After revealing the environmental costs of the energy and digital transition in
The War for Rare Metals
, Guillaume Pitron tackles the digital infrastructure and its role in the environmental crisis in this new book.
For two years, Guillaume Pitron investigated and traveled around the world.
Today, he can say it, not only the virtual has a cost, but also an ecological weight and a materiality.
“How does digital data weigh on the environment?
"And" What is the carbon footprint of digital technology?
Are two questions the journalist tries to answer in this survey.
What is the ecological cost of our digital activity? This is the main question answered by Guillaume Pitron in his new survey,
The digital hell, travels at the end of a like
(Les Liens qui libéré) published this Wednesday. The journalist became known in 2018 thanks to
The Rare Metal War,
an investigation that dismantles the rhetoric on the energy and digital transition. In this new opus, he attacks the invisible infrastructure that governs our digital lives and which is not ecological.
Data centers, artificial intelligence, robots, cloud, everything is there.
The dematerialized world represents nearly 4% of the planet's CO2 emissions.
Behind these figures, a reality that is hard to swallow: the climate generation, boosted by digital tools, will be one of the main players in the "announced doubling by 2025 of electricity consumption in the digital sector as well as its gas emissions. greenhouse effect ".
Guillaume Pitron returns with
over two years of investigation that have taken him to the four corners of the world.
How do we go from rare earths, the subject of your previous book, to the digital world and its ecological consequences?
This is an environmental subject.
The Rare Metals War
opened a window on this investigation, I evoked on three pages the question of networks, data centers, while focusing instead on green technologies. Like many people, I had read a few articles on the ecological cost of an email. In fact, the subject was much broader than I thought and behind these few known figures, I discovered an incredible world, made up of data centers, submarine cables… I was very surprised to see how this subject is beyond anything I could imagine and the fairly conventional way of dealing with it until now.
Your book tackles an issue on which it is very difficult to gather reliable information, namely the real ecological impact of our digital uses and Gafa. Why is it so difficult to recover data on the subject?
When we dive into the question of the ecological challenges of digital technology, it is the realm of the tongue-in-cheek, greenwashing and pretense.
We talk about machine learning, artificial intelligence, data mining and no one knows the ecological cost of a
Even today, everyone is tearing their hair out over the cost of an email.
In fact, no one knows.
Which underlines our propensity to not want to know.
And a lot of the numbers are often produced by the industry itself.
Obviously, you have to be wary of them, but she is the only one to hold them.
Moreover, you clearly explain that the idea of a neutral carbon impact, sold by the Gafa, is not based on much ...
Let's be frank, there is no such thing as a green data center. The industry is terrorized by the reputation it leaves behind. She is aware that it is becoming a real subject. And there is no question of letting a narrative set in that it worsens global warming more than it combats it. The subject arose in 2012 when Greenpeace displayed a banner outside Amazon's headquarters in Seattle that read, “Is your cloud clean? "[How clean is your cloud?]. You have to react and sell a story. We are in a theater of ecology, a theater of green. This does not mean that the efficiency of data centers does not improve over time, but beware of illusions.
Reading you, one has the impression that all the doors that we are trying to open to respond to the environmental crisis inevitably close on us ... Is that also your opinion?
Technology is doing great things. Human genius is capable of finding technological solutions to all problems. Today, we are building more and more efficient data centers, with submarine cables that hardly pollute. But all of this is constantly overtaken by what is called the rebound effect. A new technology creates new needs which are such that the technological solution no longer makes it possible to compensate for the ecological effects. For example, we say that the mall saves a car, that of the postman. But in reality, we have never seen so many delivery men in Paris as today. There are fewer letters but still more parcels, because digital platforms like Amazon, Deliveroo have created new consumption habits. Digital is not a substitute for life, it is an addition to life.
In your investigation, you bring to light a reality that feels like a slap in the face. “The“ climate generation ”will be one of the main players in the environmental crisis which is looming even though it is also the most sensitive to this crisis. Can you explain this idea?
