Green sustainable IT is a sop to middle class consciences

At the national itSMF conferences of both New Zealand and Australia this year, I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Tristan Boot, Alison Rowe and Karen Ferris called What Happens When the Greenie, Guru & IT Skeptic Meet? to discuss green sustainable IT. Guess which one I was.

(Apparently "Green IT" is out and "Sustainable IT" is in. When an idea changes its name it is an indicator to me that it fell short of the hype the first time and needs to rebrand. Think CMDB/CMS.)

It was a lot of fun. Alison was a good sport about my mocking a topic that is clearly her passion, though she got revenge by giving me the flu that she battled during our second session. Tristan managed to wind us up though he showed his true greenie colours a few times, as did Karen who was as measured and logical as ever.

That left me the lone voice of reason. Because I do believe that Green Sustainability is an emotive topic where otherwise intelligent people abandon all reason. A bit like religion.

OK, having offended more than half of readers, let me justify that statement (about sustainability not religion - I leave that to Richard Dawkins).

The details of Sustainable IT are easy to pick off one by one:

  • The absurdity of buying new metal-and-semiconductor devices to save a few watts of power when the carbon footprint of mining, making, selling, delivering, and maintaining the device far exceeds any power savings. Think of those stupid motion sensors you have to wave at during meetings, or wall plug adapters with timers, or smart fridges or.... (The extreme example of this stupidity is the Toyota Prius and its ilk, but domestic solar power is close behind.)
  • You will also reduce the lifetime of an electronic device by constantly turning it on and off. Electrical connections don't like cyclic expanding and contracting, and fan bearings don't like starting and stopping. My PC runs for months at a time
  • Squeezing assets is in the interests of the planet and the bottom line. The endless junking of functional IT equipment in pursuit of the latest tech must be one of IT's major contributions to global warming.
  • The ACM says 1.5% of American electricity goes to data centres. Think about that. Of all the steel mills, ethanol plants, factories, railroads, ports, warehouses, hospitals, shops, malls, supermarkets, street lights, homes and those little warning lights they put on high towers, one 66th of all the electricity goes on data centres? I call crap.
  • Even if it is true, if the entire power consumption of every data centre in the USA, buildings, servers, lighting, cooling, lifts and self-flushing urinals, were replaced by spiritual power from the aura of green crystal pyramids, that would amount to a saving of 1.5% of 45% (proportion of total energy that is electricity), or 1/150th of total US energy consumption. The more realistic goal of 10% reduction in both server power and cooling amounts to a 0.04% change in total US energy consumption.
  • Someone commented on this blog "If every industry tried to make a 0.4% difference, then we might actually make some improvement." Duh, we'd make a total 0.4% difference.
  • ...and so on and so on and so on

But really there's no need to fight the loss of reason point-by-point when an apocalyptic knockout blow is coming to flatten every single Sustainable IT suggestion I've ever seen. There are billions of people going to join middle-class prosperity in each coming decade, in Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Thailand, and dozens of other countries. They want what you have got and they have a right to it. Trying to deprive them of it will only provoke global war. All the loss of wealth in the USA and Europe is not going to compensate (*joke*). Every little kilowatt you save, every kilo of carbon you keep out of the atmosphere, is like drinking the ocean to try to stop the rising sea levels. It is beyond pointless; it is plain stupid.

If you want to seriously increase sustainability:

  1. Demand more nuclear power plants, worldwide. It is our only hope of clean order-of-magnitude increases in power production. Cut coal and oil fired power generation in all countries of the world and there's a big chunk of emissions gone. But the folk who fizz about global warming are often the same ones who get all agitated about peaceful nukes. The world still awaits a better compact controllable source of massive power.
  2. Become vegetarian. Meat murders the planet. Eat the corn without passing it through a cow first. One kilo of beef reportedly consumes six to sixteen kilos of grains and legumes. Modern lot-fed or battery-fed meat is extremely inefficient use of food resources, without even getting into land degradation, water consumption, energy consumption, water pollution, antibiotics, hormones and direct methane emissions. Nobody can eat meat and claim to be serious about greening the planet.
  3. Don't buy cotton. It devastates resources. Grow hemp, man.
  4. Buy more goods made in developing nations: the sooner they get rich, the sooner they'll demand clean air. Look at the Chinese. Apparently the magic figure is income above $4k p.a.
  5. Outsource jobs to developing nations, for the same reason. The other reason we want to make the rest of the world rich is so they have less incentive to breed. The more world trade, Nike factories, and outsourced call centres the better, I say. Guess who opposes those?
  6. Demand that religious leaders preach birth control worldwide: one of our biggest ecological problems is the Catholic and Muslim religions, but it is not PC to say so.

    My argument is in fact false as I have recently learned

    So the problem is simpler. We don't have to change religion, just treat women well and lift them out of poverty. Job done then.]

  7. Don't replace any technology until it fails: nothing new reduces carbon footprint, it just generates a new one. That includes your Apple iCandy.
  8. Stop using transport. Take your holidays in the next valley over. Ride a bike everywhere, even when it is raining or you are wearing a suit or you want to pick up your kids or you are going to the supermarket. Yeah right.
  9. Buy forests at market rates instead of whining about them: put your money where your mouth is. if you really want to save the rain-forest, own it.
  10. Turn off the TV at the wall to save the power from that little red light: it doesn't make the least bit of difference but you will feel better about not doing the other nine.

It's true the Earth would be relieved to see us go in the same way my dog is relieved to see his fleas go but
a) I truly doubt our influence on the planet is as apocalyptic as many would have us believe. Every generation has its doomsday scenarios
b) the human race differs from other species; we can modify the environment in our favour and we can use tools to adapt to more extremes than just about anything but bacteria and cockroaches i don't feel we're out of here any time soon. When the end comes for humans it is much more likely to be a random event beyond our making; think asteroids or Yellowstone. In the meantime I plan to get on with making the most of life within the bounds of common sense (mostly). So too will the rest of our species.

Instead of trying to hold back progress and economies by resisting growth and the advance of technology, we'd be better served by racing towards wealth and technological power so we have the capacity to save the planet through our own acts before its too late. We will do this through clean nuclear-powered urban societies and massive climate re-engineering if it proves necessary. But we'll never get there if the greenies have their way.

In the meantime, stop wasting your time and your employer's money on piss-in-the-wind sustainable IT whose global impact is somewhere between negligible and negative.

See also
I’ll be going green (a satire I did for the Pink Elephant blog)
Green IT isn't about saving the planet (especially the comments)


Not sure I agree with EVERYTHING here......

but there are some very valid points. With regards to point 4 above, have you seen Hans Rosling talking at TED on the same subject, but from a differnet point?

We have reached peak child

"We have reached peak child" brilliant

Everybody should read The Rational Optimist

Ok - I will.

Ok - I will.


Never read the comments! duh! ;)

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