So you really want to do something to help slow global warming?
Well, here’s something easy: Ditch your social media and your internet-connected toys and appliances. All of it and all of them.
Sign off and check out.
Stop Tweeting stupid shit, which is much of what is on Twitter. Abandon the need to show the world those Instgram photos barely of interest to your family. Save the video you were going to put on YouTube and show it at a party with friends who you know will look at it or at least pretend to do so.
Disengage from the internet war games.
Pull the plug on Alexa, and shut up on Facebook because all you’re doing is encouraging businesses to suck energy out of the ground and turn it into gas – carbon dioxide to be specific – in order to power your personal need to speak to the world that isn’t listening anyway.
Mainly all the world is getting is your gas.
OK, that might be a bit of hyperbole. No one has conducted an energy audit to determine exactly wherefrom comes the electrical juice that keeps the internet alive. Lozano claims that the web accounts “for 10 percent of global electricity demand.”
Where he got that number is unclear. The guesstimates of the juice demanded by the internet vary, and most of the energy doesn’t come from coal. The World Bank today estimates coal produces just a bit more than 39 percent of global electricity.
But there is little doubt that the internet sucks up a considerable volume of electricity, and the amount is growing by the day with evermore social media and the mushrooming number of internet-connected appliances.
“From TVs to speakers, kettles to heating systems, more and more of the devices we use every day are now ‘smart.’ This means they connect to the internet, can be controlled using a smartphone and talk to each other, giving you more control over how you use them and saving time and money,” BT.com, a technology website.
Every new ‘smart’ device sucks more juice, and some folks have been wondering for a long time what that will mean for future energy demand.
“For over a decade, researchers within industrial ecology, engineering and computing have debated and tried to estimate the net balance of additions and savings to carbon emissions and energy consumption as digital technologies, including infrastructures, become more widespread,” Lancaster University researchers from the United Kingdom reported in the journal Energy Research & Social Science last year.
“Even for the most straightforward effect, direct consumption, there has been considerable variance in results, with different methods yielding very different estimates of how much energy the Internet uses, and what the consumption attributable to a MB of data traffic might be. Nevertheless, these studies all highlight growing levels of energy used by information and communication infrastructures, both in absolute terms and as a share of overall global electricity use.”
The paper concluded that though it is hard to tell how big a slice of electric consumption is now devoured by digital devices, the number of such devices on the market appears to be increasing exponentially:
“In a worst-case scenario, this could reach as high as 50 percent of global electricity use by 2030, but only 8 percent in the best case. The International Energy Agency, who estimate that networks consume slightly than data centers, foresee only moderate growth in the energy consumption of data centers of 3 percent by 2020. But they estimate greater uncertainty for networks, with scenarios varying between growth of 70 percent or a decline of 15 percent by 2021 depending on trends in energy efficiency.”
The Lancaster researchers were skeptical of any gains to be made through efficiency given the behavior of markets.
“Firstly, mobile networks are more electricity intensive than fixed-line access networks yet mobile data traffic is growing faster,” they wrote. “Secondly, video traffic is associated with the growth in fixed and mobile network traffic, yet watching video across mobile networks is especially energy-intensive. Thirdly, data traffic in the ‘busy hour’ is growing at a much higher rate than average; leading to increased consumption at particular times of day as well as the expansion of networks (and associated overhead consumption) since ‘service providers plan network capacity according to peak rates rather than average rates.’
“…It appears that growth in data traffic continues to outweigh efficiency gains. We therefore take it as a working assumption that increased data flows over mobile and Internet networks represent an increase in energy consumption.”
In other words, we have met the enemy and she is us.
Turn it off, turn it off
Which brings this back to Lozano and his apocalyptic vision of the climate-change future:
“As the world gets hotter, as the forests burn and cities flood, our devices will start to fail, too. In data centers around the world, where the vast majority of the internet is stored, cooling and energy costs will rise exponentially. The electromagnetic frequency that Wi-Fi travels along will be disrupted, mangled by the increased intensity of ultraviolet rays from the sun. In the next 15 years, the coastal tubes and wires (4,067 miles of fiber conduit, to be exact) that transmit Americans’ data will drown under saltwater. The materials that prop up the web, such as rare earth minerals, will become harder and harder to come by.
“How do we even begin to confront this array of systemic issues? A good place to start is by creating a more ecologically friendly web, along the lines of (Kris) de Decker’s (solar-powered web)site and other projects now being prototyped by engineers within the nascent community of sustainable web design. They agree on a few core tenets: Advertising is bad, the growth of video streaming must slow, web pages are too bloated, and corporate surveillance has to end.”
Most of those tenets, unfortunately, run counter to what consumers want. Given that, Lozano argues “regulation” might be necessary, and he hopefully envisions that leading to more innovation.
“…It’s also in these (regulated) places where you’ll see innovation steering the net’s infrastructure away from the corporate quest for profit. Xiaowei Wang is already seeing this happen in rural China. ‘China has a huge amount of state control over the internet and these very tight restrictions on who even gets to put up a website,’ she says. ‘Rural China is good at subverting that, creating a subculture that is very anti-government. And they’re doing it over live streaming platforms in China.’ Her optimistic reading is that places like rural China offer an example of ‘indigenous innovation and a more free, more decentralized internet.’
“This internet might be slower, but it would also be more community-oriented and heterogeneous,” Lozano says.
Right. And rural China is so well known as a bastion of freedom.
If everyone just chipped in….
Wouldn’t it be better to avoid going down the Chinese pathway?
How hard can it be to limit our internet use? Do you really need Alexa to turn on the lights and turn off the TV? Or a home security camera constantly streaming to your smart phone? Or a thermostat you can adjust from the beach while on vacation in Hawaii?
Can’t you live without mock World War III battles with someone in the next state, country or continent over?
Do you think the world needs more banal internet Tweets, or in the case of some former journalists, your endless anti-Trump memes and quotes? Do you think anyone on your Twitter feed really cares after you repeat the same message in a different way for the umpteenth time?
Can’t you at least give that up to do the smallest, little thing to help out the planet?
Everyone in American knows how they feel about Trump, and everyone on your feed long ago figured out how you feel. You’re not changing any minds, or enlightening anyone to the president’s bad behaviors.
All your doing is shouting “look at me” as if you can’t live without attention. It’s not a good look for the profession to which you devoted your life.
Journalism, at its best, is about encouraging people to think, then debate, discuss, and contemplate public affairs. You’re not furthering any of that. You’re just burning up electrons.
It’s the old “dead trees” issue all over again, but now instead of just newspapers helping decimate the globe’s forests, you’re part of a mob helping cook the planet with profligate prattle. As a believer in the nightmare scenario of climate change, don’t you feel just a titch of responsibility to do the tiniest, easiest thing to help reduce carbon emissions?
Not that any of us are perfect. I’ve responded to a Facebook post or two just for the chance to offer a smartass comment or continued an exchange that was clearly pointless. And I concede it is easier to tell a device to turn on the light than to do it yourself, but there are some devices out there now that will do this without firing up the internet and more such devices on the horizon.
Just think, you might be able to use these devices to actually reduce your energy use. You could sit in your easy chair and tell them to turn off the lights or other power-sucking devices you don’t need at the moment.
You could be lazy and saving the planet. Now think how good that would feel?