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Community digital economy  is its energy thirst destructive | Upload Lifestyle

Digital Economy: Is Its Energy Thirst Destructive

by: Sharai Hoekema
digital economy  is its energy thirst destructive | Upload

At first glance, it seems as if the digital economy is benefitting our planet. After all, it does require a lot less (air) travel and production of physical goods, with meetings now being conducted in a virtual environment instead of in remote city attendees will have to fly in to. 

Digital Economy

Similarly, we can now listen to our music or watch our movies online instead of purchasing a physical object that requires a lot of energy and resources to make - not to mention the amount of plastic. We now trade, meet, consume, produce, and work online, allowing us to get in touch with people across the world in near real-time. Boundaries are fading, and so are restraints on time and place.

Seems like a win for the environment. Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to most things - including the digital’s economic footprint on our planet. 

Recommended: Why Smart Phones Are Killing Our Planet

One could look at the vehicles that we use for tuning in to the digital economy. Our smartphones, tablets, and laptops are notorious sources of pollution and resource exhaustion through its production and operation processes. While rare earth elements are wasted for their manufacturing, the energy requirements of production factories, cloud computing, and data centers are excessive.

Circuit board
The world’s data centers produce about the same amount of carbon dioxide as global air travel. 

Most of the energy that drives the digital economy is still generated using coal. One of the dirtiest energy generators is powering the movement that has promised to cut down on our emissions. As we stand today, this is preventing our digital economy from being compatible with the green economy, the world is desperately trying to make a reality.


                                               Digital Economy: Is Its Footprint Threatening Our Planet?
                                                             Datacenter, the hidden face of the web


Digital Economy And Its Footprint. Coal Is Still King For The Internet

So, to fuel the digital economy, we exploit the earth’s rare elements at an alarming rate. After all, our electric cars and iPhones ten heavily rely on heavy metals and minerals that we are not only quickly running out of, but that are also dependant upon a very polluting production process. Add to this the disposable nature of the created goods and the lack of proper recycling, and it is not hard to see why our modern goodies have left such a dent in the earth’s wellbeing.

Graph rear earth metals
Preliminary data (p) on the global production of rare earth elements, 1988-2018.  

In China, for instance, one of the world’s largest producers of such metals and minerals, concerned voices are being raised about the effect that these heavy metals and radioactive materials have when released in water bodies, soil, and air. These metals require immense amounts of energy to be processed and produced, while it leaves companies with alarming quantities of (radioactive) waste.

Recommended: Your Smartphone Is Polluting And Generating Massive Waste

satellite image open mine pit
Satellite image of the Bayan Obo mine in China, taken on June 30, 2006. Vegetation appears in red, grassland is light brown, rocks are black, and the water surfaces are green

To power this production process, coal is still the preferred source. Unfortunately, this is also the most significant contributor to climate change. This leads to the digital economy speeding up global warming, instead of tapping in its potential for reducing it.

Digital Economy: Its Footprint Threatening Our Planet. Energy Hogs

The energy-hogging already starts at the production stage. From there, it keeps on going - with the immense amounts of energy required to keep our digital economy going. Just look at data centers, which are necessarily warehouses for the transmitted data. These bad boys have been credited with emitting a massive 2% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions. This places them in the same league as global air travel. 

So we might travel less because of the digital economy, but this alternative has an eerily similar effect on our environment. A recent report in Asia pointed out that the Chinese data centers alone have produced about 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018. This roughly correlates with 21 million cars driven for one year.

Speaking of cars versus the digital economy. Artificial intelligence is on the rise, yet at a pretty significant cost. The feeding of data into a single computer and asking it to make predictions based on it requires the same amount of energy as the average American car in its lifetime. 

Another popular digital trend is that of blockchain technologies, powering cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Unfortunately, the energy that is required to create one dollar worth of Bitcoin is about twice the amount of energy it costs to produce one dollar worth of gold, platinum, or copper.

Recommended: Bitcoin Mining: Why Would You Waste Energy

All of this is not to mention the so-called ‘e-waste,’ or the waste generated by data centers and other products of the digital economy. Often toxic and even more often impossible to recycle, this poses yet another risk.

Digital Economy: Its Footprint Threatening Our Planet? Thinking Differently

Two major things are changing in the world right now—first, the trend of sustainability and the creation of a green economy. Second, the growing digitization. While these two are mostly incompatible today, there is room to marry the two and move forward towards a greener digital economy. 

high voltage cables, masts

We will have to start thinking differently. About recycling and disposing of waste. About using greener energy sources to power our data centers. About alternative metals and materials that can be used in our smartphones. The digital economy has brought us a lot, that is undeniable. Now it is time for us to figure out what we can do for the digital economy to make it healthier for all of us.

Before you go!

Recommended: Digital Ecosystem For The Environment: Big Data Worldwide

Did you find this an interesting article, or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below.
We try to respond the same day.

