With more and more cloud services hosted in data centres consuming massive amounts of energy, our devices becoming ever more power-hungry, and the constant pressure to always have the latest tech, it’s probably fair to say that we don’t always consider what the cost of our tech ownership and usage has on the environment.
We’re thrilled to have Chris Adams join us for this week’s episode. We take a deep dive into how we can try to understand the impact our tech usage has on the environment, and some cool things happening across the industry to try and improve energy usage and the environmental cost of manufacturing.
What are your views on the relationship between technology and the environment? We’d love to hear from you, so please send your thoughts to [email protected], leave a comment on the post, or join the discussion over on our Discord server
As of this episode, we’ve partially completed our migration to Linode because they have a bit more transparency about their green credentials. If you want great pricing with fantastic customer support for all your Linux-based cloud computing needs, you can get $100 of free credit when you sign up here.
If you liked this episode or any of our content, we’d greatly appreciate any support you can throw our way over at our Ko-Fi page.
- Chris Adams on Mastodon
- ClimateAction .tech
- The Green Web Foundation
- Green Web Check
- The Green Web Library
- CO2 .js
- Backblaze Rides the Nautilus Data Center Wave
- A way to think about the environmental impact of streaming services like Netflix
- Microsoft will soon push Xbox owners into energy-saving Shutdown mode [Ars Technica]
- Greening of Streaming
- Working with RIPE NCC and the IETF for a greener internet
- Could Coal Waste Be Used to Make Sustainable Batteries?
- Sören Enholm – How to navigate toward more sustainable digital equipment? [Green IO Podcast]
- Previous Episodes Mentioned
- 00:00:04: Introductions
- 00:02:40: Crossed Wires’ Green Status
- 00:04:30: Water Usage For Cooling & Power Generation
- 00:08:43: Solar?
- 00:11:54: Fellowship
- 00:14:34: Building Green Websites & Apps
- 00:21:20: Why Should We Care?
- 00:28:24: Gaming & Streaming Energy Savings
- 00:36:54: The CID Model
- 00:40:49: Green Routing?
- 00:49:46: Vampire Usage vs. Real Change
- 00:52:45: Batteries
- 00:57:11: Device Cycles
- 01:10:24: Is Smart Home Tech Worth It?
- 01:14:57: Wrapping Up
Intro and outro theme: Ace of Clubs by RoccoW
Chris: Thank you very much for having me, James. It’s a pleasure to be here.
James: Thank you. And I have to give another shout out to James Smith. So we got Dr. Catherine Flick for our, blockchain discussion and James wonderfully pointed us, to each other and, made that connection. So thank you again, James, genuinely. But Chris, before we get into the show and get into what is I am sure going to be an amazing discussion, we’ve got a Google Doc sort of beside us, which has evolved over the last hour, even as we just jumped on to start a show prep. There’s so much great stuff going in there. But Chris, do you want to tell people a little bit about yourself and why you’re speaking on in the environment?
Chris: My name is Chris Adams. I am the executive director of the Green Web Foundation. It’s a Dutch foundation that for the last 15 years or so has been tracking the transition of the internet away from fossil fuels towards a more advanced and humane form of power. We now work towards an entirely fossil free Internet by 2030, and we largely work to accelerate that transition using open data, open source and open culture. One of the things that’s probably most you could try immediately if you’ve come across, if you’ve heard of us before, would be our API and our Green Web Check service. So you can check any website in the world. And we will tell you if we can find any information about whether it’s running on green energy or not. We do this because there are more websites in the world than there are data centers. So • if you know which data centers to actually speak to, we basically allow data centers to register with us and share the information they do have about how they’ve sourced their power. When people check a website run on those data centers, you’ll get a smiley face showing a green website. And if we can’t find any information, we’ll show a gray, sad face saying that, no, we cannot find any information for this. We are running on the default, which is like well, most of energy largely comes from fossil fuels right now, so this is what we do. We also do a couple of other things, but, I suspect you might have some questions there, James. So I can go there, then we could talk about some of the other things we do.
James: Absolutely. So, I mean, the first question is, I’ll be completely transparent. We host with DigitalOcean. • How are they doing?
Chris: Yes, Digital Ocean are interesting because they have a number of dedicated employees internally who kind of in many ways, push for this kind of stuff. And DigitalOcean • actually do use some providers who we have evidence of them running on renewable energy. So we have stuff like this. And we even actually our platform that we use to track check this stuff. It’s on GitHub. We have an open issue with DigitalOcean • asking them to do a DigitalOcean • cleanup and actually share information with us so that we can actually mark the green regions, the regions where there is evidence of them accounting for the fossil emissions from the use of data centers. So we can get smiley faces for the people who do have that. So DigitalOcean, • because they’re using Equinix in a number of places, and because Equinix do actually have a pretty good record in this compared to other providers. They are middling at the moment, but they could definitely be moving a lot faster. And if there were users who cared about this, I’m sure they would move even faster.
James: I will absolutely be talking to them. Absolutely something we want as much as possible the stuff that Crossed Wires is using to be on the green web. Now, I know that’s not going to be possible. We use a lot of different services. I would be very curious to see how SquadCast • fares. I, can go and yell at Zack if it’s not doing too well. I know they host a lot of stuff with Google. They host a few other bits and pieces as well. Now, interestingly, one of the reasons I asked this is we did an episode recently with a team at Backblaze • and I don’t know if you’ve heard about the new Nautilus is the company providing it, but one of the new data centers, which is entirely river water cooled.
Chris: This is pretty cool. Just before we go any further on the previous one, I’ve just shared in the show notes the issue specifically. So if there are only people who want to actually contribute to the actual platform we have, and the data that we do have, so that you’re using DigitalOcean • and you can actually get marked as green, that’s where we can add that in the show notes. Awesome. I just want to kind of tidy that one up. So, you mentioned about Nautilus, the data center, from run of the river staff. Yeah. If I understand it, this is actually how I got into this cast, actually. And I’ll briefly speak about, James Smith’s shadow he casts about us being on this podcast in a bit. But let’s go to that part there. You said that the water is the data center is called by the water running through the river, is that correct?
James: Yeah, that’s right. So it’s in California and there’s a whole paper that Backblaze put out explaining the partnership. And so I think the idea is that it draws the cold river water in and then it loops up through the cooling system. And I will be honest, I am not a data center expert by any definition. The closest I’ve come is punching a Cisco switch at one point because it wasn’t working properly. but then that water is then put back out once it’s done its job, put back out into the river. And from what I understand, they’ve done it in a way that it’s not going to impact the aquatic life in the area. They’ve done the studies to make sure that I think it’s only maybe a couple of degrees warmer, it’s not a huge jump. And yeah, it’s fascinating.
