Innovations are good – great in fact – until they start biting the hands that feed them. Just as the world looks to become completely digitalized, the same world seems to suffer from tech-influenced mayhem. The relationship that advanced technology and the environment has, mirrors that of a toxic romance.
On one hand, the data provided through the use of these digital infrastructures inform the solutions needed to tackle climate problems. On the other, the energy emission involved in this data generation poses a threat to the atmosphere.
Between 2010 and 2015, the tech industry was responsible for 1.4% of global emissions; including user devices, networks and data centres. The increase in digital consumption has caused the heating of the earth which has consequently led to harsh weather conditions including flooding and drought. Because the cloud is so easily accessible, tech operators store a whole load more than it should be. Space is so cheap hence the creation of wasteful websites, applications, API calls and architecture.
On the flipside, researchers use a range of these machines and infrastructures- data centres, networks, sensors mounted on drones, airplanes and even Google street view cars- to measure energy emissions at every link in the supply sequence. Data from this research has been seen to be instrumental in pointing out the climate problem and navigating solutions— an ironic goal in itself.
To better manage and optimize the environment whether at work or at home, companies and organizations in bed with these digital infrastructures need to renew their vows while protecting their innovations and sustaining the earth. It is a case of compromise just as in marriages. As much as it seems that digitization is going against nature and the earth’s inhabitants, there is no hiding the fact that the innovation it brings makes life easier.
It is, therefore, necessary for those digital creations to have as little impact as possible on the environment and propel in the UNFCCC goal of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system”.