When climate change is taken away from us, coffee and wine, we’ll complain about it on Twitter, read about it on their favorite websites and watch funny videos on YouTube to fill an ice hole in their hearts. We will do so as long as the websites will not collapse, and the network will continue to work, because the climate will change eventually, and the Internet.

Unless, of course, we can’t prepare the network for future storms.

You will need to change very much, because now the Internet is unreliable. On the one hand, the rise in sea level threatens the flooding of the cables and stations, which provide network to our homes; increasing temperature may cause the computing centers will be too costly for processing the constantly growing web traffic; forest fires can do to destroy everything. On the other hand, to create and operate these data centers, computers, smartphones and other devices connected to the Internet, requires huge amounts of energy that contributes to global warming and accelerates the overall decline.

To save the Internet and ourselves, we need to strengthen and move we have created the infrastructure to find more environmentally friendly ways of working network and to rethink how we interact with the digital world. Ultimately, we must recognize that excessive consumption of online content does not go in vain — if we do not pay, will pay, our planet.

Infrastructure sinking

You probably don’t think about it, when you put like under the photo or read the article, but everything you do on the Internet, possibly through a global maze of physical infrastructure. There are data centers that host web sites daily and managing huge flows of information. Fiber optic cables transmit data in our homes and offices and even across oceans. Cell towers allow us to send and receive countless calls and messages.

By and large the infrastructure built without regard to climate change. Researchers and companies are only now beginning to understand how it may be affected by the change, but what they managed to learn, is a concern.

Take a study published last year by researchers from the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The authors decided to investigate the effect of sea level rise on the Internet, imposing the projection zone of flooding of the coastal areas forecasted by the National oceanic and atmospheric administration, on the projection data on the infrastructure of the Internet collected on the website “Atlas of the Internet” (Internet Atlas). They found that if, in accordance with forecasts for the next 15 years, global sea level will rise by about 30 centimeters, 6544 kilometers of fiber optic cables are likely to be submerged under water. In new York, Los Angeles and Seattle rising sea could flood about 20% of all high speed cables. These lines provide material transfer of our Internet traffic from place to place. It is expected that more 1101 “node” — a building or place where the cables come from under the earth, and where often placed computer servers, routers and switches to move data will also be photoplan.

And that’s just in the United States. As far as the head of the research group Paul Barford (Paul Barford), in other countries no one not systematically examined such weaknesses. But he is confident that the worldwide situation will be very similar.

“A huge number of people live in close proximity to the shoreline, and communications infrastructure was built to meet their needs,” said Barford “of Gizmodo” (Gizmodo).

Barford was not ready to evaluate how serious may be the problems with the Internet caused by the flooding of cables. Conduits for cables typically enclosed in a sturdy water-resistant plastic tube, and in contrast to the electrical wires hidden inside the fiber can withstand mild wet. But, as the study says, “the majority of existing pipelines are not designed for permanent placement under water.” If the water molecules will seep into the cracks of the fibers, this can lead to a deterioration of the signal. Can be damaged electrical connections with fiber optic cables, and if flooded cable will freeze, the fibers may simply be torn.

No one knows how much time is required to adequately assess the scale of possible damage. But Barford suspects that a large part of the infrastructure that are at risk, in the end, will have to strengthen or move above sea level. “Lots of paperwork”, he said.

“Gizmodo” addressed to telecommunications companies, the infrastructure which, according to the study, is the most vulnerable to find out whether this problem in their agenda. Some not answered at all, one company admitted that they did not take in response to this threat, and the other said that their network will not suffer due to the “adequate supply capacity and diversification of routes.”

Dave Schaeffer (Dave Schaeffer), CEO of telecommunications company “Cogent” (Cogent), expressed confidence in the reliability of their cables. But Schaeffer also said that there is reason to worry about those places where the cables come from under the earth.