I wanted to underline this enormous paradox which flowed from all the interviews. The young people of this generation are consuming these digital products like crazy. On average, a young person aged 18 to 25 in France is on his sixth cell phone. This number stuck in my throat. Interfaces are almost half of digital pollution, it would suffice to keep them twice as long to considerably reduce our footprint, not to mention the consumption of data which has the impacts we know. The most important thing on the Internet is indirect pollution. Young people are faced with a tool that makes them gods and at the same time demands a lot of wisdom.How are they going to use this technology tomorrow? Will they resist the radiation of this synthetic sun or, on the contrary, will they use it as a tool to worsen this environmental impact? The Greta generation is faced with its contradictions.
In short, is there no other solution than sobriety?
The way out is in a much more radical response to the way we consume and if there is one thing we are not ready for, it is precisely to question the way we consume the Internet.
It is a reflection which results in solutions for liberticidal.
Changing our consumption patterns on the Internet calls into question the libertarian philosophy of the network.
Questioning that is what I call a dark green government.
China has just announced that it is banning teenagers from playing video games for more than three hours a week.
Only in China can you do such a thing.
You take the example of shared scooters to explain why we produce so much data.
When you get on a scooter, you are riding an object that compulsively picks up your data. It is part of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), an integrated mobility offer. It is the holy grail of players in the world of mobility whose objective is to offer all-in-one digital offers, giving access to all means of transport in a single application. From the scooter to the metro, via the taxi, the bicycle, the scooter, in shared access to be able to take you from point A to point B. But all of this information draws a geography of your way of you to move. Today, data is black gold, and the algorithm is the engine that drives the data. The entire industry operates on a system of maximum data extraction because data is knowledge of everything,and tomorrow, perhaps, surveillance. One way to curb this problem is to pay back. The value of your data is colossal compared to the few dollars that you think you save with a free digital one. In any case, the industry needs to capture as much data as possible to follow its grand design, that of strong artificial intelligence.
Why is it so hard to realize the impact of digital technology on the planet?
I believe in an ecology of the senses. How can we tackle this problem if we do not feel the Internet, if we do not touch the Internet, if we do not drop the Internet, if we do not see the Internet? You literally have to face the infrastructure physically. There is an issue of education which is important. Personally, I saw the infrastructure, I smelled it, it tastes, it has a smell. I tasted the two cables that I saw coming out of the belly of a cargo ship in Portugal. They were coming out of the water and they were salty. I have often thought of that smell of rancid butter in the graphite mines in northern China. Graphite is the raw material that mainly makes up our cell phone batteries. And entry into the Internet is our phone. How can we act if we are desensitized?
What solutions do you see for the future?
It's amazing the positive impact we can have by keeping our phone on for two or three times as long.
Phones are always more efficient, they always collect more data.
This tiny little object is so deceptive and dangerous.
It gives a good image of the Internet, the image of a simple infrastructure, whereas it is an infinitely complex and dirty infrastructure.
Keep the mobile phone as long as possible, reuse it, resell it and buy second-hand… There is also an ecology of data: how can we consume less data?
Very quickly these questions must be raised in a political and collective way.
How do you see the future?
I don't have a crystal ball. There are as many ways of looking at the future as there are people working on the future of the Internet. Those who believe that technology will be the solution to the problem it has created. This is partly true: optimization thanks to digital technology, research into new storage and electricity methods, the circular economy ... And then there is a whole fringe which, in the name of the objectives of a digital more sober, thinks that you have to have a mentality of fablab and makers, to be in the tinkering. In the middle of all this, you have the People planet and profit, which are driving the acceleration of digital technology while trying to counterbalance the effects it generates by high taxation. Finally, you get the idea of a more closed space. The Chinese do it, not for ecological reasons,but for issues of national security and development model. I think the Internet will be a mixture of all of these at the same time and in a non-exclusive way.
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