As strange as it may sound, switching to Open Source operating systems and software – and getting your boss, co-workers, friends and relatives to do so – can save a lot more carbon emissions than getting them to change their lightbulbs.
I myself have switched to Firefox (instead of Microsoft Explorer) and Open Office (instead of Microscoft Word) and plan to download Linux soon to replace Windows. As a community organizer for 30+ years, Microsoft has been the bane of my existence. Most of the activists I work with use MS Word (and before that MS Works) to create documents. Predictably Microsoft has come out with a new version of Word that is unreadable by older versions. This is obviously a calculated maneuver to force businesses and other network users to continuously upgrade their Microsoft software.
Opening Pesky Docx Files
This time, however, I followed the advice of a fellow Green Party member and downloaded Open Office, which Sun Microsystems provides free on the Internet as Open Source software. Thanks to the Open Source movement, every time Microsoft comes out with a new world processing program, Open Office upgrades to enable businesses and individuals who can’t afford to spend $150 on new software to continue to communicate with those who can. Not only does it open those pesky docx files, it also opens zip files and probably does a lot of other things I haven’t discovered yet.
The other great thing about Open Office is that, like other Open Source software, it runs faster, crashes less and is less likely to have security problems than Microsoft products. For the simple reason that the code that runs Open Office is made freely available for computer users all over the world to improve and build on. Computers aren’t like soup. In general the more people who contribute to code, there more likely someone will discover bugs and security problems.
How Open Source Reduces Carbon Emissions
So, people ask me, how does this reduce carbon emissions? There are obviously small energy savings (related to DVD production, packaging, transportation, etc) when an individual downloads software instead of buying it off the shelf. However the big emissions savings occur when large companies that maintain vast amounts of data switch to Open Source. Recently the Bank of New Zealand reduced their energy costs and carbon emissions by converting their front end systems to Open Source. See http://cio.co.nz/cio.nsf/spot/B5D33290A0CB8EFFCC25754B0017C4D8
The savings derives from streamlining, speeding up and simplifying their data processes with a single (Red Hat Linux) program (instead of relying on three or four for different functions) and in many cases, replacing real life computer work stations with virtual ones.
Companies Going Open Source
In response to the global recession, the immense cost savings is leading many companies worldwide are switching to Open Source for part or all of their data processing. The best known (among many others) are BART (Bay Area Transit System), Burlington Coats, CISCO, Conoco, the Mobil Travel Guide (Exxon’s consumer website), Royal Dutch Shell, Panasonic, Hilfiger, Toyota Motor Sales USA, US Army, US federal courts and the US Post Office bulk sorting facility.
For the most part these systems cost less – not because the software is free (companies usually need to pay a vendor for installation and technical support) – because they are simpler to run and reduce power consumption.
Countries Going Open Source
Third world countries are also learning how much money Open Source systems can save. Brazil was the first to mandate Open Soft systems for all their government offices. See http://geospatial.blogs.com/geospatial/2009/07/index.html India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are thinking of following suit. Of course the International Intellectual Property Association is threatening to take them to the WTO see http://opensourceforamerica.org/opensource-attack for it. However attacking the third world, in light of the global recession and food crisis, tends to make you very unpopular these days.
Open Source Design: Not Limited to IT
Engineers, architects and climate change activists in the Open Sustainability movement (see www.worldchanging.com) are expanding Open Source Design beyond its computer applications to spread sustainable living ideas and technologies virally in a way that allows others to improve and building on them. What I find most exciting is the current focus in the third world – in part because developing countries are much more receptive. At the same time, it also seems a really ingenious, non-conflictual way to get them on board with reducing carbon emissions while simultaneously saving money. In the best tradition of “leapfrogging” – a mode of development that skips inferior, less efficient, more expensive or more polluting technologies and industries and move directly to more advanced and efficient ones.
Other examples of Open Source Design:
1. Open Source Scenario Planning – Sweden’s Martin Borjesson is the pioneer in this area http://www.well.com/~mb/scenario_planning/
2. Open Source architecture (creating smart green buildings that use less energy because they are planned more efficiently) – see Jamais Cascio’s website http://openthefuture.com/
3. Collaborative Solution Seeking – see Alex Steffen article http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/004140.html
4. The Creative Commons developing world licensing scheme – allows green inventors to patent their work in the developed world only, enabling unlimited access for the developing world. See http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses
5. Singularity University http://singularityu.org/ – “a grand scheme to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies to address Humanity’s Grand Challenges.”
6. Open Source Sustainability – http://www.open-sustainability.org/wiki/Main_Page
7. Open Source medicine – following the example of South Africa, which in 1997 passed laws making AIDS antiretrovirals affordable by producing generics locally.
See http://sciencereview.berkeley.edu/articles.php?issue=7&article=disease and http://salilab.org/pdf/Maurer_PLoSMedicine_2004.pdf Both sites emphasize that drug research dollars are increasingly scarce and that the patent-protected profit motive fails to promote research for the greater good (see Sept 14 blog “How Capitalism Stifles Intellectual Life”)
8. Open Source research – besides PLoS (Public Library of Science), there is also a growing movement to make all scientific and medical research Open Source. This would save hospitals and medical schools hundreds of dollars a year that they currently pay for subscriptions to professional journals, most of which have a conflict of interest as they also carry drug company ads. See http://bacteriality.com/2007/12/11/opensource/