How the 'Cloud' Precipitates Pollution Across America

In the first article of a series exploring how the physical structures that support the explosion in digital information are effecting the environment, James Glanz examines the wasteful manner in which technology companies consume energy.

The amount of energy needed to maintain the data centers supporting today's digital technology is staggering, writes Glanz. Individual data centers can burn enough energy to run a medium-size town and air quality violations have been stacking up in states with major data centers like Virginia and Illinois.

"Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show."

According to Glanz, "[t]he inefficient use of power is largely driven by a symbiotic relationship between users who demand an instantaneous response to the click of a mouse and companies that put their business at risk if they fail to meet that expectation."

Should these unsustainable practices continue unchanged, warns Glanz, serious consequences could be in store for the industry. "It's just not sustainable," said Mark Bramfitt, a former utility executive who now consults for the power and information technology industries. "They're going to hit a brick wall."

Glanz's series has already attracted a great deal of debate on the Internet (no doubt using unimaginable amounts of electricity). Philip Bump at Grist has compiled a number of the responses.

Thanks to Emily Williams

Full Story: Power, Pollution and the Internet

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