Chris: Yeah. I need to be kind of clear that I’m not a data center expert either. But there is a lot of talk about free cooling as mechanisms for being able to use water like this. And as long as it’s not actually having an impact or like you said, affecting the outside environment, this is actually a good thing. And in many cases, this is in many ways better than other forms of, cooling people might use, like evaporative cooling, where it just goes into the sky. For example, you’ll see some places where you have like a water table or aquifer, that people draw water from. And you can have cases where data centers use as much as the rest of the entire community • for this. And that’s like one source of power, that one source of water usage. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that when you’re generating energy, most of the time, if you’re not using something like kind of renewable or geothermal sources, then you’re basically doing something to like you’re taking heat. You’re making heat somehow, either nuclear or setting fire to things that turns water into steam, which is then used to turn a turbine. And then you need to figure out what to do with that waste heat in that water. One of the significant uses of water is actually and this is by far the largest usage of fresh water both in America and probably the UK. Still, is actually power, generation, thermal power generation is one of the biggest, if not the biggest source of water usage. And it’s really important to have this in mind when we talk about water, usage related to data centers. Because a lot of the time, the data center part you can solve with clever usages, like the Backblaze example. But for the other part, which is in many cases, much, much larger, if you want to get rid of that, you’re going to probably need to get away from thermal generation, where you heat up water to turn a turbine, basically. • for this. exactly. And that’s like one source of power, that one source of water usage. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that when you’re generating energy, most of the time, if you’re not using something like kind of renewable or geothermal sources, then you’re basically doing something to like you’re taking heat. You’re making heat somehow, either nuclear or setting fire to things that turns water into steam, which is then used to turn a turbine. And then you need to figure out what to do with that waste heat in that water. One of the significant uses of water is actually and this is by far the largest usage of fresh water both in America and probably the UK. Still, is actually power, generation, thermal power generation is one of the biggest, if not the biggest source of water usage. And it’s really important to have this in mind when we talk about water, usage related to data centers. Because a lot of the time, the data center part you can solve with clever usages, like the Backblaze example. But for the other part, which is in many cases, much, much larger, if you want to get rid of that, you’re going to probably need to get away from thermal generation, where you heat up water to turn a turbine, basically.
James: And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that little explanation of power. My mind went straight to the Chernobyl miniseries and the experiment they were trying to run there. All I’m going to say is you didn’t see graphite on the roof, there is no graphite. But it’s an interesting one. it’s fully public where I live. I live in the south coast of England. I live in Bournemouth. So we do get a lot, quite a reasonable amount of sun and a lot of properties here are south facing. So I’m seeing more and more solar panels. Now, solar has, because it’s correct me if I’m wrong, because solar is not a guaranteed form of power, it’s wonderful. But obviously it’s a varying amount of power generation. Would it be considered stable enough for data center use? I mean, I guess if you run it through your typical huge Ups systems that those data centers have, can solar play a part here as well?
Chris: Absolutely. In fact, solar power, because it is roughly ten times cheaper than it was ten years ago and it’s getting cheaper, more or less around 20% year on year. Going forward, it’s likely to become more and more popular. so you are going to see this and as long as you have a way to store that power, it’s viable to run data centers with this as part of it. Now, unless you’re somewhere where it’s only ever sunny, then you obviously are going to have an issue when the sun goes down. And that’s when you’d often resorts to other forms of energy generation or some way of actually making sure that you can use power. So a common thing, for example, if you’re not connected to the grid is actually having things like storage itself, like either form of batteries or other forms of storage, possibly like a backup fuel cell or something like that. So Ebay, for example, they have fuel cells in some of their data centers as an alternative to using the grid. And what we’ve seen over the last two years in particular, is that as the cost of energy from the grid has just skyrocketed because of the cost of fossil gas, you’ve seen a real drive for people to find other forms of onsite generation as a way to reduce the cost that they do actually have. so yes, you can have solar as a key part. And solar is only going to become a greater and greater part of our energy mix, according to all of the analysis, simply because it’s getting cheaper, faster than any other power source that we are really deploying right now or have access to at present.
James: So very exciting. So do go and check your favorite websites. Maybe if you’re hosting a site for your business, go and check it and see if it does meet that green web check. And then maybe consider, let’s just be really honest, maybe consider moving to a hosting provider that will give you that yellow, that smiley face because that’s helping you be more of a positive impact on, the environment. And look, it’s one of the things, isn’t it? Companies want to get all that certification. Well, having a control, I think it’s something you talk about later in our show us, is the importance of not just your own production, but the supply chain behind it all.
Chris: This is actually maybe a nice elegant segue to one other thing we do, which is running a fellowship. So last year, because when people first come to when lots of techies and people who are tech adjacent start thinking about the link between technology and environment, they often are extremely overwhelmed. And we actually applied for some funding with the Internet Society Foundation. And they funded us to basically run a series of fellowships where we would basically pay for someone’s time, pay for five fellows to basically share their learning in the open about how they figured out how to incorporate ideas like climate justice into their work. So, for example, one of the projects was a kind of cool interactive map from one woman, Melissa Hsuing. She was doing a sustainability course. A master’s in sustainability at Columbia University. But, alongside this, she was reading the entire set of literature about climate justice and about what some of these conversations are about and how, in many ways, climate change is very much a story about some of the things we see back in kind of colonialism, kind of, moved all the way forward and projected into the future. So she ended up doing a bunch of research around that. And one thing she did was she built this cool map Google Earth to show where all the various parts of hardware would actually come from. So you could use like a really slick activity like that, but the map would take you to parts of Africa, and it would take you to parts of say, the Congo or parts of Peru, where certain minerals came from. So you could actually kind of visually see all these different mines and places like that. But we had other people doing other research like this and one thing that came out of that is a second year. We’re now doing some work with the Ford Foundation for a second and third year of this fellowship program. But we also created a library on using an open source tool called Zotero where we’ve been collecting all of these reports and papers and websites and things so that if someone doesn’t want to come to this field and basically start making sense of it, we’ve kind of dropped some breadcrumbs for other people who might have may be interested. And later on in February, we’ll be announcing the next set of fellows who will be sharing their learning as they come along.
James: Brilliant. That’s fantastic. So the next thing we talk about, obviously we talk about data centers, we talk about infrastructure, what about the software that runs a lot of the tools that we use? Now, this is a big one. Again, how that’s all run, and how we can have how that can be more green rather than just a color code in the CSS. No bad jokes.
James: That’s fantastic. And look, I’m a big Firefox fan. I did a video, on our YouTube channel a while ago about their multi-account • containers. They may not have the biggest browser share anymore, but there’s so much of that legacy of Mozilla and Netscape. Some really clever innovation, I would say. I have all three browsers, sorry. I run Chrome for SquadCast, • just because WebRTC, • that’s where the best support is. But Firefox. I use so much. That’s incredible. And of course, that is you’re building your website. So, say, for example, when me and Jay were building the Crossed Wires WordPress site, we could have used those profile and tools to say, okay, how much impact does our new site have? And, where can we be looking at things?
