Greenpeace has a new report out highlighting the climate impact of cloud computing and devices like the Apple iPad that rely on it to stream video, download music, load Greenpeace.org, etc. The “Make IT Green” report calls on Apple and other tech leaders to tackle the problem, noting that carbon pollution from cloud computing is set to triple in the next decade.
Greenpeace wants you to know it’s not “picking on Apple” or “dissing the iPad” by riding their attention wave (the iPad goes on sale this Saturday). In fact, last month it set its sights on Facebook, which plans to open an Oregon data center powered mostly by coal plants.
But the new campaign distorts the big picture, as Worldchanging’s Alex Steffen notes: “Sounds scary, right? Except when you actually look up the numbers. Computing accounts for a bit less than 3% of U.S. energy usage, according to Lawrence Livermore Labs. The global IT industry as a whole generates about 2% of global CO2 emissions.”
Steffen suggests a better if less trendy focus: “Cars, on the other hand, which the vast majority of the people Greenpeace is trying to target also own, are the single largest contributor to climate change, according to NASA, exceeding all other sources in their impacts, and exceeding computing’s global impacts by more than a factor of ten.”
There’s a man-bites-dog appeal to exposing the “dirty” impact of high-tech computing, like the media coverage last year claiming that a Google search requires much energy as boiling a tea kettle. Such stories usually overlook telecommuting, online shopping, and the bazillion other ways the web allows users to bypass fuel-burning activities. These technologies bring far more promise than peril for engineering sustainable societies. Except for robot journalists—those are nothing but peril.