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Is the Internet Sustainable?

April 21, 2009

A friend of mine replied to my “Paperback, Paper book, Plastic book” post posing the question, “Is the internet even THAT sustainable?”.

This was her comment >> “how sustainable is the internet? all the resources used to sustain the internet community also have to come from somewhere. electricity that keeps computers, servers, modems, etc running. where does that come from? does it come from a coal burning power plant, or a dam?”

As technology progressed in the past few years and companies are seemingly taking more green routes, I kind of just believed the internet was more sustainable. Linda made a good point; all the resources to power the internet have to come from somewhere (just like any other product’s materials or sources). So, I did some research (using the internet, is that hypocritical?)

Here are some key things that I found

+ The UK Energy Saving Trust reported in 2005 that office workers who leave their computers on standby/asleep cost British industry £123.2 million per year in energy bills! Home computers on standby waste £41 million per year. The “standby” behavior is allegedly responsible for 1 MILLION tons of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere each year. Global warming people…

+ In 2006 an representative claimed that the five leading search companies were responsible for about 2 million servers. Think about how often you use Google.

+ In 1997 it was estimated that by 2003, e-materialization of paper can cut energy consumption by about 0.25% of total industrial energy use and net [greenhouse gas] GHG emissions. By 2008, the reductions are likely to be more than twice as great. In my opinion, too much of one thing is never good. One day the internet will be relied on TOO much and there will not be enough resources to power it…and by then other methods of communication and information are obsolete.

+ It is also believe the Internet Economy could render unnecessary as much as 3 billion square feet of buildings >> about 5% of U.S. commercial floor space. This saves construction-related energy. By 2010, e-materialization of paper, construction, and other activities could reduce U.S. industrial energy and GHG emissions by more than 1.5%. These sound more like excuses to let the digitial world take over the physical world. Who makes these decisions? Do they ever think about the aesthetics of life? People don’t relate to computer screens, people relate to people. Could future businesses be run without office buildings… ?

+ This author of this article wrote about how the internet is causing “invisible” environmental damage; this is really similar to the whole idea of “Closed Loop”. With garbage, we don’t really see what happens to it or where it goes because it gets sent off to places (landfills) far, far away. And we won’t ever see them again (until landfills spill over into our front yards). Anyways, same idea applies to the internet. We go online using a device with a back-lit screen and then turn off the device when we are done. Users get no feedback as to how much energy they are using to check their email, use AIM, or search something in Google. There are battery icons, but that is usually just to tell us when to suck more energy out of outlets. Maybe our computers should get hotter and hotter to simulate the Global Warming thats consequently happening, oh wait THEY DO.

Read more at this great article I found >> Information Economy

In conclusion, do not use paper products or use anything with a digital screen. Okay, not really, but the internet is not necessarily sustainable. Perhaps in the past it was considered MORE sustainable than books/newspapers because it reduced paper production. However now, the internet has taken a whole new form. It is not just on computers, its on telephones, PDAs, web cafes, etc. A part of being green is being minimal; too much of anything is never good. I think a balance needs to be established. Rules and regulations about the internet economy should be negotiated and enforced before things get out of control. Other alternatives are being explored, but if coal continues to be the standard method of producing the energy used to power these electricity plants… we are in trouble.

Oy. Even more puzzled about my project. Brilliant ideas to come soon.. I hope..


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lori permalink
    April 29, 2009 22:27

    it’s so funny how the internet has become such an integral and near-involuntary part of our lives that we stop realizing what exactly it is. i’m just thinking about the hours upon hours for weeks on end that i’ve done research for sustainable materials or a sustainable design project on the internet, or the fact that i’m commenting on your sustainable design blog and facebooking before i go take out the recycling. it’s nuts. but i suppose now the question is… how would we regulate it? through time limitations? changing the source of the energy would, of course, be ideal, but i think you’re right in saying that a system of moderation needs to happen. but who will enforce it, if not ourselves? good food for thought — love ya. -lw


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