We think the Cloud is in the sky, but actually, it's in the ocean.
Undersea fiberoptic cables are responsible for about 90% of all data transmission. That means your texts, emails, video games, and streaming services are all coming from wires on the ocean floor— not a cloud or satellite in the sky.
Currently there is enough fiber optic cable under the oceans to circle the earth 22 times, with the longest cable spanning 24,000 miles. Together the 550,000 miles of cable transmit 99% of international digital data.
“The engine that drives The Cloud is the data center. Data centers are the factories of the 21st century information age, containing thousands of computers that store and manage our rapidly growing collection of data for consumption at a moment’s notice. These cloud data centers, many of which can be seen from space, consume a tremendous amount of electricity; some consume the equivalent of nearly 180,000 homes. Unfortunately, despite the tremendous innovation they contain and the clean- energy potential they possess, most IT companies are rapidly expanding without considering how their choice of energy could impact society.”
“the internet as a whole—including the energy used to power data centers, networks, and individual devices, as well as the energy used during the manufacturing of those devices—is responsible for about 7 percent of global electricity consumption, with power demands growing at around 8 percent per year.”
Our tremendous consumption of online content isn’t free of consequences—if we’re not paying, the planet is.
Apple runs all of its data centers on renewables. Google & Microsoft Azure purchase renewable credits. And Amazon (the largest cloud company in the world) is way behind as of 2019.
From storing the videos in data centers to transferring them to our computers and smartphones via cables and mobile networks, everything about watching videos online requires electricity, so much so that our collective streaming emitted as much carbon as all of Spain last year.
What you can do about it:
Get the Internet off fossil fuels!
- Host websites and buy cloud space with companies that have demonstrated a real commitment to clean energy
- Store files locally, on a hard drive rather than on the Cloud
- Speak up! If you’re switching providers, let them know you are leaving them. Call your representatives. Suggest similar changes at your workplace or organization.
Clean Clean is guide telling you how "dirty" your favorite providers are, like Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook.
Check out Grow Your Own Cloud, a brilliant project that "works with data as a material and nature as a technology. Our work centres on working with DNA data storage methods to express a new materiality around data, to imagine futures in which data is a sustainable and public resource."
Fusion made some great infographics to visualize how it works.
A report from the Shift Project found that digital technologies now accounts for 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—more than the entire aviation sector. And that footprint could double to 8% by 2025.
A recent study on YouTube found that simply allowing users to turn off video streaming when they’re listening to music could slash the service’s 11-million ton a year carbon footprint by up to 5 percent. As the researchers note, that’s “comparable in scale” to the climate benefits Google has achieved by purchasing renewables to power YouTube’s servers.
 Greenpeace's How Clean is your Cloud (2012) goes into detail on how the data storage industry uses fossil fuels. Great resource to learn how to make environmentally-conscious choices about the services we use. (Report)
Tomas Edler & Anders Andrae On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030 (Report)