In my ThinkerNet post, The Internet's Fight Against Global Warming, I acknowledge that the Internet community has the potential to provide a leadership role in the quest for energy efficiency. For this segment, a more specific challenge for the Internet community should be, at least, to help cut carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), which contributes to the greenhouse effect. Fortunately, the Internet can offer incentives to move us in the direction of a low-carbon future.
Governments around the world are wrestling with ways to get their citizens to reduce their carbon footprint -- a measure of the amount of CO2 you pump into the atmosphere as you go about your daily life. A current preferred approach is to impose "carbon taxes" by making it more costly to emit carbon into the atmosphere. Another formula being considered is to implement various forms of cap and trade programs, and carbon offsets that allow heavy emitters of carbon dioxide to buy or sell credits from those who produce very little.
I believe the most effective approach is to "reward" those who reduce their carbon footprint, rather than impose draconian taxes or dubious cap and trade systems. But what reward mechanisms can we use?
As it turns out "bits" of data are almost costless in terms of their carbon footprint. The carbon dioxide emissions of transmitting one digital copy of a music or video file over the Internet is virtually no different than transmitting one million copies of the same material.
Perhaps digital information in terms of music and video files, and myriad list of applications and services delivered over the Internet, should be used as the reward mechanism and new "currency" for reducing carbon emission.
So how do we implement a process of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in transportation and heating in exchange for delivery of valuable carbon-free products and services over the Internet? What are the new economic models, business arrangements, and network architectures and services that will be necessary to effect these transactions of reducing "carbon heavy" energy products for "carbon light" virtual services and products?
One model that has been proposed is to provide consumers with free, high-speed Internet in exchange for paying a higher premium on their energy and gas bills. This plan has the added incentive of encouraging the customer to reduce his/her energy consumption with no penalty.
And as we know from Economics 101, the surest way to reduce consumption of a precious resource is to increase its price. So, the additional premium consumers would pay on their energy bill would be an incentive to reduce consumption, and if they do so, they will be rewarded with their free high-speed Internet.
Another potential "reward" model involves having consumers voluntarily pay a premium at the gas pump when they fill up their car, in order to receive free cellphone service or download unlimited MP3 songs to their iPOD.
Ultimately, there are a number of creative ways to use the Internet as an incentive toward clean power. Consumers will generally change their behavior and respond more positively to voluntary reward mechanisms, as opposed to mandatory solutions imposed by government or other authorities. The good news is the Internet is available to help us offset -- if not eliminate -- our carbon footprint.
— Bill St. Arnaud, Senior Director of Advanced Networks, Canarie Inc.