Young people play Pokemon GO in Hong Kong

“They are directly affected if these buildings will be under water,” he said, adding that while most nodes in the network are located at a height of not less than 6 metres above sea level, more powerful storm surges are becoming more dangerous. The company has an idea of what can happen by accident during hurricane sandy, when the network hub located in new York, in the house at 10 pine street, was flooded by a storm surge, and the company had to move the generator and fuel tank on a higher floor. This procedure took several months.

At least one telecommunications company, at present, explicitly taking into account the effect of future climate change. Earlier this year, the largest telecommunications conglomerate AT & T in conjunction with the National laboratory at Argonne (Argonne National Laboratory) has developed a “Tool for analysis of climate change”, which, as told to “Gizmodo” Director of sustainable development Charlene lake (Charlene Lake), will allow the company “to visualize the risks of sea-level rise — on the community level and for 30 years, so we can advance to take the necessary measures to ensure sustainability”. Lake added that AT & T is also testing this tool for forecasting strong winds and storm surges, and plans in the future to include other climatic factors such as drought and large forest fires.

Barford has also increased the risk of forest fires and storm surges as two areas of future research work of his group. We must not forget that climate change leads to temperature rise, and hence the need for cooling data centers may increase, particularly in those who are in warm climates.

Ironically, in a world where these energy intensive facilities have to consume even more energy to stay cool, for example, during a heat wave, local area network theoretically are at even greater risk of outages, such as affecting 50 thousand clients in new York last month. Although this is only a hypothesis, but if a major data center goes down, it can lead to serious disruptions in the delivery of services.

According to Burford, “the consequences can be increasing, complex and definitely deserves attention”.

Energy consumption is growing at an unprecedented rate

The Internet may threaten climate change, but it is unlikely to be an innocent victim. Our collective dependence on digital media has a huge impact on the climate.

“Digital mythology is based on these words, as a cloud,” he said “Gizmodo” max Afue (Maxime Efoui), an engineer and researcher at the French research center “the Shift project” (Shift Project). “There’s something not quite real. Here’s how we imagine”.

In reality, however, for streaming all of the video files and backup all of those photos into the cloud requires enormous resources. Andre Anders (Anders Andrae), senior expert life cycle assessment in “Huawei”, told to “Gizmodo” that the share of the Internet in General — including the energy to power data centers, networks and individual devices, as well as the energy used in the production of these devices, accounting for about 7% of global electricity consumption, with electricity demand growing at about 8% per year. The report “the Shift project”, published in July, found that digital technologies now account for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions — more than the entire aviation sector. And this figure could double to 8% by 2025.

Gary cook (Gary Cook), analyst of the it sector of Greenpeace, said that this figure is due to the rapid growth of demand for data, especially in more affluent countries. This stems from many factors, including the transition to next generation networks 5G, which will allow to increase the flows of data, the development of artificial intelligence, the proliferation of the Internet of things, all of these energy-absorbing of bitcoin transactions and streaming video on the Internet, which had 60% of global web traffic in 2018, according to the “Shift project”. All that is needed to view video online, from video storage in data centers to transfer to our computers and smartphones using cables and mobile networks all require electricity in such quantities that our collective streaming last year created the same amount of carbon emissions as the whole of Spain.

If these numbers seem shocking, you are not alone. “Every time I communicate with people involved in technology, they are surprised with the fact that the servers are running on electricity, and electricity is often produced from fossil fuel”, — told to “Gizmodo” Chris Adams (Chris Adams), Director of the “Green network” (The Green Web Foundation), a group that helps companies switch to alternative web hosting.

It is obvious that the dependence from fossil fuels need to do something, if we are to avert the most serious consequences of climate change. Recently released a normative document according to which to start saving the energy you need from the data centers, the huge and rapidly growing piece of the pie, which currently accounts for about 2% of global electricity consumption.

