Earth Day, once an annual grassroots protest by long-hairs, celebrated its 41st birthday this week. The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970 and was the brainchild of [green-beyond-his-time] Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. We've all been Gore-ified since then but here's the (grossly over-simplified) reality: today, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 392 PPB (parts per billion). In 1970, that level was 328. That's a 20% increase in 41 years, shocking given that the previous 20% increase took 500 years. More disturbing: anything above 350 is unhealthy and the rate of change is increasing.
Which is why Greenpeace's railing against Facebook and Apple for building coal-dependent data centers and the California legislature's passage two weeks back of a landmark clean energy bill mandating 33% of the state's energy to be generated from renewable resources by 2020 are more than hippie-era social unrest. We in IT are responsible for emitting massive quantities of CO2 and can do much more to address the problem. Consider: 1.5% of global energy consumption is from power-hungry data centers and that will only increase as cloud computing mushrooms. Oh, and it is: lately, new data centers are cropping up in rural everywhere like paparazzi descending on a royal wedding.
We're not helping but there's hope. As with so many social ills (poverty, famine, war, ...) the antidote is mobile technology. No, really. Mobile employees have a lower carbon footprint and exercise disproportionate influence over everyone else. We're technology's aristocracy and others look to us for guidance. Why do we have a lower carbon footprint? It's tough to accurately measure [sidenote: the best way I've seen is with the excellent "My Carbon Footprint" app from Proctor & Gamble] but here are a few things we know:
- Rely on data in the cloud which requires fewer physical, local servers. Cloud-based apps are up to 95% more efficient than on premise ones (and public clouds are up to 64% more efficient than private clouds) according to WSP Environment & Energy.
- Spend less time on PCs. On average, smartphones and tablets consume 8-26 times less power than PCs (the low end of the range is a comparison with laptops, the high end is with desktops).
- Don't commute as much. As long as those fewer car miles don't mean more frequent flier miles virtual work is significantly more eco-friendly.
But how can we green ourselves further? It's going to get easier. Better battery technology (think fuel cells that last ten times as long as today's lithium-ion batteries) will soon eliminate the cord-to-outlet mambo (for the record, I spend half my life doing that in airports - hasn't anybody solved that problem?). Smarter mobile social tools, better virtualization technology, and ubiquitous access to apps in the cloud will make it easier to be more productive with fewer physical servers and no PCs. Plus, telepresence technology will finally eliminate the ridiculousness of cross-continent travel for two-hour meetings.
So even if it's shoot 'em up games keeping you glued to the iPad, fire away. Because all eyes are looking at you for technology advice and your smartphone or tablet just may be the best answer we've got for undoing generations of neglect.
The postings in this blog are my own and don't necessarily represent BMC's opinion or position.