Digital technology and carbon emissions

I was at the Web Summit last week in Lisbon. I’ve never seen quite so many black North Face rucksacks in one place, although black faces were almost totally absent. OK, there was some refreshing energy and optimism, but also quite a bit of delusion (in my opinion) surrounding future AI and the inevitability of conscious machines.

But the best bit was, without doubt, the sustainable merchandise. Hand-knitted jumpers for £800 and re-useable drink containers. Heaven forbid that any of the 70,000 attendees used a single use coffee cup. These, of course, were all sold alongside the fact that tech uses around 15-20 per cent of global energy (depending on whom you believe) and has a carbon footprint that would put BP and Boeing to shame (See a good article on the carbon footprint of AI here).

Clearly any industry will create emissions, especially during any transition to clean energy, but what gets my goat is how certain groups and individuals have focussed on one area (e.g. flying) at the total exclusion of others. For example, emissions from the global fashion industry and textile industries match and possibly exceed aviation.

BTW, if anyone has a reliable figure for carbon emissions created by Apple, Facebook and Uber et al – but especially Google and Amazon (incl. AWS) please share!

3 thoughts on “Digital technology and carbon emissions

  1. AMZN has said they’re going to release their footprint this year, but likely won’t until all of their offsets are lined up. ( The company has taken a very public stance on becoming carbon-neutral, but time will tell.

    AWS has a page dedicated to sustainability. ( Their page does make the interesting point that businesses shifting from their own server farms to data centers lessens the impact.

    Bloomberg puts their 2018 emissions at 44 million metric tons. ( Interestingly, they still lag behind Walmart, who seems to never get beaten up on this topic. The article mentions Apple as well. I wonder if Apple’s calculation includes their overseas third-party production facilities.

  2. Nice one. I alawys had a google search being equivalent to boiling a kettle, but that now seems excessive. “One Google search consumes the same amount of energy as turning on a 60W light bulb for about 17 seconds” x number of searches globally, obviuously.

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