Bit miles aren’t anti-technology. On the contrary reducing bit-miles only makes sense in the light of the beautiful, ground-breaking inventions that technology enables. My outlook is as sunny as it can be, but I want my son to enjoy snowfalls. If companies start to consider the bottom line and potential customer advantages of a strategy to reduce bit miles he may just see a few.
Both Food miles and Bit miles are really not answers to the real question: “How much environmental impact did the action of buying a particular item have?” be it an apple or a DVD. Measuring the distance traveled really doesn’t tell you much about the impact that you want to know. Was the DVD shipped by air transport or sea? Did it travel by rail most of the way to the warehouse? What type of emissions was created when producing the energy for the transport? Etc etc.
James’s piece is called “Bit Miles” – Digitisation vs the Carbon Added Tax, but he doesn’t really talk about a carbon tax. But a carbon tax actually takes account for all these issues automagically. If you ship a DVD by sea by a sailing boat you will emit very little carbon. If the same DVD goes by air transport the same distance it will be responsible for quite substantial emissions. If you get taxed on your emissions the climate impact is taken care of, but it doesn’t matter how far the item traveled, as long as the emissions are accounted for. Neither Bit Miles nor Food Miles can account for the same, if you don’t essentially make them a carbon tax, which would be a roundabout way of doing it, with little benefit.
Now, that is not to say that Bit Miles or Food Miles as concepts are not without merit. Food Miles clearly have made people think about where their food comes from and started questioning if they really need to eat those blue berries from Argentina, in the middle of winter in London. I think in the IT industry it can serve as a way to focus peoples minds on how we should skip shipping things when we can ship bits. That I agree with. But as an alternative way to impose a carbon tax it is a bad idea, but then maybe that is not what James is arguing for, despite the headline.