The iPad, internet, and climate change links in the spotlight

Greenpeace report shows cloud computing GHG emissions tripling by 2020

Feature story - March 30, 2010
On the eve of the launch of the iPad, our latest report warns that the growth of internet computing could come with a huge jump in greenhouse gas emissions. We follow the data streams back to the data centers providing a cautionary tale about how the boom could see internet servers become a major cause of climate change. But it doesn't have to be that way: The great innovators of the digital age can and should be leaders in promoting an energy revolution.

"Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change," shows how the launch of quintessential cloud computing devices like the Apple iPad, which offer users access to the "cloud" of online services like social networks and video streaming, can contribute to a much larger carbon footprint of the Information Technology (IT) sector than previously estimated.

To be clear: We are not picking on Apple. We are not dissing the iPad. But maybe someone can come up with an app that calculates the carbon footprint of using different web sites based on their location and energy deals. Apple is the master of promotion, and while we marvel at the sleek unpolluted design of the iPad, we need to think about where this is all leading and how like all good surfers we can make sure our environment stays clean and green.

The report builds on previous industry research and shows that at current growth rates data centers and telecommunication networks will consume about 1,963 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020. That is more than triple their current consumption and more than the current electricity consumption of France, Germany, Canada and Brazil combined. However, the report also shows how IT can avert climate chaos by becoming a transformative force advocating for solutions that increase the use of renewable energy.

Cloud computing infographic

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As the internet grows as a platform - a place where more things are done, not only stored away - the IT industry's hunger for energy will increase. Efficiency is a hot topic in IT, but improving energy efficiency is only part of the solution, the industry also needs to take responsibility for where it gets its energy from in the first place. Simply put: Will the cloud run on coal or renewable energy?

IT companies like Microsoft, Google, and IBM are now in powerful positions at the local, national, and international levels. They could use that influence to promote policies that will allow them to grow responsibly without fueling climate change.

Green Facebook

For example, Facebook recently announced the construction of its own data center in Prineville, Oregon, running primarily on coal.

By choosing energy company PacifiCorp, a utility that sources the majority of its power from coal-fired power stations, Facebook missed a chance to promote the use of renewable energy and instead reinforced the coal industry's grip on the United Sates power grid.

Facebook members aren't taking this sitting down. More than 365,00 have joined groups in the weeks since Facebook's announcement, calling on the company to quit coal and become a climate leader.

The IT sector has the ability to help us combat climate change by innovating to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency. Technologies that enable smart grids, zero emission buildings and more efficient transport systems are key to cutting climate change pollution. But, given the current expansion in cloud computing, the IT industry also needs to get its own carbon footprint under control.

We are calling on IT industry giants to put their might behind government policies that give priority grid access for renewable sources like wind and solar energy. IT companies should also support economy-wide climate and energy policies around the world that peak climate emissions by 2015.

Please help us encourage the 21st century's great innovators to look beyond the cloud, to look beyond simply cutting their fuel bills and towards an energy revolution based on renewable energy sources.

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Join one of our Facebook groups and help us get the social networking website to kick the coal habit, and go green.

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