
  • buying low impact hardware and reusing old computers

Reducing Power use and prolonging the life of your computer

Install a resource saving operating system: Operating systems like Windows, OSX use a lot of processing power. A version of Linux (Ubuntu or Mint Linux) will use much less resources, less power and which therefore prolong the life of your computer. There are also specialised versions of linux like the popular Lubuntu (using LXDE) which aim at reducing the use of resources even further. These are 

Turn off Wireless if you are not using it: Wireless is a very significant source of power use in computers and especially laptops. Why not get some Cat5 cable if you have a home network.

Reduce screen brightness and other tips: Ideally reduce the brightness of your screen. You can also have the screen automatically switch off after a short period of inactivity. There are also other power management settings like spinning down hard drives. You can set the graphics chip to it's lowest usable resolution. You might also want to disable 3d acceleratio. It's also worth mentioning the powertop utility.

Using Low-Impact Hardware 

New Hardware: Examples of low energy hardware. LED monitors and small computers with no moving parts like the ones featured here -

It may be better environmentally to get a new low power set up than to recycle older computers. You can learn how to assess the embodied energy of different products by totalling up the impact of the manufacture, shipping and other factors.

Reusing Old Computers: Power use is not the only consideration when thinking of low-impact computing. Saving older computers from landfill and prolonging their life is a most valid thing to do.

An LTSP set up may be useful to reuse older hardware and if low power laptops can be sourced. LTSP stands for Linux Terminal Server project [].  The computers (often old and low power laptops) are run as 'thin clients' meaning the hard processing work is all done by one computer on the network. Laptops can be run without batteries from a shared power source. These factors save a lot of power. 

There are many factors involved in reusing old computers. The best way to learn is just by trying it out. See if there are any community groups in your area that can train you to do it. Here are some very quick tips.

  • keep a store of old hard-drives, power supplies, sound cards etc to use in computers that have missing or broken parts
  • check the wattage (power use) of the computer you want to re-use (some old computers are very power hungry)
  • Try underclocking the chip if you want a very low power computer for a media server etc
  • install a low power version of linux on the computer if it is old - you'll be amazed how much quicker it runs

Re-using computers is a fantastic activity to do as part of a community project and there are some great examples out there. One example is the Access Space project in Sheffield, UK. []