January 18, 2021

The Planet Needs a New Internet

An anonymous reader shares a report: When climate change comes for our coffee and our wine, we’ll moan about it on Twitter, read about it on our favorite websites, and watch diverting videos on YouTube to fill the icy hole in our hearts. We’ll do all this until the websites go dark and the networks go down because eventually, climate change will come for our internet, too. That is, unless we can get the web ready for the coming storms. Huge changes will be needed because right now, the internet is unsustainable. On the one hand, rising sea levels threaten to swamp the cables and stations that transmit the web to our homes; rising temperatures could make it more costly to run the data centers handling ever-increasing web traffic; wildfires could burn it all down. On the other, all of those data centers, computers, smartphones, and other internet-connected devices take a prodigious amount of energy to build and to run, thus contributing to global warming and hastening our collective demise.

To save the internet and ourselves, we’ll need to harden and relocate the infrastructure we’ve built, find cleaner ways to power the web, and reimagine how we interact with the digital world. Ultimately, we need to recognize that our tremendous consumption of online content isnâ(TM)t free of consequences — if we’re not paying, the planet is. You probably don’t think about it when you’re liking a photo or reading an article, but everything you do online is underpinned by a globe-spanning labyrinth of physical infrastructure. There are the data centers hosting the web and managing enormous flows of information on the daily. There are the fiber cables transmitting data to into our homes and offices, and even across oceans. There are cell towers sending and receiving countless calls and texts on the daily.