It is encouraging that some technology companies are taking the first steps towards this. Currently, all data centers Apple is working on renewable resources, which the company owns or buys in the local markets. “Google” and “Microsoft azure” (Microsoft Azure), the two largest cloud companies, are buying power of renewable energy with the growth of their data centers. This means that the growth of use of electricity the company pays the same amount of renewable energy that will be built in other places. Although this so-called countervailing strategy does not preclude the use of fossil fuel energy to directly power data centers, “Google” and “Microsoft azure” claim that set a long-term goal. Representatives of Google said “Gizmodo” that many of the data centers owned by the company, has “moved to the partial use of carbon-free energy from local sources”, while “Microsoft azure” expects that by the end of the year 60% of the power demand in the data centers will come directly from renewable sources.

Technology companies are also constantly improving the energy efficiency in data centers, because it will allow them to make more profit, and they have a lot of new ideas and plans for the future. Google now uses artificial intelligence to automate the cooling of data centers, and “Alibaba cloud” (Alibaba Cloud), a major cloud service in China, boasts a “technology immersion liquid cooling” which can reduce the need for cooling of data centers up to 90%. Some researchers have even suggested that the new data centers will be built in Greenland, where the need for cooling will be minimal, but plenty of sustainable energy from hydropower plants.

However, Kerry Anne (Anne Currie), engineer, science fiction writer and supporter of greening data centers, warns that the Internet will not only be environmentally friendly due to efficiency, because the more efficient runs a thing, the more readily we will use it. “We just need to ensure that the society considered unacceptable installation of Internet infrastructure on fossil fuels,” said Kerry.

Most experts interviewed by the “Gizmodo”, agreed that the technological industry is moving in that direction fast enough. Unfortunately, cloud services Amazon (AWS), the world’s largest provider of cloud storage, with the end of 2014 has tripled operations in data centers in Virginia. According to a recent report of Greenpeace, the state receives only a small share of its energy from renewable wind and solar energy sources. AWS also was heavily criticized for lack of transparency in climate issues, including the fact that it does not disclose data on energy consumption and carbon emissions. (The company “Amazon” announced that it would begin to issue public reports on its carbon footprint this year.)

When we asked for comment to the company AWS, its officials said the report data “Greenpeace” on the consumption of the energy company and the share of renewable energy sources “inaccurate”, adding that the report overstates “both the current and projected energy use AWS” and “light sufficiently” investment in projects of solar energy in Virginia. (Greenpeace argues that the increase in the number of AWS data centers in Virginia “far exceeds” these investments.) AWS added that the company “firmly” on track to achieve its goal of 100% renewable energy for its global infrastructure, noting that in 2018 the share of renewable energy amounted to 50%.

AWS did not specify in what terms they intend to reach 100%, and did not name the date or period during which they will announce it when the “Gizmodo” asked about it directly. Stanger Orion (Orion Stanger), software engineer and member of the Association of employees of “Amazon” for a fair approach to climate change, which was created late last year to push Amazon for more action on climate change, said that the failure of the company to supply the date for this purpose is really a problem.

“We could even get back to 20% [renewable energy], and then at a later date to reach 100% and it still would match our objective,” he said Stenger “Gizmodo”. He wanted his company has set science-based targets to reduce emissions for all its activities, including in data centers.

“We really want the company “Amazon” was ahead of everyone in matters of climate, he went Stanger. — So far, it is mostly lagging behind.”

Paul Johnston (Paul Johnston), a former employee of AWS and supporter of eco-friendly mode of operation of the data centers, believes that if companies do not have to pay fines, or they otherwise will not be interested in switching to renewable energy sources, the pace of this transition will not be as fast, which, according to scientists, we need to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.

“I don’t think you can do without it”, — he said, when asked whether the state will control, to force the company to make the necessary conversion.

Some data centers finally may become subject to new regulations and laws. In July, the Amsterdam, which reportedly is the largest hub of data centres in Europe, has imposed a temporary moratorium on building new centres until you have developed some basic provisions for their work. The city wants to establish the requirement that data centers should use eco-friendly energy, and wants to ensure that these objects had collected a huge amount of waste heat that is produced, is another reason that data centers contribute to warming — free and delivered it to local residents.