Chris: Yeah, that was the idea. We wanted to create something like that because there is a lot of public discourse in our kind of little digital sustainability circles about what makes an environmentally friendly website? How do you measure this kind of stuff? And there are some models which we include in the library. One is called the Sustainable Web Design Model, which largely goes on the amount of transfer that’s sent over the wire. Because that’s one thing which is easy to measure. And in many ways, a lot of the academic literature basically says if you’re going to look at the environmental footprint of things, then working out a CO2 • per gb figure is one way to do it. Now, there’s good things about that, it’s easy to do, but there’s also bad things about it because in many ways, as we learn more about this, about like this field, the actual relationship, it’s not necessarily kind of proportional. So a lot of us think, and this is what we spoke about before, James, the idea that if you have a kind of car model where, well, let’s say that you drive twice as far in a car, it’s going to have twice as many emissions, it’s not necessarily the same when you have websites and things. And in fact, the mental model that’s more useful to kind of have at hand is maybe rather than cars, think of maybe like putting cycle lanes down and then having people cycle along those. So there’s obviously an environmental impact to building cycle lanes, right? But once you’ve got that set up, the marginal emissions from every single person cycling on that, yeah, it’s not zero, because people breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2. But it’s not the same as you would have with cars. For example. And I think it’s a lot of time, we don’t really have the mental models yet to do this. And this is partly what we did some work with on CO2.js • to do to a provide a kind of vessel for different models, but also to provide easy access to some of the kind of conversion factors. So that if you’ve got direct information from a browser, you can use that. But if you only have the information, that you might measure indirectly, like say, transfer, you’ve got an option there. We try to basically serialize some of these ideas in code. So it’s possible to use different models to see what’s the most effective and relevant for your particular use case.
James: Yeah, and it’s great to get those models established so people can think about this. And, that leads me nicely to at least at this point in the show, the big question I want to ask and put to you and put into the minds of our, audience, of our listeners. Before we go any further, I do want to say this is absolutely an episode where we want to invite discussion. So there are the comments on the episode itself. Of course, you can tweet or toot, whatever have you calling it. Post. I’m hoping we’ve changed it away from Toot.
Chris: I’m using post instead of Toot because I feel a bit silly saying Toot.
James: Yes, it doesn’t sound quite right, does it? So you can either toot or why not come over to our discord, CrossedWires.net/Discord • • We will have a forum post for this episode, come and discuss with us. Just follow our community rules and everyone will be welcome. That’s our rule. So on the back of that, the question I did pose in our document, is why should we, as people, as me and you, right now, sat here recording this with lights on. With computers on or when we go elsewhere and maybe charge our phones or watch Netflix, watch YouTube or watch PeerTube, • whatever we want to watch. Why should we care? Why should we care about what the environmental impact of sending my email is or playing the latest game?
Chris: I think there’s two reasons. So first of all, if you’re in a position where you can play the latest game or watch Netflix or something like that, you’re already in front of a pretty exclusive club of people who enjoy really good access to things that lots of other people don’t have, like shelter, energy access, cool gadgets, or stuff like that. And in many cases, if you’re in that kind of group of people, you’re probably proportionately like to have a greater environmental impact than maybe the other, say 80% plus of the planet, right? So there’s a degree of responsibility that you might actually have just because you’re in a position of power compared to other people. This is not to say that there are people who are more powerful you that should not be also need to be doing things. Because when you look at the environmental impact, when you look at, say, if you look at like, the higher you go up the kind of food chain, the greater the environmental impact tends to be from various people. So you and me, we might have a carbon footprint of between 5 and 15 tons per person. When you go up to the kind of millionaire or billionaire status, you’re looking at thousands of tons for people, which there’s a kind of unfairness aspect that you might want to have. So there’s basically a kind of in my view, there is a kind of somewhat moral related aspect of that. Like, if I’m able to make changes to avoid harm, then I probably should do some of that stuff. Especially if it’s not going to be creating significant amounts of sacrifice at my end, for example. And a lot of the time, I think the things that you might want to do are actually or the things people might be advocating do actually represent a win on an environmental scale, but they also represent a win in terms of quality of life scale yourself, for example. So I think going back to your original reason why you should care, I think there is a kind of justice and moral argument, but there’s also a kind of isn’t it cool? Argument, right? There’s a whole thing about if you want to build something you want to, you do in a really efficient fashion. Because a lot of us, you know, we’re nerds we’re quite, we kind of have this kind of aversion to waste, if possible, right? It seems like we’re taught to avoid some of that stuff. So I think there’s different reasons that you might actually have. I think that it’s useful to bear in mind that when, you do have this, it’s worth realizing that there are some things you can do that might feel good and there are some things which are systemically effective. They’re not necessarily the same thing. So a lot of the time you’ll see people basically say, well, if you feel bad about, the environmental impact of technology, then you should turn off the video on a Zoom call, for example, or something like that. You can do something like that. Or you might feel terrible about watching Netflix, for example, or having a Zoom call with someone when you’re in middle of a pandemic. You’re not going to have that much of an impact there. I feel that it might help you feel like you’re more in control of and feel like you’re able to do something. But systemically, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as effective as being able to engage at a political level or speak to like, say, local government, for example. So I think there is an argument, which is basically just it’s probably aligning with how you feel. And in many cases, it can help you feel a little bit better about some of the kind of general ennui and dredge people tend to have around climate, basically, because some kind of action does often help you move to a larger or more impactful thing elsewhere.
James: I can completely echo that sort of food chain, because something has just come back to, if I’m going out for a walk in the evening, there’s a certain route I take, and it goes past quite a, shall we say, well off street. I won’t name it, but there’s a new build there. And every time I walk past it, every single light is on in that build. There’s no one in there, but all the lights are on, everything. I’m thinking, okay, there might be LEDs, but that’s still why do they need to be on? Okay, for me, there’s a difference we’re talking external lights. There was a difference between safety, so security lighting, and then why does your house need to be lit up like Blackpool Tower and Blackpool Illuminations? If there’s A, there’s no one there, and B, why okay, sure, security spotlights that are motion based or whatever, that makes perfect sense. But I don’t need to see the outside of your house. I don’t need to see how wealthy you are. And I think the problem for me is that class of person that can afford to pay the energy bill on that. But what they’re not considering is their contribution to the environmental impact. I’ve seen a lot of discussion around football stadiums, leaving their spotlights on for longer after there was a big argument about, Bournemouth recently, where they’d left their spotlights on, and it was causing, like, this huge orange glow in the sky. It’s a very interesting again, and businesses who’s, a real estate, agent office, who they’ve closed that office down, but we’ve left all the lights inside on and all the, like, display panels, all the signage permanently on. Why?
Chris: I think a lot of the time, okay, this stuff like this can happen because there is either no one responsible for it, or it’s not costing enough for people to actually feel the kind of negative impacts of that a lot of the time. And in many cases, for example, your example of light pollution into the sky. Right? It’s probably not the people who own the stadium who are harmed by that kind of light pollution. So the harms can be very diffuse, but the upsides are much, much more concentrated. And this is the thing that this is all the kind of wider governance problem, but it might be worth referring to like this. You spoke about one or two things, about the idea of saying, well, there’s a degree of comfort I might want to have, and then there’s maybe a cost to providing slightly more comfort for this. And this might be a nice segue to one of the stories you hear about the Xbox story about the shutdown thing, because this is one thing we looked at before.
