Mobile Phones and Environmental Sustainability

Infograph Courtesy of the World Bank

Infograph Courtesy of the World Bank

Here is something interesting that I had pulled off of Google tonight. It was courtesy of the World Bank, an infograph dealing with the state of mobile phones around the world. I do not know how recent this came out. However, I thought it would be interesting to share and the potential for sustainable development. There were some pretty interesting statistics I found:

For starters, the percentage of where someone can find a cellular phone signal across the globe has increased from 61% in 2003, to 90% in 2010. I would expect that’s even more now in 2013. Heck, developing world has more cell phones than the developed world.

Also 6 billion people have access to mobile phones. Heck even 1 billion people in China have mobile subscriptions. That is just phenomenal!!

To even add further context of this, cellular phone technology, according to the world bank infograph has helped to increased the income for farmers in developing countries, with the highest penetration in Uganda. Citizens also believe in cell phones have helped to improve education in their countries, according to a Time Magazine poll last fall.

Can the advancement of cellular phone technology help to boost sustainable development? I think there is lots of potential, in developing nations to help leapfrog over old and dirtier technologies. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute had this to say about cellular phones and environmental sustainability:

Dematerialization of the economy is facilitated by new technologies that are less material-dependent. Cellular phones, which rely on widely dispersed towers or on satellites for signal transmission, account for most of the growth in telephone use in developing countries. These nations will not need to invest in millions of miles of copper wires, as the industrial countries did. As recently as 1990, cellular phones were rare. But in 1996, cellular phone sales of 51 million overtook the 47 million new phones linked by wire. By 1999, cellular phone sales at 172 million nearly tripled the 63 million sales of fixed-line phones. There were 491 million cell phones in use by then, compared with 907 million traditional ones. By 2005, the number of cellular phones in use will probably exceed the number of telephones linked by wire.61

The new technology has arrived on the scene just in time for developing countries, such as China and India, which have few of the traditional linked telephones. Within just a few years, China has overtaken Japan in the number of cellular phone subscribers, trailing only the United States. We can now look forward to a world population linked by a phone network that does not require millions of tons of copper wire.

Think about the potential this can have when linking smart grids with wind and solar energy in countries like India and China, who have tons of potential. Again, I have argued many times of the nexus of information technology and renewable energy will be key to put the world on course for prosperous green growth. The greatest paradox is despite the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the tools are there now for a true environmental sustainability economy, thanks to mobile phones and tablets.

Thoughts? don’t be afraid to drop me a line in the comments section, Twitter, Facebook, Google + or email at


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