Insights

Data centers and the Irish government

The Irish government has a document on data centers that reads more like the talking points of an industry lobbyist than a carefully thought-through analysis of the true worth and costs of data centers. Below is an analysis of the claimed benefits. Benefit: data centre technology supports a wide range of sectors in Ireland.Vague and me... Read More »

Enormous, toxic waste in digital design

The manufacturing of our digital products has a huge, toxic impact on the environment. As computer chips become smaller and more complex, their demand for water rises substantially. A typical computer chip making process requires that each wafer has to be rinsed with water more than 30 times. The result is that to make a smartphone can c... Read More »

Pernicious myth of digital-as-ethereal

“There’s this long-standing tendency to think about and talk about and market digital to occur or happen in a placeless place,” Josh Lepawsky told me. “We use words like ‘virtual’. That isn’t an accident. It has been part of the conversation around the industries that design, make and build electronics devices really since their inceptio... Read More »

The many flaws of Big Data

“Increasing data size shrinks confidence intervals but magnifies the effect of survey bias: an instance of the Big Data Paradox,” a study in Nature magazine has stated. What this means is that Big Data can give you great confidence in being entirely wrong. Organizations are suffering from data overload. And the problem will get exponen... Read More »

Data centers: greenwashing par excellence

Why are data centers so super-secretive? “My hypothesis is that data centers are facing more and more opposition worldwide by local communities because these communities are starting to understand that most of the positive impacts of a data center will not be seen by the local community,” Gauthier Roussilhe, an environmental footprint sp... Read More »

It is the ore above everything and everyone

To make a smartphone requires 50-60 materials and 1,000 substances: 25% silicon, 23% plastic, 20% iron, 14% aluminum, 7% copper, 6% lead, 2% zinc, 1% tin. 90 kg of stone, gravel, and tailings are mined for every smartphone. “In Brazil and Minas, it is the ore above everything and everyone,” says anthropologist Andréa Zhouri. She explai... Read More »

Waste that lasts 10,000 years in dumps designed to last 50 years

As the race for minerals frantically speeds up, driven by the ‘clean’ and ‘green’ energy revolution, the minerals become harder and harder to retrieve, and the percentage of waste to useful mineral grows and grows. “Over the past 40 years, ore grades—the concentration of the metal or mineral of value—have declined on average by half for ... Read More »

Tailings: mining’s toxic legacy

The average laptop weighs about 1.5 kg. Roughly 1 kg of that weight is aluminum, steel and other mined metals. To get that 1 kg, roughly 1,200 kg of earth needs to be blasted, dug and laced with toxic chemicals. What happens to the 1,100 kg of toxic waste? It is dumped in what are called tailing lakes. There is nothing good about tailing... Read More »

Water-mad digital devices

Making electronic devices is incredibly water intense. It takes 14,000 liters of water to make a smartphone. It takes 190,000 liters of water to make a laptop. It takes 850 times more water to make one gram of material for a smartphone than one gram of material for an average car. If you keep a smartphone for three years, it’s had to dri... Read More »

Data centers help drive the water scarcity crisis

“I’ve never really understood why big hyper-scaler data centers were installed in high water-stressed regions, like the west part of the US,” environmental researcher Gauthier Roussilhe told me. It makes terrible environmental sense, but clearly it makes good business sense. I was reminded of the business sense that data centers make a... Read More »