Infographic: The Internet Is (Maybe) Killing the Planet

By Nicholas Jackson

Most of the press that followed Greenpeace's Dirty Data report last week focused on how Apple is, the organization claims, the dirtiest of the big tech companies because of its coal-powered data centers in the Carolinas. But the report, timed to coincide with Earth Day, also had some negative things to say about the Internet in general. "The Internet accounts for more electricity consumption than all of Russia, according to Greenpeace," I wrote last week. "If it 'was a country, it would rank 5th for the amount of electricity usage, just below Japan,' the report finds. 'But unlike geographical states, the Internet's data centres can be found all over the world, clustering in locations that offer strong tax incentives and cheap, but often dirty, electricity.'"

WordStream, a search engine marketing company, pulled together several sources to build an infographic that takes a closer look at how much energy the Internet uses. There's a lot of information here, but we've pulled out some of the most striking points:

  • In 2005 the United States had a total of 10.3 million data centers and, combined, they consumed enough energy to power the entire UK for two months.
  • Between the years 2000 and 2006, total energy consumption for the Internet increased 200 percent while total traffic grew 32,000,000 percent.
  • While about 40 percent of all workers in the United States could work from home due to advances in technology, only 2.5 percent telecommute. 
  • Performing one Google search for "soylent green" produces the same amount of CO2 as driving a car for three inches. 
  • Every month, Google produced 260,000 kg of CO2, which is enough to power a freezer for 5,400 years.
  • A single spam message produces 0.3 grams of CO2. With about 62 trillion spam messages sent every year, the industry produces the equivalent CO2 emissions as 1.6 million cars.

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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/04/infographic-the-internet-is-maybe-killing-the-planet/237824/