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RFID and Global Warming

The same technology used to increase operational efficiencies can also save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
By Leslie Downey
Mar 19, 2012A growing number of people now recognize radio frequency identification's potential to help industry and commerce increase profitability by enabling operational efficiencies. Less commonly understood is that the technology can make a significant contribution to environmental sustainability. RFID Journal's Green Award, a new category added last year to the annual RFID Journal Awards competition, provides companies with an opportunity to demonstrate this in 2012 and beyond. Radio frequency identification can play a meaningful role in slowing global warming, the gravest threat to the environment. The same RFID-enabled, operational efficiencies that increase profits can also save energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The Problem
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an intergovernmental body of 2,500 scientists established in 1988 by the United Nations, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has concluded that global atmospheric concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide—have increased markedly since 1750 as a result of human activity. These gases are the primary drivers of global warming, they say, and now exceed pre-industrial levels over the past 650,000 years. CO2 comes mostly from fossil fuels used in power plants, transportation, industrial processes, and the heating of residential and commercial buildings.

Government policies aimed at stemming global warming have disappeared from the U.S. legislative agenda at a most unfortunate time. An estimated 98 percent of the world's climate scientists agree that global warming, if unmitigated, will pose severe problems for much of Earth's population by the mid-21st century, and a threat to humanity itself as early as century's end—and it is happening faster than predicted even five years ago.

In November 2011, Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), reported that current global energy-consumption levels put the planet on a trajectory to warm by 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by 2100, an outcome he deemed "a catastrophe for all of us."

Although the carbon intensity of developed country economies (GHG per unit of gross domestic product [GDP]) has been declining over the past 50 years, GDP growth in many of these countries has caused year-to-year growth in greenhouse gas emissions overall. Furthermore, demand for energy is accelerating. In the United States, it is expected to increase by as much as 40 percent over the next two decades, equivalent to 357 large coal plants. Now, consider the rest of the world. A projected increase in population, from the current 7 billion to 9.5 billion in 2050, along with a rise in the standard of living in many developing countries, will likely double the world's energy consumption by 2050.

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