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Greenpeace fears clouds will turn earth brown

'I am iPad, destroyer of worlds'

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Greenpeace is piggybacking on the media frenzy around the release of Apple's "magical and revolutionary" iPad to drum up PR for its attempt to cajole the information and communications technology (ICT) sector into going green. Or, at minimum, greener.

"To be clear: We are not picking on Apple. We are not dissing the iPad," says Greenpeace's announcement of its new report (PDF), "Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change." The iPad is merely an attention-getter. The target of the report - as its title suggests - is the ever-popular cloud.

How Greenpeace views cloud computing

Greenpeace doesn't see all clouds as white and fluffy

"Whether you actually want an iPad or not," the report contends, "there is no doubt that it is a harbinger of things to come." And those things to come will be characterized by rapid growth in data centers - "massive storage facilities that consume incredible amounts of energy" - plus the telecom infrastucture needed to service them and the PCs and mobile devices that access them.

The Greenpeace report cites projections in a 2008 report (PDF) by the Climate Group and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) entitled "SMART 2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age" that sees ICT growth skyrocketing in the foreseeable future. That report contends that even with cloud-computing companies focusing more intently on energy efficiency, ICT-based greenhouse gas emission will increase by over 70 per cent from 2007 to 2020.

Specifically, the SMART 2020 numbers show worldwide ICT metric tonne carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020 to be 1,430 MtCO2e, with data centers accounting for 18 per cent of that amount (257 MtCO2e), telecoms 25 per cent (358 MtCO2e), and PCs and peripherals 57 per cent (815 MtCO2e). If GeSi's estimates are anywhere near accurate, that's one boatload of ICT-generated CO2

Greenpeace, however, leans to the hall-full analysis rather than the half-empty point of view. When it looks at that data-center component it sees an opportunity, noting: "The Smart 2020 study also made a compelling case for ICT's significant potential to deliver climate and energy solutions."

The ICT sector, from Greenpeace's point of view, has both the leverage and the responsibility to push for renewable energy sources. "Because of the unique opportunities provided to the ICT sector in a carbon-constrained world, the industry as a whole should be advocating for strong policies that result in economy-wide emissions reductions."

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