Dirty data: Firms count environmental costs of digital planet

phys.org | 1/9/2019 | Staff
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Technology is often touted as a solution to the world's environmental challenges, but it is also part of the problem: industry executives are facing rising pressure to clean up their energy and resource-intensive business.

How much energy, for example, does it take to send a one-megabyte email?

Watts - Hour - Grammes - Carbon - Dioxide

Around 25 watts per hour, representing 20 grammes of carbon dioxide emissions, according to France's CNRS research centre.

It might not seem like much, but the Radicati research group expects 293 billion emails will be sent every single day this year and the power needs to be generated—mostly from fossil fuels.

Apps - Life - Phone - Batteries - Snapchat

Apps can quickly drain and shorten the life of phone batteries, with Snapchat a particularly "heavy" messaging service because it automatically turns on the camera.

Then there are the server farms crunching mammoth amounts of data worldwide, which require huge amounts of electricity both to run and to power airconditioning which keeps the equipment from getting too hot.

Energy - Mix - Share - Greenhouse - Gas

"Under the current global energy mix, the share of greenhouse gas emissions from information and communication technologies will rise from 2.5 percent in 2013 to four percent in 2020," the French think-tank Shift Project said in a recent report.

That makes the sector more carbon-intensive than civil aviation (a 2 percent share of emissions in 2018) and on track to reach automobiles (8 percent), it said.


'Huge impact'

In February, Greenpeace warned about the concentration of data centres, in particular those used by Amazon, in the US state of Virginia, which reportedly help transmit 70 percent of the world's internet traffic.

Energy - Needs - Power - Company - Dominion

To cope with the voracious energy needs, the local power company Dominion turned to non-renewable fuel sources—drawing the ire of tech firms.

Most have pledged to use as much "clean" energy from wind farms or other sources as possible, with Facebook signing a partnership with Greenpeace several years ago.

Use - Data - Videos

"Our use of data, videos and...
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