Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Dirty Filthy Internet

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In what is becoming an annual end of the year tradition for On the Brink, I am highlighting some environmental news items that I think were overlooked over the course of the year.

Over the last few days, I discussed the lack of information about the "new normal"the wide acceptance of GMO food-frankenfoodthe fine tuning of environmental benchmarks, and the science of Mars.  Today, it's all about the dirty filthy Internet.

This article from the New York times back in September detailed the high energy costs of the Internet.  There are large arrays of servers all over the world that utilize the equivalent amount of energy each year as the output of 30 nuclear or coal power plants.

The energy use is due to the high cost of rapid Internet speeds and the huge amount of data stored online.  

And the problem is growing.  Each image stored online, each blog post, and each electronic store requires a constant supply of energy to keep it going.  The implications for energy consumption are huge.

Plus, think about the energy use of your own desktop computer.  It costs about $1 to keep it on overnight.  Multiply that by the millions of computers on throughout the world.  The energy wasted by having our computers, cell phones, IPads and other electronic devices always at the ready is staggering.  Then, add on the energy costs for the huge server storage needs for information.  

We haven't really brought this issue forward into our environmental consciousness.  But in reality, the Internet is responsible for a huge volume of greenhouse gas emissions.  One of the best things we could do for the environment is to get off line.  Of course, most of us won't do that.  Many researchers are working on trying to improve the energy efficiency of servers and electronics in general.  Until the problem is solved, the best thing we can do as individuals is to turn off electronics when not in use and delete online files, pictures, etc. that we no longer use.  

The Internet is truly a dirty filthy enterprise.


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