Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Internet Footprint

I read this article in yesterday's Guardian

Guardian Online Link

which gave me pause for thought.

According to the article, the energy footprint of the web is growing by 10% a year, and will soon overtake aviation as a source of CO2 emissions. The data centres that store the billions of pages of information which we view online are enormously energy-hungry. According to this article, it is estimated that US data centres alone used 61bn kilowatt hours of energy in 2006 - enough energy to supply the whole of the UK for two months. It is estimated that every Google search has a carbon footprint of 0.2g CO2, which doesn't sound like much, but when there are 200 million Google searches per day it starts to have a real impact.

And that doesn't take into account the footprint of the physical materials of the billions of computers, or the domestic energy used to power them.

So even the decision to use Skype and email to collaborate with local partners in Girona, and to set up this blog, has a definite and definable impact. There is no room for feeling righteous.

Sometimes all this feels like a profound loss of innocence. There is so much I would rather not know, and now that I know it, I don't really know what to do with the knowledge. At the university where I work, I mention to colleagues that I'm working on a project in Girona, and they assume I'll be flying over - it seems to be expected of academics that we clock up airmiles as a token of professional acheivement. When I say I am not going, and that is the point of the exercise, I feel like a crank, or a spoilsport. And on a day like today, when a cold, wet front is blustering in from the west here in Glasgow bringing driving rain and a leaden sky, while Girona basks in spring sunshine, and I could be hanging out there with some new friends, I think I probably am a spoilsport.

But on the other hand, challenging my own assumptions about how I work, and how I want to operate in future, is a good shakeup.

I've been reading Suzi Gablik 'The re-enchantment of art' again. Published in 1991 it now seems extraordinarily prescient. Writing more about this is for another day, however.

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