Last week, India’s Union Environment Minister Mr. Prakash Javdekar got a gift from President Obama’s office on his birthday.
The gift was an advanced mobile phone with several “green” features.
All in the MOEFCC were excited and everybody wanted to possess such a mobile phone. Some suggested that Government of India should enforce and make this mobile phone compulsory to all Indian citizens. Some said “At the minimum, staff of the Pollution Control Boards should be using it”
Minister called me to his office. He was very excited to show me the new mobile phone.
Do you know Dr Modak, this phone will lead to a green transformation in India – The Minister said while opening the leather case of the mobile that had a punch line in small fonts – “this case is eco-friendly”
(I wanted to know what the term eco-friendly meant. Quite an ambiguous term I thought)
I said “Sir, I think you trust the Americans too much. Americans are very clever when it comes to marketing. They will call any products they make as green. I wonder what makes this mobile so green.” I said
The Minister smiled “Don’t get so nervous Dr Modak. Do you know that this mobile contains least quantity of metals? An average mobile phone contains 24 mg of gold, 250 mg of silver, 9000 mg of copper, 3800 mg of cobalt and 9 mg of palladium. (See http://www.metalminemedia.com/p/gold-in-cell-phones-average-mobile.html). This mobile phone contains only half. Less metal content means less extraction of rare earths, reduced risks to mobile phone users & the environment and lesser costs of treatment and disposal of the discarded mobiles. And low content of metals makes this mobile phone real cheap.
That’s good to know I said “But less metal content could also mean poor performance of the touch screen, weaker signal detection and network frequently falling down” Imagine you are speaking to the Minister of Environment of Germany for lobbying on climate change and the phone hangs up in between especially when you are about to change your stance! Won’t it be very embarrassing? And what more – your sudden silence could give a wrong signal. I suggest you don’t use this new phone for important international conversations. For national talking this may be OK”
The Minister was not in a mood to listen.
“Well, let me now tell you about the charger. The Americans have made the phone charger based on solar energy. So you don’t consume electricity to charge this mobile. You therefore burn less of coal, hence generate less GHG emissions. Further, there will be less import of coal, less transportation and again less emissions…
“Oh Minister, such solar battery chargers are already in the market and not doing well” I said this while inspecting the solar cover of the Green phone.
The solar cover generally requires high-maintenance. As long as it’s snapped onto the phone, it will convert direct sunlight into electronic energy, but it isn’t effective through glass. Further, the battery maker promises a charge if you hold the phone at a 90-degree angle to the sun. Some estimate that you’ll receive 20 minutes talk time only after an hour of sun worship. Do you expect to stand for an hour in the sun holding this phone at 90-degree angle just to show that you are eco-friendly? You’ll have to be outdoors for at least 30 minutes on a sunny day. I know you have a lot of free time now as you have introduced self-regulation on environment in the country (meaning less enforcement) but for the sake of impressing others you cannot say that you can spare so much time – although this will be of interest to the environment.
And remember that most people will use conventional chargers in addition, as a stand by. So solar powered charger will be more of a fashion and in fact add more burden to the environment.
The Minister was not pleased with my protest
You are so negative he said. Did you work with Times Now?
I said No
Now let me show you something revolutionary.
The Minister opened a miniature secret slot using a toothpick on his table.
Look here – this is the slot where special Nano fibers are plugged into this mobile set. These Nano fibers can detect key air pollutants in the air.
He then pressed a blue button on the mobile phone. I saw a chain of digits scrolling over the screen. The digits were so erratic that it resembled the stock prices of the Bombay Stock Exchange, especially when the RBI Governor and the Finance Minister simultaneous speak.
“These are not stock prices” The Minister seemed to have read my mind “These are the levels of PM2.5 that are in the air right now. These are the fine particulates that we are breathing”
I was shocked with this part of technology. Very impressive I said. This means anyone using this green phone will be able to know what the air quality is around”
Indeed, the Minister said in a triumphant voice.
All the users of this phone will not only be able to view the air quality data but can transmit this data to our NIC Central server. A real time GIS based map will be created for every city. This data polling can happen every 10 seconds if you like.
Millions of mobile phone users in India will thus send billions of digital data on air quality they breathe. We will analyze this data and issue warnings. If the values exceed the standards, the mobile phone will beep and alert.
As the Minister just said this, the green phone started beeping” I got up and opened the window. The sound of the beeps started increasing. Both of us ignored the increasing beeping sound
The Minister continued as he saw my gaping face.
I have asked Obama’s office to include two more additional channels – one for carbon monoxide and other for noise.
I started wondering about the impact of such a Nano-mobile device.
Imagine people carrying such a mobile phone in movie theaters, A/C buses, A/C railway coaches etc. These people will be really upset if they come to know what poor quality of air they are breathing. This would lead to less number of people going to the theaters and spend time more productively.
I couldn’t resist saying “Yes Minister, this will simply revolutionize air and noise quality monitoring in the country. You can even shut down the Pollution Control Boards as if they matter.
But processing of 10 second data pouring from a million of mobile phone users in the city like Mumbai alone will be so challenging. Also won’t it make the price of the mobile phone a bit higher? Plus there will be issues on the accuracy, upkeep and maintenance of such a sophisticated device etc. How perfect is the Nano-technology?
I have thought about your concern already. The Minister said.
I have told the Americans to put a routine of random number generation instead of attempting actual measurements with the Nano-fibers. When you will press the blue button, the screen will show so called “air quality data” that will be essentially randomly generated. The basic idea will be to raise awareness of people and feed them something to discuss in the seminars and parties”
And what was the response of the Americans? I could not resist but ask
“Oh, they said – that’s what they currently do!” The Minister said with a smile.
Indeed, design of mobile phones is getting greener today considering the significant environmental and social impact they cause in their life cycle.
Innovations are happening to cut down the metal content without any functional compromise. Low impact batteries have also been the focus. Research and application of Nano-technology for environmental monitoring is also catching up.
The days of such a revolution are not far away.. So one day Mr. Prakash Javdekar will actually launch India’s first Green Phone.
I would highly recommend reading about the Citi-Sense project
Download one of the newsletters at http://www.citi-sense.eu/Portals/106/Documents/Dissemination%20material/CITI-SENSE_Newsletter%20No4.pdf
We should be building a pilot Citi-Sense in India. It fits into Prime Ministers vision of Smart Cities. Anyone interested to join with me?
See some of these useful links
You may like to read my earlier post “The Mobile Mines” on this blog post
Cover image source http://www.dreamstime.com/