James: Most modern consoles will have a couple of different modes. They’ll have what they call energy savings standby. So the console will go to sleep. This is true across a lot of devices. The concept of sleep versus suspend versus shutdown. And on the Mac in particular, I remember being a big fan of Hibernation, because Hibernation would effectively write the contents of your RAM to disk and then it would completely power off a machine. And the idea would be that yet when you turn your machine back on, there’s a little bit longer to time to come back up, but you don’t have that same environmental impact. But Microsoft, if I remember, they’re basically doing something to effectively nudge people towards more of a shutdown, mode, the power saving shutdown, rather than just having a system on standby, what are they actually doing? And is this something that’s common across the games? Because I’ve got two systems in front of me games wise. I’ve got the Nintendo Switch and the Steam Deck, both of which are probably in standby.
Chris: So the story that I think we’re referring to is ArsTechnica • • about Microsoft switching a default to shutdown rather than sleep mode, right? The impact of this is that when you’re not using an Xbox being in the kind of shutdown mode versus the sleep mode means that it uses 20 times less power or around about that. So it’s like rather you’re using like 0.5 watts compared to like 10 to 15 watts. Now, that doesn’t sound very much when we talk about it right now, but if something is like sleeping all day long, over a year, that works out, I mean, 15 watts over, I think, all the hours in a year, it’s comparable to a very efficient fridge in the UK, right? And a lot of the time we don’t have a kind of reference point for this, right? so it’s maybe like £15 or so, or some figure like that in terms of costs for this. But it’s just avoidable for this, because, for example, the difference in experience you might have is that it takes 15 seconds to come on, rather than 2 seconds to come on, for example. And a lot of the time I’m not sure waiting 15 seconds is worth that 20 fold increase in energy usage or resource impact. And you see this in lots and lots of other places. So one example, there’s an organization called the Greening of Streaming group, and they’re trying to do something like this for streaming because a lot of the time we’ve gone from maybe 720p • 1080p, up to there’s discussion about having like 8K • displays and stuff like that. And you have a default to sending as much data as you can down the pipe to people all the time. And there’s a question about how much quality can we perceive, but also there’s a question about, are we even paying attention to this kind of stuff in the first place? And stuff like this means there are ways where if you can’t perceive the actual usage, or if you’re not going to benefit from it, then it’s not really worth the extra resource usage. I mean, the example that I guess we all experience every day is browser tabs, right? Once you tap out the browser, your browser will usually try to throw it back a bit, right? And most of the time, this is a good thing. It means you have a longer life on your battery, for example. But it’s the same concept, and it’s about where you actually choose to use it. So there’s a whole thing around efficiency and where you choose to use this kind of stuff and where the marginal increase is worthwhile. And the Xbox One is a really nice example. The Greening of Streaming stuff is also, in my view, quite an interesting one. And the thing that comes into here is it starts asking questions about, okay, how much power do you actually need in your typical gaming rig? When you compare different things, like, I’m not sure if I want to go into the field of saying is, I don’t know, The Last of Us on PS4, • really the 20 or 30 times better than the energy usage than the value I get from playing. I know. Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild on a Switch. There’s going to be a difference in power usage there. And I don’t think that’s the thing you should probably go to that level. But for cases where there is no loss, it feels like this is a really low hanging fruit and there’s loads of avoidable, basically waste that we could probably do without, in the short term, the very least.
James: And that’s a really good point. So yeah, if I finish my gaming session for the evening, I don’t mind actually shutting down the system because I’m not going to come in back to that evening. And look, I can go and do if it takes an extra 10-15 seconds, we’re talking consoles that use solid state storage. We’re not talking 90s gaming PCs with drives that will take 20 minutes to boot. We’re talking incredibly fast SSDs. And I think it’s worth considering that, and something that of course I realize is, well, what devices need to be permanently on? We’ve talked about WiFi routers. I guess you could potentially shut down your WiFi overnight. Now there is a potential problem there in that that means your phone then goes on to cellular data. Does that then use more power?
James: There’s a balancing act. One thing that I did want to touch on a little bit. You talked about quality and gaming rig. It’s something, you’ve put the power of these GPUs and the CPUs. Now, I’m a huge fan of what Apple are doing with their Apple Silicon. Such a low powered system that can perform just mind blowing performance. But then you look at Nvidia’s 40 series cards, which are like 350 watts, 400 watts per card, if not more.
Chris: You can end up with figures like this. Mind blowing power.
James: Yeah, when we look at our gaming rigs and our streaming rigs, do we want to be conscious of making sure we’ve got the performance we need for things to be comfortably playable? Is there an excess, do you think, in those really silly GPUs and CPUs?
Chris: Here’s the thing, I don’t really play the games that need such high resolutions at like 120 FPS. And as far as if you’re choosing to do something like that in my book, I feel like that’s probably better than taking a flight every weekend, for example, or something like that. And I feel that if you are doing that and you really enjoy that, I don’t think it’s really my place to tell you not to do that. But it might be my place to say, well, if you’re going to do that, and you know, there’s an environmental impact from the power you’re using, that heightens the importance of you probably doing something to decarbonize the electricity you are actually using. Because in many ways the story of progress is us having greater access to energy, which allows us to do more things or benefit from all kinds of services. And I feel that because these are not cheap cards, right, to do that, but not then spend a little bit extra spend to actually have like, say, a green energy plan, for example. That seems like a misplacement of priorities in my book here, I suspect. I think that’s what you could actually do. I mean, you can also make the argument that if you’re going to go down this route, you could do something really, really wacky like say, well, I’m only going to run this GPU on the power that I can store from the solar on my roof. So I’ve got a certain amount of time to play, right but there’s things you could actually have there to have my entirely guilt free gaming session. But I’m not sure that and to be honest, the people who buy gaming rigs and stuff like that, I’m not sure that telling people you shouldn’t be using this is going to make that much of a difference to their behavior. But being able to be a bit mindful about where the power comes from and how and trying to take steps there, I think are useful. And this actually speaks to a model that we use internally where we work. We talk about the CID model. So consumption, intensity, and direction, we largely talk about it in terms of consumption. It’s like, can I reduce the amount of resources I need to do something? And now intensity is about, can I reduce the harm done when I use those resources? Because in some cases, you will have to use resources, but you want to reduce the harm there. And then direction is basically okay, what kind of world am I heading towards to build? For example, we use this as a model for helping organizations figure out what kind of intervention they might actually want to make to do something about the climate crisis. And the reason we have these three is that you might talk about, say, consumption and intensity, for example. But there’s a whole piece about what world you choose to create. Right now, let’s talk about, say, something like AI, for example, using machine learning to do something. You can have super efficient machine learning, like the most effective model, rather than a wasteful one. And you can use it running on green energy. But if you’re using machine learning or AI to do something like help people extract oil, for example, or you help it or you’re helping use it to radicalise people on social media, I feel that’s, like, that’s probably not. That’s just as important as how green the energy is that you might be using for any of these tools. So I think there’s very much a kind of direction aspect for this kind of stuff, too.
James: Absolutely. And look, one, of my biggest reasons for we talked with, Catherine Flick a couple of weeks ago about the environmental impact of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Insane GPU farming with massive power draw, I just don’t see a benefit in that at all.
