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the-staggering-ecological-impacts-of-computation-and-the-cloud.md (6903B)


      1 <https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/the-staggering-ecological-impacts-of-computation-and-the-cloud/>
      2 
      3 > Anthropologist Steven Gonzalez Monserrate draws on five years of
      4 > research and ethnographic fieldwork in server farms to illustrate some
      5 > of the diverse environmental impacts of data storage.
      6 >
      7 > [···]
      8 >
      9 > The words you are reading are a point of entry into an ethereal realm
     10 > that many call the “Cloud.”
     11 >
     12 > [...]
     13 >
     14 > But just as the clouds above us, however formless or ethereal they may
     15 > appear to be, are in fact made of matter, the Cloud of the digital is
     16 > also relentlessly material.
     17 >
     18 > [···]
     19 >
     20 > To get at the matter of the Cloud we must unravel the coils of coaxial
     21 > cables, fiber optic tubes, cellular towers, air conditioners, power
     22 > distribution units, transformers, water pipes, computer servers, and
     23 > more. We must attend to its material flows of electricity, water, air,
     24 > heat, metals, minerals, and rare earth elements that undergird our
     25 > digital lives. In this way, the Cloud is not only material, but is
     26 > also an ecological force. As it continues to expand, its environmental
     27 > impact increases, even as the engineers, technicians, and executives
     28 > behind its infrastructures strive to balance profitability with
     29 > sustainability.
     30 >
     31 > [···]
     32 
     33 ## Cloud the Carbonivore ##
     34 
     35 >
     36 > Heat is the waste product of computation, and if left unchecked, it
     37 > becomes a foil to the workings of digital civilization.
     38 >
     39 > [···]
     40 >
     41 > In North America, most data centers draw power from “dirty”
     42 > electricity grids, especially in Virginia’s “data center alley,” the
     43 > site of 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic in 2019. To cool,
     44 > the Cloud burns carbon, what Jeffrey Moro calls an “elemental irony.”
     45 > In most data centers today, cooling accounts for greater than 40
     46 > percent of electricity usage.
     47 >
     48 > [...]
     49 >
     50 > While some of the most advanced, “hyperscale” data centers, like those
     51 > maintained by Google, Facebook, and Amazon, have pledged to transition
     52 > their sites to carbon-neutral [...] , many of the smaller-scale data
     53 > centers that I observed lack the resources and capital to pursue
     54 > similar sustainability initiatives.
     55 >
     56 > [...]
     57 >
     58 > if the entire Cloud shifted to hyperscale facilities, energy usage
     59 > might drop as much as 25 percent.
     60 >
     61 > [...]
     62 
     63 Mais rendu là, ferions nous face au [Paradoxe de
     64 Jevons](https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradoxe_de_Jevons)?
     65 
     66 > the Cloud now has a greater carbon footprint than the airline
     67 > industry. A single data center can consume the equivalent electricity
     68 > of 50,000 homes. At 200 terawatt hours (TWh) annually, data centers
     69 > collectively devour more energy than some nation-states. Today, the
     70 > electricity utilized by data centers accounts for 0.3 percent of
     71 > overall carbon emissions, and if we extend our accounting to include
     72 > networked devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets, the total
     73 > shifts to 2 percent of global carbon emissions.
     74 >
     75 > [...]
     76 >
     77 > In some cases, only 6 to 12 percent of energy consumed is devoted to
     78 > active computational processes. The remainder is allocated to cooling
     79 > and maintaining chains upon chains of redundant fail-safes to prevent
     80 > costly downtime.
     81 >
     82 > [···]
     83 
     84 ## Cloud is also quite thirsty ##
     85 
     86 >
     87 > the Cloud is also quite thirsty. Like a pasture, server farms are
     88 > irrigated.
     89 >
     90 > [...]
