The virtual carbon footprint

Is your computer saving the environment or destroying it? Computer use has become a major energy sink both in the U.S. and worldwide. And it’s not just the computer on your desk. Duncan Graham-Rowe reports in New Scientist that the internet, including data centers as well as computers and peripherals linked to those centers “could be responsible for as much as 2 per cent of all human-made CO2 emissions, putting it on a par with the aviation industry.” And as use of the internet grows, so will its energy use, unless technological developments keep pace. Computers are becoming more energy-efficient, and there are a variety of ideas for greening data centers. But at the moment it’s not entirely clear that the possibility of video-conferencing makes up for all the time- and energy-wasting activities the internet makes possible. Next time you do a google search, keep in mind that you’re generating 200 mg of CO2. That’s great if it saves a futile trip across town to a store that doesn’t have the desired item in stock, but maybe not such a good deal if it just provides the latest celebrity gossip.