Chris: Yeah, to be honest, I think I sympathize with that. I really, really struggle with finding, whenever I speak to people whose opinions I respect when they’re trying to solve a technical problem. I can’t think of many scenarios where a blockchain improves things, or performs better than existing non blockchain related environments. There may be some cases which are really, really, really nation specific. I don’t know about them. And I’ve never come across anything like that in my 25 years of working as a professional in this field. So I suspect maybe they do exist in the same way that maybe unicorns do exist or stuff like that. But for the most of the time, I’m not going to base my career around this case. And I feel like, yeah, from a technical point of view, that’s kind of problematic, but also just from an, idea of who is benefiting for the amount of usage. There’s another problem there. Like, if you look at the numbers from the International Energy Agency, I find this stuff really fascinating, because they’ve released some reports recently, basically showing that data centers might be using I think when they looked at all the figures, there was something in the region of 200ish • terawatt hours is the figure cited by the IEA. Right. That’s quite large. Right? And when they looked at blockchain by comparison, or like kind of cryptocurrency mining or something like that, it was around at least 40% of that. So you got 200 terawatt hours to benefit half of the globe, right? Because I’m not sure if this included China, then you got almost 40% to benefit, not half of the globe. So there’s a whole equity issue at play there, actually. And I suspect we might not knock this one on the head, because this could be a rabbit hole that we’re not going down. Because blockchain discussions tend to take up a lot of oxygen, basically.
James: Yes, they do. And we’ve already had one with Catherine. So folks, go back, we’ll put a link in the show notes to that episode, because it’s worth going and listening to, but just something to mention. Now, one of the things, obviously I’m looking at the shownotes, so this story, putting it on, working with RIPE NCC.
Chris: Yeah. So the link I shared there is actually there was a workshop called The E-Impact • Workshop by the Internet Architecture Board, where actually some of the discussion I said about, say, the relationship between energy usage and network usage and stuff like that. They, there’s a series of one or two hour workshops where by a number of experts, like people with lots of letters after their name and published papers and things, they all got together and shared their stuff. And they shared some of their findings and had some discussions about, OK, what are the levers for change? They were all put online. and what that link is, is basically me collating those YouTube videos, which were recorded, for the workshops, but it also records some of the work we did with RIPE NCC. RIPE NCC are, one of the groups who issue IP addresses to people. So like, they control IP address space. And we did some work with them to basically annotate every single public IP address on Earth with information about how clean the energy was at that point, that public point of presence on the internet as well, you might say, with the idea being that could support new ways of routing. So we actually submitted our own paper called Extending IPv6 • for carbon aware networking. With the idea being that you could kind of build an awareness so that when you want to route a packet of data from say, one computer to another computer, you could take into account the carbon intensity to go through maybe the greenest possible grid. So if the grid itself knows that it’s really, really sunny or windy in one part of Earth, you would have the packets take that kind of greener route. And as long as it stays inside a kind of latency budget, it should be fine. And you end up with like low carbon trick shots of packets zipping around all across the world. So that was one of the ideas that we proposes for a paper ourselves. And it turns out that you can extend IPv6 • to do this. We didn’t realize that. And yeah, so this is one thing we’d like to do in 2023. So we wrote a paper to propose this as an idea. And this is builds on the project we did with RIPE NCC to provide that initial layer of annotation with open data from a climate nonprofit called Ember Climate, who are based in the UK. And basically publish data about the carbon intensity of electricity all around the world.
James: Fascinating. It would be one even more important when we start really adopting IPv6 • because it’s not really going as well as it was meant to go. We are still very heavily reliant on IPv4. • I don’t, for example, get an IPv6 • address from my ISP. We talk about obviously the wider infrastructure of the Internet. But one thing we would talk about preshow is actually a lot of that usage. Maybe you’re streaming Netflix actually comes down to your own internal network infrastructure, your own router, because it’s obviously having to work harder, particularly if you’re on WiFi, I guess, having to put out more transmission power. How much do our internal networks have an impact?
Chris: So yeah, this was actually one thing which was counterintuitive, and I think it’s the second of the videos on the link I just mentioned, where people explore this. essentially it’s not so much a case of routers having to work harder, it’s more the case of do you remember when we were like 20 years ago with a website, when someone could deploy website, they would provision it for all the traffic. So you would buy a chunking great web server, even though you’re going to get maybe single digit utilization, right? just in case you get that spike. Now with things like cloud, the idea would be that you might be slightly higher level of utilization, so it’s not quite so wasteful so there is like a degree of power, proportionality. And then if you go all the way to things like serverless, then when things are supposed to kind of switch themselves off after use, you’ve got a much, much greater relationship between the provisioning of resources and the usage of resources. It turns out that with networking, we’re still ten years ago, or 20, it’s like we’re at that point 20 years ago where you provision for maximum usage all the time. So for WiFi and they, you’ll see a fairly static usage. There is a bit of a fluctuation, but not massively. And one of the things that surprised me when, all these findings were being shared on the workshops was that I think Carbon Trust and the digital impact, the DIMPACT, project, they were looking at the energy usage from, say, video streaming, for example. And it turns out that a significant part of it, like around between 30% to 40% of domestic usage is actually at the router level. And that’s, over a given year. And that’s because we never turn routers off. So, over a given year, right. A router can have the same environmental impact as the fridge, for example. Just because it’s on one thing is on all the time, and a fridge, which obviously is going to have spikes of power usage, but most of the time is not on. Yeah, you end up with on average, the same usage, for the two of these things. And when you start adding repeaters all around the house again, you’ve added another, say, ten watts, 24/7 365, that’s going to have another impact there. So there is a kind of I was actually surprised by this because I to be honest, I didn’t really think much of it at all. And one of the reasons is that manufacturers have had no priority and no reason to scale this up and down and to really, really think about this. But in aggregate, when you’ve got millions of people with this, it turns into a non-zero • number. But in many cases, I’m of the opinion that you really should solve this part here, rather than trying to optimize every single person’s router, which would be incredibly complicated. Just if you have a way to make sure that base load that you might have is just green or very, very low carbon in the first place, that’s probably going to be cheaper and much less invasive than trying to get millions of people to replace all the routers going forward. You might want to have efficient ones. But right now, there’s a discussion about, okay, which bits do you retrofit? And there are probably other loads and other uses of power in a house that you might want to start with first, rather than going straight for the routers, for example.
