Forget about carbon emissions, there’s enough hot air about climate change blown out by the media to heat every home in Sheffield without the need for a single air turbine or wave farm. Even quite sensible people now appear concerned that polar bears can save themselves from drowning only by clinging on to a ton of washed-up plastic Tesco bags. The Green agenda has been utterly commercialised, but that doesn’t make it completely risible.

You’d have bet that Apple – so seemingly people-friendly and run by a beardy vegan – was greener than Dell or IBM but it’s had a torrid time fending off attacks by greenies over the past few years. Apple admits that it has not acted fast enough to remove toxic chemicals from its new products and not aggressively or properly recycled its old products.

Although every environmentalist uses a computer to study climate change, inform the world about the plight of over-heated penguins and buy hemp shopping bags over the internet, it’s a fact that laptops and desktop PCs are about as environmentally friendly as a Ukrainian fridge-freezer.

Behind that silvery Apple logo, hidden under your keyboard and wrapped round your screen are lethal pools of lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, decabromodiphenyl ether, arsenic, mercury, polyvinyl chloride, brominated flame retardants and all sorts of other ocean-depleting nasties.

Friend of the earth
So praise to Gaia that Apple has been actively commended recently for making its MacBook Air laptop one of the world’s most environmentally friendly computers – after years of Greenpeace lumping Steve Jobs and co with relentless whale hunters and serial puffin murderers.

Apple has committed to phase out brominated fire retardants and polyvinyl chloride chemicals by the end of the year. On seeing the MacBook Air – which also phases out nasty CDs and DVDs, as well as annoying plastic things such as Ethernet cables – Greenpeace gushed: “The MacBook Air is a strong entry in the race to build a green PC. As a mercury and arsenic free laptop it exceeds European Standards.”

Well done, Apple – but how dolphin friendly is that hologram on the front of the Leopard software box?

But what about us? How good are we at recycling our old toner cartridges, camera batteries and PowerPC Macs? Do you always turn off your computer and peripherals – yes, including the wireless router – when you’re away from your desk for more than a couple of hours? Do you leave a mobile phone charger plugged in even when not connected to your phone? Is your TV left on standby over night?

According to the Energy Saving Trust, by 2020 consumer electronics gadgets will account for about 45 per cent of electricity used in UK households. Flat-screen TVs and digital radios are among the worst offenders. Although bulky old CRT TVs and computer screens were a mess to recycle they used less power than today’s huge LCDs and plasmas. Ditto old analogue radios and new digital versions.
While technological products such as fridges and washing machines get more efficient as time goes on, consumer electronics gear gets worse. According to market research by onepoll.com, nine million households regularly charge up gadgets such as mobiles and iPods overnight. This equates to an estimated 16.6 billion hours of unnecessary energy usage over just one year.

Waste of energy
Despite all the blather, political posturing and plastic bag hating, collectively we took no notice of the UK’s first Energy Saving Day (28 February), which ended with no noticeable reduction in the nation’s electricity usage.

E-Day sounded like a great idea, except for the fact that in order to save energy its organisers forgot to tell anyone about it. E-Day’s Dr Matt Prescott explained: “I am afraid that E-Day did not achieve the scale of public awareness or participation needed to have a measurable effect.”

Organisers wanted people to switch off any electrical devices they didn’t need over a period of 24 hours, with the National Grid monitoring consumption. But electricity usage was almost exactly what would have been expected without E-Day. In fact, it was a little higher.

Guess what the E-Day greenies used as an excuse. You can’t make this stuff up. The organisers blamed… the weather! “E-Day did not succeed in cutting the UK’s electricity demand. The drop in temperature between Wed 27 Feb and Thurs 28 Feb probably caused this, as a result of more lights and heating being left on than were originally predicted,” reads a statement on the E-Day website.

The Grid’s final figures showed national electricity consumption for the 24 hours was 0.1 per cent above the “business-as-usual” projection.
Energy saving doesn’t just help icebergs and the peoples of the Sahara, it saves us money – especially with the regular 15 per cent price hikes from the likes of British Gas and E-on. So why are we so obstinate in not helping out?
Maybe it’s because today’s gadgets are so much smaller and thinner than older technologies that we think that they’re more energy efficient. As noted above, I’m afraid they often are not. And where once we had a music centre and a walkman now we have three iPods, a Bose SoundDock and a set of travel speakers, as well as an iPhone, iMac and MacBook.

We’re not getting better at conserving energy or saving the planet. We’re getting worse. Indeed we appear blasé about even saving our hard-earned money. So our only hope is that Apple’s next computer is made of recycled tin cans and bathroom tiles if we’re going to really help those poor polar bears.