World Changing recently published an opinion piece that tackles Green Peace’s new energy report that alleges cloud computing further exacerbates our energy problems. Their claim is substantiated on the idea that data and on-demand culture provides a greater energy debt than previously imagined even going so far as to call the iPad a planet killer.
However, Alex Steffan quickly retorts:
Computing accounts for a bit less than 3% of U.S. energy usage, according to Lawrence Livermore Labs. The global IT industry as a whole generates about 2% of global CO2 emissions.
Cars, on the other hand, which the vast majority of the people Greenpeace is trying to target also own, are the single largest contributor to climate change, according to NASA, exceeding all other sources in their impacts, and exceeding computing’s global impacts by more than a factor of ten. Greenpeace (I’m a supporter) has made a lot of noise about computing’s climate impacts, while the average commute or drive to the mall is likely far, far more a threat to the future than the average month’s Google searching.
The answers are never easy, though. One the one hand, Greenpeace is correct that computing does require still a great deal of energy. How that is framed should be further examined.