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Click on 'Register' or push the button 'Write An Article' on the 'HomePage.'

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Digital Economy: Is Its Energy Thirst Destructive

At first glance, it seems as if the digital economy is benefitting our planet. After all, it does require a lot less (air) travel and production of physical goods, with meetings now being conducted in a virtual environment instead of in remote city attendees will have to fly in to.   Digital Economy Similarly, we can now listen to our music or watch our movies online instead of purchasing a physical object that requires a lot of energy and resources to make - not to mention the amount of plastic. We now trade, meet, consume, produce, and work online, allowing us to get in touch with people across the world in near real-time. Boundaries are fading, and so are restraints on time and place. Seems like a win for the environment. Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to most things - including the digital’s economic footprint on our planet.   Recommended:  Why Smart Phones Are Killing Our Planet One could look at the vehicles that we use for tuning in to the digital economy. Our smartphones, tablets, and laptops are notorious sources of pollution and resource exhaustion through its production and operation processes. While rare earth elements are wasted for their manufacturing, the energy requirements of production factories, cloud computing, and data centers are excessive. The world’s data centers produce about the same amount of carbon dioxide as global air travel.  Most of the energy that drives the digital economy is still generated using coal. One of the dirtiest energy generators is powering the movement that has promised to cut down on our emissions. As we stand today, this is preventing our digital economy from being compatible with the green economy, the world is desperately trying to make a reality. {youtube}                                                Digital Economy: Is Its Footprint Threatening Our Planet?                                                              Datacenter, the hidden face of the web Digital Economy And Its Footprint. Coal Is Still King For The Internet So, to fuel the digital economy, we exploit the earth’s rare elements at an alarming rate. After all, our electric cars and iPhones ten heavily rely on heavy metals and minerals that we are not only quickly running out of, but that are also dependant upon a very polluting production process. Add to this the disposable nature of the created goods and the lack of proper recycling, and it is not hard to see why our modern goodies have left such a dent in the earth’s wellbeing. Preliminary data (p) on the global production of rare earth elements, 1988-2018.   In China, for instance, one of the world’s largest producers of such metals and minerals, concerned voices are being raised about the effect that these heavy metals and radioactive materials have when released in water bodies, soil, and air. These metals require immense amounts of energy to be processed and produced, while it leaves companies with alarming quantities of (radioactive) waste. Recommended:  Your Smartphone Is Polluting And Generating Massive Waste Satellite image of the Bayan Obo mine in China, taken on June 30, 2006. Vegetation appears in red, grassland is light brown, rocks are black, and the water surfaces are green To power this production process, coal is still the preferred source. Unfortunately, this is also the most significant contributor to climate change. This leads to the digital economy speeding up global warming, instead of tapping in its potential for reducing it. Digital Economy: Its Footprint Threatening Our Planet. Energy Hogs The energy-hogging already starts at the production stage. From there, it keeps on going - with the immense amounts of energy required to keep our digital economy going. Just look at data centers, which are necessarily warehouses for the transmitted data. These bad boys have been credited with emitting a massive 2% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions. This places them in the same league as global air travel.   So we might travel less because of the digital economy, but this alternative has an eerily similar effect on our environment. A recent report in Asia pointed out that the Chinese data centers alone have produced about 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018. This roughly correlates with 21 million cars driven for one year. Speaking of cars versus the digital economy. Artificial intelligence is on the rise, yet at a pretty significant cost. The feeding of data into a single computer and asking it to make predictions based on it requires the same amount of energy as the average American car in its lifetime.   Another popular digital trend is that of blockchain technologies, powering cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Unfortunately, the energy that is required to create one dollar worth of Bitcoin is about twice the amount of energy it costs to produce one dollar worth of gold, platinum, or copper. Recommended:  Bitcoin Mining: Why Would You Waste Energy All of this is not to mention the so-called ‘e-waste,’ or the waste generated by data centers and other products of the digital economy. Often toxic and even more often impossible to recycle, this poses yet another risk. Digital Economy: Its Footprint Threatening Our Planet? Thinking Differently Two major things are changing in the world right now—first, the trend of sustainability and the creation of a green economy. Second, the growing digitization. While these two are mostly incompatible today, there is room to marry the two and move forward towards a greener digital economy.   We will have to start thinking differently. About recycling and disposing of waste. About using greener energy sources to power our data centers. About alternative metals and materials that can be used in our smartphones. The digital economy has brought us a lot, that is undeniable. Now it is time for us to figure out what we can do for the digital economy to make it healthier for all of us. Before you go! Recommended:  Digital Ecosystem For The Environment: Big Data Worldwide Did you find this an interesting article, or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your article about the effect of smartphones in your neighborhood? Click on  'Register'  or push the button 'Write An Article' on the  'HomePage.'
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