As hurricanes continue to cause tremendous destruction and death and, as evidence piles up showing that increase in hurricane strength is a function of rising surface water temperature, global warming is becoming our worse nightmare. But until last week I used to think that SUVs and Americans passion for 68F air conditioned rooms were by far the greatest carbon criminals. They are not alone. The internet it turns out may soon be as bad. Working on the internet and having started companies like Ya.com I would take comfort thinking that we operated a clean industry. But this is hardly the case. Over the last month I became aware of two related activities that I thought were energy irrelevant are actually energy hogs. They are thinking and computing.
Thinking involves tremendous energy consumption. Our brain weighs around 4% of our body weight and yet consumes around 20% of our energy. This is surprising at first, but not when you realize that thinking as computing involves electricity use. Now thinking itself does not warm the planet, but if 20% of our food consumption goes for thinking and food production itself warms the planet, then thinking warms the planet. Think of all the agricultural machinery, trucks and so on that are needed to make our food…now don´t think too much!
Computing also requires enormous amounts of electricity. Every new chip developed requires more and more energy to function. If present trends continue computing and computing use and interconnection will soon make up 20% of all our electricity needs up from a current 7%. The person who brought this to my attention was Larry Page. During a session at CGI I asked Larry what he thought were Google´s limit to growth. His surprising reply was: electricity. Google, he explained to me, is by now the world´s largest owner of computers and therefore the internet´s biggest electricity user. This Larry said was of great concern to him and he was looking of ways to make Google carbon neutral. Wow! It turns out that companies which I thought were “clean” as Google, MSN, Yahoo and other internet giants consume amazing amounts of energy and are responsible for a significant portion of global warming. And this measure does not even include the electricity that we spend…IMing, or Googling, or blogging! Unfortunately only 3% of the electricity use in America is renewable, so if all renewable was used on the internet it would still not be enough! Isn´t it time we start seriously looking at this problem? Shouldn´t we be looking at ways to make our internet activities on the net carbon neutral? Shouldn´t we start thinking not only about miles per gallon but about kwh per mhz or another computing energy efficiency standard and stick to it? So far there´s no mention of energy consumption in computer ads. Shouldn´t we start an energy conservation drive inside the internet world? Want to join?
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