The decision of Amsterdam to slow down the pace of construction of new centres was made after last year’s urban energy consumption of data centers increased by 20%. Gary cook was pleased that the city “does not remain aside and tries to change the approach to the growth of infrastructure.”

“Yet we were helped by volunteers, he said. But in the end, it is necessary that the government intervened and equal rules of the game”.

Digital “sobriety”

The transition of data centers, networks, and cities to more renewable energy sources will continue to be of great importance to reduce the impact of the Internet on climate. However, the unpleasant truth is that it will be very difficult to keep the bar in a world where people are spending more time watching videos, online play, browsing web pages and viewing tapes of their accounts in social networks (four types of activities, which together comprise about 90% of the traffic downloaded from the Internet, according to a report grid company “Sandin” (Sandvine) for 2018).

Some activists say that we need to reduce consumption. In his recent report about the online video project “Shift” called for a revolution of the “digital temperance”, which Afui called the implementation of policies aimed at limiting the growth of the Internet in a world of finite resources.

“If we really understand the seriousness of the constraints that await us and the systems we built… we have to consider,” he said.

As in fact we will limit the work in the Internet an open question. Should governments set limits on emissions for server parks and data centers, and to penalize companies that do not comply? Should streaming services such as “Netflix” (Netflix), to stimulate the audience to choose a standard resolution instead of HD? Whether deployed mass campaigns disconnected from the network around the world, like recently originated the movement to cancel flights? Afue believes that it is necessary “to use a maximum of options” and that in different places will apply different strategies depending on the local infrastructure and the needs of society.

Changes should not be too radical. In fact, a growing field of research known as design of eco-interaction with the user, shows that small changes in the applications and web sites can have a serious impact on consumption. A recent study of YouTube showed that if you just give users the option to disable video streaming when they listen to music, it will help to reduce the carbon footprint of this service, which is estimated at 11 million tons per year, by 5%. As the researchers note, is “comparable in scale” with the advantages for the climate, which was able to achieve the company “Google”, “buying renewable energy for your servers YouTube.

And this is just one little change. Another option is a notification which will remind the users of social networks that it is time to rest from viewing the tape. Or web sites can get rid of all those startup promotional video that nobody wants. Kelly Widdicks (Kelly Widdicks), PhD student at Lancaster University, which studies the impact of using devices with access to the Internet on society and the environment, said that the decision “Facebook” everywhere to enable automatic playback of advertising “greatly increased traffic” for many users.

“Before you had to interact with the platform to see anything, said Afui. — Now you need to interact with the platform to stop watching. This is a really big change.”

Biddix believes that companies can voluntarily make some changes if their customers will loudly declare, say, the health benefits from fewer hits. But it also not rejects favor of thinking about what a limit should they impose. Mike Hazas (Mike Hazas), lecturer at Lancaster University, studying the relationship between technology and ecological sustainability, concurred, noting that researchers estimate that by 2030 the Internet may consume more than one-fifth of all electricity in the world.

“If by 2030, doubled the aviation industry, it would be the main topic of discussion,” he said. (Actually, it was for many years.)

No one can tell in what form will exist online, but the situation definitely needs to change. And although the actions of a few individuals doesn’t help us to solve the problem, if many of us will change their behavior, the situation will change. Much can be done now.

We can start to use social networks. We can think twice before allowing AutoPlay the next episode, or abandon it and return to the good old broadcast, which Hasas called “very effective” compared to streaming. We can follow in order to host their websites and to buy cloud space from companies that have proven themselves as supporters of clean energy.

First of all, according to Kasasa, it is important to begin to “make informed decisions” and not to allow yourself to see the endless variety of content. “These services are very well thought out, he said. They made it so we didn’t stop to use them.”

Maddie stone (by Stone) — a freelance journalist from Philadelphia.

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