Computers and the environment: Buy our stuff, save the planet

The internet could become as ungreen as aviation. A self-serving solution beckonsIn computing, buzzwords are in most cases just that. But the latest, “cloud computing”, stands for a real trend: computing is increasingly being supplied as a service over the internet (depicted as a “cloud” in many charts). Still, there is something wrong with the term.

And this figure is growing. Data centres consumed 0.6% of the world’s electricity in 2000, and 1% in 2005. Globally, they are already responsible for more carbon-dioxide emissions per year than Argentina or the Netherlands, according to a recent study by McKinsey, a consultancy, and the Uptime Institute, a think-tank. If today’s trends hold, these emissions will have grown four-fold by 2020, reaching 670m tonnes. By some estimates, the carbon footprint of cloud computing will then be larger than that of aviation.

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