Key concepts: Internet energy consumption, growth rates,
carbon consumption, new economy

Attention Conservation Notice: It's a struggle for cyber hearts-and-minds as the policy wonks of the sustainable, "cool companies" crowd take on the loathsome pseudoscience of the Greening Earth Society. Part one of three.

Links:,1294,33034,00.html Viridian Notes 00070 and 00073

Source: Wired News, Environment News Service

"Planet Warming to the Internet"

"3:00 a.m. 11.Dec.1999 PST
"WASHINGTON == Shop online and save the Earth.

"That is the holiday message offered by Dr. Joseph Romm and the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions. On Friday, Romm pointed to a number of ways in which increasing use of the Internet is saving energy and resources, and helping to slow the impact of global warming.

"Romm and the center have written a report called 'The Internet Economy and Global Warming: A Scenario of the Impact of E-Commerce on Energy and the Environment.' The report, released today, details how computers are revolutionizing the US economy, and leading to drastic changes in how Americans work, live, and spend their money.

"'The Internet economy could allow a very different type of growth than we have seen in the past,' said Romm, the center's director and lead author of the report. 'It means that there is also a new energy economy that will have profound impacts not only on the environment, but also economic forecasting.'

"Romm, who previously headed the US$2 billion energy efficiency and renewables program for the Department of Energy, says recent data on economic growth and energy use illustrate a dramatic shift in the focus of Americas economy.

"'The years of 1997 and 1998 saw the biggest drop in energy use in 50 years,' Romm said, 'without a rise in energy prices.' (...) No longer, Romm says, is a thriving economy inextricably linked to energy-gobbling industries.

"The reason, he says, is e-commerce. Entire businesses are now built on foundations of electrons, instead of bricks and mortar. And that saves energy in all three of the major components of the economy: construction, manufacturing, and transportation. Each of these sectors is experiencing substantial impacts from electronic commerce, and Romm thinks they are only experiencing the tip of the cyber-iceberg.

"(...) e-commerce does not need nearly as much floor space as traditional retailers and wholesalers. Businesses that sell online do not need to build actual stores where customers can browse; they can display their wares in cyberspace, and store and ship them from just a few locations.

"A recent EPA analysis concluded that (...) standard estimates for US energy and carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 may be overstated by the equivalent of 175 power plants and 300 million metric tons of CO2.

"(...) by 2007, consumer and business e-commerce could remove the need for 1.5 billion square feet of office space == about 5 percent of the nation's total == along with up to 1 billion square feet of warehouses. Internet technology may also eliminate as much as 2 billion square feet of commercial office space == the equivalent of almost 450 Sears Towers.

"Some companies are using the Internet to help determine what people really want to buy, so that they can avoid making goods that no one wants. Many computer companies now let consumers pick and choose what components to include in their new computers, which allows the company to better determine what items consumers value, and reduces the number of unwanted components taking up warehouse space.

"'There's no bigger expense of energy than manufacturing the wrong product, shipping it to a warehouse and having it sit there,' says Romm.

"Other companies are 'recycling' goods that are already built. Online auction houses sell millions of dollars in pre-owned items. By buying used goods, buyers avoid encouraging the consumption of raw materials. (...) Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 1999.

(((But what about the Internet itself? one naturally asks. In our next Note, some highly welcome work from actual physicists.)))

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