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Let the iPhone Save the Planet

The Carbon Challenge - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage
The Carbon Challenge - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage

About three years ago, I sat next to a man on a plane who was watching “Pirates of the Caribbean” on his iPod. I couldn’t imagine it being much fun, although the special effects probably looked more realistic on a viewer that defied serious scrutiny than on something like an Imax screen.

Ever since then, I have noticed that Appledelivers many familiar products and services in formats that are much lower in carbon content than the ones they replace—and might even be able to deliver an app that one day saves the entire planet from the dual impacts of climate change and an energy-inefficient economy.

The iPod version of the movie, for example, has a much lower carbon footprint than driving to the theatre or even ordering a DVD through the mail and watching it on an energy-guzzling plasma TV.

More recently, Apple’s iPad has replaced enormous volumes of carbon (and trees, for that matter) by giving people newspapers and books in digital formats. And common iPhone apps save uncounted gallons of fuel by finding the nearest Starbucks and giving directions to it, rather than driving aimlessly in search of your next iced latte.

Now comes word from India that authorities in Delhi are catching traffic scofflaws thanks to citizens who take photos or video with iPhones (and other electronics too, of course) and post them on the police department’s Facebook page.

Within two months, over 17,000 people have become “friends” and posted nearly 3,000 images of parking law violators, motorcycle riders without helmets, dangerous drivers, illegal U-turns and the like. The police have issued nearly 700 tickets with this evidence. Other than the fuel saved by traffic cops, this program probably doesn’t cut much carbon, but it does give me an idea for another potential Apple innovation.

Congress has consistently refused to deal with our nation’s addiction to fossil fuels, including the serious problems of carbon emissions, energy security, and unstable prices for the fundamental building block of our economy. Even with Gulf states awash in BP’s oil, the escalating cost of “peace” in the oilfields of Iraq, and coal miners tragically killed by corner-cutting mine operators, Congress has allowed political posturing to take precedence over substantive debate and definitive action to solve these growing challenges.

So why not ask anyone with an iPhone to take photos and video of members of Congress every time they are wined and dined by lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry or meet with executives of major utilities, oil/gas producers, and coal companies. Let’s post them to a Facebook page that compares the frequency of these contacts with the votes cast in favor of continued tax breaks and subsidies for Big Oil and King Coal.

In fairness, let’s also add images of Congress members every time they take mass transit, carpool, or turn off a light switch. Won’t you be fascinated to see how many carbon-cutting images can be posted compared to the fossil fueled lobbying category?

If the iPhone is a fraction as effective at this new task as it has been at everything else it tackles, carbon pollution could be a thing of the past before, say, “Pirates of the Caribbean 4” starts playing on an iPod screen near you.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is a partner at Pegasus Sustainable Century Merchant Bank and the Cullman Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. (Cracking The Carbon Code is a registered trademark of Terry Tamminen).