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information and communication technology, development, carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, treadmill of information


The world is facing a crisis of global warming due to the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses by human activities. Many scholars and stakeholders argue that information and communication technology (ICT) development will mitigate CO2 emissions. Advocacy of technological solutions to CO2 mitigation is consistent with ecological modernization theory's assertion that reflexive societies will modernize sustainably. In contrast, we define the “treadmill of information” as the unique contribution of ICT development to environmental degradation. We examine the impact of ICT development on total CO2 emissions and source-sector emissions from electricity, buildings, manufacturing, and transportation using a multilevel growth model for panel data from 113 countries split into the world, developed country, and less-developed-country samples. We find that the level of fixed telephone development is a strong predictor of higher CO2 emissions in less-developed countries, while internet use predicts higher CO2 emissions in developed countries. The effect of mobile telephone development is not significant. Thus, it appears that ICTs are not having an ameliorative effect on global warming as expected by ecological modernization theorists, and instead reinforce the treadmill of production's negative effect.

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Simpson, J.M., Dunlap, R.E., & Fullerton, A.S. (2019). The Treadmill of Information: Development of the Information Society and Carbon Dioxide Emissions. Sociology of Development, 5 (4), pp. 381-409. DOI: 10.1525/sod.2019.5.4.381

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