James: That’s a really interesting thing. Now, in my own home, I was very fortunate when I moved into this flat. part fortunate, part not fortunate. So when I moved in, I thought I’ll get my broadband turned on straight away. There’s a socket down there. In this case, it was in the lounge. Well, no, the new build next door, which backs onto the outside wall in my flat. They had managed to cut the copper cable into my flat, so Openreach • had to come and install a brand new point because we could no longer get to outside. So it was now a point down here, but I was very fortunate. But where, is it? Yeah, literally down there. The previous tenant had left a hall between this is my office and bedroom on the other side of this wall. no one else but Chris can see. But you’ll see in the SquadShot • where the calendar is, in the SquadShot down at the bottom of their folks, there is a hole that they put in that goes into the kitchen and lounge, and it’s just the right size, or was nearly just the right size for a network cable. So when we open, the chap turned up, I said, hey, could you just drill this just a little bit wider for me? and then I’ve tried to, as much as possible run ethernet if you have the means to do so, and maybe if you’re having a new build, don’t neglect having ethernet put in. My friends had a new build and they said to me, is there anything we should do? Techwise? I said, pay the extra to have ethernet throughout the house because you’ll get better performance, especially for you. my friend, I won’t name him, but he works from home. So I said, look, if you get a ground burial out to your little outside office, you will have far better performance and more reliable connectivity. So it’s something to consider. And do you need the fastest WiFi? Genuinely, this is something that’s crossed my mind. If your broadband is in this country, fiber to the • cabinet, maximum theoretical is about 80 megabits at the most. But if you’ve got that sort of speed, why do you need a WiFi route if it’s capable of gigabit speeds? You probably don’t. Maybe I’m wrong on this, but as Chris said, there’s other things you can solve. I think the term that keeps getting branded around the media at the moment is vampire devices, isn’t it? Where you’ve got things that maybe have screens on and, lights and things like that.
Chris: So this notion of powering things down to when they’re not in use, right? It’s very much a function of how many things you have and how much they add up to. I mean, this is probably one of the uses, one place where having things like smart meters is actually quite helpful, because you get an idea of what these figures might actually be, either at a daily level and then see if there’s any benefit in choosing to have them or not have them. let’s be real, most of us are human. And in many ways it feels like it’s very much about defaults. Like Microsoft is flipping a switch to change the default that most people aren’t bothered enough to kind of change, and that ends up having an impact. And I feel that, this is something that a manufacturer should be thinking about more than other ones because, they have the impact. It’s much easier to get a manufacturer to make a change here or have a law that says, well, you’re just going to have this default from now on, than trying to individually persuade like half a million people to do this kind of stuff. And this is like discussion all about regulation rather than where you go. But I think that this is actually some of the things you really do need to do when you’re talking about this. I feel like vampire usage and stuff like that. It may be a thing, but to put it at the end of people feels like it’s maybe misunderstanding human nature and what people will choose to optimize for on a daily.
James: Absolutely. And I think one thing I do like in devices is where manufacturers have actually gone to trouble giving you the option to turn off things like the status LEDs. There’s various reasons for doing that, particularly if you don’t want those LEDs in your room. But okay, they’re not going to make a huge impact, but they can altogether if you take everything in your house. We talked pre show about the difference between LEDs and, fluorescent bulbs and traditional bulbs. Is it fair to say one thing that people can do is if you’ve still got traditional light bulbs or any sort of Cfls, invest a little bit and change them to LEDs because it’s well, that’s my take anyway. It’s worth that spend to replace them with LEDs.
Chris: LEDs are like, so much cheaper and so much better now in 2023 than they were before. It feels like an absolute no brainer.
James: Because I think, you’ll know, those horrible, like, loopy, energy saving bulbs that we had first, things take almost a decade to power up and they look awful. Whereas an LED instant on. And look, if you want to be fancy, you can have color changing ones, Nanoleafs, • Hue bulbs, everything like that. Of course, that does come with an additional power drawer because they have to be on, but it’s probably minimal. Now, one thing I want you to also touch on is batteries. Because batteries typically single use batteries, they’re done. But what about using it was a story from your newsletter, and we’ll make sure we link to a newsletter edition in question. And the story but coal waste been potentially used to make new batteries. That seems like a win win.
Chris: Yeah, so this is a really nice story that I came across in The New Yorker, actually. Basically the idea was that when people burn coal, because there’s so much stuff, there is like some waste which is left over. And you might refer to this as like tailings. It’s the kind of stuff that’s left over. And in many cases, when you’re mining, you’ll have stuff left over as well. You have all these things which are considered waste products. And because mining is so inefficient in the first place, like it’s, you know, hunt it’s like hundreds of kilos just to get, you know, grams out most of the time, for for particular m for particular metals. There has been like a real interest, in people trying to find other sources, because we know, we know that there’s going to be a demand for various rare earth metals or other forms of metal, that you might need for what people refer to as transition materials. So things you might want to put into an electric car, or to provide wind turbines and things like that. Now, this story in The New Yorker, which I shared and I really loved, was basically people looking at the tailings at that were basically dumped by say, most kind of coal fire plants. They’re they turn out to be quite rich in all kinds of minerals. The general thrust of the story is that rather than having to dig stuff up, or try and, say, have all kinds of problematic issues in, like, the Atacama Desert in Chile, to kind of get lithium, it’s maybe plausible to actually treat these massive piles, which already, blight on, say, a particular landscape, and poisoning the land. Use that as your feedstock instead to kind of pull out the minerals you want. And the story was basically, there was some research that was funded by the US government to find this. And they pretty much identified that there is so much coal waste in America already, they reckon they can probably meet most of the demands for rare earth, minerals just within America itself, just by kind of mining these sources of junk without having to kind of open new mines or get stuff from elsewhere. Now, the article goes through some of the economics. So in some cases it’s economical, in some cases it isn’t. But there is a kind of nice side effect in that you treat otherwise really, really toxic kind of parts of landscape. And there’s a kind of similar story in Europe which is not in this one, but I think I can find a link for the show notes in that urban mining is generally being seen now land fuel, for example, and other things as ways to kind of get gold, for example, or get other minerals that you might use for making electronics. Because once again, the concentrations are high enough to be. Comparable to drilling or mining for virgin materials, if you excuse the term, to get this stuff out. So there’s a whole thing there about like circular minerals. And this is one of the difference between things like fossil fuels where you burn and it’s gone to stuff where you actually have a circular economy, where you have minerals they’re used, and then you find another way to you keep them in circulation. In the kind of what we might refer to as there’s a very specific term the industrial ecologists use to talk about this kind of, cycle. basically. But for the purpose of this podcast, we could just refer to as in circulation with us basically in the industrial metabolism. I think that’s the phrase people use to describe this idea that yeah, there’s things you can use and you needn’t go on overseas adventures, for example, if you’re able to look a little bit more closer to home and realize that lots of these things are around in untreated forms that could be treated.
James: That’s incredible. That would be fantastic if we could get that commitment.
Chris: I love this story. It’s so nice, isn’t it? Right? It’s pretty freaking cool.
James: It’s very cool. That sounds like such as I said earlier, it’s such a win for everyone if we can start using that. And it brings us on maybe to something we haven’t talked about. But I think is just as important is device cycles and the supply chain, and how often we change our devices and upgrade. Because we talk about of course, everybody wants the latest tech, right? It’s desirable. The manufacturers incentivise it like oh, buy the latest phone and you will get these new features, you will get a bit of a better camera. Particularly smartphones. Smartphones are a great example. What can we do? What should our mindset be about our device cycles in terms of obviously the original cost of environmental impact of producing those devices? There’s been the ongoing energy usage. But what, what should our mindset be in terms of how often we look at replacing devices? And maybe one of my favorite things is be able to refurbish devices or give older devices a new lifestyle and not ending up in landfill.
