The general internet infrastructure that we love so much because it enables peer to peer dynamics, is also itself part of the problem in causing global warming. How can we preserve this important infrastructure under the pressure of the environmental cost?
This issue is causing some p2p-advocates sleepless nights, so it is with great joy that I discovered the creative proposals of Canadian ‘green broadband‘ activist Bill St. Arnaud. He turns the problem around: rather than a problem, the cyber-infrastructure is actually one of our greatest tools in combatting global warming.
Bill first states the problem:
“There are various estimates that ICT hardware in terms of computers,
routers and switches consumes upwards of 9% of the energy production in
North America. The first challenge for the ICT research community should
be, at least, to reduce this carbon footprint.”
“Large, centralized and extreme high efficiency ICT equipment using renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power may be the future physical architecture of the Internet and Cyber-infrastructure. But no one wants to go back to the bad old days of large centralized mainframes and carrier networks.”
“Virtualization allows multiple independently managed network and virtual organizations to exist on a common very high energy efficiency network substrate and computational fabric. So all the modern advantages of intelligence and control at the edge can be maintained and new applications and service such as P2P, Web 2.0, etc can be deployed by users without getting permission of the owners of the underlying substrate.”
The second part of the answer is to induce the right motivation from energy/internet users, for which he proposes not negative punishment such as carbon taxes, but rewards, in the form of ‘bits for carbon trading‘.
“To date the most obvious approaches to mitigate against global warming is to impose carbon taxes or implement various forms of carbon trading such as cap and trade or carbon offsetting.
Carbon taxes however, even if revenue neutral, are going to meet with stiff political resistance. Rather than imposing taxes can we instead provide carbon “rewards” where consumers and businesses are rewarded for reducing their carbon footprint, rather than being penalized if they don’t?
To date carbon trading has been associated with various government mandated cap and trade systems or unregulated carbon offset trading. In cap and trade systems large carbon emitters are allocated carbon emission targets and can only exceed these targets by purchasing carbon permits from organizations who produce far less carbon. In offset trading there are a number of independent companies that audit and trade carbon offsets of individuals and businesses for high carbon emission activities such as air travel offset against telecommuting and other energy saving practices.
However these markets are very immature and relatively small.
Instead of trading carbon emission for carbon reduction, perhaps a better scheme would be to trade bits and bandwidth which have an extremely small footprint against activities that have a heavy carbon footprint.”
There is a lot more at the Green Broadband site, such as a general explanation and his proposal to create decentralized ‘follow the sun’ and ‘follow the wind’ computing grids.