Why Data Centre Owners Want Carbon Laws Terminated

From eWEEK Europe UK:

In the dog days of summer you might, like me, find yourself with a bit more time on your hands than usual. Given the standard of the average British summer, spending all of it frolicking in the great outdoors isn’t always an option. Sitting down to watch a few sci-fi classics is one alternative – albeit a geeky one. But beware, rather than escapism, some of these films have a way of focusing the mind on real-world issues in an unexpected way.

In the dystopian imaginings of two of my favourite films, The Terminator and Blade Runner, irresponsible application of technology is to blame for ravaged landscapes and a distinct lack of anything warm and furry, or green and leafy for that matter. So rather than being immersed in cyborgs, guns and high-octane action, I found myself musing on the relationship between tech and the environment.

Avatar: Tech vs Environment

High-tech and the natural world just don’t mix, seems to be the message of a lot of sci-fi. In a head to head contest one is going to come off worse and, usually, it’s the green stuff that suffers. Most recently Avatar demonstrated this violent opposition of technology and natural habitat with primitive people defending their forest home from a tech-dependent human army. One of the key parts of the film involves a sacred tree being torched in the name of progress – a crude metaphor maybe but an effective one.

The irony of the environmental message at the heart of Avatar and the warnings of techno-meddling from films such as The Terminator, is that the films themselves are the product of technological advancements. Avatar is seen as the bleeding edge of 3D technology, with the TV industry pinning its hopes on the movie to drive the next wave of upgrades. Environmental groups have already pointed out the inherent contradiction that a film with an environmental message may potentially spark a tech-refresh with all its e-waste generating implications.

The relationship between technology and environmental sustainability is obviously more nuanced than popular culture would have us believe. The massive green elephant in the room is the whole rise of so-called clean technology and renewable energy – from wind turbines to hydrogen fuel cells – which are all dependent on new and innovative technology. Overhauling power grids and the way consumers monitor their energy use will save huge amounts of carbon. But this application of so-called smart meters and grids isn’t possible without upgrading existing infrastructure and rolling-out new technology. Counter-intuitively, to lessen the impact of tech on the environment we have to build more of it.

But another aspect to the complex relationship between the environment and technological progress is that technology – specifically IT – has the potential to not only become more sustainable through refinement but actually lessen the impact of other man-made activities. A power-efficient data centre which utilises renewable energy, such as the Other World Computing (OWC) facility in Woodstock Illinois, is not only inherently sustainable but the tools it could provide – email, web collaboration and video conferencing – replace the need for more carbon intensive activities such as air-travel.

For more go to eWEEK Europe UK

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