Chris: I guess this question might come in two parts, right? So one of these is should we be on this kind of consumerist treadmill, continually running to stay up to date? Right? And the short answer, the easy answer is no. Right? But it’s also worth bearing in mind that in many ways, the actual kind of expansion from hardly people using them, to them being at saturation, there have been some knock on effects that broadly, in my view, have actually been quite helpful. Right? But for the most part, this idea of continually having to buy new electronics is a real problem. simply because for end users, the majority of the impact comes from the making part of electronics, simply because, achieving the temperatures necessary to turn sand into, say, microchips into like, integrated circuits is incredibly high, and most of it comes from burning fossil fuels at present, right now. Now, I can share a link for those kind of people who are kind of into heat pumps with a really good podcast and some papers about the fact that actually you can decarbonize some of this high heat. So it’s plausible that you could decarbonize the creation of electronics. But until that is mainstream, most of the impact will come from the making of this. And that means that if you want to have an impact at the hardware level, you need to either find a way to make them last longer or find ways to only reduce the amount that you need to change each time. So Fairfone. Do this. Fairphone have got to the point now where they have a kind of modular design so you can swap out a camera for another camera and things like that. That’s really, really cool. And I think, they basically say that by doing this, you extend the life of a phone by maybe two years that has something like a 40% impact or 25% reduction on the environmental footprint of the device, over its life cycle. So that’s one example. And like you said, the refurb thing is another example. Like, a lot of the time, computers are now so good that we don’t necessarily need to buy one right now. And there are things that can stay in circulation a lot of the time that can be used. So, pretty much all the electronics I buy are pretty much refurb now, simply because I’m not that demanding a consumer such that I need the absolute latest and greatest anymore. And I feel like there’s an argument that we might have for that. But right now, the mental model we probably have, I think it’s actually one that is difficult to solve at the consumer level. It feels like a thing you need to have a government level to either basically say, if you’re going to make something, you need to make it from reclaimed minute materials, like the car industry does with most of its steel, for example, like 80% plus, close to 90%, I think, is of, the steel is recycled. Compare that to electronics where we are like single digit at most, right? It’s simply because there are norms that you have there. If you were to do something to tax virgin materials so they were that much more expensive, you would very quickly see companies like, say, Fairphone being rewarded for what they’re doing, compared to companies which force you to buy an entirely new machine for this. And I feel like a lot of the right to repair stuff happening in Europe and America is nudging in this kind of direction, but it’s very much a case of regulation and business model rather than a thing to kind of put on a consumer in my view.
James: I would wholeheartedly agree with you. Look, I’m a big Apple fan. I’m an iOS user. But I recognize that as great as I said, as great as Apples silicon stuff is the nature of the SoC means the sam is on package, which means that you can’t upgrade your ram on an Apple Silicon. I mean to be fair, you haven’t been able to do that on Apples Intel machines for a while, but that be able to upgrade ram. Now there’s the Fairphone, great example, be able to change camera modules to upgrade because if that’s the only thing that you need to change, you might be a videographer and you’re actually I need a better 4K sensor. Let’s swap out that camera module. Brilliant. There’s the framework laptop that Linus Sebastian recommends and is an investor in, where they’ve shown already that you can just swap out the entire main logic board in the same case. Change out your modules change out your screen. And what I love is that they built the logic board to be run outside of the laptop enclosure. So you can go into a desktop case. But things like, I mean look so great example of this. So tomorrow morning I’m meeting up with a friend of mine and is technically a client in this case, but helping him with some tech buying. And he said, look, I don’t need the latest. Gray says, well why don’t we look at Apple’s refurb store then? Because tell me, talk to me about your use case. What are you going to be doing on these devices? I said, okay, you do not need the latest m, two matt M bucket. Let’s get you a refurb m. One, you still get the benefits of the power efficiency, M-series • chips. And the same with his iPhone. He’s not someone who’s going to be playing games on it. He’s not going to be taking lots of photos. So we’ve gone for an 11, an iPhone 11 because it’s still supported. There is one thing I want to call out here as well, and I don’t think you will agree with this, but we’ll see. There should be regulation on device manufacturers to say you have to provide so many years of full security updates for the operating system that ships with that device. And I will say I think Apple do this fairly well. And I think the big Android OEMs, m obviously Google themselves do this well I don’t know too much about Fairphone’s • OS. I know it’s Android based. But there are Android OEMs out there, who are selling phones that will never get updated. These are phones that came out a year ago that will never get updated beyond the current version of Android. Is that something that we need to think about as well, or we need to push for.
Chris: So yes, it’s a short answer. You can talk about that. Absolutely. This type speaks to the whole idea of like open operating systems and everything like that right. So one of the reasons that you end up having to buy the things you have to buy from Apple, for example is because yeah, everything’s welded in place. So you can’t use this. I use a Mac. I mean there’s reasons I like using a Mac, but also one of the reasons I’m stuck using a Mac is that some of the software that I have is only going to be available on there and the packaging is only going to come in a certain place. And if I want to have something like m one or actually even though in my view, I think the hardware is actually absolutely fantastic now right but in order to actually use that you might be able to use Silicone Linux, I suppose, if you want to really dive into the specifics of that. But that I’m not sure I’m ready to do that kind of thing. I feel in many ways, ah, a lot this is tied to the business model that lots of organizations have now to speak to Fairphone. Fairphone are actually pretty good in this sense because they actually have been actively trying to support a number of different operating systems to run on their hardware. So they have been doing a bunch of work in that field. I think they support Sailfish and maybe another example. But we have like a kind of consolidation of operating systems here that you don’t have that many options. Maybe seven or eight years ago, when Firefox OS was a possible option. What Firefox OS became is another something else. But that’s something I don’t really feel I know enough to kind of talk about. Even though I know it’s actually very popular in India now for other kinds of phones. Yeah, it’s worth looking at that like literally two years after Firefox kind of shuttered down the operating system, it became massive in India. Like tens, if not hundreds of millions of users and hundreds of millions of handsets have been sold using a variant of the operating system that Firefox spent a bunch of time working on.
James: Fascinating. And I’m a big fan of I have not used them yet. But the Pine phone and the Pine laptop, the concepts there really interest me. Just like you, I use a Mac, I like macOS, I like a lot about it. But there’s a lot that I think Apple could do better and Microsoft could do better. I think the problem is there’s no perfect tech company out there. Because in most cases they’re all answerable to shareholders and their goal is to make those shareholders money.
Chris: Yeah, there’s a piece about some other things that you can actually do as a shareholder if you do care about this. because there’s a whole suite of people doing actual shareholder activism for this. And this has been one of the pivotal things that led to both Microsoft being much more kind, of warm to right to repair, but also Apple like. there’s a really lovely piece that I think is relevant. But you’re right, we have no employee owned, hardware manufacturing gadget company that I’m aware of at present, even though they exist from providing services. Simply because I think maybe the hardware requirements are so high for any of this stuff.
