What strategies come to mind when we’re asked to think about cutting greenhouse gas emissions? Moving to renewable energy sources? Eliminating our dependence on carbon-based fuels? Eating less meat? All are intuitive examples of ways in which this can be done.
However, as our computing capabilities and the amount of data that we generate each year continue to grow, so do their contributions to carbon emissions, though perhaps in a less direct way. “Compared to the very obvious carbon emissions of a car, for example, the environmental impact of computing is much more abstract,” said Loïc Lannelongue, a Ph.D. candidate in AI and medicine at the University of Cambridge. “Fridges, dishwashers, TVs, cars etc., all these devices promote their low energy needs and sustainability: being (or claiming to be) environmentally friendly is now a key element of an advertising campaign — as well as a legal requirement in many cases.”
Many important scientific milestones have been achieved thanks to the development of high-performance computing; however, their resultant environmental impact has been underappreciated.