Cloud computing: Environmental curse or blessing

General / Sustainability / Tech

Cloud computing: Environmental curse or blessing

Cloud computing refers to the on-demand availability of computer system resources, particularly data storage (cloud storage) and computing power, without the need for the user to actively manage them. The term refers to data centers that are accessible via the Internet to a large number of people. Surprisingly, there is a huge environmental impact of cloud computing on the ecosystem that most aren’t even aware of.

Environmental impact of cloud computing

We can send messages, share photos, download music, and watch videos with the click of a button thanks to the internet, but our online lifestyles have a startling environmental effect.  You have already responded to a few emails, sent a few chat messages, and maybe even done a fast online search today. As the day progresses, you’ll almost certainly spend more time online, uploading photos, listening to music, and watching videos.

Each of these online activities comes at a modest cost: emissions of CO2 in the atmosphere.  The internet is rapidly becoming a significant source of global carbon emissions, with video on demand, specifically, the growing popularity of “real-time” streamed video content, as the primary cause.

Despite the small amount of energy required for a single internet search or email, the internet is now used by approximately 4.1 billion people, or 53.6 percent of the world’s population. Those shards of energy, as well as the greenhouse gases released as a result of each online activity, will add up. Our gadgets, the internet, and the processes that support them account for about 3.7 percent of global greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions. If these things were switched to cloud computing, then the environmental impacts of cloud computing would be much more beneficial. By 2025, these emissions are expected to double.

In terms of carbon emissions, digital systems have even exceeded the aerospace industry. According to a recent survey by the Paris-based think tank The Shift Project, while aviation’s share of global CO2 emissions is estimated to be around 2.5 percent and increasing, nearly 4 percent of all CO2 emissions can now be attributed to global data transfer and the requisite infrastructure. However, most people don’t accept the environmental impact of cloud computing and thus nothing is done about it.

Why is there an environmental impact of cloud computing?

Cloud computing is an activity that has such a vast environmental impact but this impact is so subtle that not many even know the things they are doing wrong by using their devices. Electricity is required for anything a computer, tablet, or smartphone can do. And, to generate that electricity, the world continues to rely on fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide and contribute to heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Furthermore, due to the energy required to operate your devices and power the wireless networks you use, a few grams of carbon dioxide are released. The data centers and massive servers required to support the internet and store the content we access over it are less noticeable, but maybe even more energy-intensive. These actions contribute to the environmental impact of cloud computing in the world.

Does the environmental impact of cloud computing vary around the world?

The environmental impact of cloud computing varies depending on where you are in the world. The footprint of Internet users in certain parts of the world will be overly significant. According to one study, the average Australian internet user emitted the equivalent of 81kg (179lbs) of carbon dioxide (CO2e) into the atmosphere ten years ago.

Improvements in energy efficiency, economies of scale, and the use of renewable energy would undoubtedly have lowered this, but it is clear that the majority of the internet’s carbon footprint is still borne by individuals in developed countries.

How is the environmental impact of cloud computing positive?

According to Pike Research, a clean-tech business analysis company, cloud computing adoption would result in a 38 percent reduction in global data center energy spending by 2020, relative to what would otherwise be used.  The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) came to the same conclusion, estimating that big US businesses using cloud storage would save $12.3 billion in energy costs.

Cloud technology reduces carbon emissions by lowering energy demand and usage. According to a survey conducted by Accenture, Microsoft, and WSP, cloud computing has a major impact on carbon emissions. It claimed that by using cloud computing, large corporations can reduce their per-user carbon footprint by 30%, whereas small businesses can reduce their carbon footprint by up to 90%.

Cloud computing leads to sustainability by reducing the amount of material used. Dematerialization is the process of replacing high-carbon physical goods with virtual counterparts. This lowers energy consumption and carbon emissions. People who use cloud services are more likely to use virtual services like video streaming rather than resource-intensive physical goods.

Businesses may use cloud storage for more than just storing data safely, increasing performance, and lowering costs. It has many environmental benefits that are far too numerous to be ignored in an age where global warming and climate change are major concerns. Cloud computing has the potential to save billions of dollars in electricity costs and millions of metric tonnes of carbon emissions.

Thus, it is imperative that cloud computing should be normalized more in this era as the environmental impacts of cloud computing are too beneficial and numerous for us to ignore. We can help the environment through the more conscious use of the internet especially by using cloud computing. Otherwise, it won’t be too long before global warming engulfs the world, leaving us with the knowledge that we could have done something to make an impact.