James: here’s one to pose for yourself and for our listeners. Right now, pretty much every phone in manufacturer, I’m going to use Samsung, Apple and Google as examples here. They all release new phones, at least one new phone every year. Sometimes too. I mean, Apple typically can release what? Three or four phone models a year in their line. Samsung the same. You have a note, you have S series. And then Samsung in particular have everything else under the sun as well. Do you think if they all said actually, why don’t we agree that we’re going to change to a two year cycle? Would that have a huge impact? Is that something that’s even, that they would even go for? Or are they so stuck in that we have to have a new product so that people spend money with us every year?
Chris: I’m out of my league here, mate. I don’t know enough to know what the impact that would be. Whether you would just have pent up demand like we’ve seen with Raspberry Pi’s for two years, or whether you’d actually have real change. This one here, I don’t have enough data to make
James: That’s fine. Don’t apologize. It’s a question I ponder. And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there because it’s not been done. I mean, we are several years into Raspberry Pi 4. there’s been a huge supply shortage of them, but there’s still huge demand. Yeah, I don’t know. And this is where I’d love to hear from you lot, our listeners, please. What do you think? Would you wait two years for a new iPhone? If you’re someone who buys an iPhone every year, which I don’t. Look, I’m a tech nerd, but this is a 13 Pro. I’m not going to be upgrading this for at least three or four years. My general rule of thumb is once a device stops receiving security updates, be that through its original operating system, or by installing something like Linux. a couple of weeks ago I recorded with Nick from The Linux Experiment and we were talking about breathing new life into laptops, older laptops. By installing Linux onto them, you can really revive some old machines. I think like just putting an SSD in there, putting a bit more ram in it can really revive old tech. I’d be generally curious to see how that would play out. One final thing I want to talk a little bit about is smart home tech. And more so around does the additional energy consumption and the additional environmental impact of smart home gadgets things like, maybe, Apple’s ecosystem HomeKit • or via, Amazon ecosystem and trying not to save a word. So I don’t trigger anyone’s devices do the automation potentials that they bring to say, okay, make sure that my lights switch off when I leave. Or make sure my lights turn off at sunrise, turn on at sunset, but not before. Does that again, that cost of manufacture, that cost of energy usage, does that outweigh the benefits of a home automation?
Chris: Don’t apologize. It’s a question I ponder. And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there because it’s not been done. I mean, we are several years into Raspberry Pi 4. there’s been a huge supply shortage of them, but there’s still huge demand. Yeah, I don’t know. And this is where I’d love to hear from you lot, our listeners, please. What do you think? Would you wait two years for a new iPhone? If you’re someone who buys an iPhone every year, which I don’t. Look, I’m a tech nerd, but this is a 13 Pro. I’m not going to be upgrading this for at least three or four years. My general rule of thumb is once a device stops receiving security updates, be that through its original operating system, or by installing something like Linux. a couple of weeks ago I recorded with Nick from The Linux Experiment and we were talking about breathing new life into laptops, older laptops. By installing Linux onto them, you can really revive some old machines. I think like just putting an SSD in there, putting a bit more ram in it can really revive old tech. I’d be generally curious to see how that would play out. One final thing I want to talk a little bit about is smart home tech. And more so around does the additional energy consumption and the additional environmental impact of smart home gadgets things like, maybe, Apple’s ecosystem HomeKit • or via, Amazon ecosystem and trying not to save a word. So I don’t trigger anyone’s devices do the automation potentials that they bring to say, okay, make sure that my lights switch off when I leave. Or make sure my lights turn off at sunrise, turn on at sunset, but not before. Does that again, that cost of manufacture, that cost of energy usage, does that outweigh the benefits of a home automation?
Chris: I think it’s worth, when you’re talking about what is effectively an investment in a home improvement, it might be worth using that kind of language to help. Right. So when you think about solar panels, you talk about how long does it take to repay? Right. You could think about that as well. you could use that kind of mental model for this and that highlights that. these questions need to be asked with time frames associated with them. So if you had something where if you’re using huge amounts of power and this allows you to switch things off, then over a year, yeah, you’re going to make an impact. Right. But it may be a question of how many years do you need for that. Now the thing I would share with you though, is that if we are getting to the point where we are increasingly thinking about electrifying, most of the services we might have in a house. When I say services, I’m referring to light connectivity, heat, things like that. And we haven’t really spoken about this, but if we know that the carbon intensity of electricity will change based on times of day, for example, so sometimes it might be more green to run on a battery in house. Versus putting from the grid, then, yes, you could make an argument that having something to help manage that, to think of your house as a kind of nano grid connecting to a larger grid. You can make an argument for that. But you really need to have some data on what the embedded impact associated is for getting all that stuff deployed into your house. And so far, I don’t know anywhere you can actually come up with those numbers yourself. So you have to come up with a figure every single time for every single home. So there is, I hate to say this, but the answer is probably it depends for this. But the thing I can point you to, which might be interesting if you’re into this, is some work by Facebook Research. They did something specifically for carbon for trying to work out at what point, the environmental impacts of their data centers are improved by them having batteries and solar, on site or not, or just making it scale up and down to their usage, depending on what the carbon intensity of the grid might actually be. So they were a so there is some research in this field, but it’s largely a very, very large devices rather than home devices. And I’m not familiar with any home based stuff that comes up with numbers for you to end up with any reasonable figures for that.
James: No, it is really interesting. I mean, look, all this comes back to we have to consider that our convenience and our enjoyment of tech does come with an environmental cost that we should be considering. And it’s really interesting where it’s getting picked up. Things like other devices beyond maybe simple tech like this whole thing of an air fryer might be better because it’s using less electricity to do the same thing. Great, that’s wonderful. Here’s one final thought. If you need to if you watch a lot of TV, is your current TV as energy efficient as it could be? And where does that trade? And again, it comes down to where’s the trade off between that investment in upgrading versus how much it’s going to save you and how much it’s going to have an impact on the environment. I think that’s maybe a good point, Chris. We’re going to wrap up. But if we were to leave our listeners with one sort of thought, and I haven’t asked you to pursue, I do apologize, but one sort of thought as to this whole landscape that we’re talking about today, what would you say that would be?
Chris: If any of this has interested you and you care about the climate impact of electronics, or even just being a technologist, there is a community called ClimateAction Tech that I’d really recommend joining where there’s lots of people similar to you. And if you think any of us stuff has been interesting, I’d really recommend following the work we do, at the Green Web Foundation, because we basically exist to help people like yourself embed an awareness of climate and climate justice into your professional life as a technologist. And we do it in a kind of open, nerdy, open data fashion. So if you are listening to this podcast, I suspect you’ll probably like what we do.
James: Awesome. Chris, thank you so much for your time. Where can people find you if you’re one of those people who likes to be followed on social media, where can people find you?
Chris: So I’ve been MrChrisAdams on most social media and professional tools for the last, like, ten years. I’m MrChrisAdams on Twitter, but I’m also on Mastodon at times as well. But, generally, if you do a search for Mr. Chris Adams, all one word on most search engines. I should be coming up as one of the top results because I’ve spent ten years trying to Google wack that and I hope it’s working.
James: Yeah, I have to admit, I’m spending most of my time now on Masterdon rather than Twitter. Just such a nicer place. Chris, thank you again so much for your time.
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