     91 >
     92 > This shift from cooling air to cooling water is an attempt to reduce
     93 > carbon footprint, but it comes at a cost. Weathering historic drought
     94 > and heat domes, communities in the western United States are
     95 > increasingly strained for water resources.
     96 >
     97 > [...]
     98 >
     99 > some politicians are now openly opposing the construction of data
    100 > centers, framing the centers’ water usage as inessential and
    101 > irresponsible given resource constraints.
    102 >
    103 > [...]
    104 >
    105 > Data centers consume millions of gallons of Arizona water daily.
    106 >
    107 > [...]
    108 
    109 Qu'en est-il de ceux que nous avons au Québec?
    110 
    111 > explosive growth expected in data storage infrastructures over the
    112 > next decade, a tripling by some estimates.
    113 >
    114 > [...]
    115 >
    116 > global temperatures are projected to rise by 2.7◦C by the end of the
    117 > century [...] creating near-ubiquitous conditions of water scarcity by
    118 > 2040 if governments and companies fail to intensify their efforts to
    119 > curb emissions.
    120 >
    121 > [...]
    122 
    123 ## The Cloud Is Not Silent ##
    124 
    125 > [...]
    126 >
    127 > Over vast distances, the sonic exhaust of our digital lives
    128 > reverberates: the minute vibrations of hard disks, the rumbling of air
    129 > chillers, the cranking of diesel generators, the mechanical spinning
    130 > of fans. Data centers emit acoustic waste, what environmentalists call
    131 > “noise pollution.”
    132 >
    133 > [...]
    134 >
    135 > The acute and longitudinal physiological effects of industrial noise
    136 > pollution are well-documented to include hearing loss, elevated stress
    137 > hormones like cortisol, hypertension, and insomnia.
    138 >
    139 > [...]
    140 >
    141 > Unlike other industries, data centers are largely self-regulating:
    142 > There is no sweeping federal agency to govern the siting and operation
    143 > of new and existing facilities.
    144 >
    145 > [...]
    146 
    147 ## Immortal Waste ##
    148 
    149 > Since the year 2007, when the first smartphone debuted on the
    150 > marketplace, over seven billion devices of the sort have since been
    151 > manufactured. Their lifespans average less than two years, a
    152 > consequence of designed obsolescence and a thirst to profit from
    153 > flashy new features and capabilities.
    154 >
    155 > [...]
    156 >
    157 > Under grueling conditions, miners tirelessly plumb the earth for the
    158 > rare metals required to make information and communications technology
    159 > (ICT) devices. Then, in vast factories like Foxconn located in the
    160 > Global South, where labor can be procured cheaply and legal
    161 > protections for workers are scant, smartphones are assembled and
    162 > shipped out to consumers, only to be discarded in a matter of months,
    163 > to end up in e-waste graveyards like those of Agbogbloshie,
    164 > Ghana. These metals, many of which are toxic and contain radioactive
    165 > elements, take millennia to decay.
    166 >
    167 > [···]
    168 >
    169 > Historian Nathan Ensmenger writes that a single desktop computer
    170 > requires 240 kilograms of fossil fuels, 22 kilograms of chemicals, and
    171 > 1,500 kilograms of water to manufacture.
    172 >
    173 > [...]
    174 >
    175 > Historian Nathan Ensmenger writes that a single desktop computer
    176 > requires 240 kilograms of fossil fuels, 22 kilograms of chemicals, and
    177 > 1,500 kilograms of water to manufacture.
    178 >
    179 > [...]
    180 >
    181 > The ecological dynamics we find ourselves in are not entirely a
    182 > consequence of design limits, but of human practices and choices —
    183 > among individuals, communities, corporations, and governments —
    184 > combined with a deficit of will and imagination to bring about a
    185 > sustainable Cloud. The Cloud is both cultural and technological. Like
    186 > any aspect of culture, the Cloud’s trajectory — and its ecological
    187 > impacts — are not predetermined or unchangeable. Like any aspect of
    188 > culture, they are mutable.